18 December 2012

Christmas orders from our shop

We are dispatching every day via Royal Mail first class. Last posting day for Christmas delivery is Thursday 20th. So get your order in. If you don’t make it in time for Thursday, will be dispatching orders right through the Christmas period.

I have just added two new climbing DVDs from Hot Aches Productions to the shop.

 Wideboyz tells the story of Pete Whittaker and Tom Randall’s crack climbing adventure from training in their ridiculous but effective home climbing wall to making the first ascent of the world’s hardest offwidth under the noses of the Americans. Good story! It's also available for download.

Odyssey follows a hardcore team of James Pearson, Caroline Ciavaldini, Hazel Findlay and Hansjorg Auer on a trad road trip around England and Wales onsighting and redpointing many hard and famous trad routes. Also available for download.

7 December 2012

Davemacleod.com shop new stuff

Over the past few weeks we have added quite a few new titles to the shop. Of course as usual we are dispatching right up to and over the Christmas period. Early winter is of course the season for thinking about (and hopefully doing) training. As well as the full complement of the best climbing training titles on the market, our Beastmaker fingerboards are ever popular and we’ve just got another large pile of them in.

First up we have Ines Papert’s rather lovely new book. It’s really an inspiration book full of great photography of her globetrotting adventures on steep ice, rock, mixed and big mountains, together with stories of her experiences.

Nick Bullock is a somewhat controversial chap who has a habit of provoking and polarising opinion on all things climbing and mountaineering. He caused a bit of a storm recently for making some pretty strong assumptions about the folk he passes in the street; “their lives are grey”. So you can imagine his new book is not short of colourful thoughts and stories of mountaineering experiences all over the planet. He’ll be the first to tell you that he’s not elitist in his climbing philosophy, certainly not trying to be anyway… Essential reading really.

Next up we have Karen Darke’s second book ‘Boundless’. It’s one thing to decide to take on a life of adventure following a life changing accident that leaves you paralysed. But what is the reality of living that life like? She shows us that fear and uncertainty do not go away, even if you decide to take life by the horns…

Finally we have Autana, Leo Houlding’s latest climbing adventure film to climb the great sandstone big wall on Cerro Autana in the Amazon jungle. It really is a fine adventure, full of some quite unexpected challenges that are both funny and renew your respect for Leo’s attitude to erm, trying new things (you’ll see what I mean). The cave systems high on the wall they visit are quite extraordinary and the whole thing is very well filmed as you would expect from an Alastair Lee DVD.

We still have a bit to go before last posting days before Christmas, so get them in. Te shop is here.

21 November 2012

What to do at the crux…

...And what not to do.

Movement technique, within a given climber, is not a fixed quality. It changes depending on  the constraints the climber operates under, and how they respond to those constraints. Generally speaking, your technique is probably at it’s best when you are warming up or fully warmed up, relaxed, in familiar surroundings and feeling confident. It gets worse when we are nervous, scared, over aroused or distracted. But this post is more about how it changes during fatigue.

If you watch climbers at the crag on an onsight or redpoint effort, a common finding is that technique starts off well and errors creep in progressively as fatigue progresses. This is not consistent though. Some climbers’ technique deteriorates so markedly that their movements are completely different as the pump sets in. Foothold choice and accuracy goes down, fluid dynamic movement slows and becomes erratic, pacing becomes either rushed or hesitant. On the flip side, the best climbers can try hard, right on their limit of physical effort, with good technique maintained right to the moment of failure, even on dangerous trad routes.

This quality starts off as a simple choice not to let technique change in the fatigued state. When made over and over, it becomes a habit and eventually set in stone and resistant to the most stressful and rapidly changing situations in climbing.

Obviously, getting off the starting blocks with making that choice to keep the technical standard high right to the point of failure is easier said than done. For a start, climbers themselves don’t necessarily know what their good and bad technical habits are, or may not even be aware that they change. So it starts with an ambitious self-assessment at least. More likely a good coach will be necessary to get it right. Videoing your own climbing efforts is not just an exercise in entertainment or ego trip. It can provide a window to really understanding why you fell off (it might not just be because you weren’t strong enough).

Providing you can find out what negative changes are really going on as you get to the crux, you can make the choice to keep your technique ‘clean’ when it matters most.

16 November 2012

Sweaty hands? - manage it

For me and many others, sweaty hands is a serious pain in the ass for indoor climbing or in warm climates. It may be because your hands are sweaty, or because various aspects of individual physiology (e.g. body shape and size) make it difficult to maintain an even body temp during physical work. Most likely the problem is a bit of both.

It’s true there might not be much you can do to remove the underlying cause, but there is of course plenty you can do to make workarounds or offset the problem. Lots of folk accept they have sweaty hands and this limits their climbing in a few situations, but don’t do nearly as much as they could to mitigate this. So what can you do?

Well, it’s obvious as hell, but loads of folk still don’t do it; take clothes off! Although showing off might be a side effect for some, the reason those guys at the climbing wall take their t-shirts off is just to stick to the holds better. Shorts and vests are kind of out of fashion just now, which is a shame since they are good for keeping cool. Climbers used to be good at ignoring fashions. How good are they now at this?

Resting between attempts isn’t just for replenishing power. I also allows you to cool down again. If you are getting close to a boulder problem, you could go and stand outside for 5 minutes and speed up the process. Be careful with this though, it’s your fingers that need cooling ultimately. Muscles shouldn’t be allowed to get too cold or the benefit will be negated. If you are outdoors and you cant find cold air for sweaty fingers, cold rock can really help. Placing your hands on the smoothest, coldest bit of rock you can find will help silence the sweat glands and keep your skin from getting soft. The fact that the rock warms up so much that you need to move to another area of rock after a few minutes underlines just how much heat is transferred.

