22 September 2006

Climber interview - Natalie Berry

From one Berry to another... I’ve had the privilege to interview one of the UK’s most successful young climbers on the indoor climbing scene (and she’s only 14!). Natalie Berry has already been a British champion five times and with her most recent successes on the international competition circuit, she has established herself as one of our most successful competition climbers of recent years. It’s obvious from watching Natalie in action that she has potential to take this ability much further. And I think its even clearer after reading her answers to my questions below that she has the single minded determination to turn potential into reality. Combining a mix of a great attitude like Natalie’s with good training and support at the right time is like mixing magic – its really powerful. So I think most of us have something to learn from her, even if its just sharing a little of that determination…


Natalie Berry
OCC: What age are you now Natalie and how long have you been climbing?

Nat: I am 14 years old and I have been climbing for 6 years – I started by chance when I visited a shopping centre in Glasgow where there was a mobile wall outside!

OCC: What are your best achievements so far in climbing and what are your goals for the future?

Nat: My best achievements so far have been coming 4th in the World Youth Championships in Austria in August 2006, and becoming five times British Champion (The BRYCS, BBC twice & BICC, twice). I aspire to be both European and World Champion in the next few years!

OCC: Tell me about your climbing motivation – why do you climb and how important is it for you? Do you think your climbing motivation has changed any since you started?

Nat: I find it quite easy to be motivated for most things in life – I am driven by a burning desire for success. I climb because I enjoy the freedom of movement and feeling of power that the sport gives me. I also enjoy the fitness – both physical and mental – that I have earned over the years. The mental science of climbing is particularly interesting to me – whether I’m in a competition or simply in training, I find it very interesting psyching myself up to climb, articulating movements and co-ordinating techniques.

OCC: How much training do you do? Do you separate climbing for fun and training, or are they one and the same? Tell me about the elements of your training – what activities do you do?

Nat: I climb four days a week. I incorporate anaerobic training (forearm endurance), some circuits, on-sighting, red-pointing – a mixture really. My training schedule is organised around my events calendar, but I often just follow my instincts and do what I want. I have found that I respond quickly to intense training and enjoy working hard to achieve my goals. I also do pull-ups and other climbing-specific training at home each day. I believe success is 90% hard work and 10% talent.

Natalie training in Imst


OCC: Lots of female climbers are put off or struggle with steep climbing and powerful or bouldery moves. Is this a limitation for you? If so how have you tried to get round it or work on it?

Nat: I have very strong static lock strength and so I therefore often use it to my advantage! Because of my build I have had to work on power, particularly as most international competitions take place on steep, powerful routes – unlike those in walls here in the UK!

OCC: Do you have any elements of your training that you find a chore? I remember reading a article by Marc le Menestrel talking about how he tries to find ways to get to like his dislikes in climbing or training, and that this really helped him progress. Can you relate to that or do you just like everything about climbing!?

Nat: I am lucky in finding training fun – most of the time – and I have great friends whom I see regularly down at the wall and can climb with, making training even more enjoyable. There are days, however, when I have to motivate myself when I’m feeling low! I use competitions and other big events to psyche myself up. Sometimes I just have to remember how it felt the last time I was climbing well, and I push myself to get back up to where I was before.

OCC: Describe your climbing style. Do you think your natural style is good for steep indoor routes or have you had to alter it in any way (i.e. movement pattern, climbing speed etc…)?

Nat: Technique has always been my strong point. I believe I am a very natural climber – I have a good store of engrams in my mind! I have quite a slow climbing speed, so on steep routes I really need to learn to climb faster. I prefer technique over power and I particularly enjoy really crimpy, fingery routes that many strong male climbers can’t do!

OCC: How do you fit all your climbing in with the other things in your life like study and social stuff?

Nat: I always strive for success, so find it quite easy to make time for my schoolwork – I am the Junior Proxime Accessit of my school. I think it is important to show the same care and devotion in all aspects of life – whether it be in sport or academically. My social life is my climbing life really – as I said before I have so many great friends all around the world. At home in Glasgow my climbing friends are really supportive and I enjoy helping them and others with their climbing too.

OCC: You specialise in indoor climbing – How important do you think it is that you train at a good climbing wall? What do you look for in a good climbing wall; big steep routes? a good scene? Other things?

