4 secrets to climbing with a toddler

"...3, 2, 1 stop, 2, 1, go..." My husband's voice cuts through the mental strain and gives me something to hold onto. I let go and shake off the fatigue building in my forearms and let the relief run through me, but just for a second (literally) before his voice prompts me to start my next set.

I trade places with my husband when I finish, grabbing my phone to time his sets and squatting next to my son on our crash pad. At 3 he is beginning to show interest in climbing, especially on our basement wall, though our current training routine has proven too long for the wall to hold his interest on its own.

As I snuggle next to him, mentally preparing for the next round (narrow pinch!) he says "Mama, what did Marion said to Thomas?" I take a second to understand the context of what he is asking and do my best to answer while also watching the timer and keeping my husbands time in my head, "...I think she had a question about her shovel..." He looks at me, skeptical, and then seems to accept the answer before being absorbed back into the Thomas storyline. "3, 2, 1, stop, 2,1 go..."

We switch places again, always making sure, someone is on the crash pad to be with our son. I replace my chalked fingers and hang, the basement, and the hang board fades to the background. "...get everyone dressed, grab the library books that need to be returned so I can drop them off on my way to the park...don't forget to let the dog out and fill up her water...oh shoot, I need to reschedule the dentist because we already have a chiropractor appointment then..." The skin on my fingers starts to pinch and burn under my weight and my mind is snapped back to the present. "...3,2,1 stop, 2,1, go..."

I remember a conversation we had last week after training about how to know when to increase the difficulty. As with anything, there are certain telltale signs but hang board training is a bit different. The tendons of the fingers are strong but just a fraction away from being tweaked at any moment. Fingers also have the odd ability to get tweaked one day but not show up as an injury until the next so you don't actually know you've pushed it too far until...you've pushed it too far.

A typical hang board session looks something like this; using a pre-made hang board with plastic holds like crimpers, jugs, and 2 finger pockets, we hang for 7-second sets without the use of our feet with 3 seconds rests in between sets. We use the Trango Rock Prodigy hang board. Depending on the difficulty we add weight via a pulley system we set up. The exercise is meant to strengthen fingers and forearms in order to prolong and enhance grip strength on the rock.

As a general rule in most kinds of workouts you want to go until failure, but going to failure when hang boarding can sometimes mean pulling a tendon and having to rest for months. It's a fine line and as my husband says "...if you're relaxed enough that your mind can wander it's probably too easy and you should add weight." I make a note in my training log to add weight next time.

The theory is true, if your focus is divided it's hard to make progress. This is true of anything, not just climbing. In fact, this is one of the main reasons I was drawn to climbing in the first place. Without total focus, you fail. The focus is an escape. I can get lost in the footholds and the sequence. It is all-consuming, there just isn't room to think about anything else, and for a classic over-thinker that's everything.

After having my son I lost that outlet for a while, that all-consuming drive to complete a move or a climb. We started training again 5 weeks ago and I was reminded of how much I need it. Not just the physical but the mental challenge, maybe even more so. The pain, the difficulty, that next hold being close, but not close enough. It becomes bigger than me when I'm hanging on that hang board just trying to get through the 7-second set...yea, you read that right, it's only 7 seconds, but when you're hanging by nothing but your 2 middle fingers? It's a black hole of nothing. My world shrinks to little more than plastic and pain.

I pick up my phone covering it in chalky fingerprints and look at the time. We have managed to finish our 45-minute hang board training just in time to get to our morning playdate. My brain takes off in a tailspin of last-minute tasks I must complete on our way out the door.

Hang board is the primary exercise for this stage in the training cycle, the second part is just supplementals but I've found they have made the most impact on my climbing. It calls for 100 pull-ups split up into 10 sets of 10. Each set is a different variation; wide, narrow, off-set, and so on. Then 4 sets of 15 push-ups and a bunch of ridiculous ab work.

We've taken to breaking up our workout into 2 parts because 2 hours is a lot for a toddler to tolerate. As I drive across town plotting the day and trying to figure out when I will fit in the second part of our training routine, I feel the morning's endorphins flood my body, and a day with toddlers seems a bit more possible.

Most of my days are filled with exhausting toddler questions, playdates, grocery lists, appointments, and household chores. But for those few hours of training during the week? There's nothing but the simple, albeit sometimes painful, task of just holding on long enough to get to the next set. A small reminder that I am still a climber and still have a place in that community once my family is ready to rejoin.

Before I had kids this was not an important distinction to make but now? Every day is about finding a balance between the two. I need one in order to succeed at the other. I used to think my climbing life would simply take a hiatus when I had my son and, once he was ready, the three of us would slip seamlessly back to where we left off. What I didn't account for was that my son may have his own opinions about that. He doesn't always want to climb. Most days he wants to stay home, be naked, and play with trucks and trains. The trick is to find a way for our desires to coexist. Doing what he wants exclusively would erase who I am as a person and not making room for him to have his own passions and opinions would be a disservice to his developing personality.

There are four key components that I think have made training, with a toddler in tow, possible.

First, time management is huge. Since the total workout is close to 2 hours long, starting early in the day is a must. The night before I usually go through my training log and write out the workout. It helps me mentally prepare to workout right away in the morning. It also helps if my son and I have a morning activity planned. I usually count back from the time the activity starts and give myself 1.5 hours to finish and get ready to leave the house. So, if the playdate is at 9 am, I need to start at 7 am to be on time. I find I am more motivated to get the first half of the workout done before we leave to have time to finish the second half later in the day.

Second, have a plan. If we don't prepare the night before, or at least remind each other that we are training the next day it inevitably gets pushed back. We are sleep-deprived parents of a 3-year-old lunatic so you can see how easily this might happen! But, pushing off the start time, at least for me, creates a lot of stress and anxiety. Since I stay home with my son I am pretty much at the mercy of his schedule/meltdowns, so trying to squeeze in the entire workout later just feels overwhelming.

Third, we are dealing with a toddler, so always have a backup plan and be flexible! As I mentioned before, hang boarding is the priority for this phase of training, meaning if I only time for half of the workout that day I will choose hang boarding. Supplementals are just that. They are extra. Also, if for whatever reason nothing goes to plan be prepared to either skip the workout or push it to the next day. It's about doing what you can and making the most of it.

Fourth, have enough activities, toys, whatever to entertain your kid while training. For our son, this means trucks and trains! We basically move our living room into the basement in order to entertain him. We also bring down his potty, water, and snacks to make sure we don't have to interrupt the flow of training too much to get something vital upstairs.

We still train and we still climb, but it looks a lot different with a toddler around. It's not always pretty but it's always worth it and not just for us. Our son is learning consistency, discipline, and what it means to try hard.

If I've missed a secret that you use to make it work, for love of toddler-moms everywhere, please tell me!