21 December 2011

Training the ability to try

If you see people in action during training (it’s easiest to observe in a traditional weights/cardio gym), it’s not hard to notice that theres a massive difference between the majority who are having a ‘light’ session to say the least, and the much smaller proportion who are really working their bodies hard.
As an aside, If you do see those people in the gym who look like they aren’t trying - don’t scoff inwardly (or outwardly!) at them - not everyone goes to the gym to work hard. Some people exercise to relax and wind down. And remember you don’t see what other workouts they get up to. You might be surprised!
Sometimes folk don’t have the right peer group to influence them to learn to try really hard, sometimes, they just haven’t found the right motivation, or more likely they just don’t realise how hard they could be trying. This is not something that applies to some and not others. Everyone has room to really grit their teeth and work themselves harder.
It’s true in many cases that the best athletes are the ones who are trying hardest. It’s not always the case for various reasons and it’s too simplistic and misleading to view athletic success purely as a product of effort. However, that doesn’t change the point that if you can find ways to try harder, you’ll go further.
I talked a lot about how to do that in my book, but one thought for your training sessions over the Christmas period; Before you go for your session, or have your next attempt on the problem, or circuit, or route, imagine what it would feel like if you were to try harder than you’ve ever tried before. Think about how your fingers would feel crushing down on that little hold. Think about how you’d grab the next hold and start pulling lightning fast and concentrate on keeping pulling with maximum force right through the move until your feet swing back in. Think about how sore your skin and arms will feel on that last circuit and how you’ll detach yourself from it and keep right on slapping. Think about the mindset of those climbers who inspire you by their amazing feats of climbing. What do you think goes through their mind when they train? They are people on a mission! They have learned to love their training and they feel satisfaction that every last grain of hard effort takes them closer to the routes they are on the mission to climb. So what's your mission?
Now repeat through the whole of next year!

3 December 2011

Technique learning - noticing things

When coaching climbers I’m constantly trying to encourage them to set up a routine both in themselves and as a group of peers climbing together of recording the details of their climbing movement and tactics and discussing the feedback and experimenting with different ways of doing everything.
Examples of this might be: how does the move change if you lunge a bit harder, or pull more with the right toe, or use that other foothold instead? The criteria for for success on a move isn’t just if you can climb it or not. It’s whether you found the most efficient way. So even if you flashed the problem at the boulder wall, do it again and find out if the move was easier if you used that other foothold or sequence.
If you climb with others and you have a good routine of passing movement feedback and ideas back and forth between you on the climbs you try - that’s great. But it’s only the first level. The next level is to be able to do this by yourself.
You don’t have an observant friend to say “You threw your left hip inwards more that time and that looked closer to the move”. So you have to notice it yourself while you are actually climbing, and that’s not easy until you train yourself to do it.
The easiest way to learn is when bouldering, trying a problem that is taking you a few tries to complete. When you are working the moves, don’t give all of your mental focus to delivery of power. Instead, keep a little part of your concentration reserved for noticing how your body and limbs feel as you move through the sequence. Look for things that feel ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, where wrong means it’s more likely to make you fall off. If your right foot is very stretched or is about to slip, what options do you have to solve that problem? 
Once you are close to success and you feel it might happen next try, you can switch to full on redpoint mode and focus completely on just getting the next hold and completing the problem.
Note: The above is moderately advanced. Many less experienced climbers wouldn't even be able to tell you which hands when on which holds immediately after trying the climb, never mind recording the amount and direction of force at each limb and the path of the body during a move. If that’s you, practice noticing just the hand sequence you used, even if it’s just for the first few moves. It’s an essential skill for more advanced climbing and it takes time to learn. There are lots of ways to help you memorise it. But deliberately looking at the wall and each hold and then taking a mental snapshot of how the hold feels in your left or right hand works well.

