29 December 2009

Rehab for Golfers elbow for climbers

Loads of you have been asking for more info on the rehab work I’ve been doing on my elbows of late. I’ve been really impressed and heartened by how effective it’s been. The first thing to say is that rehab only works inside the bigger picture of treating an injury, i.e. correcting the cause and taking other steps to lower the overall stress on the affected area. The other steps are changing many different things in your lifestyle and routine outside of the climbing, but also some of the tactics within the sport routine.

To handle all of this is much more than a blogpost obviously. Hence I’m back to working on what was meant to be my first book - about the whole picture of preventing and treating climbing injuries. In this post I’m sticking to just the headlines of the rehab work:

First off I’ve been doing hot/cold water immersion to increase blood flow. In the past I’ve used just cold on my hands which seem to handle this better and evoke the Lewis reaction faster. The elbows seem to respond slightly better to hot and cold alternately. I’m presuming for now this is because they are not body extremities by comparison and not geared up for profound and rapid vasodilation but have yet to investigate this. This is just my experience though, I’ve not yet trawled through more sources of evidence, and there seem to be individual differences at work too. So try both and follow what has the best effect. I’ve been doing it daily, twice a day when I have time, and for as long as I can manage. Really the more you do, the more the effect. But 30 minutes of 5 minutes alternating hot and cold water seems to have an excellent effect.

Next, the tendon strengthening work. I’ve been doing eccentric wrist curls which stimulate the tendon more strongly than the muscle tissue to grow. I started off using quite a heavy dumbell arrangement, but have since found it easier and more practical to simply use force from my other hand!

I’ve also been massaging the tendon and flexing it under no resistance. Finally, I stretch it probably 30 times or more during a rock climbing session (i.e practically between every route/circuit/problem).

I’m finding that the combined attack on the injury seems to be creating a strong enough reminder to kick it’s lazy ass into making a bit of progress. It’s still reluctant as hell though, and a week off due to illness has been enough for the elbow to let me know it’s missing the TLC during training!

18 December 2009

Dream Holds Dumbarton basalt review

Scott from Dream holds lent me some of his new range of Dumbarton Basalt holds to try out a while ago. If you remember my previous review of Dream Holds initial ranges, they make the holds from lumps of the real rock they imitate, the texture of the rock being an amazingly close match as well. In general the holds really do feel like climbing on the rock types they imitate and this has an effect on the way you move (good for training for real rock obviously). The Dumby range is the latest rock type to get the Dream Holds treatment.

Out of the range, about 6 or 7 of the holds were brilliant - really like the actual experience of pulling on the real Dumbarton basalt and make excellent problems. It’s nice that some of them are big (area wise) so matching is common just like on real rock. Indoor climbing is  normally much more laddery and therefore boring without really good problem setters. The only problem for me was, the rest of the Dumbarton range were not so nice shapes and I found myself struggling to make nice problems with them. Like the rest of the dream holds, I think part of this comes down to where they are best suited: My board is 48 degrees overhanging and very intense bouldering. The Dumby holds that do suit this (the big flat pinches are best) are superb, but the rest would be interesting and most suited to low-mid grade climbing wall routes rather than bouldering. In my opinion they’d make infinitely more fun and mentally challenging F5-7b routes than your average boring blog ladder that was just like the last.

I must say the Dream Holds team has done an impressive job getting the texture right. It’s really is just like Dumbarton! - slick and unforgiving of unchalked hands, skin friendly where it’s not sharp edged (I filed some of them down) but with a nice friction too.

The range still has the feel of a first generation product (understandably, because it is!). I still feel the main prize out there - when they figure out a viable way to mould artificial holds from real holds on famous routes/problems. Not only would the shapes be nicer, but it seems to me they would be much more marketable as well! I’d certainly part with cash to train on replica holds from famous routes around the world. 

If you want to see the Dumby range, it’s here.

12 December 2009

The book is here

Stock of my book has arrived with us and we are dispatching it now. Hope you enjoy the read and it helps get you to the next level in your climbing!

