Connecting Music with the Elements

We love (or don't) music because of the way it makes us feel.

While a lot of people focus on the lyrics, the instruments drive most of the feeling we get. The instruments involved in the song, the rhythm of it, and the keys as well as the modes of those keys drive much of the feeling.

Typically, the feeling we describe to one another is kinda binary... I like it or I don't... happy or sad.

We can expand on that; we can associate a song's energy with the elements: Wind, Fire, Water, Earth. We can also include love, anger, dark energy, and anything else you perceive. It's a fun thing to notice about the music you like.


My friend Jason initially tuned me to the idea.

I figured this would be a good build up to describe how I perceive The Contortionist's "Absolve"

To me, "Absolve" feels like earth with a lot of water. The droning of the bass (or maybe it's tone) and the song's overall rhythmic drive give it an earthy feeling. The initial melodic, up and down crawling of the lead guitar reminds me of waves washing ashore. The ocean churns with waves crashing against rocks during the chorus. The last part of the song is an all out storm. The polyrhythmic crashes of the drums feel like the irregularities of bad ocean weather.

How do you feel about this song? do you like it? what elements are you feeling?


Feel this out with your favorite song and let me know what you find in the comments!



Sound Bite: Brad Mehldau Trio


The Brad Mehldau Trio stands out with its subtleties and intricacies.
The bassist lays warm grooves and chops things up in subtle ways
you'll catch when you pay real close attention.
The drummer has a keen sense of fills and accents, layering in over
Brad's soulful piano, and making every phrase that more unique.


Brad's piano is refreshing in the crowded and some times all too
familiar sounding world of Jazz. Each song is a groove that truly has its own feel with solos that blend in subtly.


What I like about this trio is that the musicianship
isn't extravagant. It seems like they've made an active effort not
to overcrowd songs with unnecessary notes... they each create their own dimension and give space between the notes for the music to be felt.


A few of my personal favorites:

"Aquelas Coisas Todas" (with the Latin vibes)

"Twiggy" (...the groove and the subtleties)

"Everything in its right place" (a damn good Radiohead cover)

"Days of Dilbert Delaney" (for the accents and subtleties)

"Hey Joe" (You can almost hear Hendrix' vocals, lamenting Joe's decision)



Reflection: Breathing while Climbing


I recently realized how powerful the breath is by spending a couple sessions focusing on how it empowers my climbing. There are many articles and videos about it from professionals that offer a lot of detail. Here’s what I’ve been focusing on and what I think is a great start for anyone interested in the topic:


The breath before the climb:

For the 10 to 30 seconds before you climb your boulder problem, breath in through your nose and out through your mouth calmly: 1 to 2 second inhales followed by 2 to 4 second exhales. Keep breathing as you walk up to your problem and start climbing.

As you focus on this across a few sessions, notice how it impacts your focus and performance! You should be getting more climbing of each burn by oxygenating your muscles before you get on the wall and continuing the process while you climb.


Breathing during hard moves:

Now that you’re breathing more freely and openly before and through out your climbing, let’s add a variation.

The breath is empowering during hard moves.  It's especially easy to practice this on a boulder problem with a hard move coming off the starting holds. Maybe you’re having a hard time sticking the move each try, maybe you’re unable to stick it at all. The breath will give you the focus to stick the move and to hold the tension to stay on the wall.

To be effective, you’ll settle into your starting holds and as you reach out to stick the move you’ll exhale through your mouth with determination, contracting your muscles and core as you do so to “connect” your musculature from the feet to the arms; you can make a “tssss” exhale noise with your breath (Think of Chris Sharma’s “PSSAAATTT!” in the videos). Try this on those hard moves you’re struggling with and see how it impacts your performance.


Let me know your thoughts in the comments!


A tangent on projecting:

I’ve had a ton of fun projecting again lately. I think that a few injuries switched my mindset to want attainable sends rather than enjoy learning the movement like when I was a complete newbie. Lately, I’ve been focusing on those climbs that are not necessarily at the limit of my grade maximum but that are at the limit of my movement knowledge, that are not my style, “sand-bagged”, or simply different and quirky. It’s been a fun rediscovery.


Finger Training for Adult Beginners!



This finger training methodology was put together for folks with regular pulley injuries, for those of us just starting out and wanting to injury-proof our pulleys, for those with chronic sore fingers after a day at the gym, for those of us who started after adolescence, and anyone interested in reducing the limitations of weak fingers.


The parts in bold cut to the chase

The parts in italics offer more background


I started climbing at 25 and after a few years realized that I was racking up 2-3 pulley injuries per year. Each injury would take me out of the game 6-12 weeks and affect my stoke for climbing. I eventually found my way to healthy, stronger fingers with this program. 