Leading confidence - a worthy enemy

Recently I’ve been coaching a lot of sport climbing and spent lots of time trying to get climbers to recognise that leading confidence is placing a huge barrier in the way of improving almost any aspect of their climbing.
What I’ve noticed is that climbers with leading confidence issues are desperate to avoid tackling it despite appearing quite highly motivated to make changes in most other areas of their climbing skills. Taking the first step in attacking leading confidence just feels so painful and scary. It’s more comfortable to convince yourself (and try unsuccessfully to convince me!) that it’s unattainable due to past bad experiences with leading or that it’s not actually an important weakness.
Next time you lead a route, notice what thoughts are running in your mind during the climbing. If most of the time is spent thinking “I’m scared, try to calm down… I can’t get to the next bolt, the last one is too far away, I don’t want to go any higher… what will happen if I fall” then very little progress can happen in your climbing. Fear is paralysing your ability to focus on the rock and the moves, and therefore your ability to learn.
In fact, your climbing standard might be doomed only to go down. Every time you toprope, you reinforce the feeling that toproping is normal, leading is abnormal. And when you do lead and take a fall, you have never learned to fall cleanly and your scrape down the rock rather than leaning back and letting the rope take you will wipe away even more of your confidence. A downward spiral basically, of climbing feeling progressively more scary and unpleasant until you eventually feel you just aren't enjoying doing it at all.
Improvements in confidence come in small increments, from forcing yourself to lead more and more and not ignoring learning how to fall nicely onto the rope. But what I’m realising is that many folk stall before even getting onto the road to improvement because they have yet to actually see it for the huge problem it is.
Leading confidence is not a small detail of climbing. For many climbers, it’s the biggest challenge climbing will ever throw at you. Beat it, and many more skills will unfold beyond and become attainable. Respect it as a worthy enemy and give it effort and energy accordingly.
Footnote: Leading is not essential in sport climbing. I often say to climbers that if they never want to lead and always toprope routes others have lead that’s totally fine. Climbing can be whatever you want it to be. I’m sure there are plenty of folk that do just that and probably get on very well because they can get on with actually enjoying their climbing. However, although I’ve said this to many climbers I’ve never actually met any who have decided to reject leading. In fact, often I’ve noticed that just by recognising that leading is an option (not an imposed rule) and it’s their choice, they choose to attack leading and if they follow the right steps (part 3 of the book) progress is almost guaranteed. 
A jump from being too scared to lead hardly at all to leading consistently can be achievable within a few sessions for some, just because the shift in attitude from leading as an unpleasant rule to a worthy challenge is so powerful. That’s what happened to me also - at 16 and too scared to lead. My attitude changed and I jumped from Severe to E2 in a week.

3 November 2011

The importance of being not normal

Following on from my last post about learning technique, another thought following my recent travels. I was speaking about risk and decision making in bold climbing at the SAFOS seminar at EICA Ratho. One of the other speakers was Mark Williams who gave an excellent lecture summarising some of the fascinating research on skill learning in sport right now.
Mark talked a lot about practice, it’s importance, just how much is necessary to reach your potential (a LOT) and crucially, what good practice consisted of. A key characteristic of good athletes in any sport is that they look for patterns in the vast amounts of basic data we absorb in our day to day practice and play. They don’t just take in the data, they strive to understand it, make sense of it. There’s a big difference. Understanding it means re-running it, either in the imagination (day dreaming, or in scientific terminology, visualisation) or by trying it again and tinkering with some aspect of it in order to understand it better.
In climbing terms this means trying the crux with the right foot on all the plausible options, then coming back next time and trying again, until something in your mind tells you you have ‘understood’ the move. Quite apart from the physical effort of practice, which has the side effect of getting you strong, it takes a huge amount of mental effort and focus.
After his talk I was very eager to ask Mark what, if anything, climbers could do to improve the quality of the practice since in climbing it is difficult to amass thousands and thousands of hours since our little forearms get tired and our skin wears out. 
He told me that a big part of it comes down to this striving to ‘understand’ the movements. He reminded us that truly great athletes stand out because they are by definition ‘not normal’. They verge on an obsessive, compulsive need to go back and analyse every detail.
So is this trainable. Well, much as an obsessive compulsive driven athlete would find it nearly impossible to simply drop this deeply held personality trait on demand, it’s similarly hard to start acting like this if it’s just not you.
However, just by recognising that this sort of time consuming, repetitive practice and reflection is what is necessary, we can at the very least remove some inhibitions that might hold us back from this sort of approach.
In my mind, modern life demands of us the need to preform a heck of a lot of repetitive yet skilled tasks with a great deal of concentration and effort in our working lives, that are lot more boring than training for climbing. I know we are ultimately climbing for fun, but if we are serious enough even to use the word ‘training’ to describe some of our climbing sessions, then surely we can apply a hardcore work ethic and up the ante a little. It's worth noting that one of Mark's points was that even the experts who absolutely love training often feel that the best practice sessions simply have to be so systematic and repetitive that they cannot be enjoyed. 