Thin skin also sweats more. If you’ve had multiple days on, you can plan for this and remember that your good attempts might be earlier in the session. Folk with really bad sweaty fingers have had success with antihydral, applied very carefully and sparingly after climbing sessions to the tip pads (never the creases, which causes semi-permanent cracking!!). I've heard some climbers tell me this transformed their indoor climbing experience to something much more pleasurable, but only once they refined just how little to apply. Overdo it, and you'll get the dreaded 'glassy' skin which is even worse than sweaty skin.

Keeping your hands from going too sweaty and soft during the session is also critical. A little chalk and generally waving your hands around during your rests helps keep skin dry and tough. On my own board at home, which I keep pretty cold with a fan and wide open window (my favourite bouldering temp is about -1 celcius) if I leave the board and go into my warm house for a few minutes, continuing on my hardest problems is a waste of time. Once skin is soft, I have to move to more powerful problems on bigger holds, or the skin friendly fingerboard.

Finally though, When there really isn’t any way to avoid the problems of trying to climb in the heat, accept it. I’ve driven myself spare so many times trying to climb in poor conditions. The best thing to do is climb in places or at times of year that will have good conditions. It’s a whole lot nicer!

10 November 2012

Less waste

Just had another email from a climber with an amazing story of determination to break personal climbing barriers at a relatively old age and following the diagnosis of a serious health condition. The thought that crossed my mind straight away was ‘why can’t we all learn to be this determined and resourceful 20 or 30 years earlier’.

Of course, in the young, there is probably a classic ‘bell curve’ of athletes, some who develop great mental toughness, determination and general steeliness against problems at an early age.

As a coach dealing with climbers in their 40s and beyond, the advice needed is often practical; do this, try that and nothing more. You know that when pointed in the right direction, these hardened athletes will go off and work their backsides off to get where they need to go. Energy is maybe a little harder to come by, but it doesn’t have to matter because almost none is wasted.

Youth has a lot of energy to throw at things, but it’s too often poorly directed. Too focused on the fun stuff, ignoring the boring but important stuff. So much of that energy is wasted. 

29 October 2012

Review: Armaid Elbow massage device

Richard from TCA asked if I wanted to try a new elbow injury treatment device that TCA are now retailing in the UK called the Armaid. TCA have started retailing it after seeing some impressive results on chronic golfer’s elbow. I must say, it’s a cleverly designed piece of kit and performs it’s task extremely well. But does it work? The answer, it seems, is ‘sort of’. Let’s go through some details.

How the Armaid works is pretty simple. If you want to see the details, watch the video below. Basically it provides an easy and effective was to give the flexor or extensor tendons and muscles of the forearm a good massage of various intensities. It’s very easy to use and control. Administering a good session of massage either as a therapist or by yourself is actually quite a difficult thing to do. It’s pretty hard on the thumbs, wrists, and elbows of the arm actually applying the treatment. So it can actually cause injuries as well as help them! Apart from that, your massaging arm gets tired before you’ve done enough.

So the first thing to say is that if I did want to perform regular massage on elbow epicondylitis, I’d definitely get one of these and use it.

This leads to the broader question of whether massage is actually useful for healing these injuries. That is less simple to answer. To attack the question, it’s first necessary to be clear that injury treatments fall into 2 broad categories; those that only reduce symptoms by reducing pain signals and those that reduce symptoms by actually altering the health of the affected tissue.

Obviously the latter is more effective in the long term and the more desirable type of treatment. At the moment, it seems like eccentric exercise therapy together with various other interventions (postural, training, technique, tactics) are effective in most cases for eliminating golfers and tennis elbow. Most people fail to recover because they don’t do the eccentrics, don’t do them properly and don’t make the necessary changes in their climbing to remove the underlying causes. So the condition becomes chronic.

It has been suggested that massage of various types can also be a useful treatment, either by directly increasing nutrient delivery to the degenerated tendons, breaking up disorganised scar tissue or adhesions, or by an analgesic effect. Deep friction massage is one particular massage technique that is aimed at breaking up adhesions in the tendon itself. It's not really known if it has any real effects beyond short term pain relief. DFM uses aggressive massage across the fibres rather than in line with them. I'm not sure if the Armaid could be used effectively for DFM?

Pain signals by various types of massage might be reduced in several ways such as breaking up the ‘neovessels’ packed with pain receptors that grow in diseased tendons, providing a ‘counter irritant’ that down-regulates pain sensation by the brain, or by releasing painful trigger points in the muscle belly. There is evidence that all of these aspects of massage help the injury feel less painful.

Analgesic effects are nice, but may not actually help the tendon heal directly. So there is an argument for not wasting your time on these and focusing on the treatments that will improve the strength of the tendon tissue. And this is where the rub of the debate is. Massage may not improve tissue health directly, but the pain relief may be worth it if it allows you to complete the therapeutic exercises that do.

So, I would use try this device if I had bad enough elbows that I was unable to complete a rigorous program of daily eccentrics (priority number 1), and do some climbing too. To use it as a pain reliever to just keep climbing and not address the underlying causes and tissue damage would be a very risky strategy. It’s true that pain relief allowing climbing to resume does sometimes allow spontaneous healing. I’d say this is more likely if the original condition was caused by a sudden increase in loading such as resuming climbing after a bit of time off. However, tendinosis of the elbows tends has a habit of being way more tenacious than that. Don’t underestimate it.