Nat: I think it is incredibly important to train at a good climbing wall – all you have to do is look at the results the European juniors (and seniors) are achieving on the international competition scene, and then visit a few of their walls and understand why! It is not necessarily true that they are simply more talented than other competitors or that they “train better”, but their success – to me – seems to grow from the World-class facilities that they train on. I spent two weeks training in Imst, Austria – where the World Championships were held – prior to the competition. I realised just how beneficial it would be to have such a facility here in Britain. Climbing at Imst is like playing vertical chess. You have to weigh up the steepness of the wall - 45 degree pillars with numerous bulges and roof sections – as well as having to clip many 2 foot long quickdraws, on all 18 metres! I saw countless children from about the age of three or four and above top-roping– and maybe seven or eight year olds leading through the steepest sections of wall. From that moment I realised just how different the foreign attitudes towards climbing are from those here in the UK –start the kids young, encourage them, add some fun and watch them win.

OCC: What do you think is holding you back from getting even better results in comps than you get now?

Nat: I definitely think that the major ingredient missing from my training here in the UK is a European-style training facility – if we want British competitors on the international podium then this appears to be the way forward. I just wish I could have the funds to train abroad if we can’t have the facilities here. I would like to sport climb outdoors more but due to time and financial restraints I am quite content with focussing on indoor climbing for now!

OCC: What climbers most inspire you and why? Having competed on the international circuit what things have you learned from climbers around the world?

Nat: I am inspired by many climbers – not just world-class athletes but also beginners and climbers I’ve met of all ages and abilities – after all “the best climber in the world is the one who is having the most fun”. Neil Gresham has given me a lot of support and encouragement – I admire the positive attitude which he brings to the sport. Angela Eiter of Austria has also impressed me with the array of international competition titles she has won. All of my climbing friends (many of whom I compete against) inspire me too – I love learning from other people and find it very interesting studying their styles and techniques in training and competition. I think it is so important to learn from others and equally that they learn from you; everyone is unique in their climbing, both mentally and physically. I think I’ve learned a lot about life from my travels and competitions – I believe I’ve attained a lot of wisdom from meeting different people of all backgrounds and personalities from all around the world. One common factor I have noticed that bonds all the competitors at a competition is a love of climbing – a desire and determination to succeed, no matter what. After all, out of dreams comes determination, and out of determination comes success…


Natalie has managed to align enjoyment of the process of climbing and training to a clear goal for what she wants to achieve. In this way, more work and dedication equals more fun. This interview raises the important point of what outside support do climbers need to get to where they want to go? In Natalie’s case, she needs access to high quality training facilities to compete at the level she is capable of. As we don’t have steep enough climbing walls in Scotland just yet, this means travelling, which takes money. In most other people’s case, outside support might be as simple as reading some training advice like this website! Natalie has already gained some sponsorship from Scarpa, Glasgow Climbing Centre, Entreprises and Cotswold, but found it hard to secure the levels of support she needs and is hoping to find new sponsors. A familiar story for top climbers. She’s been a nominee for the young sports person of the year, a regional award that eventually went to athletes from Olympic sports who were not selected for international competition like Natalie! Olympic sports are being targeted for encouragement in the UK at the expense of all others right now, for obvious reasons.

This is an interesting subject which I’ll talk more about in future posts. I am no expert on making a living out of climbing although I have been trying myself for a few years. My experience is that the climbing industry is simply too small for most companies to afford the levels of support it takes for an athlete to succeed. The solution? Well there isn’t an easy one. I guess the most productive way for climbers who want to gain sponsorship is to take ownership of the problem of the size of the sport and use their experience and status to promote it to help the sport grow in whatever mediums they choose. Ultimately, giving the sport a higher profile will benefit everyone. More on this later…

Thanks for talking to me Natalie, keep up the determined approach and the results will keep coming! Click here to see Natalie’s website.

14 September 2006

Climber interview - Adrian Berry

Next up in OCC's series of interviews is Adrian Berry, one of the better known british trad climbers and one of our most experienced coaches. In his climbing career Adrian has climbed E10, redpointed 8b+ and been a member of the British competition climbing team. He's begun to coach climbing more and more and I was interested to find out what patterns he's noticed in climbing over recent years and how he's responded to these with his climbing and his coaching.


Adrian Berry (Photo: Duncan Skelton)

OCC: How do you think fashions in the climbing scene affect how climbers at large train/prepare for their routes?

Adrian: To be honest Dave, I think fashions in climbing affect a very, very small number of climbers, generally operating at the higher grades. If you look at, say, deep-water soloing for example, it seems to have exploded in popularity, but in fact there are maybe a couple of hundred climbers at most doing it regularly, there are probably more aid climbers. I would say that considerably less than one percent of climbers actually train, a lot go to the wall, but it’s used as an extension of climbing outside and a bit of a social, more than a training facility. I think this is largely down to the improvement of climbing walls, they are just a lot more fun now.