Some of you commented on my last post asking how long copies take to arrive in the US. We dispatch by Royal Mail (via airmail if it’s outside the UK). Their estimations for delivery times are here. They quote within 3 working days for Europe and within 5 for the US. It’s always an estimation of course. We are dispatching same day right up to Christmas.

9 December 2009

9 out of 10 climbers is here soon

Our stock of my book 9 out of 10 climbers make the same mistakes is printed and currently being shipped to us. We've just put it up for pre-order in the shop now. With any luck the DHL man might be at our door with a pallet as early as tomorrow and we can start dispatching. Thanks to all of you who pre-ordered already! I know some of you are after a copy in time for Christmas and so it should be in plenty of time. We are dispatching around 11.30am every day until Christmas, worldwide.

I’m very happy to see it out and I’m pleased with it as a representation of much of what I’ve learned in 16 years of study in climbing improvement. It’s always been a big satisfaction in my climbing life to take what I’ve learned from sport science and half my life observing, experimenting, and measuring every last thing that makes climbers climb better. I’m expecting that the ideas in it will polarise a few readers. It does attack some of the fashions in the sport of climbing, and the wider world of sport and improvement that are working in the wrong direction for improvement. Engrained habits die hard and folk don’t let go of them easily. So I’m quite direct. Expect some further discussion of the details of the book over on my climbing coach blog as the reactions come in.

Some more info on what’s contained in it is on it’s page in the shop and you can get an order in here now if you are keen to read it. For now though, here is the list of contents so you can get a feel for the information thats in it.

9 out of 10 climbers make the same mistakes: navigation through the maze of advice for the self-coached climber


9 out of 10 climbers make the same mistakes
Barking up the wrong tree

Part 1 - Creatures of habit
Stuck on the basics
The first thing to understand
The first thing to change
Fail, and prepare to succeed
If only I knew now what I knew then
Too embarrassed to climb?
Is this grade a success or mediocre?
The first generation was the freest
Starting from scratch
The truth about famous climbers
Know your enemy - your tastes
Don’t get stuck
Creatures of habit

Part 2 - The big four: movement technique, finger strength, endurance, body mass
The biggest lesson from sport science
You cannot break the laws
How to learn technique
Record, replay, review
No one does drills, right?
The structure of climbing technique
The need for momentum
Types of momentum
The issue of height
Don’t just push with your feet!
Counterintuitive aspects of climbing technique
Precision really matters
Trying to make the hold bigger
Don’t overrate strength
Bouldering is number one
But I don’t like bouldering!
How to boulder to show off, or get strong
Board heads
A good bouldering session
Fingerboard rules
To crimp or not to crimp
Making sense of Haston and Oddo
Making sense of Ondra and Sharma shapes
How light do I need to be?
How to get light without pain?
Steps for losing and maintaining a lower weight for climbing
Who needs to pump iron to climb hard?
To the wiry
To the beefcake
To the tall
To the lucky little ones
When you really can blame your tools
Campus boards hurt almost everyone
Climbing is not a cardiovascular sport
Where is climbing endurance?
Endurance activities
Understanding fatigue symptoms
Endurance rules

Part 3 - Fear of falling: the real problem, probably…
The only way
Falling technique
Practice indoors
Practice on sport climbs
Building falls into your daily climbing diet
Practice on trad
When you just can’t fall off

Part 4 - The other big four: attitude, lifestyle, circumstances, tactics
I’m young, spoon-feed me!
Why mid-teens drop off the radar
“I can’t do that” he said, mistakenly
Too old to improve?
To find time, make your time work harder for you
Do you really want to be an athlete?
Tactics often trump training
What the warmup does
Tuning in and out
Managing the ‘psyche’ level
Do you really want it to be easy?
Be thick skinned at all times
Does flexibility really matter?

Part 5 - What’s next coach? Planning your improvement
Think curves, not lines
So jump off that plateau, if you can bear it
Regimes - how much can you handle?
Over-resting or under-recovering? 
A kid’s regime
A student’s regime
A family/career hustler
The wannabe pro
The confused and disillusioned
Same old routine, same old results
Cracking bad habits is tough
Rules of the training day
Rules of the training season
Annual rest and recuperation time

Summing up

Various commenters on my main blog have been curious for me to elaborate a little on some of the section titles that sparked their interest which I've done here.