But the results of those sessions certainly are enjoyed!

Coaching observations

I’m just back from various coaching sessions around the UK. After a little break from coaching over the summer, I’ve come to it with fresh eyes after digesting a lot of variety in watching and doing climbs of many different types. It’s amazing how your perspective widens.
There are always some patterns to observe. Older climbers who have been going 10-20 years don’t go for the holds with nearly the same determination as the young angry lads. The young angry lads are too busy going for the (hand) holds and being angry to move their feet onto better footholds and actually use them.
Some more detail - 
Older chilled climbers: Experiment by role playing the 16 year old young angry men! Climb like you really really want to hold onto the next hold and nothing in the world is going to stop you. Grimace like you’re going to bite your bottom lip off. Don’t let go, even if you think you have no chance. The reality is that you only have no chance if you jump off the boulder wall instead of lay one on! The other point is that the learning, and training happens in the zone between success and failure.
Young angry men: Time that anger. Climbing has two stages; preparing to move and execution of the move. If your mind is fuzzing with anger while preparing to move, you don’t see the foot sequence, you don’t feel the shift of body weight that makes the difference. Learn to detach from that anger for a moment and take in the available move choices. If climbing was just about how hard you could pull or how angry you can get, the top climbers would be very different.
Both groups: Learn to be curious about finding the ‘right’ way to do moves. Whether you succeed on the problem/route, try it again using that other possibility you spotted for the move. And that one, and that one too. See which was actually the easiest. Systematic experimentation with moves makes you learn what works. Just because you got to the top doesn’t mean you did it the best way or actually learned anything about how to climb. Just because the climb is too hard for you doesn’t mean you can’t use it to learn something about movement. Even if you just watch someone else manage it. Be curious, watch others on the move, then try again yourself. Compare options, learn. This experimentation is what makes up the bulk of your bouldering sessions.

