18 December 2007

Top 5 ways to avoid pully injuries

I've seen that my posts on A2 pulley injuries on my sites are really popular and get loads of feedback and extra questions. During next year I'll be writing more on this subject and really welcome your case studies either by commenting on the posts directly or emailing me.

Phil emailed today to ask about good way to prevent finger injuries. I've written some advice in an extended article on my main site here. But for a quick hit to keep in mind while you are climbing here are the top five ways to avoid finger injuries in a few words:

1. Good footwork - sloppy footwork means cutting loose when your feet slip unexpectedly. Sudden unanticipated peak forces tear pulleys. Keep that footwork clean. If you are too knackered to climb properly after many hours at the wall, go home and eat pasta and come back the next day.

2. Focus - lack of concentration or distraction often causes foot slippage. Take a second to focus properly before each attempt on a problem. You will climb better and anticipate better.

3. Warm up - And remember to re-warmup if you stop and chat for an hour in the cold.

4. Get strong openhanded - You should be just as strong holding a simple edge (like a campus rung) openhanded as crimped. If you are more dependent on crimps, you are putting yourself at risk.

5. Eat and sleep lots - Poor rest and fuelling sets you up for the risk factors above. Take care of your body, you only have one. Don't climb with a hangover...you'll wobble and shake your way to an injury.

...actually I'll rephrase that - Don't get a hangover so you can climb safely.

15 December 2007

Davemacleod.com new stuff

Some of you will know that I recently wrote an e-book called ‘How to Climb Hard Trad’. I spent a long time on it trying to explain clearly the mental, physical and practical tactics you can employ to climb harder trad routes, whatever your level. Its got detailed sections on how to be bold, how to climb safely, even when really close to your limit on trad climbs and how to tip the scales much further in your favour than most climbers know they can.

Initially I was giving copies away with the Committed DVD. But I’ve just extended the offer to include the e-book free with any DVD or book purchases from my webshop. I’ve just added King Lines and Psyche DVDs and the new Stone Play book to the shop so there are more titles to choose from. Enjoy.

3 Periodisation Pitfalls

Following on from my last post you can see that the raw basics of how to plan a spell of training are pretty simple. Here are some common ways that people go wrong with planning their training:

1. Taking avoidable detraining periods – No training at all is bad news. You lose all the gains you worked so hard to get. When life gets in the way for a spell, maintain your current level with just a little strength work squeezed in. Even a couple of 30 minute sessions on the fingerboard without even leaving the house will prevent the slide back to the bottom of the ladder again.

2. Vary everything – The whole idea of periodisation isn’t just about making sure you make time to work on the different performance aspects (feeding the goose). It’s just as much about avoiding the dreaded ‘accommodation’ where your body just gets use to the same stimulus every year (starving the goose). Unless you mix up everything you can about the training there will be no more golden eggs. What to mix up? Train on different walls, on different angles, different problems set by different setters, on different rock types, crags – you get the picture. If you find yourself saying ‘Oh yeah I remember doing this problem last year’, there is the problem you need to fix with your training.

3. Get hung up with measuring ability with past milestones. This is a subtle psychological issue so it needs a bit more detail. Read on.

Lots of climbers get hung up on maintaining a certain level on their favourite type of move, exercise or even certain routes they do regularly. Sure, it’s good to have measures to give you reference points of where you are. But watch out – often your benchmark strength tests are matched to your best performance attributes. What’s the problem? At best, using your favourite performance measure gives you little information about the performance attributes you are weakest on. At worst, it allows you to keep kidding yourself you are actually improving, and keep avoiding facing up to the aspects you don’t like working on or are pitifully weak on. If you do this, you don’t have a true measure of your climbing ability.

If you want to know where you are at with your climbing/training level and make god decisions about what to focus on, go to the crag you are worst on. Try the problems on the board/angle you just can’t seem to master.

Remember, the bigger the hole in one are of your climbing performance, the bigger the positive effect you will feel when you finally take the bull by the horns and attack it.

Periodisation in 4 sentences

‘Periodisation’, or the rather fancy term for planning your training over days, weeks or even years is something lots of folk ask me about. Either you have a trip in 6 weeks, 6 months or you just want to mix up your training so you don’t plateau and stop improving. Most people with an interest in training know that it’s important to make temporal changes in the training activity you do to avoid injury, plateaus and to get the biggest effect out of your training.

It’s true that the details of how to make decisions about allocating training time to things like strength, endurance work and different types of climbing are complicated. The right decision also depends on knowing what your weaknesses are. More and more climbers realise this and get a coach to assess them and make the decisions using their experience. But it’s possible to get on broadly the right track just by sticking to some basic principles. Here they are below squeezed into a neat summary so you can plan your training for 2008 without a headache:

Strength gains take ages to get and trying to shortcut them gives you injuries; train finger strength year round so you steadily climb the ladder of finger strength gain and don’t slip back to where you started each autumn.

Endurance responds quickly – in weeks – get on the laps in the weeks before you will need the endurance and work yourself hard, several times a week.

As a general rule of thumb you can maintain the same level at an aspect of performance with one session per week and make steady gains with three or more sessions.

Don’t worry about doing strength and endurance work in the same day, just to the strength work first.

24 pull ups

Last time I checked, I could do 24 pull-ups on a bar. A tiny amount for a climber at my grade. Fortunately, being super strong at one strength measure is not so important as being equally strong at holding onto any type of hold. Last time I checked, I could do 24 pull-ups on a bar, on crimps, on slopers and on openhanded pockets. Those who are super strong in one area but weak on another might not be as good at climbing as they could/should. Those who aren’t so strong at any type of hold or exercise, but not weak on any either are much more likely to climb at a surprisingly high level given they are not exceptionally strong at anything.

If there is a type of move/hold/angle you hate, attack it until you love it.

7 December 2007

Notes from my Training Diary

Feeling light on A Muerte 9a, Siurana
I don’t often talk much about my own training on this blog, but in my ongoing long term experiments on myself I’ve seen a really interesting trend this year.

I’ve always held the view that having a low body weight was really important for hard climbing, especially sport climbing. It used to be in fashion but then seemed to go out of fashion for a long while, perhaps because people were going about dieting the wrong way and ending up weak and unhappy! But I reckon being light should come more back into fashion again among anyone who wants to link more than a few moves on steep ground close to their limit.

My evidence? In the past 10 months I’ve been able to increase my grade from 8c to 9a. That’s a very quick progression at this end of the grading scale, especially for someone not so young these days. How did I do it? I lost 4.5 kgs.

Yes, it really was that simple.

Now, I should qualify that by saying the effect would not have happened had it not been for all other aspects of my training, tactics and approach being relatively close to optimal and my strategy for managing the weight loss very well thought through and researched. The dynamics of who would benefit from this type of adaptation, why and how and when to go about it is something I’ll be writing at length about (probably in a book quite soon).

But the basic message is clear – being light is pretty damn important for hard climbing.

If you feel otherwise, please comment below and I will argue you round!