5 December 2009

Being injured

Those of you who read this blog will know I've been complaining about an elbow injury for about a year now. IÕve still got it (in fact it's recently got worse) after this long because I haven't worked hard enough to get rid of it. Until the past three weeks it's really been no problem. Being careful with how I take care of myself has meant it's not affected my climbing hardly at all. In fact it's been rather good for my climbing as injuries often are (by improving my technique and tactics for recovery). My climbing this year has been in a long phase of development, a mix of trying extremely hard projects at around the 9a+ (or equivalent) level and doing easier routes quickly such as Present Tense (E9). Sadly though, my hope that the injury would eventually see itself off hasn't materialised. And now that the rest of my body is ready to step up my level of training again, I'm finding the injured tendon is not.

So It's time to step up the rehab and get serious. I'm fed up with this thing in the background all the time. The first time I got a finger injury at age 16, I was terrified of it. I was terrified to do anything to it in case I made it worse and permanently damaged it. This was a good thing because it forced me to put the hours into educating myself about what to do with it. After four months of experimentation, I was no longer scared of the injured tendon. So I worked it harder and harder (with rehab) and recovered.

Right now, I have the same situation with my elbow problem. I don't have direct experience of applying an aggressive rehab schedule to the tissue, so it's kind of scary. I don't want to get it wrong. Natural I suppose. It always seems to take being forced into action to overcome this. So here I am on a climbing trip, feeling strong but injured too. So I simply need to get over it. The last few days of doing this and jumping into a dedicated program of activities has been superb. I've lost my fear of this tendon and It's really responding to the work much faster than I expected it to. Great!

It's hard to swallow, but return from injury is often the best period for athletes in general. Long spells of training uninterrupted by injury often result in staleness and plateau. But injury forces you to either fail, or respond by looking deep into the technique and training to tease out errors and to understand that the body needs exceptional care if it is to sustain exceptional performance.

Lessons so far:

My previous regime of training by bouldering outdoors almost exclusively had it's limitations for pure strength, but really protected me from injury through it's variety of rock angles. I've gone too much the other way with repetitive steep bouldering on flat overhanging panels. This is still what I need to get stronger still, but mixed up with other things more than I have been.

My body might be better suited to 9a+ or harder if it was a bit lighter. Whether that brings other problems of it's own is another matter.

To absorb more training than now, I'll need to pay better attention to the quality of recovery - 70+ average hours per week working and resultant poor quality sleep has proved to have a cost.

Some other manual work will have to be done with more care so it doesn't contribute to the overall training load on particular parts of the body.

15 November 2009

My own board- notes after 6 months

Many of you have emailed or commented asking me to talk a bit more about my board and  the structure of my sessions. The short version is that I have been using it most evenings after work and I’ve made really good strength gains in the past 5 months or so. I’ve also been almost constant on the edge of getting injured - climbing in there is pretty damn intense. I’m used to training for several hours at a climbing wall, so I’m conditioned to keep going. But 1 hour on my board equals about 2 in a climbing wall and 4 outdoors. I just completed a couple of projects on it I’d been trying for about 4 months which are in the wee youtube above.

It’s really kept me going since I’ve been writing the book. Btw progress with that is going great guns with 12 hours a day working on it. Right now it’s mid way through being edited. I’ll keep you posted how it goes...

I use the board as much as my body allows. At times I can get away with two 90-minute sessions on it a day for about a week. But the next week I might only manage day on, day off. I do bouldering, endurance circuits and dry tooling on it. The main difference I’ve found to past training is that it’s much more intense on my board and I can do less hours training before I feel exhausted or develop injury niggles. On a climbing wall 45 degree board I’d normally expect to boulder for 2.5-3 hours straight with rests only about a minute between trying moves or a couple of minutes if trying a longer link. But on my board I can only manage 1.5 hours before power fades. The main reason is training alone so rests are shorter; 30 secs for working moves or maybe 90 secs between link attempts. The 4-6 move problems seem to be excellent for building strength and I tend to make them totally sustained which really tests body tension to link between successive hard moves.

