Monday, March 09, 2009

Training, Sickness (not the good kind)

Training thought of the day:

I travel a lot, and get to see a lot of climbing gyms. This gives me an insight into how people are training not only at my local gym but around the world. I could write about climbing gym fashion (England loses, the USA wins, Canada does well), but I'm personally annoyed at the moment. I'm annoyed because wasted effort, especially my own, annoys me. Sometimes wasted time and effort can be funny to watch (my dog chasing sticks), but if the goal of training is to get better then wasting time is just that. It just grates on me to see people "training" who won't get any improvement out of what they're doing. I can't help it, and find it funny to make this realization even while being powerless to reduce the feeling of annoyance. I'm like a dog with a stick...

Anyhow, here's how the training scene at many gyms works: The women walk in, talk to the guys, then sit down and stretch for 15 or 20 minutes. They are often very flexible, and show it off. Then they boulder for a bit on the longer endurance problems or lead on the less-steep walls, and often can't hold any reasonable body tension to save their lives. They rely on their relatively good contact strength (often women are lighter and have relatively good contact strength) and endurance to climb. Often they won't dyno, and stay away from the steeper terrain in the gym.

The guys walk in, talk to the women, and then stretch for about two minutes before jumping on the big rungs of the campus board, Bachar ladder or the steepest terrain in the gym with the biggest holds. They then do pullups, pushups, and join the women for a few rounds of ab crunches or some other useless maneuver that will result only in more buffed abs. And before someone his thong in a knot, there are many women who can do a front lever and many men who can do the splits. I'm working with the stereotypes I see.

Now, I might be missing the entire point of "training." Maybe it's to build better abs and look manly/womanly to the opposite sex in the gym. Henry Rollins does a good skit about this. But what the women usually need to be doing is training true core strength; this means the ability to put their feet onto holds and keep them there on overhanging terrain. They also could use some more bicep/lat power, and learn how to dyno. The men could use front-lever style training too in general, as well as more contact strength, better flexibility and always, always loads more endurance... Seldom does a man fall off a route because he can't pull up with his arms; it's almost always because he can't hold onto the 20th hold on the route. If you're a man think about the last time you fell off; was it your forearms or biceps that weren't working?

But we never want to train what we're BAD at. Women are good at stretching in general, so they "train" by stretching. Men are often better at arm burl, so they "train" that. Last night I saw a guy with buff biceps and lats crank laps up and down a ladder; but he couldn't do an endurance problem that should be piss-easy for him if he had anywhere near the relative endurance that he had power in his arms. I watched a woman repeatedly flail at putting her foot on a small hold at waist level while hanging on small holds... It should be an "easy" move relative to what she could hang onto.

Jim Karn once berated me (he likely doesn't even remember the day) for training my strengths. That lecture stuck, and it's been reinforced over the years by many more high-end climbers and personal experience. I used to be terrible at holding onto pockets, like many North Americans of the era. I then spent months hanging onto pockets on a finger board, and today I'd say my pocket strength is slightly better than my crimp strength. My power endurance still sucks; I now train primarily on crimps and non-crimped "contact" strength power endurance when training for rock, 'cause that's what I suck at relatively speaking... The trick is to recognize your ever-evolving weaknesses and work primarily on those. Yeah, we all need to stay well-rounded, but most of us roll far more like triangles than wheels while climbing if we make an honest assessment of our climbing strengths and weaknesses. Even if we try to focus on our weaknesses we'll still probably end up training our strengths too much anyhow. My goal is to be able to walk up to an overhanging jug fest or a gently overhanging Rockies limestone slab fest and get to the top at roughly the same grade. If I can reliably on-sight 5.12 cave routes and yet fall off pimpy 5.11 routes then I'm not the climber I want to be...

That's today's rant. After two weeks of feeling like a one-person mucous factory I'm coming back at it. I'm still focused on ice and mixed climbing, but spring is calling, and my spring resolution is to build my contact strength up. I'll also be seeing my shrink about my annoyance problem, and some other weaknesses in my life that would take 50 blog entries to cover. I'm constantly training to remove weakness both from my body and mind; sometimes that works, sometimes it doesn't, but that's why training today is as interesting as it ever was. The challenge is the challenge...


Steve Edwards said...


Anonymous said...

That was the best rant-post I have read here.

chris, saskatoon said...

Hey, Jim Karn was "the positive power of negative thinking....."
Good rant, could rub it over most gyms, train and show of what you are good at. Hey , easiest way to gain: train your limiting factor.
And never give up. Ge, that's why it's been fun to train with you Will.

Murrs, Edmonton said...

At first I laughed, thinking that you were bang on with your assessment of all those other climbers at the gym... the ones that go there to look good for whoever they want to impress... then I thought about it, quieted down a bit and figured I should be doing more knees to elbows to improve the lat strength I so dearly lack, not to mention stretching so I can finally touch my toes and climb properly for that matter.

I appreciate the "wake up call" rant.


Anonymous said...

Lambasting poseurs - well it's your forum Will. The format lets me leave a comment - my invitation :)

We all crank hard dis'n 'look-at-me-look-at-me-types'. But if you're REALLY focused on your training then the hoax-types ought become even more oblivious.

There's no problem sharing proud moments, but attention that manifests in those who watch other people to see if they are watching them - well that's potential energy wasted.

Music can be just like those who own a shiny MTB, climb gym pass or Gucci Nike's - if you don't use it to achieve something by real standards - that's simply potential energy wasted and little else.

Another’s rant ain't oft the catalyst for change - most know their own truth. How to fix it with advice? If there's a song one really digs, start bouncing, then get out there and use it. We are little different when we remain seated to the songs that make our hearts sing.

Keep warm, stay cool,


Andy Arts said...

Yes, a good rant. But, if I look at the gym here in Victoria BC, I see the same thing but the difference is that not everyone is here to train. They are University students who come to socialize and stay somewhat fit. Plus a lot of them don't even understand what climbing is PERIOD. So before judging others (which we all do) remember it's not their profession and they don't care if they are training properly or not. Saying that, I think I'll do crimper tonight at Crag X and think of it as the best wated time I ever did have. Kinda of like an old girlfriend of mine.

Butch said...

Your stretching/yoga point is bang-on. Stretching does not prevent injury, and it makes you weaker (if done before using the muscle being stretched)

Will Gadd said...

First off, thanks for the comments, they are appreciated. I'm stoked if I can be a part of anyone's stoke in any way, yeah! The next blog article started as a response to the comments below then took on a life of its own... Thanks for that.

Chris: Yes on Jim. Beth Wald wrote the header (can't remember if that was before or after the REM lyric) for that old article, and it's something I still try to live by. Now let's train!

Murrs: Yes. Knees to elbows is a classic super-effective Cross-Fit exercise, and it does rock your core in a way most other "core" exercises can't even dream of. Give 'er!

Rob ("Lambasting poseurs"):

You're right. Thanks for that.

Andy: Yes too. Hope you sent!