Training For Stone By John Bachar


Discussion Topic

Return to Forum List
This thread has been locked
Messages 1 - 18 of total 18 in this topic
Mark Force

Trad climber
Ashland, Oregon
Topic Author's Original Post - Mar 3, 2016 - 08:15am PT
Based on some recent ST activity, seemed like it would be worth posting this training program written by John Bachar. He was way ahead of the training game when he wrote Training for Stone and a lot of what he used for training, though much of it has fallen out of fashion, contains principles as sound as when he originally wrote them.

A lot of it covers the Bachar Ladder as it was written to go with a Bachar Ladder kit that Chouinard Equipment manufactured in the 80s. But, the real gems here are in the principles of training that once understood can be applied in any bodyweight movements and apparatus.

Hopefully, this thread will draw out, too, stories about Bachar that reflect his training, climbing, personality, and infuence!


In the last decade, the art of free climbing has advanced considerably. The reasons for this advancement are varied; climbing techniques are becoming more refined, modern equipment is stronger, lighter, and easier to use, and training methods are becoming more popular and more effective. I believe that the latter has contributed to the rise in standards as much as any of the others.

Initially, climbers didnt train for routes except by doing other routes. The first popular type of training was probably bouldering, now practiced as a sport in its own right. Bouldering was,and still is, good preparation for free climbing. It simulates the physical aspects of roped climbing, is good practice for technique, and develops a certain amount of strength as well. Gradually climbers devised "artificial" exercises to simulate the most common climbing movements and thereby strengthen the main muscle groups used in free climbing. At the onset these consisted of a few simple exercises such as pull-ups and push-ups. Today, however, many specialized exercises are being employed to develop the body for free climbing. The success of any of these exercises depends on how closely they simulate climbing movements in posture, direction and range of motion, and speed of motion.

Training is the mental and physical conditioning of an individual preparing for intense neural and muscular reaction. It means discipline of the mind and power and endurance of the body. It means skill and technique. It is all these things working together in harmony.

Training for free climbing is complex. Some climbers feel that they must have enormous amounts of strength to climb, yet strength without technique is useless. Others feel that with exceptional technique they don't need much strength, but technique without strength is limiting also. Still others have good technique and are very strong, but they don' t have the necessary mental qualities to be a good leader. Since the climber can train many qualities, the first step in any training program is to decide which qualities to train.

In order to understand the value of different strengthening exercises, one should be aware of a few simple facts about skeletal muscle.

One of the most important facts about muscle tissue is that there are basically two different types. White muscle fibers are called fast twitch and red muscle fibers are called slow twitch. The slow type are characterized by the fact that they are supplied with energy by aerobic means (with oxygen) while the fast type utilize energy anaerobically (without oxygen).

It is important to know that there are two different types of muscle fiber because an understanding of basic kinesiology will help you to design the most effective workout program for your own needs.

Power, or explosive strength, is the force which can be applied by a brief maximal effort. It is the type of strength necessary for the crux moves of a very difficult climb or for a very strenuous boulder problem. The one arm pull-up, front lever, and the iron cross are some examples of explosive strength type efforts.

Explosive strength activities utilize the white muscle fibers which are the fast contracting fibers that provide energy through the breakdown of glycogen (the main energy source for muscular work) by anaerobic means. that is, with out oxygen. These fibers are slow to resynthesize energy so they fatigue rapidly.

Muscle tension is the key to the development of explosive strength. A thousand contractions a day will not increase strength unless sufficient tension is developed in the muscle. As muscles become stronger, either the tension must be increased, or the duration and frequency of the application of tension must be increased in order to stimulate further growth.

Explosive strength can be trained by performing low repetition, high resistance type exercises with adequate rest between sets. Doing more than five repetitive isotonic (dynamic as in a pull-up) efforts, or isometric (static as in holding an iron cross) contractions held beyond ten seconds, are not as stimulating as shorter exertions with more resistance, because the muscle tension is less than maximal.

A general rule for both power and endurance training is to use isometric (static) exercises to develop muscles which perform isometrically (e.g. fingers, toes), and isotonic (dynamic) exercises to develop muscles which perform isotonically (e.g. arms, legs).

The following are excellent explosive strength exercises for free climbing:
One arm pull-up (on a chinning bar or on a finger edge).
Two arm pull-up with maximum weight hung around the waist (on a chinning bar or on a fingertip edge).
Front lever and front lever raise (on a bar or on an edge).
Iron cross on the still rings.
Butterfly mount on the still rings.
One arm isometric fingertip hang (on fingertip edge).
Two arm isometric fingertip hang with weight hung from waist (on fingertip edge).
Parallel bar dip with maximum weight hung from waist.

Muscular endurance is the ability to sustain a muscular force or to perform continuous muscular work. It is the type of strength necessary for a long continuous pitch or for a difficult all day climb.