Deciding about specificity

Alex just sent me an email:

“Obviously you'll get loads of questions so probably can't reply to most but both a question and article suggestion.. Specifity is often mentioned in talk about training, but so is working weaknesses. Obviously weaknesses are often the aspects we use least in our outdoor climbing, so how would you advise splitting time between each of these? Eg. I mainly climb onsight on long-ish single pitch trad (30-50m), and most of my goals are of this style. On bolts again I tend to prefer stamina-based routes rather than powerful bouldery ones or those focusing intensely on power endurance. My weaknesses, unsurprisingly, are doing hard moves and -to a lesser extent - power endurance, whilst I do well at hanging around on vert and slightly overhanging terain for a long time. During the summer I spent any training time focusing on bouldering, fingerboard sessions and power endurance to work these weaknesses safe in the knowledge that my aerobic stamina and capiliarisation were getting worked on my 3/4 days a week out climbing trad and sport. Having recently moved to Sheffield I've started bouldering a lot more, and have noticed getting stronger but losing stamina. Thinking about goals for next summer, they're still of the same style as before but I don't know how to divide my training up during the rainy winter: how much to keep focused on bouldering and power to put me in a position to do harder moves on routes, and how much to focus on the stamina I'll want for these pitches but which I know I'm naturally more adapted to. Any advice/info on how much training time should be focused on each? Clearly the answer will depend to how weak the weaknesses are, etc. but I find it confusing when some articles stress working weaknesses whilst others stress working specifically for the type of routes I'm aiming for (which play more to my strengths).. Alex”

My response:

If you look closer at the task of onsighting a long route you’ll see that it often is strength or anaerobic endurance that lets you down. Where do you fail on long routes? It’s either on the crux, or at the end of a long strength sapping pitch. No matter how long the route is, if you aren’t strong enough to get through the crux, you’ll not be getting to the top. Also, anaerobic endurance is what gets us through the hardest sections of routes or keeps us on when we misread the crux and end up hanging longer than planned on the smallest holds of the route.

The specificity rule is “what you do, you become”. If you never practice for cruxes and only practice for the long ploddy bits, the crux is going to be where you always fall off. The specificity rule and your weaknesses are not at odds. Long routes have cruxes, and ploddy bits unfortunately. You need to be moderately good at both. Separate them, and train them until you get to the stage where you fall off at the crux 50% of the time and the end of the long draining pitch 50% - then you have got the balance right.

For your periodisation – train the strength aspects year round because they take longest to gain and can’t be shortcut without injury. Endurance responds quickly so you can shirt focus more onto this closer to when you’ll need it for the big routes. If you want the detail exactly optimised for you without having to do the research yourself, you should get a training program!

5 December 2007

Cold Treatment revisited

A great many of you have commented, emailed etc to say that my videocast and articles on finger pulley injuries were helpful – thanks to all of you. It’s been really interesting that so many of you have tried the cold treatment I suggested with such positive effects.

I thought I’d let you know that I’ve heard feedback from someone who has used the cold treatment (same protocol – 30 mins immersed in the bucket, twice per day for several months) for an elbow injury and reported excellent results with much speeded rate of progress of healing and it allowed continued climbing during the rehab process. Good news.

Such anecdotal reports are all we have to go on at present until someone does a decent longitudinal study. All you sports science/medicine students who email me to ask for research project ideas – now there’s an excellent one worthy of a paper in BJSM if you have the guts to put in the work!

Any of you out there tried it on a shoulder injury?

30 November 2007

Fear of Falling

One of the main things I hear again and again from climbers I coach or climb with is that they are limited by fear of falling. In fact I’d say that maybe 2 out 3 of these climbers could walk out and climb their short-medium term goal routes tomorrow if they could eliminate this excessive fear in their heads. What a waste of ability.

Let’s take a look at the issue.

When we talk about fear of falling we often deal with the concept of our ‘comfort zone’. Climbers with a performance crippling fear of falling often believe that confident climbers are happy to be outside their comfort zone all the time.

This is incorrect.

The reality is that their comfort zone is just bigger. They ‘suffer’ being outside their comfort zone every so often, in order to enjoy being inside it most of the time (because it’s getting bigger all the time).

Each time you opt to stay inside your comfort zone and avoid the unpleasant feeling of fear of falling, your comfort zone gets smaller. Falling off becomes less and less familiar, and backing off becomes more familiar. The most basic training principle is “What you do, you become” So you are practicing reverse training.

Down the line, the end result is that there is almost no comfort zone left to crumble, and just being on a cliff feels too close to the edge of your comfort zone. Climbing often feels unpleasantly scary, and unrewarding. These climbers often give up eventually, or keep going with a perpetual undercurrent of frustration about their climbing.

The flip side is to step briefly outside of that comfort zone every so often, say maybe every 5th route, or maybe once in the climbing day or week. You feel the pain of fear of falling and suffer it briefly. And you realise it’s not so bad. Your comfort zone grows a little. The rest of the time, routes that were once barely comfortable are now totally comfortable – happy days!

It carries on and you suffer a little fear again, comfort zone grows a bit more… and… you get the picture…

So, trying to stay comfortable 100% of the time results in that comfort being harder and harder to find. Accepting the pain of facing fear 10% of the time means total comfort on 100% + of what used to feel unpleasant.

Scare yourself a little, in order to be comfortable and free from fear more than before.

Unfortunately there is no other way.

30 September 2007

Ken asked about translating strength training

Ken asked:

“I'd like to know your comments on adjusting to the improvements and effects of training. I've been following a training program for about 4 years now, and I've noticed a repeating pattern: When I find that I've gotten myself into a new power zone following a training cycle, it seems like I have to relearn my body. Even though I'm foremost a technical climber, the added sense of power seems to take over and I often will actually climb poorer for a while, abandoning my technique and trying to brute force things. I won't even realize it at first until I've had a couple of bad sessions climbing and go about trying to figure out what's wrong. It's like having the engine tuned in your car and gunning it all the time until you remember you've still got to drive with finesse…

…I wonder if, through your career, you've encountered a similar experience as your training has made you stronger, and if there's any specific approach you've applied to adapt?”

That is a good question and something I have spent a fair time thinking about and experimenting with. It comes down to the most basic training principle of ‘specificity’ – what you do you become. If the training is significantly different from the activity being trained for, there will be a problem in translating those gains. Here are some solutions to the problem, which are not rocket science but the only options available:

· The problem most often arises when you train indoors a lot but ultimately want the fitness for outdoor climbs.
· Ideally you would dump the indoor climbing and just train outdoors! But often its not possible due to weather or work schedules. If so you can either plan to make sure you give yourself a period of integration where you do lots of volume of routes outdoors to get used to your new strength and offset the loss of ‘outdoor specific’ technical ability from the indoor work.
· Or, you can limit the strength work to basic strength exercises such as fingerboard/campus board, while still doing all your actual climbing on real rock (or whatever you are training for). This option only works if your schedule allows you not to drop the volume of moves climbed in a given time period.
· Try to maintain regular sessions on your goal rock surface even while you are doing hard training, so your body does not forget how to climb so much!