25 September 2011

The limiting factor - setting

The limiting factor in your rate of improvement can sometimes be something that never changes throughout your climbing career. That’s not to say they are inescapable, just that folk simply never take the bull by the horns and change them. ‘Permanent’ limiting factors are things like only climbing a couple of times a week, avoiding overhangs, never learning how to try hard or focus, or being scared of falling.
Other limiting factors are more often important for part of your career. Things such as having an old floppy pair of rockshoes you never bothered to replace, putting on a stone over christmas, getting a new job and not climbing much for 6 months. That kind of thing. 
While giving some coaching clinics recently I met quite a few good climbers who struck me as being limited by their ability to set their own problems. I’d hazard a guess and say that most climbers who regularly boulder to train and have climbed for more than 10 years know how to go a bouldering wall and set themselves problems to fill the training session. It often seems surprising to climbers that I think it’s a critical skill to have.
But think about it, if you can’t set your own problems, you are dependent on either a bouldering wall with a steady supply of well set, numerous and regularly changed problems, or climbing with a bunch of mates who can set good problems and are willing to show you theirs all the time. That’s fine if you have that, but move house, lose a regular climbing partner who moves away, or get a lazy route setter at your local wall and all of a sudden your training drops a couple of gears to say the least. You aren’t in control of your own improvement basically. 
Even if your local wall does have excellent problems, there are some pitfalls. The biggest of these is local hero syndrome. You have the problems wired, you do them a lot and feel strong. But even though there are quite a few of them and they are on different angles, they are not varied enough. Your technique suffers. Your standard outside of the wall is not nearly as high. If you have any sway with your climbing wall management, persuade them to invite a rotation of different setters as often as possible. Some modern dedicated bouldering walls are now showing the way in this respect. Hopefully the dinosaurs will catch up. But even in boulder walls which have a steady flow of good problems, it’s a good idea to set your own of make variations on the set ones rather than just lap them all the time. This is about setting a nice ratio of hours spent climbing on moves you know well vs moves that are new to you. Too much of either extreme has consequences for technique.
If you have a wall which doesn’t have set problems, or set ones which are never changed. Setting your own problems is essential. Get into a good routine of setting the problem at the right standard for this part of the session (warm up, in a few tries, or whole session to climb the problem). Tweak moves that don’t work well. When you have the hold choice right, stick with it and refine the movement until you do it. If you can do it with others helping to choose the holds, even better. It adds variety and saves you from playing to your body size advantages (tall or short!).
All this means that when you have the inevitable sessions when noone else is around and the set problems are crap, you still can do some meaningful training and not end up bored, demotivated or just not any stronger than before.

20 April 2011

For climbing coaches : “In a Hurricaine…

...even Turkeys can fly”
I go on in my book and this blog a lot about influences and their importance on how well we climb. The above quote, reminded to me by a CEO talking about economics, made me nod and agree.
In a social group of climbers, like a group of friends, a climbing wall scene, a club etc there are some who are the beacons - they have so much energy and drive that it radiates onto everyone else nearby and helps them learn more, have that extra attempt, try that different foot sequence or bear down and hold that swing. If you are that person - great! All you need to do is learn to focus your energy and unleash it without inhibition at the right moments.
For everyone else, it’s a problem because without the warmth of external energy, you might not keep progressing, or may even go backwards in your climbing. The paradox is the that your challenge is to take what you can from the beacons, but also learn to be able to go under your own steam. This means understanding well what particular parts of the climbing game motivate you to do the mundane stuff, like try that problem all those different ways or complete those physio exercises, or do that training session on your own.
For coaches looking after a cohort of climbers - your task is tricky. You have to identify the beacons, channel their energy, not let them settle for just being the best in their little group.   Show them the next level of challenges before they lie back and forget how to be hungry for improvement. You also have to look for the turkeys (I’m only calling them that in ref to the above quote!) - the ones who will not keep showing up and giving it some if the beacon wasn’t there with them. Showing them how to stay patient, focused and enjoying the routine of climbing from within themselves rather than the social framework where it normally occurs is easier said than done. It’s best taken in small steps, with gentle  encouragement. 

20 February 2011

For young wannabes playing the lottery

As a climbing coach who is always trying to understand and communicate the ingredients of becoming really good at climbing, I spend a fair bit of time observing other disciplines like art and business. An idea I read today looked at the lotteries we play as wannabes in whatever field.
Not the ‘actual’ lottery, but the lottery of getting picked by a talent scout, signed by a big record company or featured in a TV programme. Most people get to show some raw, unrefined talent as youngsters. It’s not really gone anywhere yet. It needs focus and application over years to develop before it has the power to break new ground. If you are gearing everything you do towards winning that lottery, are you accepting that you’re almost certain to be one of the ones who loses? People don’t really keep playing the national lotteries as a way to become millionaires. What keeps them buying the ticket is the buzz of buying the ticket.
A lot of the time, ‘waiting’ to win opportunity lotteries like record deals causes young talents to languish without ever going anywhere. In a flash they are no longer 18 but jaded and tired out from the fruitless wait for something they will never win. I’ve seen a lot of talents in climbing fizzle because they are ‘waiting’ to score a sponsorship deal, strike on a magic training formula, move to a climbing mecca and magically soak up the ability etc.
How would it change your approach if you bet on never winning a lucky break? If you bet on having to get there just on the resources you have right now? That’s when industriousness kicks in and some actual progress happens.