If you feel sure that elbow massage could be useful for you, you could try one of these. It’s most likely to be useful for particularly bad and chronic cases that are reluctant to respond to diligently applied eccentrics and technique changes.

You’ll find the Armaid for sale in the TCA shop here.

21 October 2012

Review: Liquidgrip

Recently I spotted a new liquid chalk product called Liquidgrip on the market. I’m always keen to try new things out so asked them for a bottle to try and and review for this blog. It particularly piqued my interested since they make the following claims in their marketing:

“Liquidgrip is the only gripping agent in the world which works by binding to the fatty acids in your skin. This means a single application at the start of your session will last for hours without reapplying. Unlike regular chalk and liquid chalk, Liquidgrip leaves NO marks at all on clothing or equipment and is even anti-bacterial for improved hygiene. The harder you work, the harder Liquid grip works. It even works in the rain and isn’t affected by sweat.”

All this sounds pretty interesting. On trying it, it does indeed seem a little different to standard liquid chalk, with more longevity and less obvious deposit on the holds. Crucially, the grip itself feels different. On your skin it feels sticky. So far so good. On the rock, I had variable results. I tried it outdoors at first and initially rather liked it. Later I felt that it worked well on some types of holds and not any better than normal chalk at other times. Indoors, I didn’t get on so well and found it ‘rolled’ off my finger skin and didn’t improve the friction. However, I have really sweaty hands, so I’m a tough customer to please in that environment.

Overall, it wasn’t for me. I felt it filled the fingerprint ‘tread’ too much. The stickiness was good but although the product stays on your skin reasonably well, the stickiness doesn’t seem to last all that well. I was obviously keen to find out more about where that stickiness comes from. I asked the UK distributors but they couldn’t tell me. The ingredients list on the bottle is exactly the same as standard liquid chalk (chalk, alcohol, thickener). However, on the american liquidgrip site it mentions having rosin in it. Rosin is commonly used by weightlifters for grip. Presumably the sticky feeling comes from the rosin? I doubt that in this form it would leave any residue on the rock, but who knows?

[UPDATE] Liquidgrip clarified that there is a small amount of Rosin (less than 5%) in the product and they reassure that there is no transference to surfaces although didn't say how this was tested.

Some people might like it for climbing more than I did. Although I didn’t personally prefer it to standard chalk for climbing, I probably would use it in a weights gym, where you wouldn’t get away with using loose chalk. I’d also use it if I had a fingerboard in a room at home I didn’t want to cover in chalk dust.

[SECOND UPDATE] Here is a nice review of the product by Spenser who tested it systematically and found evidence of some residue left on the rock compared to normal chalk. It's not something I often think about here in Scotland since almost all my routes are first ascents and some of them go over a decade without a repeat. However, in popular areas this review is a reminder that we need to be very careful how we use the natural resource - it can get trashed within the space of a few short years. It's seriously not good and it's unnecessary.

21 September 2012

When there's nothing left to prove

I read a comment from a very accomplished climber the other day saying it was getting difficult to find the motivation to train, or most specifically to find a reason to keep training. This is an interesting question for older athletes who have done all they ever dreamed of doing in their sport. Why would you want to spend huge amounts of time and effort chasing tiny gains when there is so much more to life there in the background?

In competitive sports I can see why it would end up being an ‘all or nothing’ relationship with training. But in climbing it’s a lot more complicated than that. For young climbers, competition and proving yourself might well be a strong motivator. Training is essentially easy when you are in your twenties too unless you really have some badass goals and don't accept less than getting them. It mostly feels like a flowing river of improvement. All you have to do is jump in and you flow along from training to results. So there is enjoyment just from going with the flow and gaining the gains that are there for the taking. Later, it becomes more like trying to swim upstream and takes a lot more effort for less gain. So you really have to want it.

So why would you? Motivation is obviously a personal thing and everyone news to have their own mindset. For me, training for competitive reasons has long dropped off the bottom of my list of reasons to do it. There are 2 reasons why I like to train these days.

First and foremost, it’s to climb the lines I’ve seen and want to climb. So it follows that without the lines to fire the inspiration, the motivation to train dries up. So it’s quite important to live in a place where there is one line after another to try. 

Second, it’s because training itself is, or at least can be, enjoyable in itself. In recent years I’ve become more and more aware of that small changes how you train determine whether you really want to do it, or it becomes a chore. For instance, if I go for a run, I want it to be on a new mountain I’ve not explored, not a treadmill. So it kind of comes back to matching the training with my original motivation for starting climbing - to explore impressive and nice outdoor places. If I train indoors, I want it to be on nice holds, in a good temperature, with good people, and sometimes, on my own. To me, the feeling of having made a gain in training and having that sense of feeling light and strong is one of the most powerful feelings in sport. I still like it just as much despite the fact it’s more fleeting and much harder won than before.

13 September 2012

Running uphill: 3 mental strategies

‘Proper’ runners might laugh at this post, but for the majority of us, who find running uphill hard or even desperate, we have to find some mental strategies to make it easier. The post came from a discussion with a (non climbing) friend who had just started doing a little running and felt it was very hard to actually keep running and that hills were a ‘stopper’. He was under the impression that it would be different for me because I was a keen sportsperson, albeit in a different sport. I don’t think I convinced him that I had exactly the same feelings, every time, and that I found short easy runs harder mentally than big long hill runs.