My solution to this has been to do all my climbing outdoors and never go to a climbing wall (all my climbing goals are on real rock). But I am lucky that my work schedule is often flexible enough to climb when its dry and work when it rains. I supplement my climbing with basic strength work on the fingerboard which does not have a negative impact on my technique.

The negative effect of too much strength work on overall climbing ability is not to be underestimated! You don’t have to look very far to see climbers with fingers strong enough to climb several grades harder if they decided to pay attention to their technique an tactics training.

20 August 2007

Potential vs Track Record

What happens if you focus all your energy on getting strong and putting hours in at the climbing wall?

People say “Wow, that guy/girl has so much potential. They are so strong, they could do something really hard”

What happens if you balance your energy between training and fine tuning your performance tactics and risk losing training time by staying out there and finishing projects or trying new things?

People say “Wow that guy/girl has done so many hard routes, but they aren’t as strong as I expected them to be.”

If you are the guy with the awesome track record, it’s a psychologically difficult place to be. Everyone is constantly surprised by how much you’ve achieved on the strength you have. Why? Because the climbing world is full of wall rats who are super strong but too scared to put their neck on the line and risk failure by getting out there and actually trying a hard route. They will compare you to this norm and will never understand how you did it. So many strong climbers have achieved so little, because they are too scared, and like the easy position of being the guy with the potential.

Who do you want to be? The guy with potential, or the guy who does a lot of hard routes?

29 July 2007

Energy - cycles

You may have noticed that the posting frequency on this blog has gone down recently. Sure, it's partly because I had some other work that needed to get done (I've had some major changes in my life to adjust to recently). But partly because I needed the time to think, and not write about my ideas for a wee while. I've made a bit of progress in this area, and you'll here more on this blog when I'm finished the procress.

This idea of cycles is pretty important in many areas of life - work, relationhips, art and, yes, training for sport. One of the main ways it shows it's face in climbing is that we are trying to perfrom at our best all the time - year round. Of course it doesn't work, but when it doesn't we get mad and try to pull harder and get even more riled. The reult is generally apathy, overtraining related injury, or both.

The filp side is that if we have a brief respite following one of these periods of reduced performance and frustration induced hard effort/training, there is often a major jump in performance. In sports sicence this process is called tapering.

Tapering is part of a theory of sport science called periodisation. The idea is that we focus on different training tasks is sequence to prevent fatique accumulating to injury and plateau inducing levels. Once have worked ourselves hard in each area, we reduce the training volume in all areas to give the body a chance to refresh itself completely. The result - a performance leap. Most people who apply the concept (and that includes most books on training for climbing) limit its use to the first part (varying the work during training) and ignore the second (using tapering to switch between training and performance modes, or even recognising the distinction at all!).

In summary

  • Trying to perform all the time, and neglecting to give yourself time to prepare for the performance is a route to failure.
  • Allow for the fact your body and mind work in cycles - don't worry when you feel stuck in a rut of training or atempting to understand a concept. Performance is inevitably depressed during training. Keep grappling with it to stimulate the body/mind to adapt. When the signs of overtraining appear, taper and reap the rewards of your efforts.

'OK Dave, I get that... next question: how do I distinguish between the healthy fatique and frustration of a good training period, and the downward spiral of overtraining and apathy, and hence decide the right moment to stop training and start performing, or switch training focus?'

Answer - It's not easy! years of experience or a coach can help. Sometimes, even asking a friend can help -anything to get a more objective reflection. There are many clues you can use yourself though - I'll be writing more about these soon.

6 July 2007

New research review - Audry Morrison interview

Audry Morrison and Volker Shoffl have just published a review of the available research relevant to young climbers in the British Journal of Sport Medicine As well as collating some interesting data on studies carried out within climbing, it also draws on other useful sources of information to give us a better picture of the effect of climbing and training on the young body. Not everyone has access to the scientific research press or can digest the information it offers; so I asked Audry if she would answer a couple of questions for this blog.

Young climbers are always asking (and if they don’t they should be!) “how much should I train at my age?” and “what harm can training at a young age do?” The review underlines the need for young climbers and their parents to educate themselves as to what activities and intensities are safe at given ages, and what can be done to minimise risks of permanent alteration or injury to the developing tissue.

Audry Morrison

Non-climbers are always noticing my hands and commenting that they look very different to 'normal' hands. What changes should climbers who train regularly expect in their hands and are there any negative consequences to consider?

Audry: Climbing is certainly a ‘load-bearing’ sport, with the fingers supporting a lot of this ‘load’. Those bones that are most involved with this ‘load-bearing’ or ‘resistance’ exercise are constantly remodelling themselves in response to this type of exercise. Bones are not static. So in a veteran adult climber’s fingers there is up to a 50% increase in the tendon width size (a few years to achieve), a thickening of the collateral ligaments here too, the bones in the fingers physically remodel themselves to become wider/thicker to better accommodate this loading (especially at joints, notably the middle joints), and the fingers just tend to be thicker. How much the finger bones thicken is in direct relationship to the number of years climbing, hours spent training, and climbing ability level. Repeated over training can create micro traumas that collectively can result in stress fractures, ganglions, pulley strains/rupture, tendon nodules, finger nerve irritation, arthritis, etc.

Negative consequences to consider
Good bone remodelling to create strong bones also relies on the assumption that good nutrition is also in place…. like not drinking a lot of soft drinks. An American study found females around age 20 had osteoporosis (brittle bone) similar to that of a 70-year-old because of the volume of soft drinks they drink. These drinks act to limit the amount of calcium your bones can absorb when they remodel themselves. Also, if calcium intake poor, the body will ‘steal’ calcium from other bones to use when remodelling the bones that are getting most of the resistance workout.

A lot of climbers quite rightly have concerns about their fingers and hands. We ask a lot of fingers when climbing, especially at a high ability level.

This is probably obvious, but high ability climbers generally experience more injuries, especially to the fingers, because of the greater mechanical stresses and weight-bearing loads to the fingers. ‘Crimp’ position exerts the greatest compressive force to a finger joint cartilage, compared to the ‘open hand’ position that is more protective and also allows you to climb for longer. Over gripping holds will limit climbing performance because of the direct knock on effect of increasing blood pressure and heart rate, increasing stress hormone levels etc that in turn influence and change metabolites in the forearm so you get pumped quicker.

Climbers should continually assess the full range of motion in all 3 joints of each finger. Can you place your hand palm down so that it is flat on a table surface? If any of the fingers can’t go flat, it may suggest Dupuytren’s disease. This used to be confined to those aged 40-60 who worked manually that created micro traumas to the fingers, though there is also a North European genetic predisposition to it. Unfortunately even young climbers have various stages of Dupuytren’s, that if severe, requires an operation to straighten the finger. But some NHS hospitals a while back refused to perform this surgery any more along with some others as a cost cutting exercise.

