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.