Unlike explosive strength efforts, endurance work utilizes both the fast contracting white fibers (as discussed in the section on power) and the slow contracting red fibers. These red fibers provide energy by aerobic means (with oxygen) and can do so continuously so they are very difficult to fatigue. The white fibers (anaerobic) have more power but fatigue easier, while the red fibers (aerobic) are weaker but can work longer.

In endurance work there is a gradually changing dependence on "anaerobic" and "aerobic" systems as maximal muscular work time increases. A short strenuous boulder problem would require mostly "anaerobic" systems while a long strenuous crack would tax mostly the "aerobic" systems. An exhaustive climb that lasts two minutes is approximately 50% anaerobic and 50% aerobic in content.

Training for muscular endurance involves a combination of both "aerobic" and "anaerobic" exercises. This is best accomplished by a series of brief intervals of intense muscular effort interrupted by intervals of effort at a more moderate level.

Always do the more "anaerobic" exercises first, working toward the more "aerobic" exercises next, and doing circuit training (explained below) last. Increasing power may increase endurance but muscular endurance exercise does not increase power.

The following are excellent exercises for the development of muscular endurance for free climbing. (The exercises in the Power section may also be used if one's power is sufficient):
Boulder traverses ("arm" or "toe" traverses).
Strenuous top ropes.
Two arm pull-ups ( on a bar or edge).
Rope climbing.
Rope ladder climbing.
Parallel bar dips.
Two arm fingertip hang on a fingertip edge.

Circuit training - The circuit training method of developing muscular and cardiorespiratory endurance can be used with all the above exercises. The method consists of a series of exercises performed non-stop at several stations (arranged in a closed path). The climber progresses from station to station performing each exercise with the intensity and duration necessary to increase muscular endurance. Local fatigue is avoided by exercising a remote muscle group at succeeding stations. Progression in training is accomplished by gradually reducing the time allowed to complete a full circuit.

Excellent cardiorespiratory endurance for free climbing may also be obtained from circuit training. The cardiorespiratory benefits from circuit training are more specific to free climbing than those obtained from other cardiorespiratory activities such as running or jumping rope.

Technique is the method by which the climber achieves greater mechanical efficiency, using fewer muscles and by employing those used to better advantage. Energy saved by technique can be utilized in the longer persistence or the more forceful expression of an act.

Training technique is a matter of forming proper connections in the nervous system by precision practice. Each time one climbs, it strengthens the connections involved and makes the next climb easier, more certain and more readily done.

Bouldering and top-roping are excellent opportunities for the practice of technique. They allow the climber to concentrate on his movement without other distractions such as the fear of falling, placing protection, loose rock, etc. Attention should always be given to improving form.

Balance means the control of one' s center of gravity. It is the utilization of one* s body position in connection with the pull of gravity in order to facilitate upwards movement. The climber uses balance whether he is on a low angle slab, a vertical wall, or an overhang. His "sense" of balance determines his choice of hand and footholds as he "balances" his way up the rock. Like technique, balance is best practiced by actual climbing. One should learn to "feel" where his/her center of gravity is and where it is pulling her both in motion and in stillness. Good balance is acquired by years of climbing experience and does- not come overnight.

Flexibility is a very important quality for the climber. Flexible muscles have more contraction and relaxation capacity, better blood circulation, and are less injury prone than "tight" muscles. They also allow the climber greater ease of movement and better use of the rock surrounding him.
Stretching and flexibility exercises should by done daily. They can either be developed by the climber on his own, or can be adapted from other activities such as gymnastics, yoga, ballet and the martial arts.

Coordination is by all means one of the most important considerations in any study of proficiency in sports and athletics. It is the quality which enable the climber to bring together his technique, balance, strength, endurance, mental control, and emotional poise during a climb.

Hell executed movement means the nervous system has been trained to the point where it sends impulses to certain muscles, causing these muscles to contract at exactly the proper fraction of a second. At the same time, impulses to the unneeded muscles are shut off, allowing those muscles to relax.

The transition from totally uncoordinated muscular effort to skill of the highest perfection is a process of developing the connections in the nervous system.

The outstanding characteristic of the expert climber is his/her ease of movement, even during potentially dangerous situations or maximal effort. The novice is characterized by his tenseness, wasted motion, and excess effort. The characteristic "ease" of the expert is his ability to relax.

Relaxation refers to the degree of tension in the musculature. The rule in sports is to try to have no more tension in the acting muscles than is necessary to perform the act, and to relax the muscles not being used as much as possible. A relaxed climber expends mental and physical energy constructively, conserving it when it does not contribute to the solution of the problem and spending it freely when it does. It does not mean he is lax and moves and thinks slowly. Neither does it mean he is careless or indifferent. The relaxation desired is relaxation of muscles, rather than of mind or attention.