The main problem I’m having right now is that I’m developing a lot of injury niggles after nearly a month of using it most days. I can see it’s going to be essential to break it up regularly with other venues to avoid getting injured.

The best things I found that really helped the board be more effective were:

Painting the board and generally making the room a little less of a dingy, grim place to spend time - I look forward to the session much more! (NB: the flowery wallpaper was put up by the previous owner of the house!)

Very carefully choosing fingery but skin friendly holds. My favourite holds are Dream Holds Dumby edges and pinches (review on the way), Entreprises Big Bangs, Old school bendcrete selection, my own wood edges and pinches and Dream Holds Torridonian Sandstones.

Not putting too many footholds on the first metre of the board, just an adequate selection, and all tiny.

A fan for keeping the temperature right and cooling down soft fingertips.

27 October 2009

Just because it's not on a foothold...

A bit of movement analysis; This picture from last night’s training session is quite revealing.

Just because a foot is not on a foothold, doesn’t mean it’s not making a massive contribution to the move. This picture, because I’m using tools and trainers really highlights the effect of the counterbalancing (in this case left) foot.

Look at the feet; can you see that they are doing different jobs?

The right foot is trying to pull my left hip into the wall and at the same time I’m pushing upwards from the bent right leg.

The left foot is pushing directly into the wall to help turn the body to face left and extend that right shoulder towards the next hold. Some folk might also notice it’s doing a separate job of toe hooking the pink hold, obtaining a so-called ‘bicycle’ clamp, pulling in with the left foot along the plane of the wall to allow me to get more tension on the right foot. The toe hook probably wouldn’t be needed if I was wearing rock shoes which could get enough tension on their own and my body wouldn’t be so far from the wall as it is holding 50cm tools.

If I was doing normal climbing, the left foot would want be further out to the left and apply more turning force to extend that right shoulder, to save the upper body having to apply this force. Any opportunity to use the lower body to do the hard work of moving the body against gravity, even on very steep angles is the way to get further in climbing.

Because I have long tools in my hands, my body is further from the wall, so that left foot can’t extend leftwards as much as I’d like. It’s pretty obvious that the left foot is pushing extra hard to compensate for this, but the left deltoid and pectorial are having to do a lot of work to obtain the leftward trunk twist. 

The message? When doing a move like this in normal rock climbing, extend the counterbalancing foot well out to the side and push directly into the rock/wall to do the work of creating the twist and shoulder extend. By doing this you save precious upper body strength. Most people are far too passive with the counterbalancing foot, place it too low on the wall, don’t even put it on the wall, or try to place it awkwardly on another foothold thats too close to the body.

Update: BTW I don't have a random dread coming out  the back of my head, it's just a dark coloured hold.

24 October 2009

Annual rest and recuperation time

Nicholas asks about incorporating annual rest periods into your climbing year to stay injury free and healthy. Is it a good thing to do?

The short answer is yes. Of course it’s not possible to handle uninterrupted hard work of the same type indefinitely, and if you don’t give that particular energy system/muscle group a rest every so often, it will force it on you through injury or stagnation sooner or later.

But the mistake is to feel you need to rest the entire body or do something completely different to achieve the rest and recuperative period needed. Normally, doing some sport climbing if you’ve bouldered for months, or so ice climbing if you’ve been clipping bolts all season is change enough for the body. There’s very very few people out there working themselves hard enough in every area to need to rest entirely, or to need something outside of climbing to keep them active during this recuperative period. For almost all of us, regular work and life ‘stuff’ gets in the way enough during the year to give us more than enough periodic rests. If you feel worn down at the end of a season, it’s more likely due to the monotony of your sporting regime than the sheer volume of it. So, instead of hitting the couch, or pounding the pavements for a few weeks, try just mixing up the climbing a bit first.

