Monday, May 24, 2010

Rock climbing, Dave MacLeod's blog

There's a lot of information on the web and in print about how to get stronger for rock climbing, but very little on how to actually get better at climbing. Those two aren't the same thing. Being stronger will help, but really you need to climb a lot to get better at climbing. Anybody promising that doing any form of non-climbing training will make you a better (better means climbing harder) climber is flat-out missing the point. I really mean that: If you want to climb better then climb, and structure the vast majority of your training around climbing or climbing-based skilled movements. Why this is so hard for people to understand I don't know, but let's flip the argument around for a minute: If you wanted to be a better Olympic lifter would going climbing help you more than doing Olympic lifts? No. So why would traditional weight lifting make you a better climber? I have yet to see anyone fail on a route because they couldn't do enough bicep curls, lunges, weighted pullups, or bench press. Not once. But I have seen those with huge biceps, quads, and pecs fail on 5.9, which is a grade anyone not clinically obese, missing more than two limbs or massively brain damaged ought to be able to climb on TR after a few days of actual climbing. Enough said.

Then I finally read something that actually makes sense, like Dave MacLeod's training blog. I'm sure Dave and I could find something to argue about in terms of climbing performance, but it might take a while. Here's a quote I like from the same blog about moving fast (one component of climbing well under duress):

"Climbing fast comes from being good at climbing. And being good at climbing comes from having a lot of routes under your belt. So if you realise you are climbing too slowly on a redpoint, but can’t seem to go faster without making mistakes, there’s no shortcut unfortunately - if you clock up more routes, you’ll slowly be able to make movement decisions quicker."

Lots more there, worth a good long read.

Now it's time to start rock climbing again. I'm in sad rock climbing shape, but most of my winter injuries are healed up (I can get my feet into rock shoes again, elbows healed up pretty much, etc). I'm also paddling a fair amount through May and June, and have a hideous travel schedule in June and July, so my climbing training is going to have to be effective to get results. I'm going to post what I'm doing with my overall and specific rock climbing training time on here, which over the next six weeks will amount to about 6 hours a week of actual climbing time at the most. I aim to be back to onsighting at a reasonable (for me that's 5.12c or so more than 50 percent of the time) level by August 15, which is when rock season gets really going for me, and when I have a few big rock climbing goals to throw myself at. Giddyup.


Peter Beal said...

His book is excellent on this topic:

Clyde said...

OTOH I would argue that climbing better also means climbing injury-free. Many climb-only training regimens are recipes for overuse (microtrauma), muscle imbalances, and performance plateaus from overtraining. Guys like you and Dave who are smart enough to understand all of that are the exception. I am a proponent of resistance training for supplementing, not replacing, climbing in a well considered program tailored to the individual. That last point is why I don't recommend generic programs like Crossfit. And stay away from those damned kipping pullups...climbers abuse their joints enough already!

Will Gadd said...

Hi Clyde, thanks for the thoughts, got me thinking early in the morning, unusual. I'd argue that neither Dave nor myself are smart enough to totally avoid injury--we've both done ourselves plenty of harm! Ambition, meet tendons...

But, and maybe I misunderstand your point, I have to question the theory that "supplemental" resistance training will help with microtrauma (why would more training help with an overuse injury?).

Why would more supplemental resistance training help with overtraining from climbing? Plateaus? Why not just change the form of climbing training?

I've also never found any supporting information for the great "muscle imbalance" theory of climbing. It's an ingrained "fact" that is propagated and propagated, but where did it come from? Maybe it comes out of the PT world, but very, very few injuries I've seen over the years came from "muscle imbalances." Usually they come from trying to climb too hard on too small an amount of actual climbing, or a weight-trained climber pulling really hard on tendons that haven't been built up to the load.

If climbing does lead to muscle imbalances then surely the way to correct that is to do a program that doesn't look anything like climbing? Crossfit fits that bill to me... It's not perfect, but I think it hits my relative weaknesses pretty well.

