In Office Training & a Note on the Minotaur

Since my wife gave birth to our second child two months ago I have mainly been trail running. I was training for a “mountain race” called The Minotaur and with the new baby I didn’t have time to train for climbing as well. So after about 10 weeks off I am wanting to get back to climbing and with our, once again, baby inclusive lifestyle I am looking for new and more convenient ways to squeeze a bit of training into my day.

So in addition to doing playground workouts with my toddler I have been building various “climbing bombs” to hang in my office. This is helping me squeeze in some lunchtime workouts. So far I have balls, 2″ pipes, and jugs with multiple tie offs to allow for offset hangs.

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I am planning to make fat pinches out of a piece of 4×4 and a single pad crimp as well to round out the collection. These will probably replace the 2in pipes I made, which I don’t think are close enough to any typical climbing holds to be beneficial. I will post photos of these when they are done.

With these holds I reworked the “10 minute workout” that Metolius publishes for use with its rock rings to work with the holds I have and to minimize swapping holds. My workout is shown below if anybody wants to use it or make recommendations. For being only 10 minutes I find it gives me a pretty solid pump. It isn’t a bouldering session but as a way to fill my lunch break it beats facebook. I generally warm up by doing pushups, dips, and squeezing some theraputty.

Time (minutes) Task Hold
1st minute 3 pull-ups Jugs
2nd minute 10 seconds bent-arm hang Jugs
15 seconds Dead Hang 2 pads on
3rd minute 2 Offset Pull-ups 2 pads on
2 Offset Pull-ups (other way) 2 pads on
4th minute 20 seconds L-Hang 2 pads on
10 seconds lever 2 pads on
5th minute 5 Pull-ups 2 pads on
6th minute 10 seconds Offset Hang Balls and jugs
10 seconds Offset Hang (other way) Balls and jugs
7th minute 15 seconds L-Hang Balls
15 seconds Dead Hang Balls
8th minute 20 seconds Bent Arm Hang Balls
10 seconds Dead Hang Balls
9th minute 20 seconds L-Hang crimps
10th minute 10 Pull-ups or front lever to failure crimps
7-3 repeaters pinches & crimps

 

Side note: The Minotaur was a great time (even if there was no 5th class climbing involved, it did have about ~6000ft of gain in a ~20km loop) and I would recommend it to anyone interested in either scrambling or running. If you are curious about the race or terrain they have some photos on https://www.facebook.com/meettheminotaur/

It was a really neat experience to try to do this much scrambling as fast as you can, without having to do any route finding or messing around. It made for a really great day out. At the finish line the general consensus was that it wasn’t even type 2 fun, it was type 1 fun. People finished smiling and sat down in the sun to drink kombucha, eat snacks, and chat. I will definitely be there next year.

If you have any recommendations for rock ring workouts or how you workout in your office or thoughts on mountain races, please comment below. I would love to hear from you.

 

UPDATE, October 4, 2017:

I made an addition to my training tools over the weekend: Pinch Blocks with a 3/4″ crimp and updated my workout above to include them (I have stopped using the pipes. I found they felt tweaky for my wrists). I am now also finishing this workout by doing 7-3 repeaters on one or two grips.

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Update: Guard and Holds

I now have holds (not just hunks of 2×4) and the finger guard on the wall. Video Here.

Having had the wall running for a few weeks now, I can say that I am pleased overall with how it is functioning, no break downs yet, and that it is proving a usable piece of exercise equipment. It hasn’t supplanted my trips to the gym but I no longer feel any impetus to go to the gym without a ready partner. And I genuinely can squeeze in a 1/2 hour climbing workout when I don’t have time to go to the gym, just as I had hoped. So I am climbing more.

I only recently acquired a decent stash of holds so up to this point the “route” on my wall has been pretty hard and I haven’t been able to do any endurance training. The upside of this has been to demonstrate to me that the wall is a VERY effective anaerobic endurance training tool. I can get a mad pump on in about 5 minutes, without any trouble. And interval training on the wall is alot of fun.