1) The KettleBell Test


You’ll want to pick up a kettlebell using a half crimp.

Here’s a good, refresher article on the open hand, half crimp, and full crimp positions.


Try starting with a 15lbs, 20lbs, or 25lbs kettlebell.

You’ll pick up the kettlebell using a half crimp on the bar.

Now, feel out whether you can do 10 reps of 20 seconds holding this weight.

Be conservative with your estimate.

Start small; you’ll ramp up over time.


Now that you picked your starting weight, let’s get into the details of the training plan!


So... after a few years of injury frustration and getting benched, it was time to do things differently. There are so many videos of superhumans like Adam Ondra beasting their way thru work outs with add-on weight. Those videos and workouts don't apply to someone who started late but we get tricked into thinking that being hardcore is the way to make strides.

So I wondered what kids have on adults? Why do they get sooo strong so young!? Sure, they have their hormones kicking in during adolescence that help with supportive tissue strength, but they’re also lighter, and way more mobile/flexible. I wondered if I could trick the body into adapting the way it does when you grow up... for that, I had to start with less weight and take a long-term approach.

I also borrowed some concepts from runners. Runners build supportive tissues by doing mileage, not explosive track workouts (so why add weight to your fingerboard routine when you’re building the supportive tissues?! It doesn’t make sense). Also, runners typically add 10% to the volume every 6 weeks! We'll come back to that concept later.


2) The Warm Up


Before we talk about the two methods for this routine, let’s talk about your warm up.

If you’re not warming up and giving a chance for your appendages to get blood flow and get mobile, this is an area to improve on. There are tons of ways to warm up either with dynamic activities on a mat, doing easy climbs, finger flicks for your fingers, “open hand-claw-duck-fist” for your hands, wrist rolls, shoulder exercises, jumping jacks, good mornings, air squats, yoga, etc.

Target all areas but also target areas where you know you’re tight or where you’ve had injuries in the past.

Do it until you feel blood flowing in your body and until you feel more limber. For example, my friend Zach does 100 movements as part of his warm up routine.


3) The Workouts!


Option #1:


Get a hang board. I recommend this bad boy because it’s made out of wood making it easier on your skin, and the 4 finger rungs feel ergonomic for my shoulders.

The Beastmaker 1000: Amazon.com: Beastmaker 1000


Get a pulley system so you can put your harness on, tie into a cordelette, and on the other end of it attach weight! (More on that later). 

Steph Davis has a good article on pulley systems on her blog.


Let’s go back to the kettlebell test.

Let’s say your starting weight on each hand is 25lbs; so 50lbs total across both hands.

We’re going to remove weight from the system by using the pulley system you set up underneath your hangboard.

Meaning you’ll tie in and attach weight on the other side of the cordelette.

So, if you weigh 150lbs, we need to tie 100lbs to the other side of the cordelette.

This way, you’re doing hangboard hangs with 50lbs spread across your two arms, therefore 25lbs on each arm!


I bought kettlebells (25lbs, 35lbs, and 45lbs) for home work outs and I have light dumbbells (2x 4lbs & 2x 6lbs).

I put the small dumbbells in a bag and tie the bag and/or the kettlebells to the opposite side of the cordelette for the counterweight.

Amazon.com: Kettlebells

Amazon.com: Dumbbells


The workout is 3 sets total:

(You’ll rest to full recovery between each set, or roughly 5 minutes.)


Set #1:


20 second, open hand hang on the 4 finger, 2 pad rung (the big ones)

20 second rest

20 second, half crimp hang on the 4 finger, 1 pad rung(the smaller rung under the big one)

20 second rest

20 second, open hand hang on the 4 finger, 2 pad rung

20 second rest

20 second, half crimp hang on the 4 finger, 1 pad rung

20 second rest

20 second, open hand hang on the 4 finger, 2 pad rung

20 second rest

20 second, half crimp hang on the 4 finger, 1 pad rung

20 second rest

20 second, open hand hang on the 4 finger, 2 pad rung

20 second rest

20 second, half crimp hang on the 4 finger, 1 pad rung

20 second rest

20 second, open hand hang on the 4 finger, 2 pad rung

20 second rest

20 second, half crimp hang on the 4 finger, 1 pad rung


Rest to a full recovery


Set #2 (same as #1)


Rest to a full recovery


Set #3


Why 20 seconds hangs and not shorter hangs?

We’re training your supportive tissues and letting them know that this type of stress is the new normal. We’re not wrecking your finger pulleys with extra weight or hard rungs, they don’t heal fast enough.

It’s a slow adaptation.