Probably the main thing that keeps me running uphill is that I tend to do it in beautiful mountain scenery, often exploring new places I’ve never been before. Treadmill running in a gym is, for me, the ultimate motivational nemesis. I find it almost impossible to sustain it for any length of time unless I have a serious word with myself and feel it’s really worth it for my training. Even when I’m in a hotel in a flat place with no opportunity to do any other exercise, I can only clock-watch my way to about 30 minutes and then it all seems totally pointless. I think if you really have this feeling, it’s best not to fight it too much. Stick it out while you can for the sake of the fitness maintenance/energy expenditure or whatever your training requires and then go and do something more fun. 

However, most of the time we are somewhere in the middle of the motivational continuum. We don’t hate it enough that it’s just not worth the gains, but we don’t love it enough that it’s no mental effort to keep going. What to do?

I have three strategies for keeping running uphill when I’m tired, unfit or just not really enjoying it. I just naturally adopted them without reading from anyone else so I’m sure these have been well described before elsewhere. Which one to choose simply depends on what kind of mood you’re in. It is also possible to use them all at once!

1. Gun to your head. You are running uphill and although you’re not collapsing with extreme fatigue and lactic acid agony, you are simply finding that the desire to stop and walk is getting much stronger than the desire to keep going and get a good workout. Imagine that someone is holding a gun to your head and will kill you if you can’t run another ten steps. Count them inwardly as you do them. Now if they repeat the threat for the next ten, could you keep going to save your life? Of course you could. And so on… Once you get over the ridiculousness of the idea, it helps you get perspective that the desire to stop isn’t nearly as strong as you thought and that you’re perfectly capable of overcoming it, if you really want to.

2. Absolutely no stopping. This one is not so grim as No. 1. One of the problems with keeping going on a hard run is that the decision to stop or keep going keeps presenting itself over and over. If you decide to keep going, the voice in your head asks “Will I just stop?” all over again in another few minutes or even seconds. So over the course of the run you have to summon the willpower to make the right decision many many times. This gets tiring, and leaves you open to make the wrong decision sooner or later. A compounding factor is the norms you set up for yourself. If you normally stop and walk by this point, you feel like you’ve ‘done enough’ as you have in the past and the temptation to give in gets even stronger. Making one irreversible decision at the outset is one way to cut away all of this decision making hell. Decide at the start where you are going to run to and that you absolutely will not stop to walk under any voluntary circumstances, at all. Then, simply adjust the pace to however slow it takes to uphold the decision. It might be dead slow. But it doesn’t matter, it’s still better than stopping. Quite apart from the physical training, it’s excellent mental training in self-discipline. In the event, the knowledge that there’s no way out of the task except getting to the end usually provides motivational stimulus to keep going as fast as fitness allows. The positive vibe of setting yourself up with such an iron cast decision and being able to fulfill it, no matter how slowly, also makes you feel good and tends to make you go as fast as you can. You have to really mean it though. If you allow yourself to negotiate with your own resolve and find reasons to overrule it halfway through, you might as well have stayed at home. That said, don’t feel too bad if you do fail to uphold the strategy. Just set a more modest goal next time and make a more steady progression.

3. Be somewhere else. ‘Detachment’ is a well known and effective strategy for dealing with fatigue and desire to slow down or stop in endurance sport. Think of those moments when you’re driving and suddenly realise that you can’t remember driving the past three miles. That’s detachment. It’s quite amazing how you can assess the road and traffic and respond accordingly while seemingly giving your complete mental focus to your daydream. Basically you wan’t to recreate the same effect while running to make the time pass quicker and the pain and fatigue seem much less noticeable. There are loads of ways to enter this state, and you should experiment to get better at it. For instance, one way is to think of a part of your body that feels good. Maybe your fingertips feel good after a rest day from climbing. Focus your mind’s eye on them and drift off into a word of daydreams about past and future climbing sessions. Another way is to focus on something mindlessly hypnotic, such as the trees going past, or the blocks of pavement, or the sound of your feet splashing on wet ground. Whatever seems nice. Good music in your ears is one of the easiest methods to detach and keep going. This is probably Apple’s greatest contribution to society! By contrast, attempting to enter into an analytical thought pattern about some question that needs serious brain power is a risky strategy and often pulls you right out of the ‘bubble’ and your fatigue hits you hard. If you’re used to it, fine, but for most people, a ‘go with the flow’ daydreamy type of thought pattern works best, even if your body is working at high intensity.

All of these are skills in themselves that take practice, just like it takes a lot of training sessions in a row to start feeling fit. So don’t kick yourself if it doesn’t work first time or even close to it. And finally, two things to remember: 

1. Most folk find it this hard, it’s not just you.

2. Running back down the hill always feels great!

8 August 2012

Sean McColl's training video

Always interesting to see what other people are doing. Canadian climber Sean McColl sharing his regimen for endurance circuits and core. The core work is still fairly climbing specific on the whole which is good. Plus the press-ups seem to be good for preventing ‘Font elbow’.

7 August 2012

A few Beastmaker tips

At some point I’m still planning to write a small manual on the gory details of physical training for climbing for those who’ve already got all the ‘top level’ stuff sorted from 9/10. However, in response to popular demand since we put the Beastmakers in the shop, here are a few important points about using your fingerboard:

1. It's a supplement, not a hiding place. Finger strength is such a key ingredient of climbing hard grades. Yet whenever I write advice telling people to get and use a fingerboard, I make a little cringe. This is because I have seen so often the problems it causes which cancel out the finger strength gains. As Beastmaker designer Dan Varian himself says, the world is full of strong folk who hang out on their Beastmaker every night, can perform eye watering numbers of one-armers on hardly any fingers. Yet they still can’t climb hard. Well, relative to their strength anyway. 

