Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Showing up, getting up.

The last blog article prompted some really good words from people, thanks for that. I started writing this in response to those comments, it grew into what follows...

I will NEVER look down on anyone in the gym or who is just breathing hard because anyone who has simply shown up and truly tried has done a great thing. All of us are athletes when we're moving, the relative level of that athleticism is far less important than the act of moving. I have been very unfit, injured, depressed, stressed-out or just plain non-functional an annoying amount of my life. I've also been so psyched and motivated that nothing else but the session mattered. But no matter where you are mentally or physically just showing up in the gym or simply breathing hard is a statement of hope, an expression of, "I'm gonna fucking try." And that's cool. Most of the "developed" world is devolving into couch ornaments, so anyone who just shows up to breathe hard is truly a hero in my book.

In the gym I train at most regularly there's an older lady who comes occasionally. She moves slowly, stiffly, but she's my hero because she moves, and because she's in there. I sometimes think of her when I'm a bit stiff or tired, and I know she would still go, so I do too. There's a great group of young kids who train so hard that I often train at the same time just to watch them and try and to keep up with their energy. There's an older guy (well, not much older than me!) who has taken low-income living to an art form; he's too cheap to buy a chalkbag, but he's my hero because he's in there. When I see a truly fat person running or just hiking up a hill I invariably want to start cheering from the bottom of my heart out loud, but I don't 'cause I don't want to scare 'em or make them feel bad somehow. Some little pretzel dude running along like a damn gazelle? That's cool and all, but moving athletically with an extra person strapped to you? Now that's an athletic accomplishment I can't dream of but that truly inspires me. Maybe these people don't "train" in the same way I look at it, but they are busting a move, and that's powerful. Winning isn't always about winning something. Often it's about just showing up, and anyone who shows up and does his or her best is my hero.

But if anyone is actually training to be better at whatever level then I want them to not waste the time I have doing useless repetitions of useless exercises. I also believe time spent doing any sport should be fun, exciting and challenging. If it isn't some combination of those things then nobody is going to keep at it. There must be a million barely used treadmills put into landfills every year. The following edited lyrics from Fugazi sum up a lot of things in my mind:

I am a patient boy
I wait, I wait, I wait, I wait
My time is water down a drain

Everybody's moving
Everybody's moving
Everything is moving,
Moving, moving, moving

Please don't leave me to remain
In the waiting room

Sitting outside of town
Everybody's always down
(Tell me why)

Because they can't get up
(Ahhh... Come on and get up)
(Come on and get up)

But I won't sit idly by
I'm planning a big surprise
I'm gonna fight
For what I want to be

And I won't make the
same mistakes
(Because I know)
Because I know how much
time that wastes
(And function)
Function is the key


I hope everyone found what was needed today, be it sore lats, time with their kids, or just a smile out of something new in life. Now I gotta go train, thinking about all this just got me too fired up. Get up!

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...