Friday, March 19, 2010

Something old is new again...

Somebody else has likely pointed this out already on the web somewhere, but a modern Crossfit "Box" looks a lot more like a gym from 100 years ago than a "modern" gym stuffed full of machines. A classic Crossfit line comes from the Terminator flicks, "Machines are the enemy." I was pondering that this afternoon as I banged my head repeatedly off the floor (also called handstand pushups) in my local gym (Athletic Evolution in Canmore, good gym). The amount of open floor space in there is a lot higher than in most gyms I've worked out at over the years; many of the "gyms" were really machine rooms with no space to move. I remember seeing photos of old-time gyms; rings, barbells, kettle bells, open space, simple stuff to develop functional movements. So, as usual, I got to surfing on the web tonight and found all this great stuff about training in centuries past. I screen-grabbed the picture from this site, worth checking out. Cool, everything old is new again. They even had rowing machines on the Titantic, which is somewhere between inspirational and ironic. For some reason I find this all "old time" stuff very cool.

I even ordered some books to see how these guys were training. I'm going to laugh myself silly if there's a workout in there that reads like, "Do AMRAP in 20 minutes of of five pull-ups, ten pushups and 15 squats" or something, ha ha!

Happy weekend.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Mountain Movement: Game on!

It took two months longer than I thought it would, but I'm finally done with the course syllabus for "Mountain Movement." The idea behind this course is to help people move more securely, enjoyable, quickly and with more overall comfort in non-technical mountain environments. The more time I spend in the mountains the more I realize the crux of many days is not the climbing or technical rope skills but the talus on the way to the climb, moving quickly down the steep slippery trail, or staying ahead of the nutrition curve while moving for hours at a time. I'm so fired up on all of this that I'm writing another book on the subject, and I want to continue the field drills I've been doing with some "guinea pigs...." The dates are July 15 through 18th, drop me an email if you're interested, should be fun!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Crossfit Level One Certification--quick notes on it and CF

I just returned from a really interesting weekend: A Crossfit Level One Cert. Just to be clear, I paid for the certification out of my own pocket (and for my wife), and I have no affiliation with Crossfit or any other fitness program, and never have. I started doing Crossfit workouts with my friend Josh Briggs while down in Brazil about five years ago; we had no equipment really, so it was mostly body-weight stuff, but I felt the impact of the workouts and loved the intensity. I continued to use CF occasionally and while on the road over the last few years, but last summer and fall I did a few months of direct "Workouts of the Day" or "WODs" and loved the results (one reason I think I survived the 24-hour climb I did with the dZi foundation). I'm now doing the WODs again after my winter season; I'm not sure how it all fits together, but I am sure I will never again go into a gym and do a set of bicep curls or really any isolation exercise unless it's to fix a specific injury or something. CF works better than that by any measure I can think of, as does sport-specific training for specific sports. (if the above makes no sense at all to you go check this out, thanks).

I learned CF's moves primarily on my own or with friends. This winter I spent a day in Calgary with Peak Power learning the Olympic lifts a little better, but I wanted more, and to understand more. This is why I went to a Crossfit Level One Cert (L1). These certs aren't cheap; $1,000 for the weekend. There were 55 people in our certification, and five trainers from CF. The trainers were damn good--professional, knowledgeable, charismatic and just all-around great at presenting. Seeing the presentations alone was worth the money for me, I learned a lot. Well done to them, thanks. I'm going to do some sort of critique of the cert at some point, but right now I'm just thinking too much about what it means to be fit, why, nutrition, and a bunch of other mental and physical fires the event kicked off in my head. That too was worth spending the money. My real short review of the certification is this: it's worth it from a value point, a learning experience, and many other metrics I use to evaluate an experience. There were problems, but for Christ's sake if there aren't problems in an intense two-day experience then there's not much point to it. I will go through those problems at some point, but I'm just on fire mentally thinking about fitness and CF and am more interested in that than going through relatively small problems with the cert.