In one good study examining osteoarthritis in 65 veteran adult climbers (average age=37.5, climb experience=19.8 years, grade=5.12c) compared to non-climbing age-matched controls, there were five specific joint areas in the climber’s fingers that scored significantly higher than the controls. But having said this, the overall osteoarthritis scores between both groups were similar.

What do you think are the main things young climbers should keep in mind to progress quickly and safely to the upper levels in climbing?

Audry: Below the age of around 12 (pre-pubertal), no youngster has the ability to adapt to either aerobic or anaerobic exercise as would happen in an adult. There are many adaptations in their body that prevent this from happening. But they can learn movement well, and they most definitely should be participating in sport (all sorts). It’s not known when specialisation in climbing should take place. They must be encouraged to learn very good technique because they don’t have the strength, have immature pain barriers, etc. In younger children, actually demonstrate what they are doing wrong.

Elite young climbers will also have thickened finger bones. What’s critical for young climbers is that their finger bones grow to their full length around age 16.5, and that this is not interrupted by finger training too intensively. Damage (temporary or permanent damage) can occur when young climbers undertake extensive finger strengthening exercises. This is especially so when they try to compensate for their increased weight when they have their final growth spurt around age 14-15. Some 20% of adult height is achieved in this final growth spurt where skeletal mass increases twofold and a lot of muscle can be packed on. Ligaments and tendons have not yet adapted to these increases in bone length and load, and increasing levels of certain hormones can also weaken the joints. The training focus must be on ensuring good technique/efficiency (always!) and on volume & diversity of route, rather than doing any finger strength training those elite adults do.

Also check for any curvature of spine, tight shoulders that have a rolled hunched look. If so, much more stretching needs to be carried out, possibly physiotherapy or medical intervention if severe.

Check feet too. See if there is any pain or deformities, or loss of nerve sensation. If any of these is the case, the shoes are too restrictive. Feet grow in a linear manner length and width from ages 3-12 (in females) and to age 15 in males. Height is highly correlated to foot growth to the age of 18.

Thanks for answering those questions Audry and well done on the research. Its quite a striking figure that tendon width increases so much – when you consider the effects on the cross sectional area of a doubling of tendon width it seems even more impressive. But we ask so much of our fingers in climbing and muscles work at such a mechanical disadvantage that I suppose it’s not so much of a surprise that the adaptations are so striking. I’ve certainly noticed a marked thickening of my PIP joints over the past two years and more aches and pains in them than before.

I think the key takeaway from all this is to read and educate yourself before you launch into the training, rather than once you start having problems. At the same time, all these consequences to getting training wrong as a youngster doesn’t mean you cant push yourself until you are adult. It just means that there are trade-offs between going hard when you are still growing and accepting and managing some consequences from it. But most of the negative consequences should be avoidable with healthy respect for the body. Just look at climbers like Fred Nicole who was climbing F8b+ at 16 and has been bouldering at the cutting edge right through to his late thirties with seemingly no breaks – inspiring.

You can see the abstract for Audry’s paper here. You can view the full text if you have an ATHENS password.

13 June 2007

Eccentric training notes

Phil just emailed to ask:

I have been reading about DOMS and eccentric loading being a cause, which lead me to look up eccentric exercises (EE). Being a triathlete and climber I was mostly interested in exercises for the legs, but it got me thinking if there was a good case for climbers to find arm exercises. Clearly with down-climbing the muscles are being loaded eccentrically, but also I can envisage "normal" climbing and traversing will have an eccentric element too. Do you have some EEs that you do? Do you think that climbers could train eccentrically to reduce DOMS on trips, and to allow better control when their muscles are working in this way?”

DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) is indeed provoked more intensely with eccentric exercise than concentric. It’s other main cause is simply using the muscles at a level they haven’t been used to for a while. Which is a major bummer for those getting off the couch and starting to exercise or train – the first few sessions are pure hell!

Although the picture is not entirely clear and depends very much on the sport, training using a combination of eccentric and concentric contractions returns the biggest strength gains. Normal climbing has a reasonable eccentric component already (I’m speaking about the arms here). And those who have weak arms and need supplement their climbing with some weight training should do some eccentric work. Often this simply involves dropping back down in control after doing a pull-up! Of course any type of supplementary training with weights for the arms and body are just that – supplementary. Too many climbers get carried away here.

For me personally, I simply boulder for gaining body strength, supplemented by a very little bar training at certain times of year. The major issue in climbing is avoidance of overdevelopment of muscle, and also the importance of technique. Training body strength entirely ‘on the wall’ makes sense for most climbers because you are learning technique and neuromuscular coordination (an underrated component of muscle strength!!!) at the same time. Weights are an extremely blunt instrument which often have undesirable side effects for coordination, technique and over development of unnecessary muscle tissue. In some other sports not so dependent on body mass, such as sprint running, the overdevelopment of muscle might not be such a concern.

So in summary – normal climbing has an eccentric component anyway. For those few needing supplementary weight training, an eccentric component is certainly important. Just remember to reverse the contraction – drop down from pull-ups etc…

11 June 2007

Dieting - eating more with less calories - how to manage it

Climbers who are trying to lower their weight to climb better are rightly always on the lookout or strategies that actually work to make the process any more achievable. The appetite is a powerful adversary against will to get to a low body fat percentage, and for most they’ll never win the battle. A lot of the weapons in the dieters armoury focus on the fat and carbohydrate composition of food and how best to manipulate total calorie intake.

Some new research in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition this month has underlined the fact that there is another dimension to winning over appetite; the calorie density of food. Basically, there are some foods that are more calorie dense, meaning that you end up eating a lot of calories before you feel full. Foods that have a high water content allow you to eat what feels and looks like a lot of volume, making you feel full with less calorie intake than ‘drier’ food. Fruit and vegetables are obvious foods with high water content. I’ll make up some more ideas for ‘calorie poor’ foods soon.

This study found that a group of volunteers eating foods higher in water and lower in calorie density lost more weight than another group eating normally, and that they ate 25 percent more food (by weight) at the same time as feeling less hungry.

In practice – you’d have to eat about 4 apples to get the equivalent calories of one Snickers bar. I know which would make me feel more full!

10 June 2007


I was reading an interesting blog post by Seth about ‘coachability’. Now, most of you out there will never take that step and take formal advice from a climbing coach (bummer eh!) so you may think that this might not apply to you. But almost all of you are self –coaches of varying degrees of commitment (and hey you are reading this blog so you are coaching yourself right now). So it’s good to be aware of how coachable you are.

Seth: “A friend is wrestling with his ability to be coached. For the coachable, "Turn right at the light" is seen as a helpful suggestion for someone lost in a strange town... the advice goes in, is considered and then acted upon. For someone wrestling with coaching, though, it's like surgery. It's painful, it has side effects and it might lead to a bad reaction…”

I’ve met a lot of climbers who are very resistant to their own coaching. As Seth points out, the symptoms of un-coachability include challenging the credentials of the coach, reminding yourself of previous errors or flaws in the coach (substitute “coaching information” if you like), inventing reasons why the coaching does not apply to you or that you are being hard done by and even resisting the information just because of the source it came from.