Training on the rope ladder will help you develop endurance and "lock-off" capacity. Though the exact spacing of the rungs will depend on your own strength and body size, there are some basic points to consider when installing the rungs on your ladder.

A wide variety of rung spacings are possible with this ladder system, but they can be grouped into three basic categories: Singles, doubles, and triples.

Singles Spacing
To make a singles ladder, the rungs are placed rather far apart so that each consecutive reach involves pulling up into a fully "locked-off" position in order to reach the next rung. The approximate spacing distance for a singles ladder is anywhere between 24 and 32 inches depending on the climber* s strength and height.

Doubles Spacing
The rungs for a doubles ladder are spaced approximately one-half the distance used for a singles ladder, or anywhere between 12 and 16 inches apart. With the doubles ladder, the climber can either ascend using consecutive rungs (called "doing singles"), or he can skip rungs by performing consecutive "lock-offs" (called "doing doubles"). A "Doubles" ladder allows the climber more variety and a chance to work out more muscle groups than the "Singles" ladder.

Triples Spacing
The "Triples" ladder has rungs that are spaced about one-third of the distance of the "Singles" ladder spacings, or anywhere between 7 to 10 inches apart. The "Triples" ladder provides three different climbing patterns (i.e. singles, doubles, or triples), and the most variety of all. I have never used a "Quadruples" ladder but I have a feeling it may be a little too cluttered.

Other patterns for rung spacings can be developed from the above ideas. For example, your ladder might begin with singles spacings and gradually progress towards doubles and triples spacings near the top.

I have also seen slanted rungs (i.e. non-level rungs), and "spinners" (made by placing a PVC tube over the rung before attaching the rung on the ropes). A couple of "slanters" or "spinners" added to the ladder might give you more variety and a chance to exercise a wider variety of muscle groups.
Combinations are good for general overall training, simplicity is best for isolating muscle groups. Choice between combinations or simplicity depends upon the availability of other training devices, time for workouts, and energy available for working out.

Training on the rope ladder is very strenuous. The climber wishing to strengthen himself/herself on it must be very fit in order to reap full benefit and avoid injury from it. The following are a few words of caution when using the ladder.

Train don't strain. It is preferable to work out moderately over a period of years than to adopt an extreme exercise program that aims at high levels of strength in a few months.

Talk to someone who knows how to train. If this is not possible, then try to read some books on exercise physiology or on general training principles. In training, what counts is quality, not quantity.

If you feel any pain during or after training, STOP YOUR WORKOUT. Go to a physician if the pain is severe or rest a few days and if the pain is still present, then go. It is far better to lay off for a couple of weeks now than have to lay off later for several months or years! (Believe me, I should know!).

In particular, be very careful while descending the rope ladder. It may
be easier to descend than to ascend, but much greater forces are developed in the tendons and muscles and joints while descending ( it is well known that more force is developed in the tendon during the eccentric contraction of a muscle group). Be especially careful about "jerking" your entire body weight onto one arm when lowering onto each rung. Just before your arm becomes straight, try to grab the next rung with your free hand (or better yet, use your feet while descending to be really safe).

There is a fine line between super-fitness and over-training and injury. Unfortunately, one usually has to cross that line in order to find ones own limits. Signs of over-training should be listened to and watched very carefully. Enjoy your new adjustable rope ladder and TRAIN DON'T STRAIN!

In relation to other well established sports, the sport of free climbing is still in a state of infancy. Likewise, in comparison to the training methods used in other sports, the training methods used for free climbing are still in their early stages of development.

The training qualities presented in this article were arrived at by a process of simplifying the components that seem to be important in the complex activity He call free climbing. It may at times be useful to isolate these components in order to better understand what it is that helps us climb better but ultimately these "qualities" are meant to be forgotten. The more aware you become, the more you shed from day to day what you have learned so that your mind is always fresh and uncontaminated by previous conditioning. Training is important but do not become its slave. Any quality, however worthy and desirable, becomes a disease when the mind is obsessed with it.

Free climbing becomes an art only when there is absolute freedom. This means freedom from external aids (Direct physical aid, equipment, technology, etc.) and a continually increasing reliance upon one' s internal powers of mind, body, and spirit. The ultimate aim of free climbing is the realization of self and nature. It is my sincere hope that the ideas presented in this article will help you reach this goal.
Style First,

John Bachar

Here is a DropBox link for a copy of the original "manual" that was written to go with a Bachar Ladder kit manufactured by Chouinard Equipment in the 80s (the sign off has Bachar's signature) -
dirt claud

Social climber
san diego,ca
Mar 3, 2016 - 08:17am PT
Climbing content on ST, what the? JK. ;)
Good thread thanks.