OCC: What changes have you noticed in climbers over the last decade – are they stronger? fitter? mentally tougher? Moving better? How do you think climbing walls are influencing standards and fashions?

Adrian: I don’t think much as come along in the last ten years, to be honest. Ten year’s ago, the hardest route in the UK was Neil Carson’s The Big Bang (9a), at the time there were maybe a couple of other people capable of that grade in the UK – and the same is true now. There is a larger pool of climbers operating just below the ‘cutting edge’ than there was ten years ago, but I would say the average climber climbed about HVS back then, and still climbs HVS. You only have to go to any busy crag in the country, sit and watch, and you’ll see few climbers even taking on HVSs. I thin that this is simply down to a booming economy, people are earning far more than they were, with bloody big mortgages to pay off. The idea of quitting your job to go climbing just isn’t happening any more. Here in Sheffield there used to be a large climbing population on the dole, just training and climbing, arguably, the boom in standards was the result of the bust of the economy and vice versa, it’s no surprise that the country’s producing the most super-climbers are economically the least developed.

In a word, ‘it’s the economy, stupid’.

One more thing that has had a major change, has been the failure of the club system to educate climbers. Today, climbers learn the basics of safety, then they’re on their own. There’s no apprenticeship, you can belay OK? Right then, you’re a climber. This all began with the clubs stopping taking out beginners because of the fear of litigations. The rot started there. For the last five years, I’ve been working to try to reverse that by raising the profile of climbing coaching, which sorely needed to fill the knowledge gap. Fortunately, that’s one thing a booming economy is helping, economic restructuring has merely commoditised the advice that use to be ‘free’, still, it keep us in work, eh?
Photo: Duncan Skelton

OCC: When you coach climbing, what pieces of advice do you find reminding people again and again that surprises you?

Adrian: Boy, that’s a big one, here are some that spring to mind:

- Footwear choice – technical climbing requires technical shoes – you’ve got to have the right shoes, and yes, they will hurt for a bit.

- Rear wheel drive – thinking in terms of following a line of foot holds rather than hand-holds – getting stuck is 95% due to looking for hand holds as opposed to using obvious foot holds.

- Reversing – time and again, I watch climbers climb into the most strenuous position on the route, stay they as long as they can, they call to be taken onto the rope. Reversing – even to the ground isn’t going to get you a ticket from the ethics police – it’s just good sense!

- Following from the last point – I find many Brits obsess over ethics, and what they CAN’T DO, rather than what they CAN. Be positive!

OCC: In getting better at climbing, really attacking your weaknesses, dislikes and bad habits is inevitably the sticking point for climbers improvement. Which weaknesses have you overcome to get to the standard you’re at just now, and which have you still to overcome?

Adrian: I would say my biggest weakness is definitely my head. I like to be in control, and you can’t be all the time. I absolutely HATE falling off, and can go for years without taking a fall, which is really sad! I’ve been dropped, and smashed into the wall a few times, which hasn’t helped me. I have found that on a recent trip through France and Spain, by getting on harder routes onsight (I was working up to onsighting 8a) I found my head got really sorted, just because the climbing felt so hard I didn’t have time to get anxious. I also make sure I do a few practice falls early on a trip now, just to get my head in gear. I don’t think I will ever like falling off, but I’m not afraid to confront it and it gets easier. I have found that explaining dynamic belaying to my partner helps a lot. My other, big weakness is exposure – it really affects me, I have to admit that my tactic here is to avoid it!

OCC: What importance do you place on doing a high volume of easier ‘milage’ climbing (indoors or out) for the purpose of sharpening movement technique? Do you see it as being commonly neglected, or the opposite - overrated?

Adrian: I swear by it – 70% of my climbing is soloing VS – E1 on grit, I can go out and do thirty routes in a couple of hours – I absolutely love it and by the end of the day you move without thought, which has to be the end goal. You can’t really work technique on hard climbs, at least I can’t. It is also great for developing capilliarity (blood supply to your forearms), which makes recovery much faster.
OCC: Many climbers who are not interested in bouldering as an end in itself in climbing, don’t practice it in their training either. Do you agree with this and do you think these people should make the effort to do more? If so, why?