Given the response to my last video I elected to get the guard finished rather than leaving it in the corner to rust. The brush on the guard isn’t as stiff as the ones I have used at my work so the guard will need a little tweaking to compensate for the sagging brush. As is it still keeps your fingers out of the pinch point but I am losing valuable inches of climbing room.

Success!

With the bigger motor I can run the wall at 15 feet per. minute (fpm) with no problem, without a climber on the wall. I might be able to go faster but I haven’t tried it yet. I guess having tripled the available torque was a safe bet.

15 fpm is a quick but not a super fast climbing pace. For the endurance and interval workouts I have tried so far it is certainly fast enough. I will play with it and post an update when I find out what its top speed is.

I made up a simple plywood bracket and hung all the power supply and driver, off the gear box. This kept all the wiring nice and tight. You just have one power cable and one control cable running up to the bundle of stuff up top. It would also make things easy to enclose if you wanted to make a weather resistant version. For now the controller is sitting on a paint can next to the wall but I will be building a bracket to put it up around face level.

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My bundle of electronics at the top of the wall. Not pretty but entirely functional and it definitely could have been worse.

 

And here is a video of me climbing the wall at 14 fpm. It starts slow and ramps up to full speed by about 20 seconds into the video.

Electrical/Software Design

My new, massive NEMA 34 motor and driver arrived in the mail a little while back. This thing is going to have enough torque to drive the wall no matter how much drag there is in the tracks! (3x current motor)

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New motor and driver setup

I was going to build a simple tone generator circuit with a 555 timer and a big control knob to adjust the speed. Using the rough design below.

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Basic wall controller circuit. Scribbled out on the back of some other work.

But while I was digging parts for this circuit out of my junk electronics box I came across my old handyboard. I built this thing more than a decade ago and have hardly used it, but as the name implies it is actually handy…. or it should be.

I started programming it to control my treadwall and found I wanted a little more functionality than it normally offers. So I wasted two weeks trying to adjust the timer output from a non-standard pin. ugh. But it is now set up how I would like and ready to go. Just not as handy as it could have been.

Right now the available menus look like this:

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I did add a big control knob for adjusting speed and other options as an additional means of user interface as well as using the start and stop buttons on the handyboard. I will likely add another button too, cause it feels like it needs it.

I am thinking I will add a motor to adjust the angle of the wall in the future. At which point it will be really cool to add workout modes that adjust the wall angle automatically.

I would love to hear ideas for additional workout modes. Please comment with suggestions! Include ideas for workouts that change wall angle if you have any.

Testing Update

A quick update: I did more testing last night after adjusting a plank and managed to get the wall up to 10ft/min; a very reasonable climbing speed. Ultimately, i would like to get it running up to 15 or 20ft/min.

I suspect that the stalling issue I had recently was due to a change in temperature as much as issues with the planks. Basically, the small, low torque motor I am using only has to overcome the friction in the gearbox. It doesn’t need to really drive anything, but when the temperature drops and the oil becomes more viscous that drag in the gearbox increases.

At 10ft/min the motor is turning at 600rpm, and having a torque curve like the one below, I am guessing it is putting out, at most, 200 oz*in of torque at that speed. So very little torque.

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I think my options for dealing with this are: lower oil viscosity, use a lower ratio gear box, or a higher torque motor. The use of a lower ratio gearbox might seem counter intuitive but if we go from a 60:1 gear ratio to a 15:1 ratio the motor will be at the same operating point and the wall will be moving much faster. Since the motor isn’t really driving the wall, it just needs to overcome the friction in the gearbox, which will be comparable, this should work. In the end I will probably end up trying all three options.

The 60:1 gearbox wasn’t my preferred choice when I was designing the thing i was hoping for 20 to 30:1 but it was at princess auto and it was cheap. I guess this is what happens when you compromise on your design.

More Testing

This week I pulled out and trimmed a couple of the planks that rubbed badly and things seem to be running smoother. I also did a test run with the wall set to 30° overhang. Aside from the climbing being really hard (I seriously need to buy some holds with texture) it ran pretty well.

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Me climbing on the wall, set to overhanging. Thanks to my shoe for taking the picture.