It’s really hard to steer a course through the sea of crap advice out there by yourself. But the answer is not to put up walls to shut out questionable or unusual information. Unfortunately if you choose to be a self coach, you have to swallow whatever coaching comes your way and try your best to digest and analyse wherever possible. It’s a rocky road of constantly changing realities, practices and perspectives.
Such is life.

3 June 2007

Finger injury treatment videocast

[UPDATE] The video I made about healing finger pulley injuries is a bit out of date now and the knowledge has moved on a bit. I have almost finished my climbing injuries book 'Rock 'til you drop'. In that I've written a very detailed discussion on everything to do with pulley injuries. It'll be out soonish.

This is my first ever videocast! In it I talk about the most effective treatment there is for speeding healing of finger pulley injuries; what to do, why it helps and how often to do it. Enjoy!

It’s a bit rough and ready cos it’s my first one and I shot it by ditting my digi camera on a table and did it in one take, but I hope it was OK? I’m going to do these regularly so post some comments with your requests on what you’d like me to talk about. Of course I'll post all my new videocasts on this blog but you can subscribe to my videocast feed here

Energie Conference Review

Today I was lecturing at an interesting conference on physical activity and health in Glasgow – it was quite a day! The conference was aimed at professionals mostly involved in promoting physical activity, sport and exercise in one form or another. Below are some quick hits from the speakers that I found quite interesting as someone heavily involved in a ‘niche’ sport and having spent 6 years studying sport science. After I finished my masters in 2004 I actually thought about doing a PhD in this area – it’s one of the few areas in sport science with any support for post grad research. But in the end I decided I’d had enough study for the time being and fancied climbing E11 instead. Hopefully I’ll go back and do it sometime…

It was most amusing to see full on research lectures with screens of data as you would expect at a science conference, interspersed with audience participation sessions of the latest in step aerobics! 150 people jumping up and down in their civvies to banging techno in a conference room at 2pm is and strange sight. My talk was last and ended up being about E9 for fear factor as the tech guy messed up and crashed the AV system, so my nice slides of climbing and clips from E11 disappeared and I had to ad-lib my lecture with no slides. Scary. Everyone still clapped at the end, so I guess I got through it. But it’s not something I want to repeat in a hurry. As I was saying to the audience about risk sports – bold climbers don’t like surprises and like to know in great detail the tasks they face in advance.

The main part of my talk was to try and relate why I turned from an inactive kid who despised school sports to a pro athlete. I told them that I was fairly low confidence as a kid because I’m not a very outgoing and extrovert person, so the competitive and win/lose situations of sport (amplified by the cut throat world of pecking orders among kids) was always a negative experience for me. I felt that a lot of other kids also weren’t ready for this sink or swim world and therefore turned away from sport. When I discovered climbing, it washed all that away because it could be whatever I wanted it to be – individual, team, competitive or not, explorative or light-hearted. So I could move from a gentle break in to maximum commitment as and when I was ready. I told them that I climbed a world class route on the same crag I started climbing on as a timid kid – how cool is that – normally elite level sport takes you far away from the experience of the first steps, not necessarily so in climbing. I also told them I thought they should borrow some ideas from the world of business and internet to help appeal to a broader range of youngsters. Web 2.0 is a remarkable real time worldwide study in behavioural techniques and engaging user attention and motivation. I am certain there is stuff to be learned from that. I also think sport/health promoters need to look at the Long Tail idea that is buzzing in the business world and recognize the power of it’s ideas in reaching diverse groups with their own codes and vales such as teenagers.

Anyhow, here is a quick zap through the field of exercise promotion as it stands right now:

Matthew Lowther, who is the Scottish exec. policy coordinator on physical activity showed us data that suggested that the Scots have one of the best designed strategic plans in the world (!) for motivating and facilitating the public to get off the couch and exercise to stay alive. I guess that shows just how deep the problem of an inactive society runs in Scotland. Depressing really. I liked his slide showing what things should be like with pictures of parks with a sign “MORE BALL GAMES” instead of “no ball games”. When he was talking about creating new environments for sport to take place I couldn’t help but feel a touch of frustration that not enough folks, especially kids know about the great massive (and free) playground out there called the Highlands – plus all the places closer to home like the Dumbarton’s and the Auchinstarrys.

Dalia Malkova was talking in her nice Russian accent about sports nutrition myths, especially good practice in carbohydrate loading for endurance sport. It’s quite a complicated picture but the main things were again reinforcing the importance of rapid munching of high GI carbs after you train (must be inside 2 hours post workout for hormonal reasons). Eating high GI carbs before training can help give you a higher glycogen load going into the exercise, but it seems to subsequently drop off more rapidly during the exercise compared to eating low GI. I’m going to write up something in detail about carbs for climbers soon.

“Motivator to the Hollywood stars” Ali Campbell gave a good talk, which was typically a little high on cheese content as much motivational content can be. But it was still very good. He classified people’s deeper life motivation as either “moving away from pain” or “moving towards pleasure”, the latter being the better but more difficult strategy to adopt. I recognised what he said in climbers I’ve seen and coached and suggest that there are climbers who are in the sport to move towards pleasure but their regular regime of climbing activity and thought is centred around moving away from pain. I’ve thought a lot about this lately for my climbing coaching and feel I am learning a lot right now – with much more to discover yet I think.

John MacLean the medical director at the Hampden sports medicine centre (THE place to go in Scotland if you have a sports injury needing treatment) gave an excellent run through of sports medicine today. His ‘gore’ slides of breaking legs, arms etc were awesome and after the talk I asked him about the rationale behind using ice on acute sports injuries to reduce inflammation and pain. My question arises because the body has evolved for many an age to fine tune its inflammatory response – so why should we start interfering with it? I asked the same question to my sports med lecturer back at uni and got a fudgy answer. This time, John clarified rather better. It turns out there are still two camps of opinion, one feeling that the natural course of the body’s response should be left to run its course, and the other feeling that part of that evolved response is to prevent the injured athlete weight bearing/using too early and causing more damage. Anti inflammatory treatment of acute injuries combined with careful re-introduction of appropriate rehab is essentially ‘more intelligent’ and prevents the rapid loss of muscle tissue that goes with immobilisation of an injured limb.

The afternoon sessions saw several experts on obesity putting their cases for the best ways to get children off play stations and away from a path to being round adults. Lyndel Costain shone a cold scientific beam on the popular ‘celeb’ diets and reflected what we all knew deep down anyway; they only work where they tip the energy balance negatively. The sad fact is that most people (2 thirds I think she said) who lose weight fail to keep it off in the long term. So the emerging picture is that the only way to cure the worldwide obesity epidemic is to prevent people from getting obese in the first place. A big ask. But at least we know where to direct our efforts.