Trad climber
Mar 3, 2016 - 08:18am PT
Thanks, dude. I was Googling this earlier based on the other thread. I look forward to getting some more traiing done.
dirt claud

Social climber
san diego,ca
Mar 3, 2016 - 08:22am PT
Found this cool old vid on, seams it was posted to youtube by our own Ed H.
[Click to View YouTube Video]

Mar 3, 2016 - 08:40am PT
After working out our sorry ass muscles, Bachar would tell us it's time to go to Sentinel Beach to work on our essential tanning action.

We all had to become bronze also ......
Mark Force

Trad climber
Ashland, Oregon
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 3, 2016 - 08:44am PT
So that's how you all became bronze "gods!"
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Mar 3, 2016 - 08:54am PT
those videos were collected by another STForum member, dogfather who made a CD available. I ripped the video and put it up on YouTube...

I recall that John was happy to see them again, having lost his copies in a Foresta fire that destroyed his home there.

He had posted the first reply as "acopaboy" which has since gone (I believe) as his various internet accounts evaporate.

To quote another infrequent STForum member from that era, "we were once young"

we should celebrate that, and the fact that we can celebrate that, and we should remember those who were young with us.
Mark Force

Trad climber
Ashland, Oregon
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 4, 2016 - 04:33pm PT
Bachar recommended a few tools in Training for Stone.

Chin Up Bar
Ultimately, a bar is a bar. This is my favorite though. It's really solid and you can hang all kinds of stuff from it.

Rope Climbing
1 1/2 manila is the standard. The nylon holds up outside well, but is much harder to hold onto. Having height (~ 20 feet is great, but you can, also, hang on a 9' ceiling and do mini laps and working on slow controlled movement and longer lock off reaches going for time under tension.

Thanks, Locker.

Easier on the shoulders and elbows for chins. Amazing for dips (much more challenging). Great tool for all kinds of bodyweight movements.

Bachar Ladder
Gotta build your own. Make sure to use static rope, if you do. Descend very slowly or using your feet. It's easy to eff up your elbows on the Bachar ladder and harder to do so when rope climbing. It's useful to note that Bachar advocated the stationary ladder for home training and the portable ladder as a travel tool.

Ice climber
Mar 4, 2016 - 08:55pm PT
Easier read than done, but what do you want for nuthin'. Rubber biscuits?

Social climber
joshua tree
Mar 4, 2016 - 09:30pm PT
So that's how you all became bronze "gods!"

sure you don't mean "Braun's God's"?


Mar 5, 2016 - 12:24am PT
Awesome thread, thanks for sharing- should reach 30 posts by 2019.
Delhi Dog

Good Question...
Mar 5, 2016 - 12:46am PT
Wow great stuff!
Thanks for this Mark, and I'd never seen that video before...haven't see Brenda since those days...

Boulder climber
Mar 5, 2016 - 01:09am PT

The piece seems to be heavily "ghost-written" and or edited.

4 Corners Area
Mar 5, 2016 - 05:30am PT
If you don't want to build a Bachar Ladder, try campusing the underbelly of stairs.
I used to train in the stairwells in my dorm building. Go up fast, then down slow and controlled. I got wicked strong that way. Then I could crux out for 15 20 minutes before finally letting my partner have a go on the latest project . . .
Mark Force

Trad climber
Ashland, Oregon
Topic Author's Reply - Mar 5, 2016 - 07:00am PT
We used to use the underside of stairs, too, at NAU campus in Flagstaff in the 70s. It was a great way to get strong. There was a 20' rope, horizontal ladder, and pegboard at the old style gymnasium on campus, too. The horizontal ladder is a great apparatus - monkey swinging and campusing type movements forward and back (single and multiple rungs) got you really strong.

It's unlikely that Bachar's training treatise is ghost written or had input from a technical editor. Based on the little that I was around him and know through interviews he was academic in his approach to studying training physiology.

It would be great to hear from people here who knew Bachar well and could share stuff about his training.

"Braun's God's" Good one, Blue! Werner, any more gems to add?

Trad climber
The state of confusion
Mar 5, 2016 - 11:32am PT
Bump for awesomeness!

Trad climber
Mar 5, 2016 - 03:37pm PT
Train don't Strain!

"IF YOU feel any pain during or after a workout STOP"

Awesomeness of the first degree, this article

Boulder climber
The high prairie of southern Colorado
Mar 6, 2016 - 02:26pm PT
We used to use the underside of stairs, too . . .

Yep. I started doing that in 1954. But the practice goes back to at least 1900 in Great Britain.

As my late math advisor used to tell me many years ago: nothing is really new.
Messages 1 - 18 of total 18 in this topic
Return to Forum List
Our Guidebooks
spacerCheck 'em out!
SuperTopo Guidebooks

guidebook icon
Try a free sample topo!

SuperTopo on the Web

Recent Route Beta