On the back side of the wall the chain was dragging on the cross members (due to the previously discussed lack of a track on the back side) but it wasn’t noticeable. I still think I will try to fix this in the near future, just to prevent undo wear on any components.

I am very impressed with how solid the thing feels with the wood in place. I had added more bracing to the design after playing with just the frame, but now I think I will take it out.

BUT when I put the wall back to vertical the damn thing seems to stall before ramping up to full speed. I’m not sure what the problem is but I’m guessing it is just a tighter fitting plank binding. I guess we’ll see.

Planks on Testing

Planks are finally on. It took a lot of planing and sanding, but they are on.

After getting the planks on I was anxious to start climbing. I looked around my garage and realized: I don’t own any climbing holds. I could have mooched and borrowed holds but I thought it would be faster to just start screwing whatever crap I had laying around my garage to the wall. Morgan also volunteered some scrap wood to the effort.

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The completed wall and very professional looking holds. I am pretty excited about this!

Here is a gif of my first, low speed test. And yes I realize my choice of climbing pants is around 15 years behind the times. Or you can see the full video in all its glory. Most of the noise in the video is from a crane across the street, not the wall.

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My initial thoughts are that the whole thing runs pretty well and feels solid. It squeaks a bit but a little more wax in the tracks will fix that. (I need to find some bee’s wax. It, apparently, is a better lubricant for wood.) The chain isn’t spaced perfectly on some of the planks which leads to thumping noises as they go over the drive sprockets. So I will be pulling off those planks to adjust their fit.

I do wish the whole thing was about 6″ taller just to lend a little more buffer when you are climbing, 12″ would be even better. I don’t think you would be able to make a wall any shorter than my 9′-2″ ceilings usable, unless you made it permanently overhanging. If I were to start from scratch I would knock a hole in the ceiling and have the top poke into the attic.

Running at ~30° overhang would let you fit the track portion of this wall under an 8′ ceiling, which would still be usable. So there are options for this to work with a lower ceiling.

After all the trouble it took to make the planks I would consider laminating 2 layers of 3/4″ plywood together to make the planks or trying 1″ plywood. This would eliminate the issues I had with twisted boards, bowed boards, and varying thickness. So it would remove labour from modifying boards while adding some by requiring gluing them together. I suspect it would lead to a better end product though. You would be able to use cheap plywood for the back layer and better stuff for the outside and it will make it easy to countersink the t-nuts so you can used the standard bolt for a given climbing hold. AND you could ensure that all the planks would fit snugly in the guide channels so they wouldn’t feel wobbly without any sanding.

Additionally, in the future, I would try including a track on the return side of the wall as well as the climbing side. This would keep the planks running vertically, and prevent the chain from rubbing on the crossmembers in the wall regardless of chain tension and wall angle. It could be a looser fitting track to keep friction down. I think this addition would make it easier to control chain tension and make the unit easier to use. I might try to add this feature to this wall just to try it out.

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Planks on return side aren’t in a track and sit crooked. This isn’t a huge issue but it does make chain tensions a harder to adjust, and it means when you have the wall set to overhang the chain will sag in the middle and might rub unless the chain is tight.

Next step will be electrical design. First, I think I will just purchase a prefab stepper driver, power supply, arduino etc and get this wall running as a stand-alone unit. Later I think I will design a custom board with everything on a PCB, maybe add some whizzy features like wifi so you can control it from your phone.

Lastly, I want to mention how impressed I am with my Bosch cordless rotary hammer (this one if your curious). I had only intended to use it for putting up routes, but my corded drill wasn’t suitable and I ended up using my hammer drill for everything on the planks. So it drilled around 150 t-nut holes (1/2″ x 1.5″ deep) and sunk around 150 1.5″ decking screws on about half a charge.

If you are shopping for a drill for route development this one is light enough for drilling on lead at 6.25 lbs and will punch more than a dozen 3/8″ x 3″ holes in moderately hard limestone per charge. However, if you only plan to bolt on rappel I would consider finding a heavier drill with a bigger battery (more Ah) to get a few more holes per charge. I am considering buying a bigger battery for this one; bosch makes compatible batteries with almost 3x the capacity.