13 May 2007

Weight loss - some numbers to educate the process

trying a project in October 2006

7 months later, 7 pounds lighter, project sent…

Over the summer I’ll be writing some essays on weight and climbing performance, but for now, here is a quick hit. The problem for many climbers is deciding whether it’s a good idea to lose weight at all. For sure it influences performance, but unless your technique is good, you might not even notice the difference if you lose a few pounds! The climbers who will benefit most from lowering their body weight are a) those who are well trained and have excellent technique but have a body fat percentage over 10% for men or more for women (who carry more gender specific fat), and b) any climbers who have are carrying some significant fat (i.e. a spare tyre).

But if you have already decided that losing a few pounds is a good idea an you are going for it. Here are a couple of handy points:

You can work out a very rough estimate of the amount of calories you need to function. Try working out the following equation. Note this applies only to adults.

Women:655 + (4.3 x weight in pounds) + (4.7 x height in inches) - (4.7 x age in years)
Men:66 + (6.3 x weight in pounds) + (12.9 x height in inches) - (6.8 x age in years)

Once you have done this, add 20% to the figure if you are sedentary, 30% if you do some light activity, 40% if you do some exercise most days, and 50% if you train pretty hard. This should give an estimate of how many calories you need to eat each day.

One pound of body fat is roughly equivalent to 3500 calories (kcal), so if you under-fuel by 500 calories per day, you should lose about a pound per week (with many assumptions about hormonal and other conditions!). Of course you can achieve the underfuelling either by using more calories, taking in less, or both.

Aggressive dieting is counterproductive, causing your metabolic system to start working against you by making you feel too tired to train hard and increasing appetite and adipose (fat) deposition at any opportunity.

Check out the photos above. I just lost some weight myself and it had a very positive effect on my climbing – but I have 13 years of hard technique training behind me to milk every drop of the power-weight ratio change.

Weight loss might be a red herring in certain situations for getting better at climbing in certain situations. In other situations in might be a killer advantage. Get a coach or a lot of education so you can make a good decision which it is for you. But if you decide it’s a good plan, it sometimes helps to put some numbers on things to get good data to work with.

4 May 2007

Research digest - Sleep and risk decisions

A new study published in the journal ‘Sleep’ has demonstrated that we tend to take riskier options in decision making in conditions of sleep deprivation. This has obvious relevance to climbers in the area of trad climbing and mountaineering. In fact if the effect size of sleep deprivation on risk taking behaviour is large then it’s a wonder our best alpinists are still with us! But it also has strong relevance in avoiding injury too. Knowing when to let go or adjust position in a high risk body position or move is critical for avoiding injuries in climbing. It’s no accident that climbers with poor footwork or a sloppy ‘rushed’ approach always complain the most about tweaks and soft tissue injuries, or indeed have climbing accidents.

The study found that the part of the brain associated with anticipation of reward becomes selectively more active with lack of sleep, slewing our judgements towards more risky options and away from concern for possible negative consequences.

So we can add one more reason to the list of reasons to get plenty of sleep if you want to improve at climbing and avoid injury.

This news came from Science Daily

3 May 2007


It's funny how despite just about everything can be found on the internet these days but it still seems to take bloody ages any time you want to actually find it. The websites I run (davemacleod.com, Online Climbing Coach and this blog) are information sites these days as well as just 'stuff about my climbing'. So I've been trying to find ways to help folk find easier ways to get to the type of information they are after when visiting my sites. The main thing I think people use my sites for is to find information about:

My climbing and routes
Scottish climbing
Improving at climbing, including coaching
Information about climbing injuries and recovering from them

If you can think of any others then please comment on this post and let me know!!!

I will have more time over the summer to work on my websites and want to improve all aspects of them. One of the main things will be to get a much more comprehensive information bank about climbing injuries since I get emails from injured climbers almost every day now. One of the things I’ve been doing is using an Amazon feature to create my own ‘bookstore’ to help you find good books related to climbing quickly. I’ve set up three stores:

Online Climbing Coach store: A complete catalogue of all the decent books on training for climbing ever written!

Scottish Climbing Guidebook Store: A definitive list of all the guidebooks you need to climb anywhere in Scotland in any climbing discipline.

My Favourite books! Just a fun list of the favourite books on my shelf that inspired or informed me and my climbing.

Click on them to have a look. In the future you can find the OCC store in the sidebar of this blog, and the rest on the Shop page of my main site. I’ll keep them regularly updated and try to get reviews up of new books that come on-stream. It an Amazon based thing, so you can buy any books straight from the shops if you like them. I thought it might be handy as it saves you searching through reams of pages and wondering which books are most up to date or highest quality.


29 April 2007

The Self-Coached Climber review

[Update 2/11/2009] Since this book really is still the best book on improving at climbing on the market right now, and so many of you read the review, I thought it would be a good idea to get some copies in for my webshop! It's here.

The Self Coached climber is the latest in what is now a long list of books on improving your climbing performance on the market. In fact, for the inexperienced eye, it is for the first time getting tricky to decide which is the best buy. So where does Hague and Hunter’s new book fit into the available literature, apart from bringing us up to date with recent knowledge? In my opinion, this book blows away the previous publications, and sets a new standard in self help training books in rock climbing.

To start with, lets look at the scope of the book. For the first time, the authors lay out in detail the importance of establishing balance on the rock, what balance actually means in a rock climbing situation and provide superb descriptive and illustrative examples of balance in action on the rock. Establishing balance underlies all successful movement on rock and any climber will benefit from this tutorial in how different body and limb positions affect your ability to move and the forces on the holds. Beyond that, there is a comprehensive run through the main movements in climbing, with supportive graphics to help you see what is going on in each movement. Right through, the writing and illustration is faultless and shows groundbreaking effort in communicating these ideas in a clear manner, an obvious testament to the author’s decades of experience in coaching climbers. The following chapters take us through the fundamentals of all types of training for climbing, including mental training and putting all the elements of training together, in a far more practical way than other books have managed to do.

The content is detailed and thorough which might occasionally be a little heavy going for beginners. This trade off between detailed information for advanced experts and accessible writing for beginners and the ‘not-so serious’ climber will always be a tricky balance to strike with this type of book. I think they have pulled it off by structuring the book well into shorter essays and enough graphics to do the job without actually referring too much to the text. The real killer though is the accompanying DVD. When I first hit play I was expecting something pretty cheesy and not exactly captivating, but it really surprised me with well organised concise exercises and superb animations which surpass anything before it including Neil Gresham’s DVD instruction on climbing technique (although this is more comprehensive). The chapter of the film covering redpoint tactics is superb too, bringing the lists of tactics alive by following two climbers on the rocky road to linking a route right at their limit over several days. This could have been even better with some additional commentary at the end, but still leaves you more educated about the critical importance of tactics than before.