Adrian: There is this idea at the moment that bouldering is a new thing – rubbish, you only have to look at the new BMC grit guide (Burbage and Beyond) to read quotes about bouldering from the early 1900s! The difference bouldering makes to your climbing is stark – when I have a new client, I can tell almost immediately whether they boulder or not. Moving beyond HVS without bouldering is going to be really tough, not just because it’s really hard to develop the strength, and technical range to tackle the moves, but because bouldering teaches you how to TRY. Bouldering is about repeated failure, and getting use to it. It’s about slapping for holds in an all-but-hopeless situation with the hope that just maybe you’ll make it. Applying that to routes will immediately gain you a leap of several grades. I love bouldering – but bouldering with a small ‘b’. I’m not a big fan of Bouldering (capital B) with its sitting starts, and daft rules – but then I’m not very good at it!

OCC: What elements of training do you think have held you back from climbing even harder than your current level?

Adrian: When I was training a lot, back when I was on the British team, there was really no advice as to how to do it. I got into this rut of climbing laps on routes in the mid 7s, then flying out somewhere to compete on routes in the mid 8s – naturally, I didn’t manage too well. After I quit international competitions, I had a big rethink on training, and did my own thing, which involved circuit training, with lots of one handed dead hangs in stress positions – some clips – and at a much higher intensity. This made a massive difference. If I’d know this back then, I would have been getting into the semi finals – though I think I would have had to have been doing since the age of six to have won!

OCC: Is there anything that you know now as an experienced coach that you wish you’d known as a novice climber?

- Being afraid of falling is the single greatest limitation to your climbing.

- Take advice with sceptical mind – mind included.

- Beware of the BS – and never let a tale of woe stop you trying a route – routes are never as bad as climbers who’ve failed on them make them sound.
- Treat your partners better than you would treat any of your kit – they are far more important.
Thanks Adrian! I really like the idea of 'rear wheel drive' - thats something you can tell yourself in the heat of battle when you are about to come off. Adrian has been working on a book about improving at sport climbing which will be out in a couple of months. Click on the cover below to check out Adrian's coaching site.

13 September 2006

Injuries web resource

I came across climbinginjuries.com, a resource with some quick information on common injuries experienced among climbers. The site has a non serious feel and I wouldn't take it too seriously. The advice is very general and the diagnosis and treatment procedures are only a few of a great many that are out there and very important. For example they don't offer any treatment suggestions for pain centered near the insertion of brachialis - almost certainly the most common pain in climbers elbows (although there is no good data on this as far as I know). One obvious suggestion which in my case has eliminated what was a stubborn dampener on my training for several years was simply to pay my dues and do a little regular antagonist work (in this case press-ups).

I'll have more on climbing injuries in future so stay tuned. In the meantime, remember there are some comprehensive articles on climbing injuries and rehab strategies on my articles page.

11 September 2006

Climber interview - Joanna George

The purpose of my series of interviews on OCC is not just to find out climbers and coaches 'pro-tips' on the best exercises to reach the next grade. That is only part of what we are trying to do by improving at climbing. Our deeper mission is always to get more reward and enjoyment. Sometimes working and trainng in a very focused way for some route or goal is the thing to do to find what you're looking for, sometimes you need to balance this with the other enjoyable aspects of participating in the activity of climbng. I've known Jo George for several years and always admired her ability to get this balance right. So in this interview I tried to find out if it was her experience or outlook, or both that helped her make these choices and be happy with them.

Jo George
OCC: You've climbed a lot harder than most other Scottish female climbers in several disciplines, what factors do you think have been most important in getting you to such a high standard?

Jo: I guess in the past I travelled around Europe and the UK a lot, climbing with Cubby who was in the British team then. We climbed a lot and often I’d do my own routes then work or top-rope his 7b-7c+’s. Climbing a lot meant I was pretty fit. Over the winter months we also bouldered a lot in Northumberland or on a wooden wall we had in Kinlochleven. During the winter I’d train a bit on the local Fort William wall which gave me good finger strength – I’d do hard circuits with a friend which again kept us fit. I’ve never been that strong though but climbing with Cubby taught me very good technique and how important good footwork is. Although I lacked power, I made up for in it technique unless the rock was very steep – then I was useless. I’d say though, my relaxed attitude to climbing meant I enjoyed it and never felt pressure to be good or achieve too much. I think when people put too much pressure on themselves it can backfire.
OCC: Not many females are doing grade VI's on mixed but you seem to take them in your stride. I remember you once told me you preferred mixed to ice. Why do you think you've beenable to do this with such apparent ease? Is it just lots of experience, crossover from your rock ability, or something else?