I can’t even do some of the hangs considered Font 7b on the Beastmaker, and my top indoor grade is Font 7c+ish yet have climbed Font 8b+ on rock. Since I’m a rock climber, that’s the way round I like it! Lots of strong youths do it the other way round. If you want to be good at pull ups, that’s fine. But most of us want to climb hard on rock.

Sometimes the over-reliance on fingerboarding as a training Panacea comes from simply not realising how important technique is (see this post for more detail). Sometimes the fingerboard becomes a comfort blanket - the only place you know you can perform well and consistently. If you are stronger than your mates but they still burn you off on Font 8a outdoors you think “I’ll go back to the Beastmaker”. Your hiding place. Hiding from the really hard training - learning to climb harder moves using less strength and getting more weight on your feet. As soon as you begin acting this out, you are no longer training, but just going through the motions. 

The solution is to keep the real rock/basic training ratio high. Many of you will be watching the Olympics right now. Imagine if the gymnasts spent their time just lifting weights and not practising their routines. Could they win? Imagine if they only practiced their routines and never performed them in a competition setting. Could they deal with the pressures of the comp day and win?

Adding basic finger strength training is always a good idea, but only if the technique training is increased too. 

2. Short frequent sessions are good. And they fit better into a busy life. Don’t skimp on your warm-up though. Develop a sense of when your fingers are warmed up and ready to pull hard. It’s not rocket science. If you are a new to fingerboarding, just be gentle and gradually experiment each session with what feels good. Once you are warmed up, working through all the different grip types constiutes your workout. The Beastmakers have a good App on the way to follow if you don’t want to use your imagination and plan your own workout.

The general plan is to train in a way that causes you to have fairly equal strength on all grip types. One of the great things about the renewed popularity of fingerboarding in the past few years has been that more folk have realised that openhanded strength is important. Often if you’ve never fingerboarded, your openhanded strength is so bad you can’t even understand how you could hold on with that grip. It’s not weird, you are just weak on it!

3. Be careful, very careful. Everyone get’s injured fingers and various other upper body tendons from climbing training. Your injuries will hold you back far more than tweaking your workouts will propel your climbing forward. So give plenty of attention to injury prevention. The weaknesses you start with and the length of your fingers relative to each other will dictate what will feel ‘tweaky’. If it means you can’t do something that your mate can, you’ll have to go with that in the short term. 

A good example of this is doing one arm hangs with a full crimp grip. Contrary to hanging with two arms, when you hang on one arm, your wrist is held at an offset angle and the force is distributed differently through your wrist and fingers. If you aren’t used to it or weak on it, it’s very easy to get injured. So just progress very slowly. Start your progression from where you actually are, no matter how weak that is. Use plenty of support from the other hand or a chair on the ground. If you don’t try and do hangs which are too hard for you, you can progress slowly and steadily and in the months to come you’ll be able to do those hangs.

Some more safety warnings:

- Don’t hang with a straight, relaxed arm. ‘Engage’ your shoulder and arm muscles so the weight of your body is not hanging through the joint ligaments. Holding a slight elbow bend is the best way.
- Deep locks are very hard on the elbows and a good way to eventually cause the onset of dreaded epicondylitis. Proceed with caution if you have healthy elbows and avoid the last few degrees of lock if you have bad elbows.
- Training when tired or distracted is the fastest recipe for an injury. If you’re always tired and have a lot on your mind, at least have a coffee and take a few minutes to focus yourself before your workout. Treat it the same way as driving in busy traffic - it’s dangerous, so if your mind is not clear to pay attention, bad things are going to happen.

4. Vary the workouts. Do a session of testing your strengths and weaknesses on different grip types at the start and then every few weeks. Then you’ll know what your weaknesses are. Right now my ‘thumb on’ full crimp and 4-finger openhand is weak (because my little finger is weak and my pronator can’t control the rotation during a one arm hang). So you can spend the next few weeks doing more hangs on these grips to strengthen them, while maintaining the other grip types with fewer hangs. What grip types you want to focus on might also be dictated by what projects you have too and that’s fine, in the short and medium term anyway. 

5. How much volume? There is a lot of conflicting advice about how many sessions per week is a good number. Certainly with the minimums it’s easy to say that one session per week will create only a small increase in strength from baseline which will level off. 2 sessions per week is also not that much to keep getting gains beyond the initial weeks. The debate starts when we talk about whether 3 of more sessions per week is optimum.

I don’t believe there is a correct answer to this because there are too many variables in the mix. Firstly, one man’s idea of a hard session is different from the next man. Some folk are great at really generating a maximal effort and creating a muscular stimulus from the session that actually justifies a rest day. Others need coaching to realise what a maximal muscular effort is. These folks could fingerboard every day with no problems.

Secondly, it depends on how much real climbing you are doing. If you’re doing a couple of wall sessions on routes a week and have a fingerboard at home you could be using of an evening, you could probably use it for 30 minutes (post warm-up) daily. But if you are doing three hard bouldering sessions a week and working on outdoor projects on weekends then 3 fingerboard sessions might even be a struggle to fit in without creating recovery problems. 

The only reasonable answer is to do as much as your body can recover from at any given time. Here are two examples from my own history:

Before the days when I had a home board, I used to fingerboard 5 or 6 days a week during the summer. My real climbing would consist mainly of outdoor tradding which is less intense and I had no problem integrating the fingerboard sessions. In winter when I was bouldering 3 or 4 times a week I’d only do 2 or three fingerboard sessions and sometimes drop it altogether if I was really bouldering hard on projects.

