Alright, so it’s not really a secret anymore. But it’s still a formula, and it’s been used to achieve amazing results. This is part 2 of my LEARNING HOW TO CLIMB series. If you haven’t already, go back and read Part 1 to get an idea of why I am doing this and some tips for setting goals to be smashed.

This post goes over the formula I am using to learn how to rock climb, taken from uber-man-machine Tim Ferriss. The video below gives a brief intro to this formula, but placed in the matrix of learning how to cook, instead of climb. Have a watch, specifically from 1 min 30 onwards:

[Note: I am not trying to be a world class climber (perhaps 10 years + experience needed), in 3 months. I am ,however, trying to become a decent climber in 3 months which would otherwise take around 30-36 months. If I can learn to climb 12X faster than the average person, I will be stoked, and will probably still qualify for Ferriss’ top 0.5%]


  1. Deconstruction – what are the minimum, learnable units? What are the lego blocks of rock climbing?
  2. Selection – what 20% of these lego blocks are going to give me 80% of my desired results – Climbing V4-V7 Bouldering grades and lead sport route grades of 7a, by March 2013?
  3. Sequencing – In what order do I use these selected lego blocks?
  4. Stakes – What are the real consequences in place to guarantee that I follow the program?

    1. Deconstruction

    The lego blocks of climbing: balance, strength, power, endurance, technique, cognitive deciphering capacity, equipment, safety…..Without going too deeply into any of them, these are a few of the key lego blocks I have come across since working at White Spider.
    Dave MacLeod reckons that; Movement Technique, Finger Strength, Endurance and Body Mass are the ‘Big Four’, and since starting my experiment, I would have to agree with these as being key for someone who already climbs. Taken from his amazing book.

    2. Selection
    This is where it gets interesting. I need to choose 20% of the lego blocks that will get me 80% or more of my results…
    To establish a sensible selection, I asked my colleagues (way more experienced climbers than me) what would be their top 3 climbing related skills that they wish they had been taught earlier, or learnt the hard way and couldn’t climb without.
    That gave me a good selection of answers to choose from, and I simply looked at which answers came up most frequently to see which were the most important things to learn.
    So this is what I have chosen:

    • Technique: I have none! Now there are many techniques used in climbing, and it’s not really possible to list them all and learn them all. Instead, going through another simplifying process, here are some lego blocks that exist within the technical field – Footwork, Climbing with straight arms, Turning the hips to increase reach.
    • Endurance:  I don’t have a lot. I aim to increase this by two ways; climbing a lot (circuits, lactic tolerance training) and conditioning my forearms separately, seeing as they are the first body part to pump-out and fatigue.
    • Cognitive Deciphering Capacity: also known as looking at a route and climbing it in your head, before you actually climb it. Not very good at this, so I’m using bouldering as a way to improve and learn it.
    • Equipment: Clipping in on lead routes; I suck at this, and this is pretty vital to being able to climb 7a!(Even though I am a novice climber, other safety and equipment familiarities are intrinsic to my job description, so I get enough chances to practice and learn the right procedures as it is, without the need to spend extra time on them.)

    3. Sequencing
    It’s all good having the right lego blocks, but build them in the wrong order, and your castle collapses. Again, asking my colleagues’ opinions on sequence, this is the order I came up with for being able to climb well:

    Sequencing Flow Chart


    4. Stakes
    There are a few. They cross-link with each other, which means if I fall behind on one goal, the others are affected. Allow me to explain.

    Weight – If I stay at 77kg and don’t cut to 74kg, 2 things happen: more strain on my grip strength, and I don’t get to a shredded, ripped state within my Maximum Muscle Potential. Strained grip leads to faster burnout, which leads to less climbing.
    For the record, I’m using the Lean Gains Intermittent Fasting protocol for my weight loss/maintenance. I will write a more detailed post relating to food and weight in due course.
    Conditioning – If I don’t stretch, 2 things happen: I risk injuring myself again, which simply is not an option, and I don’t get to utilise my full range of motion within muscle/joint groups, meaning less power and strength can be utilised.
    If I don’t train my muscles, I won’t have the strength and capacity to be able to climb for long enough periods of time where my new neuro-pathways can form.
    Climbing – If I don’t climb, then what the hell else am I going to do!? I live outside the climbing centre, and put myself in this environment for a reason. My goals are literally staring me in the face every day, so to not try and achieve them would make me feel like I’m wasting my time – one of the advantages of hacking your environment.
    Competition – I’m not training for a climbing competition, although if one does come up, perhaps I could put it on the calendar for extra-incentive. I am a very competitive person by nature, more so with myself; I have a strong desire to improve at skill sets. I also have also bet with a couple of friends who already climb, that I will crush their asses by March. Just their response of ‘No chance mate!’ is enough fuel to push me. I do feel, however, if I wasn’t friends with so many broke-assed dirtbags, that I would put £350 down to see who could climb the hardest grades by March. Unfortunately my mates don’t really have that cash, or the same goals as me, so it doesn’t really work out. I could use, a website that donates money to a charity you really don’t want your money to go to, if you fail your target. It’s a fantastic idea in principle, but I think I have enough motivation as it is..


Ca.F.E. is another very useful acronym Ferriss uses.