Jo: I don’t actually climb that hard in winter and have only ever done a few VI’s, though followed harder climbs with friends. I haven’t tried too may difficult climbs as I feel I don’t have that much experience and might find myself out of my depth one day. Technically however, I found mixed climbing quite natural probably because I was fit and the movement felt very similar to rock climbing. I was a bold rock climber when I was younger and so felt happy with long run-outs. I also rather perversely like bad weather and being cold and miserable – it makes me feel alive! I haven’t climbed much pure ice and so it intimidates me more. Winter is an area I would like to do more and push myself. Over the last few years I’ve done very little and feel almost like a novice again – maybe this season will be the one I push myself?

OCC: How would you describe your climbing style? If you could change it overnight, how would you like to climb better?

Jo: My climbing style is very precise and controlled – quite static with good technique. If I could change it overnight I’d keep the good technique but throw away the staticness! I’m not very dynamic, not very powerful and pretty poor on roofs. I’d like to be more powerful, more feisty and climb at my total limit above gear or bolts. A bit more self belief that I’m capable would help now as I have a thing that I’m getting old (37) and my body can’t do what it used to – which I’m sure is just in my mind!

OCC: You've spent a lot of time climbing with other good climbers. Do you think this helped you? If so, in what ways?

Jo: Yes, it’s helped a lot I guess. In my mid twenties I was climbing amongst the world’s best climbers and so watched them a lot. Like I said earlier, I’m sure just by watching these climbers and Cubby it helped me achieve good technical ability. From then I also learnt the importance of warming up well and pacing yourself. I noticed a lot of my friends didn’t warm up well, blasted themselves too early in the day and then wondered why they got worse as the day went on and I got better. I understood what I’d need to do to train to achieve great results by watching these ‘top’ climbers but also realized it was a road I didn’t want to follow. I’m not an obsessive person and like a variety of activities. By being around these people I realized I’d never have the dedication it required to be a ‘top’ climber (or any top sport person) so pretty early on I decided not to take my climbing to that level.

OCC: Which climbers have you met that really inspired you and why?

Jo: Cubby and Jules (Lines) for their achievements and modesty, for just quietly doing what they love - incredibly well. Cubby was phenomenally strong yet didn’t show off with his strength, he movement was (and still is) beautiful to watch on the rock. I suppose I’m inspired by his raw talent and understatedness. Jules inspires me differently, his ability to keep control of his mind during extreme solo ventures is impressive. Again he is achieving great things in climbing (many of which go quietly unnoticed) with great modesty. I like that.

I’m also very inspired by climbers who are fighting hard, giving it their all - be it on a Diff, E8 or in the big mountains. It makes me want to go away and try harder. Equally I’m inspired by people who enjoy their climbing, push themselves, have fun with it but are laid back. Friends such as yourself, Ali Coull and Trevor Wood fit inspire me in that you are all very focused climbers and climb hard (to varying levels) but don’t have the outward intenseness that many good climbers carry with them.

Hardcore Scottish winter climbers, alpine climbers and Himalayan climbers – they all inspire me. It takes more than technical ability to succeed in extreme weather and perform at your maximum limit in these situations - respect to them all.
OCC: What aspects do you think have held you back from climbing grades harder than your current level?

Jo: A number of things I guess; motivation at times was lacking, lack of similar minded people to climb with, living where I do in the wet west Highlands with too much wet rock, lack of power. Nowadays the cost of petrol is stopping me from travelling where I’d like to climb harder/more, too much office work and nagging injuries in my shoulders. However all of these things are just excuses, if I was keen to progress my grade I’d have found ways around these obstacles. Maybe I just was never keen enough! In the past people have said I could become a top runner or a great snowboarder but it takes more than having a sporting talent – drive, determination and a will to want to be the best are in my mind more important than talent in becoming the best – and I didn’t have those. I think though I would’ve climbed harder (8a) ten years ago if I had suitable projects closer to home. My 7c+’s took about three days and I felt I could climb harder but never tried an 8a. It’s something I’d still like to do and am thinking of taking more time out next year to climb. With trad climbing I lost my bold approach sometime in my 30’s however I think with a bit more pushing myself, I’ll get that back. I’ve got a good motivating, like minded climbing partner right now so I’m keen to work some of my weaknesses which I hope will improve my climbing. To climb grades harder I need to be training on steep walls to get more power, getting fit, climbing at steep venues such as Ceuse, climbing on roofs and slabs to improve my technique, do climbs that put me out of my comfort zone and get my head back in gear by taking more falls. It’s all possible …. if I want it enough!

