29 April 2007

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.

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