13 February 2011

Clean and messy performance

Climbers who are into training or pushing themselves are often trying to keep everything ‘clean’. Clean in this sense means without complication - black and white, yes or no, all or nothing.
This is good, but it can backfire. It backfires because real life performance in sport (of life etc) is messy, always. Well, OK not always. If you’re a bit older, you’ll look back on a handful of moments, maybe only one, where everything was clean for a fleeting few minutes on a climb. Sometimes that’ll be during a lifetime best performance for you, but not always. Sometimes it happens on an easier climb that just went like a dream.
So the problem is that in all your mental effort and training, you’re pushing to make everything cleaner. Clean training schedule with no interruptions from work, weather or injury. Clean technique with no sloppy footwork, grunting or wobbling. Clean preparation with a good nights sleep, rested muscles, good food and good vibes before you want to climb something hard. It never happens does it? Well apart from those one or two times in your life when it does.
Obviously we can’t go around hoping for one of those once in a lifetime moments to happen right now. We need to find a way to climb well and be comfortable with our performance on a daily basis. It’s fine to try and keep everything clean and optimal. It’s the eternal game of the athlete. But accept that no matter how much you try, you dealing with something that is inherently messy (life) and you will never win. 
Climbers that do try to beat the messiness of life and sporting performance get backed into a corner. Narrowing your field of skills to keep greater control over them. Training fewer performance components so you don’t have to face losses of previous gains. Competing in smaller and smaller arenas, like one angle, board, discipline etc. In the short term it might even work and feel comforting. In the longer term, it is almost guaranteed to fail to make you a good climber and leaves you wide open to taking big hits to morale and motivation. Most of the keen climbers I’ve seen give up completely have done so for this reason.
Keep your climbing, your training, your mental preparation, your schedule as clean as life allows. But be ready to keep going when everything is a complete bloody mess.

6 February 2011

For skinny female climbers

Comparing general performance characteristics between male and female climbers is always interesting, especially when coaching in a group session. The common finding is that the guys can often at least throw for the holds, but fall trying to hold onto them. Meanwhile, the girls can hold on for ages but fall trying to move between the holds. 
The basic reason is that guys have much more muscle to throw their upper bodies around at extreme joint ranges. A lesser appreciated reason is that girls are often reluctant to climb by throwing for holds out of fear of falling, and so adopt a massively inefficient static style. Thankfully, the guys more than balance it out by forgetting to use their feet and still can’t climb a vaguely technical problem despite all that muscle and grunt.
The winner is the guy, or girl who is confident enough to have a dynamic style, considers the best foot sequence before actually going for the move, and lastly (LASTLY!) has the strength to move to the hold, and hold onto it.
For girls, first of all, no progress can happen without addressing the fear of falling first. Every effort will fall flat on it’s face. You can’t climb to your potential without slapping, snatching, deadpointing, dynoing on most moves, or if fear of falling is dictating how you approach every move. The solution is simple, easy to follow and 100% successful whether it’s bouldering, sport climbing or trad. The details are section 3 of my book.
With that out of the way, there is an argument for some girls for a little dedicated work on the larger upper body muscles. In some cases, girls who can move confidently and have strong fingers struggle to clock up enough mileage on steep powerful terrain to ‘fill in’ their lack of upper body power.
The best way to address this is simply by climbing on steep ground with well spaced holds that are big enough that you can actually climb all session long. In many climbing walls, the number of steep juggy problems on the boulder walls aren’t numerous enough to prevent boredom. Answer: ask to set some more yourself. Steep juggy routes does it too - especially if you climb them with your feet on features only. Sometimes though, a little supplementary weights for a few months is useful to get you off the starting line.
I wouldn’t lean on them permanently, because the strength gains will eventually be more than cancelled out by how badly weights make you climb. Basic exercises like a work out of pull-ups (probably assisted at first), lat pull-downs, press-ups, seated rows (but not the low resistance aerobic type), and maybe some hanging leg raises and clean and jerk are all good. Do more of the ones you can feel you are really weak on. A few sets of each, a few times a week, for a few months should get you to a stage where you can drop the weights and progress to doing all the work on steep powerful real climbing moves.
Above all, don’t be intimidated by the ‘wads’ at the bouldering wall with tops off and making loud grunts. They don’t bite! They are often a useful source of new problems to work on, if nothing else. Just remember to burn them off occasionally on the balancy wall problems and high-steps..