OCC: How often do you climb when you have been climbing/training the most? Did/do you feel your body was able to handle this level and what things did you do to help deal with this level of effort?

Jo: When I was climbing my best I’d train down the wall about three times a week, max four during the winter. On trips away I’d climb two days on, one off. My body could handle this. I found it hard to climb three days on, one off on trips if I was working hard routes. I was always active in other ways too like running and biking and I think this helped to just keep an overall level of fitness, without this I think I might’ve had to climb more frequently. Nowadays, as I climb a lot less frequently my body is complaining. I need to spend a lot more time warming up and know if I push myself too hard I’ll get finger or arm injuries so I have to pace myself which is hard as I can easily get carried away bouldering with friends.

OCC: Tell me about your favourite training activity. What is good about it (with respect to fun and also to effectiveness)?

Jo: Going to a new crag and doing lots of on-sighting. I find being on new routes and a new crag, even if the grades aren’t that hard benefits me much better in terms of fitness and strength than doing reps on a hard climb that I’m familiar with.

I also love bouldering with friends and trying their problems. If I climb with a powerful climber, a very flexible climber and a tall climber say - I’ll be trying a host of problems which won’t necessarily suit my style of climbing. This helps with improving my poorer techniques, (slopers, powerful moves, heel hooks, pinches are all my weaknesses) and its fun at the same time. It’s good to accept failure – failure actually motivates me to get stronger and fitter!

Thanks Jo that was a really interesting window on your motivation, experience and how you’ve struck balances in your climbing and training to help you get the most enjoyment out of it. When she's not out climbing Jo is works at Cubby Images. Check out the site for some stunning images.

10 September 2006

OCC updates

As you can see I've rearranged the OCC site a little. I've added article categories so you can find the articles you are looking for more easily.

Blogger have just launched the new version and I switched over so I could arrange the site better. It's still in beta so please let me know of any bugs or missing things you find (and of course any feedback would be great). You can contact me here

Perspective - emotional rollercoaster!

I came across some old notes for an event I was dong on training and a comment that came from Marius Morstad about general approaches to training that really stuck in my mind: "training is not an emotionally neutral process" he said. This really sums up the overarching mental approach that underpins everything about achieving improvement (physical or overall), in one sentence". Perhaps its a Scandinavian talent - being so exquisitely blunt?!

What does this mean? For me it means you have to open yourself up to frustration, and to whatever ups and downs follow as you go through the elements of training. This is a process - and it starts with feeling psyched to improve. This psyche might take the form of frustration at lack of ability, progress or disappointment at a bad performance. But I think any person who is ready to improve, and certainly all good athletes, actually feel this as a positive emotion. It is the food of motivation. So don't suppress it!

Personally speaking I feel these things so strongly I think I'm going to explode. But the objective is to let go of this energy through training over time, and reap the rewards of it. The alternative is to start with feeling frustrated, but to suppress this emotion into dull acceptance, or to lose the fire for the activity and drift into other activities (more often than not simply taking the feeling of frustration with you to your new activities).

phew! I was in danger of going a bit 'rock warriors way' there...

7 September 2006

Review - Performance Rock Climbing

In the coming months I’ll be reviewing the books out there that cover all aspects of training for climbing. Most climbers I know have at least one book on training or climbing technique on their shelf. There is a massive difference in standard from the best to the worst book out there. And finding a book that you can connect with and re willing to refer back to can make a crucial difference to your training motivation and success. I’m going to kick off with Dale Goddard & Udo Neumann’s 1993 book, Performance Rock Climbing. It was the first book I ever bought on the subject (circa 1996) and the most used looking book on my bookshelf. The picture link with each of my reviews takes you to Amazon where you might find more reviews and can even buy it!

Isn’t it true that sometime the old school is always best! Performance Rock Climbing was one of the first serious efforts at a comprehensive guide to getting good and staying good at rock climbing. It came out in 1993, which seemed like an exciting time with new things being discovered and applied all the time about training for climbing – campus boards, periodisation, more structured mental preparation and of course the explosion in climbing walls. Not a great deal has changed since then in the fundamentals of training practice among climbers at large, so the book hardly seems out of date 13 years on.