This is a substantial publication and the price reflects it, but I’d say it’s worth every penny and more for the quality and scope of the information inside and the way it is presented. There’s no doubt that a keen beginner climber picking this book up will feel a touch overwhelmed by some of the chapters. But this is a reference book; keep this in mind. Beginners will get a huge amount by reading over and over the sections on balance, initiating moves and watching the associated sections in the DVD. This is the same kind of content that any climbing coach will have you do again and again, because its so critical to build further layers of ability on top. After the initial read, what you need from a book like this is for it to be easy to pick up and flick back to a section that’s on you mind at a given moment, such as getting home from a frustrating training session, or getting close to a hard route and needing an extra edge. The authors obviously had this in mind when laying out the book and deciding on graphics – its not a chore to use or difficult to relocate particular notes within the book quickly and easily.

So do I have anything bad to say about the book? Not really, all of its content is spot on. I would have liked to see a chapter on common climbing injuries since their prevalence is so high these days among climbers, and perhaps a little more on onsight and redpoint tactics in both the book and DVD. So it’s not 100% perfect. But this is already a massive publication and really puts the rest to shame. Even today with more and more climbing coaches around, the vast majority of people coach themselves in climbing, and make crucial decisions about sourcing information with very little to go on. For these climbers, this book should be the most used looking book on their shelf.

If you would like a copy, you can get it from the webshop here.

The Rock Warrior's Way review

Some books demand extra special attention. You hardly have to read a few pages of Arno Ilgner’s book on mental factors in climbing to realise that this work is an expression of a lifetime of research, study and passion in a subject that has eluded scientific understanding and mass participation with the passage of time; mind control during risky climbing. The intention of the author is to equip you with the means to take control of this, the most elusive of performance elements in climbing and start to make lasting changes. Quite a task.

The angle taken by Ilgner in approaching this is inevitably influenced by his background, incorporating both psychology and various philosophical approaches and fields for reference, example and guidance. We cannot fault Ilgner for taking this approach. Even in this century, the workings of the mind in the area of risk and fear have continued to confound standard scientific approaches for study and developing good practice, and we surely cannot discount at least some of what ancient and alternative philosophies might have to offer sport mental performance? When studying sport psychology myself I was surprised (but later no so) to learn that universities still regularly debate whether to offer psychology related degrees within their science faculties and even if this discipline can be justifiably called a science at all. The mind simply cannot be well understood by applying current day scientific method. That said, my scientific defences were already up before I even got out of the introductory chapter when Ilgner makes reference to possible “divine intervention” in his life!

Some, especially a British audience might well get ‘the fear’ just from the book’s rather romantic title. Do we really want to become “rock warriors”? The book is without a doubt steeped in Ilgner’s personal love for ‘warrior’s way’ philosophy and how it has worked for him in succeeding on bold rock climbs. But it’s also doubtless that there is much to learn from his book.

So what elements of value came out of the read for me? Well, the biggest benefit to be had is truly learning that mental performance in climbing is a process, not a sudden event to be conjured out of the depths of your mind when 20 feet out from a runner. And that process starts long before you even tie onto the rope at the base of the route. It also refocuses you on using your mind as a tool to get clearer understanding (and therefore control) over the actual task you are setting yourself when leading a route; observing the right things, focusing on the right tasks at the right time, eliminating extraneous and inhibitory thoughts and tasks and the steps that need to be taken to arrive at the moment of truth – commitment.

Also the power of adopting ‘the witness position’ as Ilgner refers to it, of stepping out of your body and how this can help you make better an more informed decisions on courses of action during climbing and also to prepare yourself to focus on the right things. In fact, throughout the book I recognised most of the mental strategies that have lead to the best performances by climbers operating at the limits of climbing of all types, including bold routes. However, at times I found the writing may have benefited from the influence of more co-authors to sharpen up the key messages and distil out some of the surrounding text that occasionally clouds what are essentially simple practices. For the reader, this means some hard going at times, and I would recommend reading it a couple of times (if you are up to it!) to get Ilgner’s key messages well understood and internalised.

The big question is of course will it actually help you control your fear and reach your potential on bold leads? For some I think it will help, and many of my clients who have read it report that they benefited from it. However, I feel that the practical advice in the Rock Warriors Way may be in need of further development and readers may be left wondering how they can realistically put their new knowledge into practice. This is where a truly effective coach, or self-coaching manual succeeds or fails – in recognising that integration of theoretical knowledge and day to day practice is the most critical aspect for getting to the next grade. Some climbers may be left needing more advice in translating knowledge into results by using the strategies on real life climbs. It is a lot to ask of one book though; to make a comprehensive picture of the theory and provide detailed practical advice as well in what is a massive subject. Ilgner has focused on the former objective.

However, they will have been well educated in the theory behind boldness by The Rock Warriors Way, and at times entertained by the language and terminology that you only find in mental self-help books, especially American ones! So, adopt the warrior position, breathe deeply and prepare for a long night’s reading, possibly aided by some strong coffee to get to the end. But, if you can find a way to put Ilgner’s wisdom into practice, you might just be OK out there on the sharp end next time round??

Climbing Your Best review

American climbing coach Heather Reynolds Sagar has compiled her knowledge of performance in climbing and produced a book detailing good practice in training for climbing. This book is mainly focused on training, with mention only of common climbing positions but little on constructing movements, so I would recommend using it in conjunction with some other source of learning to cover these aspects, as training is only one link in the chain of performance. The book translates the author’s experience as a coach and some application of the limited sports science research so far completed in climbing – a good premise, but does it work?

To start with Heather gives us a battery of tests to perform to assess our strength and fitness parameters in order to establish our strengths and weaknesses before moving on to developing training goals. At the end of the chapter you can compare your scores to ‘normal’ values for climbers at each grade based on data collected by the authors during her coaching experience. This is a good attempt to establish real numbers for strength and fitness targets for climbers. But I would say the ‘normal’ values must be questionable to say the least and we have no assurance of the size of the sample or methods used to collect the data. These might be useful as a ‘wake up call’ for those a mile off the required level for their goal grades, but trying to follow them to the letter (as some inevitably will) could be dangerous! I have to say I skipped right past this chapter, and would advise anyone else to view it with interest but not take it as gospel.

The next chapter is more promising with ‘signs and symptoms’ of potential weaknesses, based on things climbers can see or feel without having to perform exercise tests. This will be much more practical and appealing to a lot of readers. I was glad that Heather warns us of the interaction between technique limitations and physical ones but doesn’t provide much advice to guide us through the common pitfalls of self-analysis.

The following chapters detail good practice in strength and endurance training for climbing, but not technique and mental training. There is also a chapter in climbing injuries which was helpful, but only as a quick run through of preventative techniques, with little information on what to do if you actually get injured – an opportunity missed. I was also disappointed to see good footwork absent from the lists of high risk situations for injury; it is the most common! The book finishes with a run through of common myths about improving at climbing. I liked this section although again it would have benefited from being tackled more thoroughly and might have been better included as a discrete “climbing myths” section in its relevant chapter, rather than at the end, where some readers may have switched off.