These days, I have a board and lots of bouldering close to home. Most of the time I’ll do 3 sessions per week fingerboarding. In the Lochaber monsoon when it rains every day from October to February I’ll up that to 4-6 sessions a week at the start of my board sessions. But some of those fingerboard sessions will be just a few hangs before I get into the boulder session and I have 18 years of training behind me to absorb this level of work.

It comes down to listening to your body. Start developing an ‘ear’ for your general and specific recovery state.

6. Get motivators. Fingerboarding is not an exciting pastime. Get good training partners, good music, good TV etc and don’t hang the fingerboard somewhere that’s going to feel like a prison cell. Don’t be one of the countless people I’ve coached who tell me “I’ve had a fingerboard up for a year but used it once”.

If the entire concept of doing something as dull as deadhangs seems like a struggle but you still want to give it a go for the sake of the climbing gains, make sure you give it a good go. The strength gains you get and the ‘opiate effect’ of a good workout takes time to tap into but are probably the strongest motivators. Loads of people hang a board, do two or three sessions then give up. If you discipline yourself to do it for a solid month without fail, hopefully you’ll start to get the nice feelings of having done some real training, and got suitably addicted to the small but noticeable gains to keep going.

But the first thing of course, get a fingerboard and get it up in your house.

6 August 2012

Beastmakers in the shop

Since this site is one of the main places on the web to get information about training for climbing and our shop sells all the best books on the matter, it was about time we started selling some of the best training equipment too. So priority number one was to get hold of the best fingerboards on the market right now; the Beastmakers.
Designed by Font 8b+ boulderers and made out of rather lovely skin friendly wood, their design is clearly a labour of love and that is why they have become so popular in the UK. Oh, and they make your fingers strong. Well, owning one isn’t enough on it’s own. It’s the numbers of hangs clocked up that get makes the jumps in grades we all want. But having a well designed and skin friendly hangboard is a good first step.
I started fingerboarding in summer 2005 just after I first tried Rhapsody. At the time I was climbing F8b and the odd 8b+ and about 8A on boulders. After a solid summer doing my deadhangs most days I got back on the sport climbs in the autumn and was blown away to discover I could now climb 8c. The following year I did Rhapsody and the year after that my first 9a.
That raw finger strength was obviously the ingredient that propelled me forward to grades I never thought I’d get to. There are of course many young strong lads I’ve seen and coached in walls up and down the UK who would wipe the floor with me on a hangboard yet can’t climb nearly as hard outside, since power is nothing without technique. And technique is just as hard won as finger strength.
So every climber needs to have a balance between learning technique and learning to pull hard. However, every climber who spends any time training or aspiring to harder grades should have and use a fingerboard. And if they are going to own any one, a Beastmaker is a pretty good choice. 
We are stocking both the 1000 and 2000 models. The 1000 is designed with those new to training in mind (Font 5-7C) and the 2000 is a better choice for those already used to bouldering walls and basic strength equipment (7C-8C). They cost £75 with our normal £1.50 shipping. Shipping to Europe and the rest of the world are at normal Royal Mail rates.
Get hanging and get strong. The 1000 is here and the 2000 is here.

The Milo of Croton school of training with Freida MacLeod. I wonder how long I can still manage this?

Freida getting started with some assisted hangs

5 August 2012

Another good injury story

In the age of Facebook and Twitter, the good writing with some depth about our favourite subjects is sometimes a little less visible online than it was a few years ago. Here is a great story from Natalie Berry about her battles with a string of injuries over the past 12 years as a successful sport and competition climber.
I really felt for Natalie reading this, it brought back some of the worst moments from my own memories of ‘dark’ injury times. As I was reading, as a coach I was thinking “would there have been anything that could have been done differently?”. Possibly not if the design of the training progression was optimum, but the one thing on my mind was that a complete change of scenery while the appropriate rehab program was under way might help. Towards the end of her story, it turned out that doing just that seemed to improve the situation at least a bit. Nat's key quote of the blog was "The pain is telling me to change something". 
Like Natalie, I also went through a long (5 year) period of having one finger injury after another. As soon as one pulley healed, another went. If I could go back in time and tell myself the lessons I learnt the hard way, I’d say this:
The string of injuries were caused by poor technique, training planning and tactics. I’m not talking about seriously bad technical errors. I mean the kind of thing that’s so subtle only a very experienced coach would spot - slight systematic errors in control of movement, body position, the way I took the holds, my tactics for avoiding injury situations etc. I should have taken more time to clock up the hours climbing in more different situations, with different climbers and with less pressure to perform. Instead I should have concentrated more on basic climbing skills to develop the kind of movement and tactical awareness that only thousands of hours on the rock gives you.
When I got the injuries I should have taken complete time out from trying to perform. Not just the practicalities of trying to do it, but the impatient mindset that goes with it. I eventually went back to VS and went trad climbing all over the place and actually learned to be a solid leader. The result was coming back onsighting E7 instead of falling off E5s. I ought to have done it much earlier.
I changed my technique to move more dynamically, reducing the stress and risk for my tendons. I gained some openhanded strength and reduced my reliance on crimping. I learned that I needed to take care of my body better, and started eating and sleeping better. Finally, I thought tactically about what today’s climbing decisions meant for tomorrow, instead of just thinking about right now. A big part of this was simply being very careful climbing in warm or humid conditions when the risk of injury was much higher.
All of these factors together worked. Better late than never. In the 8 years since I’ve had two minor pulley injuries that resolved in a short time. 
If you are going through the same sort of experience, it’s very challenging to know what to do without the benefit of hindsight. The contributing factors for your injuries will be slightly different for everyone. At the end of the day, although advice from experienced sources is priceless, only you will be able to process that advice and sense what you should do differently. You must make yourself the expert and be prepared to cut through your own hang-ups, deep set habits and prejudices. N.B. I've been writing down all the possible avenues to look at in my injuries book which I'm still making steady progress with.
No easy answers, but it can be done.