The authors devote a fair bit of space in the first third of the book to trying to help you understand the activity of climbing, from a technical, physical and mental point of view an how they influence each other. Chapter 1 – ‘The Weakest link Principle’ was definitely a good place to start. I’ve heard other users of the book bemoan the extended explanations here, but like most advice that is repeated over and over, it really is worth going through. Without the theoretical knowledge, planning your training activities becomes a hit and miss gamble that you make the right choices. More often than not, you will choose activities that suit your likes and habits, and what you are good at. But training is about stepping outside your comfort zone.

Parts of the sections on the nitty gritty of physical training are dated and their legacy is evident in several schedules I still see being followed. For instance we now understand better that muscle hypertrophy is very slow to appear after strength training, and the neural changes happen rapidly in the initial weeks – not the other way round! However, all the main elements are there and easy to follow. Their efforts at suggesting specific exercises to work on technique seem to depart a little from the principles of training, but they do highlight all the issues and their suggestions might work well for some. The sections on how general aerobic conditioning affects climbing performance are extremely useful and the writing is clear throughout. I particularly like the way the text is punctuated nicely into short titled essays which make quick referencing very easy. Summary: Clear, safe advice and easy to refer to. 4 out of 5. Oh and don’t be put off by the cover, it was 93…

Work, work, work...


I've talked to a lot of people recently with jobs that involve staying away from home for long periods - away from climbing and climbing walls. Maintaining or even increasing their climbing related strength can seem impossible. But some job placements do provide access to weights gyms and we can use these to work hard on basic strength at least. With free weights we are looking to replicate the climbing movements. Lat-pulls downs/weighted pull-ups are priority number one. You can do a lot of them without getting too tired. You can simulate undercutting with seated rows, either pulling through the ROM or doing static locks with a really heavy weight. Beyond these essentials, you can simply simulate the movements you are weak on, and work on them. The second priority is working on core body strength. There are thousands of exercises and bits of kit out there. Personally I like to keep it simple and use Clean&jerk and front levers on a bar. Don't forget to do a little work on the antagonists for each muscle group you target!

So what about fingers? Well gyms are a little frustrating from a finger strength point of view. In the past, folk used slings hung from a bar to do one and two finger pull-ups (on two arms they aren't as a hard as they sound). Metolius have also invented the handy bits of kit in the pic above. I would never think of using these at home. But if ever get a job offshore, they would be the first thing in my bag!

6 September 2006

Fingerboarding - more detail

Following my post below about fingerboarding, Seb asked about finding ways of manipulating the difficulty of the hang when fingerboarding. Often you need to really fine tune the amount of weight or support you have to add to your body weight so that you can just hang on for 5-8 seconds with extreme difficulty.

This takes a bit of imagination and using whats available to you. Seb commented that for him, hanging from one hand was too hard but any support he uses makes it too easy. I have the same problem myself, being able to one arm from an openhanded grip but not quite hang one handed from a crimped grip. I only need a couple of kgs support from my other hand to achieve the correct weight/intensity. The photo above shows how i do it! When hanging from my other arm I do the same using the light switch! If I'm feeling a little weaker or its a bit warmer I'll use a stronger finger, or more than one.

speedlinking Sept 6th - pro-tips videos

Freakclimbing has three interesting pro-tips videos with Jared Roth, Lauren Lee and Malcolm Smith.

The first two are not hugely in depth from a training point of view but still interesting watching. Lauren Lee talks about how body strength was a limitation she's worked on. We see her doing some basic core exercises and talking about targeting steep and burly bouldering, rather than avoiding it like many do! This type of strength will inevitably be a limitation for female climbers, unless you do something about it. It's nice to see her putting her money where her mouth is by grunting through some V9 roofs on the clip.

Malcolm is talking about the benefit of working front-on body positions and big moves to the side during training. I emphasize the during training part. This is not a formula for technique, where twisting and Egyptians are essential to get the most from the feet. What I think Malcolm is saying is that its worth working on front-on moves in training (he demonstrates some system style board problems in the clip) so that when you do come across a move outside where there is no option but twist, that strength is there.

This is always the danger with spending a large proportion of your time training on boards - you can start to see all climbing through the lens of what you do on your training board and a broad range of techniques (especially clever footwork) gets neglected and you forget to use it. A balance between the two extremes is needed.

The clips are here.

Fingerboard choices

Several folk have emailed to ask about choosing a good fingerboard and how to use it once you have one. A fingerboard doesn't need to be fancy in any way, it just needs to be used! All it needs is to have a small enough edge that's first joint (20mm is good) and to have a rounded edge and smooth surface so your skin doesn't hurt. That's all. Above is my fingerboard. It's an S7 campus rung screwed to my doorframe. You could easily make the equivalent for a few pounds from B&Q. One like this instead of a big orange resin moulded thing is less intrusive in your living room too.