Some suggestions:

Go to a different climbing wall than normal for a few weeks. Or even just climb on a board/wall you normally avoid.
Climb some slabs
Climb some trad
Climb some psicobloc/DWS
Do some ice climbing
Go on a trip into the mountains
Leave the guidebook (or maybe even the equipment) at home and go climbing by instict for a while, without the need for hard routes, just discovery and enjoying the place you’re in.
Hook up with a new climbing partner with a very different style to you.
Completely re-shuffle the days in the week/session lengths/ venues and activities you do in the week. Do the opposite.

If you still don’t feel refreshed all of that I’ll eat my hat and then suggest doing something good that climbing is always getting in the way of - like lying on a beach for two weeks with your other half, or refurbishing your bathroom.

21 October 2009

To crimp or not to crimp

Crimp to get strong on crimps, but crimp with care!

David points to a common discussion about the wisdom of crimping during training. Crimping is indeed the riskiest grip position for the fingers and the more systematic your training of it, the risk of picking up a pulley injury, or just inflamed and swollen PIP joints gets really high.

So it’s always a balance, but here are some thoughts on how to steer through the injury risks and get the best possible strength gains.

In my experience, crimping is needed to get strong at crimping. So the idea that some support that you can avoid it altogether and still get strong on crimps I feel is incorrect. 

Crimping on boulder problems can be much safer than crimping on a fingerboard or especially a campus board. I never crimp on the campus board - the forces peak so rapidly on the sudden dynamic movements that it gets really dangerous. Crimping on the fingerboard can be quite safe if your form is perfect. And crimping without the thumb helps to make the position more natural when using one hand or two hands quite close together.

I train crimps mostly on steep powerful boulder problems. It is safest, but only if your technique is good. Poor footwork, leading to sudden foot slips, or a violent climbing style will make it just as dangerous as campusing. It tends to be less hard on the body because the accelerations are slower than with campusing, the body is often turned underneath the hold to bring the wrist into a neutral position during the highest force part of the move and the hold is generally grabbed openhanded before closing into a crimp.

Having said all this, the vast majority of climbers crimp far too much and would seriously benefit (in both performance and injury risk) in developing their openhanded grip to a point where they use it more often than crimps and are at least as strong openhanded as crimped.

- Mini case study: I used to be one of those who crimped too much, and averaged about 3 serious pulley injuries per year for 5 years until I finally was forced to get strong openhanded, and to love this crimp position too. Since then I’ve had one very minor pulley tweak (needing only a slight drop in training intensity for a few weeks) in the past five years.

20 October 2009

Fear of falling dictates your technique - yes you too!!!

Recent coaching demonstrated to me once again the inescapable effects of fear of falling on your movement technique on rock, even where you might not expect it.

Climbers that find falling unpleasant (simply because they haven’t practiced it and reinforced the avoiding habit) invariably climb too statically and waste huge amounts of strength. They often also stay very front on to the rock and so miss out on the opportunity to twist their trunk on reaches, bringing the reaching arm closer to the rock and extending the reaching shoulder to reach the hold earlier.

The waste of strength is massive and often even very strong climbers are operating way below their immediate potential.

It’s not just reserved to those who have a recognisable falling fear they are self-aware of. It can also happen subconsciously. One case recently that got me thinking was where a very strong climber with a home board had a slightly less than ideal falling zone below the board. It wasn’t too bad, but just enough to enter the mind when slapping at your limit for the last hold of a problem. There wasn’t quite enough mattage and some protruding wood structure to potentially bang into with a backward fall.

The result - subconscious setting of problems that avoid big moves, twisting and anything other that basic front-on laddery problems. This had engrained a static style and seriously compromised footwork and move repertoire. 

I noticed it myself working between my own board (which is fine to fall off, but still less than ideal for a wild backward swinging fall) and my nearest climbing centre board (The Ice Factor) which has a big amazing board with superb mats that take the wildest fall without any significant worry of nasty consequences. In the ice factor I subconsciouly set big powerful wild moves and my board has slightly more contained, more fingery moves.

The effect is subtle, but significant. The obvious thing to do - practice the falling or fix the landing to prevent or reverse the pervasive effect on your technique. If you can’t fix the landing 100%, at least be aware of it and plan accordingly. The lesson for me is to make sure and have one Ice Factor session per 5 home board sessions, so I don’t start sailing up the cul-de-sac of ‘board head’ climbing style.