17 June 2012

Any excuses?

Can’t climb for a while? Injured? No climbing wall nearby, no crags? Sure it’s rough not to be able to do the real thing for a while. However, it happens to almost all of us every so often. You can moan about that, but one thing you cannot moan about is getting weak. Have a look at this video. Do you really have any excuse? Thanks to Beastmakers for pointing at this.

14 June 2012

Review: Vertical Sailing & Welcome to the Hood

We’ve just added three new products in the shop. Vertical Sailing and Welcome to the Hood DVDs, two of my favourite climbing films from the last few months. We also just added the much awaited new edition of John Sherman’s uber book on techniques, tactics and training for bouldering; “Better Bouldering”. I’m definitely bias in being excited to see it since I’m a co-author! I wrote the chapter on training, with some perspectives on gaining strength without turning into the ubiquitous steely youth you see in every bouldering wall who never seems to actually get V-Hard problems done on the real rock. I’ll do a full review shortly but for now let’s just say it’s a five star book and the best dedicated boulderers handbook out there. [Update - it was super popular and we sold all our stock in a few hours! We'll get more copies in as soon as we can get hold of them].
Made by the best adventure big walling partnership on the planet right now’ Nico Favresse, Olivier Favresse, Sean Villaneuva & Ben Ditto, this DVD is the most entertaining climbing movie I’ve seen in a good few years. I’ve watched it several times, and in between laughing out loud at the hilarious situations they end up in, I’m awed, inspired and highly jealous of the adventure they take us on.
The film starts of in fine style with hilarious team vomiting as Captain Bob Shepton’s tiny yacht sails them through rough waters up the Greenland coast. Over the course of several films, the team have perfected expedition filming like noone else I’ve seen. From the footage you would really think they had a film crew with them. But it’s just that they have it so dialled. Some footage of stunning granite fjords and onsight new routing of 400m E6 6bs follow. But that’s just the warm up for the impossible wall. 1000 metres, great granite, but this isn’t Yosemite. There are grassy cracks that look desperate, fulmars, loose rock days waiting out storms and a ridiculous wet chimney. You would think that footage of a wet greasy overhanging chimney pitch pouring with water would make for a laughable short clip but would be a lot more ‘entertaining’ to climb than to watch. But for me this is probably the highlight of the film. 
It absolutely captures why we climb routes like this instead of just going on chalked up sport routes all the time. It looks frightening, totally out there, dangerous and apart from all that, unclimbable. So watching Villanueva thrutching his way up it Gore-Texed to the hilt with water everywhere is excellent. Not many films could shoot this sort of terrain and make you wish you were there. There is the usual portaledge partying which the Belgian team have made their trademark. By the end you are left with a feeling that you could go to the most ridiculous corner of the vertical world, climb the most desperate and committing thing you can find and just have nothing but laughs all the way. Most uplifting. And your non-climbing friends could watch and be just as entertained and impressed. It’s in the shop here.
Fortunately, since bouldering is convenient to film and good cameras like the 5D are so well suited to this sort of filming, we get to see a lot of the worlds best ascents, well filmed often by the climbers themselves. And so it is with this movie of 4 of the strongest in the world just now; Daniel Woods, Paul Robinson, Guntram Joerg and Andy Gullsten. We get to see 8b+s in Font and then over to several Swiss venues. I was particuarly keen to see more from the lesser known venues of Murgtal and Silvretta. I was in Murgtal myself for a session in April and thought it was a lovely place with it’s bouldering potential being rapidly developed right now. The section in Chironico was a great highlight. Interesting as always to watch and learn from the contrast of movement style and strengths of the different guys.   Even at their level their styles are quite different. The finale of Woods’ flash of Entlinge 8B+/8C (the hardest bouldering flash in the world to date) is jaw dropping. What a machine. Essential dose of viewing for boulderers. It’s in the shop here.
If you didn’t catch my blog post last night we also have just put a good sale on with about half our products discounted by 25-50% for a month. It’s been super popular today and a few things are selling out or getting close to it. So do have a look.

