Beastmaking - A fingers-first approach to becoming a better climber - Review
It's time to review another book from Vertebrate Publishing - "Beastmaking" by Ned Feehally. For me, this was one of the most anticipated climbing releases in recent years! The author is a remarkably talented boulderer. Among his many notable ascents, we can find, for example, The Big Island 8C in Font, a flash ascent of Trust Issues 8B+ in Rocklands, and multiple challenging highballs . Ned is also the co-founder and designer of Beastmaker 1000 and Beastmaker 2000, which became what I believe to be the most successful hangboards in history and the most popular ones currently. Who wouldn't want to be able to comfortably hang on to the heinous slopers of the BM2K? In private, Ned's also the husband of Shauna Coxley, the UK's most accomplished competitive climber, who wrote the foreword .
The book starts with a brief introduction, where Ned clearly explains that his aim was not to go deep into scientific details of training but rather to present a synthesis of his 20+ years of climbing experience.
Video 1: Ned Feehally on The Big Island 8C .
According to Ned, there's no "one-size-fits-all" approach to climbing training - everybody is different and needs to find their unique way of training. The book is divided into chapters, which I will briefly discuss one by one. Every chapter has a summary with essential facts, making the book's layout very clear and handy.
Chapter 1: Training: The basics
They say that the best training for climbing is climbing, but is that truly the case? In the first chapter, Ned explains why additional training is worthwhile. The important thing is that you need to train for definite goals specific to what you want to achieve.
Ned briefly goes over the basic training concepts, including overload, progression, repetition, recovery, specificity, and reversibility. He also lists the main physical factors critical for climbing; finger strength, footwork, flexibility, mobility, core strength, pulling strength, and pushing strength. Another interesting part of the chapter is genetics - how much they determine our climbing ability and potential for climbing hard.
The bottom line is that the best way to improve climbing ability is to climb a lot and supplement this with very focused training to speed up the improvement process while hopefully also reducing the likelihood of getting injured. The chapter also contains a bit on climbing history, which I particularly enjoyed, and it ends with a handy glossary of climbing terms.
Chapter 2: Training structure
Chapter 2 focuses on ways to organize your training. Train finger strength all year round - all other elements can come and go. Be flexible - it's ok to have an off session - you'll probably do better next time. In addition, you can learn about tapering, a more advanced training concept that maybe not everyone is familiar with.
A separate section is devoted to the upper body, hand, and finger anatomy. Ned properly explains the primary muscles involved in climbing, paying particular attention to the hand anatomy, which is understandable.
Figure 1: Ned Feehally on Jack’s Broken Heart, Magic Wood, Switzerland, fot. Shauna Coxsey, book/source: “Beastmaking”.
Chapter 3: Finger strength
What is finger strength, where does it come from, and what are the advantages of having strong fingers? Is it critical to be able to climb hard? What is the impact of finger morphology on performance and climbing style? In this chapter, you'll find answers to all these questions.
Chapter 4: Active vs. passive finger strength
This chapter discusses the difference between active and passive gripping styles. Which one is better? Which one should you use and when? Why is it good to work on your active grip positions, and how to best go about it?
Tactics Part 1
The importance of warmup and rest. How to choose your climbing shoes and climbing venue depending on weather conditions? How do temperature and humidity impact climbing performance, and what are knee pads suitable for?
Chapter 5: Introduction to finger-boarding
Are fingerboards effective at increasing finger strength? Are they safe? When is the right time to start fingerboarding? What variables can you change, and how to adjust training difficulty? Is it better to reduce hold size, add weight or hang one-armed? The chapter also discusses how you can increase the exercise difficulty by reducing the number of fingers involved and using bluetooth force meters, such as the Tindeq Progressor .
A large section of the chapter is devoted to the importance of tracking your fingerboard training progress. Ned stresses that improvement is not linear and that you might have great climbing days and days when you feel like you suck. And yet, giving up is the last thing that you should do! Instead, keep your eyes on the bigger picture - all this hard training will surely pay off in the long run.
Ned meticulously addresses minute details that might impact your hangboarding performance and derail your motivation. For example, it's not uncommon to perform worse on the hangboard when your fingers get sweaty during the summer. So when evaluating your strength training progress compared with the cooler winter months, this is one of the factors which you should consider. As for myself, I train in a garage, mainly on wooden edges. I tend to perform worse at subzero temperatures because the holds become slippery as glass. The difference can be a good few kilograms on an MVC-7 test hang.
Figure 2: The author using the Tindeq Progressor for measuring his two-finger strength, book/source: “Beastmaking”.
Chapter 6: Fingers: Grip types & form
In Chapter 6, various grip types are examined and discussed in-depth. All finger positions are illustrated with respective high-quality photos, so you