Anyhow, I've spent the last 36 hours trolling the web, working out, and thinking a lot about fitness due to my experience at the cert. I've been training myself and others now for over 25 years. Crossfit has really shaken my view of fitness up a lot, and I am sincerely grateful for that. I can (and did at the certification) argue with various pieces of CF, but the whole is damn effective for life fitness. Not for sport-specific fitness, but at having a functional and strong body to work with. As I get older that is becoming more and more important to me; the first time I did a CF workout in Brazil I had to do Burpees. I realized I couldn't jump for shit anymore. I've been doing Burpees ever since. CF corrects my weaknesses because I don't create the workouts... Some of my friends do their own fitness programming along CF lines, but for me this isn't the way forward. I want the randomness that the CF main site WODs give to me. I'll get strong for my sports through doing the sports, and use CF to keep my body functional as I age.

One thing about CF is that, like anything successful, it has its haters and proponents. I've been reading like mad on the web about fitness theory, and of course getting an eye and brain full from the fully indoctrinated and the haters. Just so I can get this out of the way, I believe certain parts of CF are just wrong, or at least fully deserving of mockery. I also believe most western governments are disasters, but I'd much rather live in Canada or the US than say, oh, Somalia. A classic logical fallacy is to look for specific problems in a system and then take the whole system down as a result.... I'm good at that, and I could chew on CF's problems (I think the Zone diet is utterly useless, the CF games are in the same category as figure skating (a judged sport isn't), and that anyone using gothic fonts on T-shirts with things like "FORGED! should be drop-kicked in the head on the spot). There, I've outlined my main problems with CF, now can we move on? Seriously, the pluses are much, much larger.

The biggest training realization I've had in the last year is that I'm now training for two events at the same time: The rest of my life, and the specific sport I'm up against next. By the rest of my life I mean maintaining a high level of physical function as I get older. I want my joints to retain strength through a full range of motion, and to be able to broadly do anything I could at 20 now that I'm 43. Failing that, I want to be as functional as I can be as I age. This is what the CF is for at my stage in life. I'm also training for sports as diverse as kayaking, paragliding, rock climbing, ice climbing, alpine climbing and kid chasing. If I have basic strength and full range of supported motion in my body then I can train specifically for those sports through doing them. At 20 I trained hard specifically for climbing, and specifically for hard technical climbing, and I likely lost some function by doing so much isolation work... Now I need that function back. I refuse to accept that 43-year old guys shouldn't be able to jump. Or even 80-year old guys, at least more than any other 80-year olds. I've been thinking about this idea a lot, the CF level one cert really drive this idea home to me. The trainers are probably going, "Dude, that's what you got out of all our lectures???" but that's a great gift.

Now I gotta go train for life a bit, and maybe go train for climbing this afternoon by going climbing. The life training likely won't make me a lot better climber, but I'll be a fitter climber, and I'm not going to throw my back out when I lift a box of paint out of my basement like I did yesterday (no pain). And when I have to bust ass fast up a hill to a climb I'll do a better job of it. CF isn't the only way forward by any means, but it's a decent way forward, and it's open to interpretation and change. It's a bit like running Linux on your computer; it's an "open source" system, so you can customize it, tweak it, play with it, and argue with it. That's more fun than Windows if you're into that sort of thing, which most of us who claim to be into training are.

Give 'er! Direct cert review coming at some point, I'm just too fired up by some of the ideas to deal with that right now.

Monday, March 15, 2010

A few more "tricks" for moving fast on ice

NOTE: The following rests on the foundation of moving in control.
"Control" means securely, with solid belays, and with an attention to detail, as well as not falling off.

Moving well, or fast, on ice melts down to two basic components: The mechanical systems (most of the last post on multi-pitch ice) and then the physical stuff including technical ability, your partner, etc. This post has to be a bit brief 'cause I'm blowing off some other stuff to write this, but I've been thinking a lot about this in the last few months, so here are a few more things. Note that they also generally apply to single pitch routes. There's just not much technical difference between climbing single and multi-pitch routes well, it's the mechanical transfers that are different. My book goes into this all a lot more, but here are some recent thoughts:

1. Look at the route from the ground for at least five or ten minutes. Line selection is everything on long routes; if you want the "hero" line then you can find that, but most of the time on long routes you just want to get up the rigs as safely, smoothly and enjoyably as possible. It can be really hard to pick lines while on the route, especially on bigger and steeper rigs. A bit of short-term effort can bring a climber to a long groove of good ice that's not obvious while on the route... Stop, look. I often watch people struggle for literally hours on routes that would be a lot easier if they would just move over 30 feet or something. This study will also lead to good belay stances. Talk about this all with your partner; a team understanding just seems to help, and keep things running smoother.

