14 June 2012
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.