Golfers/Tennis elbow etc - what eccentrics do.

I’ve been asked a lot about eccentrics which are a really big part of successful rehab from tendonosis, in climbers that’s usually Golfer’s or Tennis elbow. What to they do? How do they work to heal the tendon?
There are no definitive answers, in fact, right now the various teams around the western world researching such things are arguing more about this subject now than they were a few years ago. Here is a little discourse on where things are right now.
The protocol of eccentric wrist curls was first brought to prominence by two Canadian physiotherapists (Stanish and Curwin) who reported very impressive and consistent success rates with their tennis elbow patients using a protocol that stopped short of provoking pain in the tendon. Since then, lots of studies have followed over the past decade and a half, also generally reporting good or excellent results with various protocols. These days, the evidence is mounting that nearly everyone with elbow epicondyle tendinosis should be able to get rid of it without resorting to surgery, so long as they do the exercises (the hard bit!), do them right and eliminate the original cause (the other hard bit!).
Protocol - The various different research teams have, generally speaking, had success with three different protocols. One is to do 3 set of 10 reps daily, with a weight that stops just short of provoking pain throughout the exercise. A second is similar, but at an intensity that provokes a little pain in the final set. The third protocol, favoured in a string of papers by a Swedish researcher Hakan Alfredson and his team, is to do 3 sets of 15 reps daily at an intensity that causes mild pain throughout. Several other teams replicated good results using eccentrics only three days a week.
The allowance for pain during the rehab exercises runs counter to much of orthodox sports medicine, even from researchers in the same field. Far from being settled, it’s a question that is only just being opened in tendon research right now. However, the successful healing demonstrated by Alfredson’s protocol does speak for itself. Briefly, the idea behind it is that tendons suffering tendonosis (degenerative tissue changes) grow numerous and sensitive new nerve endings that serve as a protective measure to self limit the condition. In order to stimulate the tendon enough to grow new collagen and remodel immature scar tissue, the exercise must be a little painful. If the exercise progression is correct, a little exacerbation in the first few weeks should give way to steady pain ratings while the exercise intensity gradually goes up.
So why eccentrics only? Well a lot of researchers were unsatisfied with the rather simplistic explanation that this mode of contraction (lengthening under load) preferentially loaded the tendon rather than the muscle, preventing the muscle from getting strong ‘too quickly’. It’s true that muscles respond better to a combination of concentric and eccentric loading. What tendon strength responds best to is nearly impossible to research (would you let a man in a white coat train you for weeks, chop your bicep tendon out and pull it on a strain gauge until it snaps?).
One idea from Alfredson was that the eccentric loading breaks up the adhesions of disorganised scar tissue, as well as abnormal blood vessels and free nerve endings that proliferate in degenerative tendons, allowing both pain free stimulation and collagen maturation. There are various other ideas about how the tendon responds biochemically to eccentric loading related to growth factors, inflammatory processes and other very complicated processes of cellular messaging.
An intriguing new hypothesis is emerging that tendonosis might be down to underuse, rather than an overuse injury as it’s traditionally been perceived. Research into painful achilles and patellar tendons is suggesting that unequal distribution of loading exists within tendons that are chronically loaded at a certain joint range. Some areas are overworked and strained, other areas ‘stress shielded’ become atrophied and weak, and eventually strain as well. This lends weight to the importance of technique, training design and posture as being the direct causes of these injuries in at least a proportion of cases. There is some evidence that eccentric loading allows more even loading in the tendon, stimulating both the overused and underused portions in a way that allows them to recover normal collagen content and arrangement.
Whatever the underlying mechanism, there is quite convincing evidence that these exercises are the thing to do and seem to get through to even the most unresponsive tendons, except in a few extremely advanced cases where the tendon has been trashed so severely it literally turns to bone. Which protocol you choose largely comes down to experimentation I’m afraid, as no studies have compared the effectiveness of each in a reliable way. Personally, I’ve found that either pain free, or with a little pain worked on all three of my injured epicondyles (two now symptom free, one more recent injury well on the road to complete recovery).
People tend to fail at this by simply not disciplining themselves to do the exercises. Simple as that. I’ve read a couple of studies that demonstrated clearly that tennis elbow sufferers tended to recover much better on identical protocols if they were done with the physio there. 
Remember that doing these exercises, although a gift to climbers who are suffering chronically, are only one part of the response. Unless your technique, posture, training all change to remove the reason you got injured in the first place, it’ll probably come back the minute you start trying to push your grade or training volume again.
This post is just a snippet about one aspect of elbow rehab. The above discussion should reinforce that healing a tendon for sport is a massive field and way more than a few blog posts. There is much more you should know - about the stretching, fitting the rehab in with climbing, and the detail of the changes to make in your technique, posture, training, lifestyle. Hence I’m writing the book. I know, I know, it’s not out yet… I’m working hard on it, but couldn’t resist a moment out to write this as I’ve been asked so many times…
Happy curling