Love is the answer

Yes this is still a post about the usual subject; training for climbing. The old (but still just as important) mantra ‘work your weaknesses’ comes with some baggage. There is an undercurrent of “I know it’s a chore, but it’s good for you so make yourself suffer it”. The hardcore can even do it this way and muster enough discipline to actually get some significant work done in the areas of performance they would class as ‘chore, but important’. However, training zealots aside, weaknesses just don’t get worked because of this. It’s the same outside of sport. Over 90% of diets fail in the medium and long term because denial of food is just too painful to bear forever. Another approach to the problem is needed.
And it does exist. Instead of ‘work your weaknesses’, lets change the mantra to ‘love working on your weaknesses’. I first heard of this perspective on it in an interview with Marc Le Menestrel over a decade ago, and the comment has stayed in my mind ever since. As I remember, he said (about working weaknesses) something like “try to play a game with yourself so that you enjoy working on them”. 
An example of this: Think about when you’ve studied for an exam on a subject that seemed so uninspiring during your classes on it. Revising for the exam seemed like the last thing on earth you could make yourself do, even when it was time for panic stations as the date drew near. Your room would be spotlessly tidy, every file on your computer organised, every inane forum read, every biscuit in the cupboard eaten. But once you actually prized your reluctant ass into a last minute cram, it was actually ok, and for a fleeting few hours you suddenly started enjoying it. Perhaps you wouldn’t even admit that to yourself because you were so set in your will to hate the prospect of having to learn this stuff.
What if you could bottle that feeling and reproduce it? Exams, chores, diets, and working weaknesses might actually get done. It is hard to tame, but there are two big things you can do to make it happen much more often:
1. Love it. Love is a verb. You do it. So find ways to love working on the weaknesses you have. Sometimes just the act of breaking the cycle of viewing it as a chore that you hate (also a verb) is enough to trigger enjoyment. 
It’s probably not enough just to love the feeling of the gains you make by actually working on your weakness. Gains in most cases happen to slowly for this to work and at a higher level will be imperceptible enough to be impossible to measure directly. For instance, your fingerboard PBs might plateau for several months, yet after a season of training you break a new climbing grade, as happened to me.
The task is to actually love the activity itself, regardless of improvement. However, the enjoyment you take could be quite tangential to the actual activity. Taking my fingerboarding again. I used to do it in my living room and watch tennis matches during my workouts and found it really relaxing. Similarly I hated running but used to love the focused time to visualise moves on my projects. These days I’m lucky to be able to explore new mountain glens on every run I do. It’s hard not to have a good time. It might even be that in working on a type of climbing (lets say it’s bouldering) you know you are awful at, you simply enjoy the freedom from any internal pressure to perform well. Maybe you simply even learned to enjoy the pain of being pumped!
Either way, make yourself attack the weakness, whatever it is, at first. Give it a good chance. Then reflect and think hard about any aspects however coincidental that made it enjoyable.
2. Once you know how to love it, amplify the things you love about it. Try to arrange it so you get more of the enjoyable aspect out of working on the weakness. If you enjoy the social craic of the bouldering wall, make sure you’re there on the right nights. If you know good music makes you complete your circuits, download and save a new album ready for each session. Etc etc.
Being human means doing more of what we love. The smaller the areas of our training jigsaw we don’t love working on, the better.

We have a sale on

Our sale on slacklines has been super popular (UPDATE - now sold out), so we decided to run a more general sale in our shop. It's the first time we've ever done this! We’ll run it for one month and we’ve put some good discounts of 25-50% on roughly half of our products. Worldwide shipping as always and do be on the quick side in case our stock runs out. Here’s what we’ve discounted:
Mountain Heroes - Lovely and substantial coffee table book of superb and iconic shots of many of the world’s most influential climbers. We sell a lot of these when we run stalls at festivals because as soon as folk pick it up they see it’s a lovely book. We quite often sell them two at a time becuase folk buy it for a gift and then decide to take a personal copy too! Previously £30 (like I said, it’s a big substantial book). On sale at £22.50 here. Folk at lectures often ask me to sign the page with my picture. Just ask in the checkout page if you’d like this.
Mountain Equipment Beanies - Warm, and comfy for anything from bouldering to winter alpinism. On my head about 250 days in the year! We have various colours in the branded version and the plain version. Was £15, now £12 here.
(UPDATE - now sold out) Ron Fawcett, Rock Athlete - Hardback edition of the great man’s autobiography. An interesting time in climbing and always much to learn from characters like Ron. Was £20, now £15.
Hostile Habitats - It’s a book that often comes out in conversation with owners of it, since it’s so full of fascinating details about the landscape, flora and fauna of Scotland’s mountain environment. If you are planning to spend your life in these mountains, it is frankly crazy not to make yourself aware of the richness of interest all around you, from geological features to the lichens that colour the rock so beautifully. I first became aware of the book when Tom Prentice appeared above me as I sat on my boulder mat at Dumby, He was taking pictures of the gas pockets in the Basalt I was climbing on. I had no idea they were gas pockets. These days I look at the places I go to in Scotland with a new pair of eyes, and take so much more from being there thanks to the knowledge in the book. Was £17, now £12.75 here.
(UPDATE - now sold out) The Players DVD - Dave Graham, Chris Sharma, Emily Harrington, Daniel Woods, Lisa Rands, Joe Kinder, Alex Puccio, Chris Lindner, and Ethan Pringle. 9as, Font 8cs, E10 trad, Deep water soloing. A ton of great climbing footage and a ton of learning from the best movers on rock. End of. Was £20, now £10.
Northern Beats DVD - Bernd Zangerl and friends on tour opening new boulders in Norway. Amazing rock, impressive movement, good music. A psyche hit! Was £10, now £5 here.
(UPDATE - now sold out) The Mountain Marathon Book - A hill racer’s bible. If you’re thinking of entering your first hill race, or trying to move up the rankings, it doesn’t make much sense lose out on to make one of the mistakes this book will save you from making. It’s a young sport and this is the first good instructional book on the subject. Was £20, now £15.
The Munros in Winter - One way to look at it is ‘it’s a book about hillwalking’. So why is it so inspiring? Well something to note for starters is that it’s author the great North West Highalnds pioneer is now (in his 50s!) one of the best winter climbers in Scotland, regularly  hillwalking grade VIII mixed routes and IX if he’s looking for a more serious ‘day on the hill’. This book is about an extra long day on the hill - he got in his van, drove to Scotland and did the first completion of the 277 Munros in a single winter season. I first read it as a 15 year old and was left utterly inspired to explore these mythical corners of the highlands. It’s a much, much better way to learn about these mountains than reading a standard guide book, that’s for sure! A great story about a great effort from the softly spoken man machine. Was £15, now £11.25 here.

(UPDATE - now sold out) Extreme Alpinism - Mark Twight’s seminal book on techniques and approaches to alpinism. A bit of a bible really. Was £20, now £15.