Saturday, January 01, 2011

New Year's Tips for Ice, ability gains.

Ice Tips:

-Carry more "short" ice screws. The standard rack here in the Rockies used to be a batch of 21cm or longer screws. Now the vast majority of my screws are 13cm, with a few stubbies if needed and one 21cm screw for V or A threads (I don't think it matters much which one you use really). Clear the surface ice to get to good ice and a 13cm BD is as strong as a longer screw or close enough it doesn't matter. Longer screws tend to hit rock and are then ever the same again; it's far better to use a "too short" screw than one that's too long. If I could only have one screw size it would be the 13cm.

-Dig hard to get to good ice for screws. A few days ago I set up a belay in a spot where a lot of other people had done the same; in my opinion almost every screw at that belay station was junk, I broke an "onion" skin off that was 15 cm thick and riddled with holes. In my view many if not most ice climbers don't do enough clearing to get good screws, especially at belays. This is likely what led to a recent situation where three of the four ice screws in the system blew. Clear yer ice, get something undeniably solid or don't bother with the screw.

-Push on the ice with both your hand on your lower tool and by taking your hand off the tool and pushing on the ice to balance, just like rock. I do this a lot, it's intuitive now, but as I teach and coach I remember it's not obvious until it's learned. The long head of my triceps always gets sore from pushing when climbing ice, along with the lats... If you think about rock climbing you'll probably remember all the pushing you do to move up, not just the pulling. Ice is the same, if one hand is pulling the other is pushing on the lower tool or ice...

-Good rock climbers can learn to climb ice a lot faster than good ice climbers can learn to climb rock. I attribute this to the fact that rock climbers already have the fitness, and just require motion training, while most ice climbers are relatively weak. But, while a rock climber can learn to get up about any ice climb in a season or two, just getting up a climb does not mean doing it well. I have seen reasonably competent rock climbers move with glacial speed on what for a good ice climber is 5.5 terrain. I think the real artistry and style of ice climbing is not in just getting up a pitch, but doing so quickly and securely. It's like running--anyone can run a mile, but it's another thing to do it in under five minutes... I would rather see someone climbing well below their max but in total control than someone pushing it on ice, not worth it.

-I'm seeing more and more people top-roping and working on their skills in Haffner and other places. This is great!

-If you don't have a good placement don't pull up on it. The situation will not improve. Make good placements, which are pretty much always possible. I see so many climbers get shallow placement and then pull up on it anyhow, which leads them to place the second tool at the same level as the poor placement.

-Don't yell "ICE!" unless things are getting really western and someone is clearly in danger. This isn't sport climbing, ice is going to fall off all the time, and the shout of "ice" loses its effectiveness rapidly if everyone is yelling ice for every little bit of falling water.

-Finally, watch out for free hangers. I wrote a little about this here.

Performance Gains:

I've been out whacking icicles, dirt and rocks a lot the last few weeks, finally seeing some decent performance gains. My real fitness level likely hasn't changed more than a few percent in the last couple of weeks after the training base I laid down (I managed to train on the broken finger, but that delayed its healing some) over the last few months, but I'm climbing a ton better. Why?

Because most of the initial rapid gains that occur in the gym or in the real world aren't due to strength development but to better movement patterns, better muscle recruitment and more confidence. If you're an athlete who has taken a break for whatever reason and come back to the sport, even years later, you can get back to your top ability relatively quickly if you haven't gained 50 pounds and/or turned into a complete slob. This is more true for technique sports (climbing, kayaking, mountain biking, skiing, anything fun) than more pure endurance sports (road biking and road running, anything involving Lycra and toxic levels of repetitive suffering), but for all these sports the road back to performing well is a lot faster than pure physiological improvement would indicate.

Even on a "pure strength" movement like the bench press the athlete who has bench pressed at least his or her own bodyweight will get back to that level a lot quicker from the same relative fitness level than the novice who has never benched. Old-time coaches used to call this "muscle memory," and while muscles don't remember anything it's still a decent term compared to the fancy sounding "neurological recruitment." So my gains are less due to an improving fitness level than to having done a lot of work in the past, and now reactivating that mothballed programming.

This relates to New Year's in the following manner: If you were once any good at something and make a resolution to get better at it again then you can, and faster than you thought possible. Those years of training and conditioning are still in there; gains will be speedy! Of course you'll plateau eventually, but the barrier to getting truly good again at something you once loved is lower than many think. The pain level, on the other hand, is just as high as ever.

And Happy New Year!

New Year

Monday, December 27, 2010

Ice, Range of Motion, Intervals

Photo to left is of a cool "Plice" (is it a plice if it has ice?) from my bud Tom Comet. And someone needs to tell me how to put photos where I want 'em...