3 January 2011

Base training detail

I was just talking on my main blog about my own training over the past few weeks, building a base of strength and addressing various fitness/physiological issues at the start of the new year. Various folk have asked I elaborate a bit on this.

The normal progression of a new macrocycle is generally to begin with high volume, low amplitude work (with oscillations within smaller cycles) and gradually progress to higher intensity work with more rest as you get closer to when you need the fitness for your goal routes.

If you live in the northern UK then the dark months of Nov-Jan of are a good time to mark one training season’s end and begin again with a new period of foundation training. The tricky thing for most is resisting the temptation to rest and have a mini ‘peak’ because something (like Gritstone) happens to be also in condition right now. The decisions about the trade off between short term ‘peaks’ and long term progress are totally down to you. But the detail of that is another blog post…

If you have a ‘dead’ month or two and want to do a base training phase then usually keeping the intensity low and progressively increasing volume to a high level is the thing to do. The idea is to get your body used to a high training load. But increasing volume rather than intensity is less injurious than racking up intensity early on. It’s also a great (essential if you are advanced) time to address any strength deficits, niggling causes of recurrent injury or technical flaws you might have. For girls this might be a little weights or pull-ups to strengthen comparatively weak shoulders and arms. For guys this is likely to be rotator-cuff exercises and stretches to realign gorilla shoulders (I’m doing this 90 mins per day right now).

High volume means doing something every day, even at an intermediate level. But because intensity is low, rather than feeling wasted, you’ll probably feel really good. Certainly this phase for me leaves me feeling fit, refreshed and highly motivated for the training that follows in February and beyond.

Some typical components for a base phase:

-Bouldering with short rests on problems/angles you know you’re bad at. No getting addicted to one problem and repeatedly thrashing at it.
-Static or CRAC stretching of the muscles around the hip joint. For men especially hamstrings and hip adductors.
-Full stretching and exercise workout to correct shoulder instabilities/postural faults.
-Repeated drills of particular moves you are bad at e.g. Foot swaps.
-Fall training on lead, LOTS of it.
-Weights to address muscle weakness or injuries.