10 October 2009

One peak or two?

Rested up and firing on all cylinders, again. But still no success on this project and fitness levels are wavering - what to do?! Photo: Cubby Images

For those who are climbing quite regularly and are at a level where they can feel their fitness slip if they do less days on in the week, here is a thought.

When your local outdoor climbing is not in condition and you are going through a spell of just climbing indoors primarily as training, you’ll tend to work yourself a bit harder right? You train hard, you get better. In the short term, you are often tired, skin and muscles are sore, and performance is a little depressed. This is exactly where you want to be to make physical gains. Many weeks of this, just stopping short of developing injury or wearing yourself out.

The opposite extreme is when your outdoor projects are in condition - you want to be out there, rested, sharp and strong and trying to get them nailed! So you take more days off, basically to peak for the project. In the short term (a week or even two) you feel bionic - the sudden abundance of rest gives the body a chance to fully catch up and you have that crucial last few % of strength to get a bit further and hopefully bag the project.

What if it doesn’t work out? You rested, got the extra few % and you still didn’t quite do it. What often happens is you extend the cycle of resting a lot more than usual to be fresh for the project. You still make progress on it and so often fel that fitness is still improving. It probably isn’t.

What usually happens is that the extended focus on one or two climbs makes you learn the movements ever more efficiently and sharpen up the tactics, but then attribute it to increased fitness. But fitness will be going down.

So it’s a trade off. You have to judge how close you really are. If you are super close to success, another week of rest an focus will see you at the top. If not, maybe it’s better to go back to the training, even for a week or two until you are a bit more ready. But perhaps the end of a trip or a season will influence the decision.

How important is the project overall? Is it worth losing some gains from your training to gamble on success in the next week or two? Sometimes you’ll be so glad you did. Other times you’ll just end up setting yourself back a few weeks. All this logistics is part of the fun though, don’t you think?

1 October 2009

On choosing the right fit for rock shoes

Paul sent through a mail with questions about choosing different fits of rock shoes for different climbing objective, as well as using other options such as wearing socks. Basically his question was whether it’s best to choose different shoes for different jobs or if one can do everything.

The answer is really to choose the best shoe for exactly the type of climb you are trying, especially thinking about where you are going to fall. Paul asked about specific climbs of mine, such as Rhapsody, which has a jamming crack followed by a face climbing crux.

It’s nice to have the toes a bit flatter in a very slightly bigger shoe for shoving them into jamming cracks without it getting too painful to even want to carry on. Socks can help pad things out too, increasing comfort, protecting your ankles if the crack is big enough for getting the whole foot in, and more importantly for keeping your foot held firmly inside the boot when twisted (you lose a lot of the foot power if your feet are shifting about inside slimy sweaty shoes, yuk!).

On Rhapsody, the choice is simple - use a tighter face climbing shoe, because the jamming part is easy compared to the face climbing that follows. Thats where you are going to fall on the route, and anything less that total precision with your feet is going to cost you.

Paul also asked about a multipitch project of mine - to free the Original Longhope route, where there is an E10 pitch after 18 pitches of trad adventuring. In this case, the choice is a little tougher. Too tight and your feet will die by the time you get to the hard pitch. Too baggy, and you just wont be able to stand on the tiny edge at the crux. A simple compromise is the answer and being disciplined with taking the shoes off at every belay, even if it’s only for 15 minutes or so. For this route I’ve been going a euro size bigger than my sport climbing size. NB I also have a super small pair that only come out for bouldering ‘send attempts’ to get every last drop of force.

But a well fitting shoe should handle 90% of situations without being a significant disadvantage.

The best all round rockshoe in the world in my opinion is still the Scarpa Stix in my opinion. They just seem to excel at absolutely everything. Some of my friends went off them in the shop because they feel weird on the foot (agressively turned down) before they’ve been worn. What a shame because this only lasts one session. The Stix are getting harder to come by in the UK because Scarpa are shortly releasing a new generation of shoes. So my recommendation might come too late for some at least.