Talking of switching off, I found that the layout and writing style in the book was by far its biggest limitation. The first time I read it, I found it pretty hard work (and I LOVE reading this kind of book!) and was pretty disappointed. Second time round, I realised that much of the content is actually sound, if a bit limited. I realised that the lack of structuring of the sections and text and overworked examples defeat the reader, and the decision to abstain from supporting the text with pictures and graphics compounded this. No doubt this was a commercial decision, but may have been a false economy!

It will appeal to those wishing to understand more about physical training for climbing, without spending days reading it, although you may have to give it a couple of read throughs to get to grip with the messages it contains. Its also a good choice if you have a limited budget, but will have to compete hard with the other books out there which offer at least as much value per pound/dollar.

24 April 2007


Dave Redpath setting up for the crux of Anabolica 8a, Siurana – never mind that recruitment Dave, can you up that firing frequency, coordinate those neural waves and reduce the inhibition enough? (Ph: Hot Aches)

Based on the information in books out there about training for climbing, it has become many climber’s understanding of muscular strength and strength training that it comprises of two elements; muscle size and muscle fibre recruitment. This understanding is useful at a very basic level because it helps to underline the point that getting strong for climbing is not just about getting bigger muscles. Even for those not interested in training, it helps us to understand our observations that the best climbers are clearly not the muscliest! This is nowhere clearer than if you compare the physique of two of the world’s most famous and best climbers of today, Dave Graham and Chris Sharma.

But if you are at the stage of planning your own training for climbing based on your knowledge of strength and the factors that influence it, then it pays to have a deeper understanding to avoid making poor choices and losing out on training gains.

Muscle strength is indeed influenced by the size of the muscle and the number of fibres it can recruit, but its also influenced by the frequency of firing (rate coding) of the muscle fibres, the length of the muscle, the speed of contraction, the reflex potentiation or inhibition of the muscle and the coordination of the muscle group (after all movements involve several muscles working at once through different stages). Beyond these there are even more factors besides! So in reality there is quite a lot going on there. This helps us to see why the best climbers come in different shapes and sizes and appear to move in different ways.

So what do all of these factors mean for our strength training. I guess the best way to summarise this would be to say that the demarcation between muscular strength and technique is not as clear as it may seem. I’m not going to go into all the implications because there are several books worth of them! But the main implication is to recognise the importance of integration of gains in both tissue growth and the neuromuscular activation aspects (recruitment & rate coding) in the setting you are ultimately training for.

In real terms this mean making sure you mix up basic strength training on things like fingerboards with bouldering. This will ensure that your muscles learn the correct rate coding for given movements. In some cases this will be learning to use more force, in some cases it will be less. Both are obviously just as important, as in climbing we have to string moves together so strength is a commodity that we must save on certain moves and be able to use in abundance on others.
In future posts I’ll write up some pointers to recognise when there might be a problem with the proportions of different types of strength training in climbing. But this is a very complicated subject and worth getting help with it if you can!

Layoff vs slow return to activity

One of the main worries climbers have after getting an injury is whether to take a complete layoff from climbing activity and how long that layoff should be. Some reading about rehab in sport will tell you that extended layoffs are very bad news not only for losing form but also recovering from the injury. Here is quote from a review of strength training in sports rehab which really rams home the point:
"it is now clear that during the remodeling phase, occurring theoretically from the 21st day after injury and even lasting 300 to 500 days, the collagen tissue remodeling can only take place efficiently when put under stress (or load)."
The initial layoff (up to three weeks) allows the acute phase of the injury to pass (that is inflammation causing swelling, tenderness and lots of nasty chemicals in the wound). Beyond that, it takes training for the injury to respond with improvements in exactly the same way as normal training, except of course that it is starting from a very low load capability. What has to be remembered is that sporting function is not normal function. If you layoff for a long period, an injury will recover to the point it can handle what is being asked of it (i.e. lifting kettles, tapping keyboards in some people's case!). You would'nt stop climbing for six months and then jump back on your hardest grade would you? So if you have an injury where the capability of the damaged tissue drops to a very low level, you shouldn't let it languish at that level and then expect it to suddenly perform a massive jump in standard by starting normal climbing again.
The bottom line is, rehab from injury is (beyond the initial phase) analogous to normal training, with progressive overload to stimulate the tissue to respond. All the aspects of normal training also apply; monitoring of progress, regular and stuctured exercises, careful lifestyle support (which in this case will include rehab treatments like Lewis reaction icing, stretching and maybe friction massage).

Elbow injury - lessons from tennis

Here is an interesting wee link to some summary data about rehab of Tennis Elbow on the Sports Physiotherapy For All website. Tennis elbow in climbers is pretty rare (I think, but there is no data on it!), but does sometimes happen. Where it does happen I suspect its most likely caused by a discrete event such as a sudden tear, or due to a very unusual climbing technique. The main reason I posted about the link was to draw attention to the comments about late stage rehab of this type of injury. In climbers this will more likely be medial epicondylitis or problems with brachioradialis, although it applies to any sports injury. The article stresses the importance of good technique and relying less on strength and making more fluid and efficient movements. This is most often the underlying cause of overuse injury in the first place, and the reason why certain people are plagued with repeated injury of the same type. In climbing, key risk factors for finger and eblow injuries are probably poor footwork, a 'rushed' climbing pace and a habit of locking off and pulling up to initiate moves rather than initiating movements with your feet. Of course, there are risk factors in the areas of training practice, nutrition and lifestyle and genetics as well, but these may be less significant that movement technique.
So, the message is clear - to prevent injury occuring or recurring, look at your movement technique.

30 March 2007

Off the Wall Exercises for Climbers – Review

Now most of us like our training for climbing to involve actual climbing. And not just for fun; specificity is the one of the core principles of physical training for sport. So weight training is usually off the list of priorities for most climbers. But not all of us can get climbing as often as we need to improve, but our jobs or schedules mean we have time to get to a gym or homemade training facility to make the most of what we can get. Lisa Wolfe’s book on strength exercises for climbers covers the range of exercises you can do away from climbing walls and crags. For those of you who only have access to a weights gym and know the areas or muscle groups you need to focus on, but not the exercises, then this book will be useful.

I was hoping for a bit more though. I expected to see a simple but thorough explanation of the pitfalls for climbers spending a large proportion of their overall training time using weights or basic strength exercises. The only discussion on this critical point is a passing comment in the introduction “Give off-the-wall training a try… What have you got to lose?” Quite a lot actually and the book fails to warn of issues such as the common loss of emphasis on good technique in many climbers for whom basic strength training gets addictive. Nothing on the pitfalls of developing large body mass on climbing specific strength-weight ratio either. No guidance for prioritising exercises for specific performance weaknesses. The book is a seemingly exhaustive list of exercises for all muscle groups of the body and not much more. The whole time you ask; “how do I choose which exercises are highest priority for me?”.

Readers will have to seek advice for which of the exercises to prioritise from other sources. This will keep coaches in business : ) The book is certainly useful as a reference is the training priorities for different circumstances are known, but the opportunity was there to make a book more complete for self coached climbers.