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?