21 September 2009

If I only knew now what I knew then

I’ve written a lot on this site and recently in my Coachwise series on the MCofS site about the crippling and often hidden consequences of fear of failure on your climbing (or any skill you are trying to learn). Here is one message for young climbers, and one for adults.

There are some revealing comparisons to be made between the dynamics of fear of failure in adults and youngsters as they learn climbing. Apart from the lucky few that discover the power of focus before adulthood, focus is the main problem for young climbers. In fact most young climbers reading this post will probably have judged it too involved and switched off already. Kids at the wall try a bit of this and a bit of that, and if it takes longer than three seconds to find the correct footholds and body position they lose patience and jump for the hold and let their light bodies swing out below them. Adults look on with jeaslousy at how they hold on and keep going with such obviously poor technique. But of course they pay for such reliance on temporary lightness when they grow into heavy adult bodies and have to learn good footwork with slow learning adult brains.

So the best young climber after the first few years will end up being the one who learns to focus earliest.

But what adults gain in knowing how to discipline themselves and focus on both immediate and longer term tasks, they lose in fear of failure. They become all sensitive that strangers at the climbing wall, their mates or the coach will see them wobble, flail and fall. Without knowing they are doing it, they size up potential climbs to try based on likelihood of embarrassing themselves, rather than anything else. The result? An ever narrowing comfort zone that feels progressively more unpleasant to be outside as the feedback loop plays out over time.

Kids, on the other hand, are learning everything for the first time, they are not yet masters of anything. So failing, grappling, and trying again is all they know. As soon as adults become masters in any one field (such as their job, academic field, driving, whatever) they like that feeling and settle into it’s comfort. Sadly, this makes it much more difficult to learn other skills at the optimum rate.

The best (and happiest) adult climber is the one who learns to focus before being an adult, and doesn’t forget that failing repeatedly is normal.

26 July 2009

Beating fear of falling (in 5 sessions)

I’ve talked before about fear of falling - how climbers underestimate how much it’s limiting them, and that the only way to beat it is to attack it head on with falling practice. 

But I want to make another point about falling practice. Most climbers vastly underestimate how many practice falls will be ‘enough’ to beat their fear and learn to be relaxed and confident in their leading. 

Because those with a fear of falling problem find falling practice so unpleasant, this tendency is even further amplified by the constant temptation to feel like you’ve done enough. If you have to ask, you almost certainly haven’t.

Treat falling practice/fear of falling removal exactly the same as training some other variable like gaining finger strength - it takes sustained repetition over time to lift above square one and make any progress up the ladder. A bit here and there goes nowhere.

So just as it takes hundreds of sessions of pulling on small holds to go from novice to strong fingered advanced climber, it takes many hundreds of leader falls to go from falling averse nervous leader to confdent relaxed leader.

Hundreds of falls, year in year out.

Not a couple one night you are feeling brave and then never again. 

A second point is that many who fear falling and try to practice it compare themselves to confident ‘fallers’ and think - “they only fall once or twice in a climbing day, so that will be ok for me to do as well”.

But we have to go back to the basic training principles - overload and reversibility maintenance. Those who are confident may be so naturally or by having many falls in their climbing history. They don’t need to train it now, just maintain their current level because their weaknesses lie elsewhere. So just a few falls is fine. In training, just a little work is needed to tread water, but a pile of work is needed to move up the ladder.

If you have a problem with fear of falling, you need to do much more. You have to be going faster than those who don’t have the problem in order to catch up. 

Try a controlled and safe fall from the end of every single route you do at the climbing wall for 5 sessions in a row. Routes vertical or steeper, and a trustworthy belayer are among the pre-requisites for this being a good idea. Not one or two, every single one. So hopefully that will be between 25 and 100 falls with the bolt well below your feet. 

Now thats a chance to make more progress with your leading confidence in 5 sessions than perhaps you could in a year or two of trying to get around the problem by getting stronger so you can feel less scared on a given grade by just holding on harder.

18 June 2009

The Sharma scream

It’s funny how quickly and readily fashions spread through climbing. Lycra, slang terms like ‘Send it dude!’ and... 