Option #1 does a decent job of training aerobic fitness. You’ll see early gains in your endurance before you notice overall finger strength gains that translate into limit bouldering. These early aerobic gains will help your endurance and roped climbing.


So that was 1 work out.

You’ll do a total of 12 of the exact same workouts over 6 or more weeks.

This will count as your first cycle.

Your first cycle might be boring because it’ll feel easy. It might even feel like you’re not getting anywhere with it… just roll with it. Remember, we’re training your body to adapt slowly over time.

So bust out the music, or the podcasts, talk sh*t to your roomie, sweet talk your SO into cooking dinner while you work out; have fun!


After you completed your first cycle you will add 10% to your starting weight.

Our starting weight was 50lbs, so we’ll go up to 55lbs.

If you’re 150lbs, this means you’ll now tie 95lbs to the other side of your pulley system.


Go thru another 12 workouts for your 2nd cycle, add another 10% weight, and so on.


Listen to your body as much as possible!

Fractured an ankle? Great! (I mean, not great) but now you can probably do these every other day for a while. But if you’re climbing and doing these workouts, you’ll want to rest plenty.

Since hangboarding is more controlled than say bouldering, it’s best to do these workouts the day after a hard bouldering sesh. They can also be good to bring blood flow to your forearms and fingers to flush out any soreness.

Overall, air on the safe side. Just listen to your body and take it easy. It will pay off!


Ramping back up to your body weight may take 2-3 years.

It may seem like a long time, but it really isn’t in the grand scheme of things.

As Steve House and Scott John say in "Training for the new Alpinism" we're focusing on Continuity, Modulation, and Gradualness.


I’m writing this on 12/2/2017 and haven’t had a finger pulley injury since 12/23/2016.

That’s a record for me! I tried everything from 2012 to 2016 and this is what gave me the results I was looking for. As far as my performance goes, I climb V6-V7 regularly now (My benchmark is the same gym and plastic). When i’m at the top of my bouldering game, I project V8. I also lead 5.12b and am soon going to try 5.12c for the second time! I nearly flashed a softer 5.12c a while go. Total surprise! And you can imagine, i'm psyched, having fun climbing without the worry of hurting myself, and I can focus on trying hard.

Okay, it’s not all perfect: I did pull something in my hand on a v8 pinch 5-6 weeks ago. It’s probably a lumbrical injury! Not a finger pulley tho. I wonder if using this same method with pinch blocks could help with rehab and overall lumbrical/supportive tissue strength in that part of the hand! I’m testing this out.


Option #2:


Get some Crimpwerks (or build your own) and some slings:

Amazon.com: Crimpwerks Finger Strength Trainer

Amazon.com: Black Diamond Slings


Let's go back to the kettlebell test: What's your starting weight?

You'll tie the singlehand weight to each Crimpwerk.

You’ll then hold the crimpwerk in a half crimp position (both arms), and carry the weight for each rep as if you're doing a farmer's carry.


Since this isn’t a hangboard workout you can’t swap between rungs of different sizes, so we'll focus on the half crimp position.

Your work out is 3 sets total:


Set #1:


20 second carry using half crimp position

20 to 60 second rest

20 second carry using half crimp position

20 to 60 second rest

20 second carry using half crimp position

20 to 60 second rest

20 second carry using half crimp position

20 to 60 second rest

20 second carry using half crimp position

20 to 60 second rest


Rest to recovery


Set #2


Rest to recovery


Set #3



4) A Recap on Cycles


Each cycle includes 12 of the same work out.

You’ll add 10% weight to each cycle and work your way back to your body weight across a couple years.


Again, there is no rush with this.

Listen to your body and back off at signs of strains, pains, tears, etc.

But if you do this well and with patience, I guarantee you’ll see cool results!


Modifications of this workout are great for training aerobic fitness.

Since the workouts create a lot of blood flow, and contain fairly long hangs, you’ll see some endurance gains that translate well to the ropes.


Tangent About Mobility:

Another thing kids have on adults is that they’re mobile AF. I recommend looking up hip mobility exercises and making sure yours are awake and engaged in hard moves; especially if you have a desk job! There are other workouts you can look up to help the core connect the foot to the arms.








I borrowed ideas and got inspiration from several people!

Special Thanks to Zach Fletcher at MindBodyClimb for helping me be more self-reflective with climbing, and showing his way of climbing with "Courage, Love, and Resilience!" Thanks for all of your mind and body training tips Zach!

Another thanks is reserved to these gentlemen for writing great climbing, training books:

Steve House and Scott Johnston's Book: Training for the New Alpinism

Michael Anderson's Book: The Rock Climber's Training Manual

Last but not least, my early climbing coaching was with Kris Peters and Justen Sjong! Can't forget the early lessons!



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