I've written some notes about how to use them in my rough guide to physical training on my main site (on page 4 here). The key thing about fingerboards the workouts are very short - play a CD through as you do your hangs, and you're done. The flip side is you need to keep up the dangling for a large part of the year to keep moving up through grades. Most people get bored with them either because they don't like training on their own or the activity itself seems to monotonous. Put your fingerboard up in your living room or kitchen and use as you watch the box, chat to partners, or whatever you spend a lot of time doing.

I've heard people say of fingerboards "but they are only for people who are strong", as if somehow if you lead VS it wont make any difference. Fingerboards make weak people strong. If you are weak, then you need them more than anyone!"

More articles about fingerboarding on the Moon site here

4 September 2006

davemacleod.com updates - coaching services

I've updated the coaching section of my main site to give you more details about whats included in my climbing coaching services and the different levels on offer. Please let me know if there are any questions left unanswered when you look through these! You can find all the details here.

I've also added a shop page where you can find lists of books on training for climbing by Amazon and buy climbing DVD's, including pre-orders for the E11 film (coming out late October).

Technique drills - breaking down moves

This post looks at how moves fit together on steep rock. Hopefully by breaking moves down into their components I can illuminate the crucial stages of each type of move. Because overhanging rock makes the holds feel poor, we often have to make dynamic moves or twist our trunk to get more reach without having to pull up higher on the holds. Below I've broken down the movements of Catch 22 Sit Start V10 in Glen Nevis, which gives a good example of moving on a flat steep wall.
1. The first move is an RH (right hand) reach. The most important thing to notice is that my trunk is facing left, not straight onto the rock. In fact my hips are almost facing the camera. Why? Well, twisting left means my right shoulder is twisted in towards the rock, closer to the hold I'm reaching for. It also means my centre of gravity is pulled closer to the rock = more weight on my feet. My left leg is pushing - creating the body twist and pushing up into range of the next hold. My right leg is pulling my right hip into the rock and is bent, ready to generate the upward momentum to the next hold.
2. Here I am moving my feet around to get in position to reach with my left hand. It's at this point in moves where many climbers go wrong. It feels natural to pull up and then move your feet. But the best way is often to keep your arms straight, move your feet FIRST until you can see that they are in a good position for the move, then pull up. Pulling up on the holds is likely to increase the force you need to generate at your fingers. If your feet are already in position, you can use them to generate the force. Note also it's OK to make several small foot moves. Big reaches with your feet often increase the force at the fingers where several smaller footsteps avoid this.
3. Here I'm in position to move. If you've never seen one of these moves before it's called an 'Egyptian' or 'drop knee'. The second name is more descriptive - basically you are just dropping a knee to help pull inwards and/or diagonally with on foot. I've dropped my left knee which pulls my left hip towards the rock (giving me reach on my left side) and generates more inward force to replace that provided by my left hand as I take it off and reach for the next hold. Note my left toe is really pointed into the foothold and I'm really pulling hard with it. On steep rock this type of move is essential to know if you want to progress.
4. I've completed the Egyptian move and now need to bring my right foot up. Can you see how my centre of gravity (near hips) is now further in (to the left as we look from this angle) than my hands which are both high, and hence further out? This is creating a tendency for my lower body to swing out (i.e. cut loose). I'm pulling in with my feet and keeping tension through my whole body to avoid my feet slipping. But as I move my right foot I need to be really aggressive with my left toe to prevent it slipping off. Mentally I'm also using this moment to gather composure and focus for the crux dyno which is coming next.
5. Ready to move again. Note legs bent ready to thrust upward, arms almost straight (I think I'd started to move as the photo was taken), focusing in on the next hold.
6. Go! Most of the upward thrust has come from my right leg. My left leg is controlling the rotation of my body and also momentarily pulling my lower body inwards to limit the swing. My left hand is doing almost no pulling upward, only pulling inward. I'm still focused on catching the finishing hold accurately and I'm ready to pull like hell on it as soon as I get my hand on it.

Summary: Lots of twisting going on - this helps give you reach without having to pull up and also brings your centre of gravity closer to the rock which means more weight on your feet. I'm only executing each hand movement after I've moved my feet and body into a good position to support me. Most of the stages of preparing to make a hand movement happen with my arms straight or nearly straight.