In the eighties, when the French really were the kings of ‘French Style’ climbing, as sport climbing was then known, their ideal was to climb like a ballet dancer, with effortless panache in the movements, a totally straight face and not a sound coming from your lips. 

Now, thanks to films such as the Dosage series, the fashion tends to be to slap your way up that granite boulder like a wild animal screaming at the top of your voice.

The obvious question is, which is best (for performance, not looking cool). The answer comes in two parts. Firstly, somewhere in between is best. Secondly, where you should be on the continuum between straight faced ballet dancer and screaming bull terrier depends largely on who you are.

Chris Sharma, being the most famous (and possibly loudest) exponent of the psyche scream has made screaming while climbing a talking point, and I’m sure, more fashionable. He does it, so it must be good, right? Well, listen to Chris talking off the rock, and you’ll see he is a pretty chilled out type of guy. When asked about his screaming, he says it helps him raise the necessary level of aggression to unleash his full power on the holds. 

When I observe others taking up this deliberately aggressive climbing style, it sometimes has poor results - poor timing, overly basic movements, not much weight on the feet and inefficient use of energy on a route/problem.

What’s going on here? In a nutshell, for those who are inherently calm and make clear, calculated and efficient movement decisions in their climbing, some extra psyching up can help them get more out of their physical capability, but just on the hardest moves. In other words, in small doses.

For those who can very easily deliver a lot of focused aggression in their climbing, more psyching will yield little more power output but incur a big drop in efficiency of movement.

The great skill of climbing is to be able to switch from moment to moment between screaming to get maximum power on a very powerful, but technically basic move, and calm focus the next instant to perfectly aim for a tiny foot of handhold.

The climber that most influenced me was Fred Nicole with a quote (from memory of a magazine article) that “it’s not so much the level of strength but the timing of it” Fred went on to explain that the climber that could use is strength at the exactly correct moment would be the best.

11 June 2009

Influences - It can go either way actually

In my recent coachwise articles published in Scottish Mountaineer (and online here) I’ve talked a lot about the power of influences on your training, in terms of training choices, discipline, goal setting and level of effort.

My message here in a nutshell was that if you are surrounded by the psyched, the skilled and the hard working, you are more likely to be those things too.

Just listening to a section in Evan’s podcast about business (it’s episode 28th May if you want to download it from the Bottom Line site) reminded me not only of the strength of this effect, but also a good decision of the flip side - bad influences.

Evan’s guests were discussing positivity of attitude in general. The perspectives were generally that positivity is really good as an attribute and an influence. But problems raised were firstly that positivity must be bound by realism, and secondly that disappointments from failures can be hard to cope with sometimes.

Taking the realism thing first - This is where positivity coming from both inside yourself, and from outside sources is crucial to work within the bounds of reality. The kind of positivity that you see in talented youngsters spurred on by positive influences with a bias (friends and especially parents) often get ahead of themselves and later suffer big motivational setbacks following failures.

Positive outside influences with no bias are like gold dust. These sources tend to be encouraging by example, not just by positive reinforcement of you. They also solve the second problem of learning that it’s ok to fail, again and again, that it’s part of sporting or any success, and it’s possible to shrug it off and respond in the right way.

But talking of realism, I think it’s fair enough to say that negative influences will almost always outnumber positive for most people, in most communities. Of course the battle is to  hold the negative at arms length where possible, and soak up as much of the positive as you can. But sometimes it can actually seem like an advantage to operate in relative isolation.

I have noticed, living away from a substantial city-based climbing scene for a couple of years, and absorbing most of my media through highly customizable (web based) sources, that I have more power to reach positive (if distant) influences in my climbing, while being insulated from the many negative influences out there. I think it’s been good for my climbing.

Evan’s guests talked about a major advantage for young business people was sometimes ignorance of all the hurdles ahead. There is some truth in this.

There is much to this subject - the influences we have from other people, our ability to exercise self control, our exposure and sensitivity to feedback of different kinds as we train for our sport. All are important and affect our ability to get the most out of ourselves.

Just a thought as I listed to Evan’s (excellent) podcast while painting some doors late at night...