I'm frustrated with kipping pullups as I tweaked my shoulder doing 'em, but other people seem to have no problems. I'm also not doing complicated lifts or motions for time anymore, that didn't work out so hot for me.

Clyde said...

By supplemental, I'm referring to areas that tend to be underused in climbing. For example the chest--sport climbers tend to have a hunch back from being overdeveloped there but it also affects the shoulder socket. And triceps--hard to say for sure but a lot of elbow issues likely are associated with imbalances as well as overuse of the pull muscles. And hamstrings--heel hooks and drop knees are rough on the ACL and meniscus.

Breaking plateaus is tough. Climbing tends to be so upper body and pull oriented that lower body and push are still ignored even when you mix up your climbing. Sometimes working other areas, and aerobic conditioning, can help. Lots of variables of course. YMMV.

Another value of resistance training is getting back in the game faster after an injury. And staying uninjured. After shoulder surgery, I wanted to be active again and never have to repeat that pain! Pretty sure that climbing alone would not have been sufficient for strengthening my shoulders.

A lot of Crossfit blindly targets the same muscles we already use a lot climbing. Fine for firefighters, not so fine for climbers. The over-macho attitude can also be a detriment as well as a motivator. Better to be more focused and smarter with limited training time IMHO. For most people, fears of overbulking are related to poor understanding and training inappropriately.


Will Gadd said...

Hi Clyde, thanks for your thoughts, you've obviously thought a lot about this!

For a fit climber the "climbing" exercises in Crossfit aren't going to be an issue or stimulate much new climbing-oriented growth. For an unfit climber CF will stimulate the big pull muscles as well as about every other muscle, but likely won't make the user a better climber as CF does nothing for skills and very little for grip strength, which is the single most important strength for a climber to have. But if opposing musculature is important than CF will supply that for sure!

As for the climber's "hunch," I'm sort of at a loss as to what muscles in a climbers back are pulling the shoulders forward. If I were guessing (and I'm not a sports doc!) it would seem a "hunch" would come from relatively weak rhomboids combined with over-developed pecs (if the cause of it all is musculature). Todd Skinner had to do a lot of work on his rhomboids back in the day 'cause his pecs over-powered 'em...

I do think training for strong range of motion after injuries is important (your shoulder for instance), absolutely, I do it too. But nothing I've witnessed in years of climbing has led me to believe that climbing produces "unbalances" that lead to predictable injuries. If that were the case then we'd all be doing the exercises to prevent the injuries we could expect.

To me the "unbalanced" argument has no basis in reality, it's one of those arguments like, "Doing bicep curls will make you climb better." No evidence at all for it that I've seen. There is a lot of evidence for injuries and unbalances coming from TRAINING for climbing through weight room work, pullup bars, etc... But that's another topic. We're apes really, go climbing, it will work out...

Again, yes for injuries or specific situations (I do some specific shoulder exercises for mixed climbing to get my shoulders stronger for example), but I'm just not seeing the need for additional training for technical rock climbing, especially not to correct "imbalances" unless those balances are clearly diagnosable. Most people never get strong enough at climbing to worry about being imbalanced at all (physically, bunch of whackos mentally).

Anonymous said...

I also have never understood the whole "muscle imbalance" mantra that is repeated so often. It really doesn't make sense, and couple that with the fact that I've never ever heard a sensible explanation for the imbalance theory makes me think it's a buncha malarkey.

But, I do think that smart and relevant weight-lifting can help a climber. Patxi is a great example of this. Climbing is in its infancy, so I'd be hard-pressed to make any definitive generalized conclusions about specific training approaches.

Anonymous said...

"Ambition, meet tendons" made me laugh harder than I have in a while. I totally want to put it on a sticker for my water bottle. Anyway, considering that I'm resorting to the Internet to cope with climbing withdrawal (damn you, tendonitis), that laugh was very much appreciated. Thank you!

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