Friday, September 25, 2009

Random Training Thoughts #2

So I bust out today's X-Fit workout as hard as I can. I'm doing squat cleans alternating with some sort of ass-backards situp thing that fully messes me up. I'm grunting, dropping weights, sweating like a pig and generally making a scene without even trying. It's about as much fun as I'm going to have in a gym actually, mega. But as I cooled down I started thinking why it is that I'm in a gym on a nice day. I also got a couple of email comments this morning from people asking about winter and training plans, with a few links to various programs. I'm going to rant now:

I'm going to get real blunt here: If you want to be a better climber then damn well go climbing. Especially a better rock climber. I would bet any amount of money that if a person spent, say, 20 hours a week training and climbing hard in a structured climbing program (rock gym and outdoors) and an identical person spent 20 hours a week in a weight gym (even one promising some sort of climbing-specific program) that the actual climbing effort would destroy the gym program. Absolutely destroy it, as in 5.12 vs. 5.9, as in sending like a fiend and falling off before the first bolt on the same route. I guarantee this.

For skill-based sports, as in Glassman's quote from yesterday, practicing the sport will likely provide the strength and fitness you need (especially at a relatively low level). If you want to be a better ice climber then climb ice. If you can't do that, and it's harder because ice isn't as common as a good climbing gym, then a weight training program will help. A specific program, not a general X-Fit sorta thing (which, while it will help, I don't believe it will help as much as a focused program).

There was one program on the web supposedly designed to improve one's performance for climbing desert cracks. That program was only slightly more useful than going to a 24-hour fitness and doing bicep curls. I would take somebody and put them on a crack box for three hours a week and he or she will absolutely DESTROY any sort of non sport-trained climber (given a reasonable base fitness level...). But the funny thing about training is that we become invested in one idea about it, and the more effort we put into that idea and program the more we become invested in that idea... I'm sure everybody felt like the program worked, but only because they didn't have a control group who spent their time climbing crack boxes to then publicly kick their collective asses. Or a group that actually went outside and got coached on how to climb cracks, even better...

I do Crossfit and other forms of training for a lot of reasons ('cause it's fucking fun being a good start), but not to be a better technical climber. Time to go stack some firewood on my deck (hey, Xfit will be pretty good training for that, or is it the other way around? That's what I like about Xfit...). I train in the gym and outside of it to provide a base foundation of strong movement for all my sports and life. I expect that, in the time I spend re-building this foundation every year, my technical skills will actually become worse. Yes, worse. But I will be able to refine my general strength into specific strength and "applied strength" in the form of my various winter and spring activities. And my training will become more specific as needed. I have beaten hundreds if not thousands of athletes over the years who spent a lot more time than me doing bench press (although I have also done some of that).

This is turning into a long post, but I think all of us need to think about what we are training for (very specific to very broad goals), and honestly look at our programs to see if they are producing the results we want. And we need to measure these results as objectively as we can. For example, is the bumbly who came into your climbing gym a year ago now climbing circles around you despite all the sets you've done of squats? If your goal was to be a better climber then the bumbly has just shown he has a better program than you do. If we don't do this examination and evaluation of results then the guy pumping his tenth set of bicep curls to look better on the beach next spring is not only training more effectively than we are but also with more honesty. In fact, I'd respect Mr. Bicep Curl a lot more than the guy or gal who is doing a set of weighted pullups and claiming to be training for hard sport climbing. Seriously.

Now train. Effectively.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Random Training Thoughts #1

" The need for specificity is nearly completely met by regular practice and training within the sport not in the strength and conditioning environment."

-Greg Glassman, Crossfit guy, long interview here.

That's an interesting quote from the man behind Crossfit, which is, for those who aren't aware of it, a sort of physical self-torture program that claims to be all things to all people (yeah, I'm being a bit sarcastic). The more I play with Crossfit the more I realize that their training ideas both contrast sharply with my own training over the years and also meet it in places. For example, I have always trained as intensely as I can. I've bitched about the lack of intensity I see in training on past blog posts. I've always tended to train with "super sets." Doing combined sets of exercises just made sense to me, it's how my sports work. I don't do a pullup then rest on a climb, I do a pullup then a row movement then a leg press etc.

But I've never even thought about doing a deadlift--that shit hurts your back, right? So why I am so damn stoked to have deadlifted 265 (that's about like doing five pullups for those who don't know the weight. Maybe three pullups...). Why does my back feel better than it has in years? Why do I feel good physically despite all my nagging injuries?

Something interesting is happening.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Three Rules for Tough Trips

We've all been on outdoor trips where the whole situation gets a bit sideways, or at least requires operating at a high output level for longer than is comfortable. Here are three rules for these kinds of trips:

1. Move the team forward. If you're sitting on your ass or standing around blankly you're doing something wrong. Figure out what will keep the team and yourself moving forward, even if a very small amount, and do it. Multiple one to ten minute slow-downs add up to hours and days very rapidly when on a long climb or trip.

2. See and accept the situation as it is. Improve it. If it's really bad think of Shackleton. See, not so bad.

3. You can complain, but it's gotta be funny or it's just whining.

I remember reading a story years ago about a friend, Barry Blanchard, suffering on a climbing trip where he wasn't up to the climbing standard. He cooked more, dug more caves, stacked ropes, did whatever he possibly could to move the group forward. That story stuck in my mind as a standard to try and follow--Barry is normally one of the best alpine climbers going, but on that trip he wasn't. He was still a very valuable part of the team. My best climbing and adventure partnerships have all broadly followed the three "rules" above. A fourth rule is that sometimes you can't live up to the first three; try and do better when you can.