2. The same thing applies on a small scale. Ice is often radically different just a few feet to one side or the other. All the stuff about where to swing (in concave places, not convex) holds true. Good ice tends to form in lines; inside of corners, the thinner ice on the edge next to the rock (usually better than the fat stuff if the ice is only 3M or so wide...), etc. etc. You can take twice as long just by climbing one meter in the wrong direction.

3. If you do the above right you'll probably move generally OK.

4. How often to put in ice screws? As often as you need to, but always have enough solid gear in to keep you from either hitting the ground or a ledge feature that will operate as the ground. If I feel strong and secure I'll run it hard on steep terrain. But if gets ledgy and messy I'll always put in a screw just before pulling over a bulge above a ledge... It's all about the situation you find yourself in, or rather, knowingly climbed into 'cause you were reading the route above you and had an idea for the line developed on the approach. I have seen way too many horrible broken ankles, legs and other carnage from people falling off on ice, even while being lowered on ice and dropping a few feet onto a ledge. Crampons and falling just do not mix; sometimes you'll have good luck and it will all be OK, but personally I try to climb like any fall will result in a compound fracture of both legs. It's worked for 25 years.

5. If you can't lead most any ice pitch you encounter in under about 30 minutes and any ice pitch you encounter in under an hour then you're climbing over your head and shouldn't be there. Go back and learn how to climb better, or choose an easier line. I mean this. Alpine pitches are a bit different, but most pure ice pitches should take under half an hour to lead. If they're taking more than this you're either trying to climb up to the level of your ego (the pitch is too hard even if you think you should be able to do it), you're trying to impress someone else (same), or you've screwed up and are trying to get it done (it happens, I was there a month ago). Realize that you're pushing things, your partner is going to get cold and not be having any fun, and that you don't have a safety margin anymore. Ice climbing is fundamentally not about technical ability but balancing ability and ambition; I'm a lot more impressed with someone who can lead a "grade 4" smoothly and well than some joker who sketches up a "grade 6, dude!" then boasts about it in the bar. If I sound a bit sarcastic and maybe a little aggro here it's because I've seen far too many leaders on terrain far too hard for them over the years. I've left climbing areas rather than watch someone sketch their way up something. Compound fractures are messy, I don't want to watch.

6. Strength will help in ice climbing for sure, and all things being equal the stronger climber will kick ass on the weaker climber. But all things aren't equal. Most ice climbers need to train on ice way more than they do. Do 200 laps on a vertical ice climb and you'll likely have a clue about how to actually ice climb. Do 20 leads on vertical ice and you might not know much about ice climbing. There is a replicable, teachable, and organized method to climbing ice well; learn it well before you lead. Nobody would grab a rack of cams and head up a crack without ever actually having climbed a crack, yet that's what I see all the time on ice climbs from rock climbers. The idea is to move securely, smoothly, and at a speed that can be maintained with those two attributes...

7. Have fun. If you're not having fun and enjoying the place, the day and the setting then you're probably climbing too hard, and climbing fast is out of the question. I know I'm "on" when I'm psyched, moving securely, feel strong, and it's all working. I know it's off when I keep thinking about how I'm going to get some work done at the office or something, I feel cold, I'm climbing slow and awkwardly, etc. etc.

8. Bring a couple of little "family band" radios on long routes. These really, really cut down on confusion on ice climbs. I've seldom needed them on rock, but they are great on ice and cut down on yelling.

9. If the leader takes 30 minutes then the second should take under 15 from the time the leader yells "Off!" to when the second arrives at the belay. Enough said.

10. Train. This is the secret to climbing ice. In order of usefulness: Train on ice, drytool, train on plice, train in the gym (straight Crossfit will be enough), train however you can come up with but train.

OK, there's a rant, lots more to put down but I'm out of time. Have fun!