C is for Compression
Can I compress all the knowledge I need relating to Learning How To Climb, on one page?

Yes, and here it is:

cheatsheet(Note: I will post more about conditioning later on in the series…)

F is for Frequency

How often do I need to put these lego blocks and sequences into action?

Everyday: Stretching wrists and fingers, and my back.
6 days a week: Abs/Back 101 conditioning, Pull-up/Push-up conditioning
3 days a week: Forearms/Grip conditioning
6 days a week: Stretching: Hips and Hammies one day, Shoulder Sequence the next.
5/6 days a week: Climbing: 2 X Heavy Days (lactic tolerance training via climbing circuits)                                             3/4 X Light Days (technique-based)
1 day a week: Complete rest + Food Cheat Day

E is for Encoding
How can I ensure that I remember what to do?
The one-pager helps a lot. With regards to the climbing sequencing,
For other stuff, like equipment checks, I have come up with my own cheesey acronym for tying in to my harness with the rope correctly:
Top-down, you won’t drop down,
Down-up, you clown, wound up, dead.

(Note: At the time of writing this, I am on week 2, and I am already turning into a monster, physically and mentally. Can’t wait to share with you the progressions!)

Harry Cloudfoot is a professional dirt bag, surviving off of free crumbs and air guitar charged prana. He teaches people how to slackline and is currently being recruited by the awesome White Spider Climbing Centre to maintain morale.

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14 thoughts on “Self-Experiment | LEARNING HOW TO CLIMB | PART 2 | HOW? WITH THE SECRET FORMULA

  1. This is fascinating and something I will overlay over my existing knowledge of clombing
    As a point of wisdom though, connective tissue in the body does not care how quickly you learn something, it only cares about how mich stress it can handle.
    Be careful as you learn climbing quckly because your muscles gain the strength to do to intense movements associated with climbing at ~3x times the rate that your connective tissue gains the ability to accomodate it.
    Tendonitis and much worse can result.

    • Thanks ZTyler,
      Yes, I have noticed the strain on the tendons in my hands already!
      Wise words there – I am currently paying a lot of attention to how my tendons feel, as of course, I do not want any injuries.
      More about this in part 3, being posted very soon.

      Thanks again for the advice,

      • Hey harry,

        This is awesome! I would love to learn to climb someday–this is very inspiring.

        I used to study russian martial arts and they REALLY emphasized tendon/connective tissue strength (above and beyond muscular strength, though the two are linked). In order to train this we would do bodyweight exercises VERY slowly as well as static holds. I.e. Instead of doing sets and sets of pushups and squats (though we definitely did this as well) we would have to do ONE continuous pushup over the course of five minutes, or hold a static pushup position for as long as we possibly could. This applies to any other bodyweight exercise (squats, etc–though always be safe and mindful of your back) and is a great way to increase your kinesthetic sense and how tension travels in and around your body, how to move most efficiently, etc. We would also do things like hold a staff in both fists and try to ‘break it’ (not possible) by flexing the wrists or elbows in different directions for various intervals (or until we just fatigued the connective tissue and couldn’t continue).

        I don’t know if any of this stuff is scientifically valid, but a lot of the more experienced guys had GIGANTIC forearms, crazy grip strength and an overall wiriness/long-lasting strength despite not having very big muscles.

        Best of luck in your training and journeys!


      • Hi Eric,

        Thanks for sharing – I glad you liked the article.

        That’s very interesting what you said about static holds and using a super-slow cadence for calisthenic movements.
        It’s funny – I’m on week 7, and have made amendments to my core conditioning program, basically realising that I need more static tension holds, focusing more on an isometric contraction than rep count.
        Great to read that you applied a similar philosophy in your martial arts practice when strengthening connective tissue.
        So my interest spikes as I try to think of creative ways to do the same for the fingers/hands/wrists without using a fingerboard… Your staff technique sounds great, as does gripping a potato or apple that I have read about. Any other ideas of how this could be applied to the hands?

        Thanks again for commenting,

    • Eric that’s brilliant, I see your point and it makes sense to me. I’m not a doctor but I’ll ask around amongst people that would know better than me. Great point….
      I know that the sudden movements involving insane amounts of muscle tension, like “dyno”-ing while bouldering is what started my tendonitis issues. Seems that the oppositie (reversal) of this would be more beneficial for muscle strength and for preserving/improving the connective tissue.
      This new perspective is great.

  2. Pingback: Self-Experiment | LEARNING HOW TO CLIMB | PART 3 | WHY YOU NEED A TRIAL | harrycloudfoot

  3. Pingback: Self-Experiment | Learning to Climb | Part 4 | LET NATURE DO THE WORK | harrycloudfoot

  4. Pingback: Self-Experiment | Learning to Climb | Part 5 | NUTRITION: THE DIRTBAG’S GUIDE TO EATING CLEAN | harrycloudfoot

  5. Pingback: Self-Experiment | Learning to Climb | Part 6 | CONDITIONING: How to get strong for climbing, FAST | harrycloudfoot

  6. I have to thank you for the efforts you’ve put in writing this site. I really hope to see the same high-grade blog posts by you later on as well. In truth, your creative writing abilities has inspired me to get my own, personal blog now 😉

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