The Christmas tree is already showing signs of pine needle exfoliation, the sun doesn't come up until 8:30, there are beer bottles in the streets every morning and my liquor cabinet is stripped almost bare. It must be the week between Christmas and New Year, which is often a great week for ice here in the Canadian Rockies if it isn't -30. Temps are actually great, lots of friends rattling around, Happy Ice Season to everyone!

Some things to think about relating to training:

Range of Motion: You get what you train.
A few weeks ago I was in Bozeman, Montana and hit a local gym because I had no ice tools, no clothes beyond what I was wearing (thanks United!), and it was too late to scrounge. I note why I was in a gym because going to the gym in Bozeman is silly in the middle of ice season, go climbing already! But in the gym was a guy doing "pullups" by jumping up onto the bar and flexing his shoulders back and forth for ten "reps" at a go. I counted. I couldn't help myself, I asked him if he wanted to do some pullups, next thing he knew I had his feet and he was busting out legit pullups with a bit of a push from his feet. I'm a complete freak for grabbing his feet, but damn, a pullup starts with the arms straight and finishes with your clavicle nearly hitting the bar, elbows behind your front ribs. And full range of motion is not just getting your chin above the bar or bouncing your chest off the bar like a spastic, it's getting your Adam's apple (or equivalent) above the horizontal plane of the bar and at least breaking the vertical plane of the bar with your entire chin, not the dimple on the front of it. If you're a climber I think it's important to lock that top position for a brief moment, especially if you're an ice climber.

One of the best things I've learned through Crossfit is how to scale pretty much any exercise to get full or as close to full range of motion as possible. Doing one full "ROM" rep of any exercise is far, far superior to ten "fakie" reps. A good strong set of full ROM reps done with assistance are 1,000 times more useful than one "fakie" rep done without help. Use bands, use a friend, use the fancy anti-gravity machine, but for God's sake do a real full ROM pullup! Being mentally lazy in the gym will lead to mental laziness in life. STFU and do the full ROM or you'll get no respect from me or yourself, and you know it.

A quick note on "kipping" pullups: Crossfit popularized these, and they kick ass in general. I've seen many people who couldn't do one pullup learn how to do tons of 'em using this technique. But many kipping pullupers fall far short of full ROM, and the full kipping motion may be less useful to climbers if there isn't a brief pause or at least control over the bar. I did a lot of kipping pullups last year and found my lockoff strength collapsed compared to doing "normal" pullups. I now use momentum as I fully buy that theory, but try to get and maintain control over the bar, and keep active, engaged shoulders at the bottom of the pullup. Edit--the main site WODs have had a fair amount of weighted and "chest to bar" pullups in the last while, I think that would address the weak lock off issue that can come with kipping pullups. I just noted that today's workout has L-sit pullups, you can't kip those, that's a nasty workout!


We tilted the plice back to between 30 and 45 degrees overhanging. This is stellar training for both mixed climbing, and radically overhanging ice climbing, which is the current obsession that I'm training for. I can handle day on, day off on the plice, it's more than enough! Here are a few "fun" workouts we've been playing with, useful for working in groups or just keeping the motivation high:

Do a plice lap every minute for as many minutes as you can keep it up. Mentally as well as physically painful. If your plice is vertical either tilt it back a bit or add a pack with 1/4 your bodyweight in it, that'll make it hard enough that a lap every minute will be an adventure.

If you're working out with more people add more exercises. We've been doing a plice lap, then ring dips, then air squats, then back into the plice. Or thrusters, or deadlifts, whatever. Resting is useful for pure power training, but I'm becoming more and more convinced that resting is a waste of time in general when training for sport... Lots in that idea, but rest for power, go the rest of the time. Except when doing the long slow distance sessions. One of the reasons I think specificity counts in training is that "training" is a massively broad idea. Like writing, or engineering, you need to know what you're trying to do, but somehow people think one form of "training" is going to do it for them. "I do TRX." "I do Crossfit." "I do XXXX" Cool, but the definition of what you do is not in the training but in the action, not in the gym but in the real world.

Tabata Training on ice tools:

Get one of those Tabata apps for your phone (one with sound so you don't have to look at it), hang your ice tool over a tree branch, whatever, hang one-handed for 20 seconds, rest ten, repeat on the same hand eight times. This is so much fun... If you can't hang on one hand use two. I ripped this idea off Crossfit too, tons of fun protocols on there for your own training. I don't follow the mainsite WODs at all this time of year, but my training is heavily influenced by the ideas there, plus info from many other sources. Use what works, leave the dogma in the sweat pool.

Right, time to go climbing!