Tuesday, July 12, 2016

The lost practice of the belay

You walk up to the wall rope in hand, chatting to your climbing partner about your last climb. You talk about that move at the crux and how you just can't seem to quite pull the move. Your partner mentions a boulder problem at the gym that was just set that has the exact move. You're stoked! You can now practice the move and finally send your project! Your partner ties in gives you a quick nod, and begins to climb, and there you are at the base of the climb quietly holding the rope.

Sound familiar? This is pretty much every single time most people climb with a partner. The belay is often viewed as a "necessary chore". One that most people do because they need to have a climbing partner. The thing is that most people seem to ignore is just how important the belay is.

Everyone has a story about that "bad belayer". You know the one that gave you too much slack, or not enough, or almost dropped you (or did drop you). The thing is no one takes the time to look back at themselves and their belay technique. In everyones own mind their belay is fine. They know what they're doing. The thing is how often do you actively practice belaying? I don't mean how many times have you given a belay. I mean how many time have you actively taken the time to focus your effort on what it is your doing? To notice things you can do better. To read about belay technique and work on improving it? When was the last time you adjusted your belay technique to something that might work a little better? And I'm not talking about changing from an ATC to a GriGri, that sure as hell doesn't count.

Just last week a professional climber decked from 45 feet in a gym while on a GriGri with someone who had been belaying her forever! From every logical angle THIS SHOULDN'T HAVE HAPPENED! This is a professional climber! This was her main belaying partner for YEARS! There was no equipment failure. This was purely on the belayer, and it wasn't lack of experience with the climber, lack of experience belaying, fundamentally it was not practicing belaying.

When asked if you know how to belay most people will respond with "yea, I can belay". That's like responding to "Can you climb?" with "Yea i can climb". What does that mean? You know what you can do when you climb. You know where your weaknesses are. You know if you are a 5.6 climber or a 5.15 climber. You probably have a list of things you want to work on in your climb technique or strengths. Have you ever thought about how to give a better dynamic catch? Do you even know what that really means? Do you know how to give one to a climber half your weight? What about twice your weight? Can you lead belay with an ATC or a GriGri or an MegaJul? Do you understand how each device works? Have you studied the different techniques of belaying with each device and the pros and cons of each technique? Do you change devices when you're gym climbing so you can keep your technique clean no matter what device you are using? Do you know how to belay during sport or trad?

Belaying is much much more that just holding the end of the rope. You are responsible for the life of the other end. Treating it so cavalierly is not just stupid its dangerous not to mention selfish. The person on the pointy end is trusting you with their lives. They want to focus on the climb and not have a lingering concern about if they are going to get caught or how hard that catch will be. So be a better all around climber. Practice your Belay.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Mind Trick: I can do it for "X"

I REALLY used to dislike cardio. I mean I had a serious disdain for the whole activity, the intense sweat, the shortness of breath, the constant monotony of being on a machine. I tried to take it outside, and run, but I was big, the concrete pavement hurt my knees and I live in the Atlanta Metro area. The Atlanta Metro area has some SERIOUS air quality issues. Running outside at the wrong time made me feel like I had been sucking on a tail pipe. So I stuck to indoor equipment. The thing is most of the time I was ready to give up after about five minutes. That's when I discovered this little gem of a mind trick.

I realized that every time I got on a piece of cardio equipment (usually a treadmill), I'd get to about 3 minutes and 30 seconds and want to get off. My head would be hurting, my knees began to whine, I was out of breath, the sweat started pouring from my brow, and my heart felt like it was going to explode out of my chest. In my head the cursing would begin. I would just tough it out, call myself a wuss. You know the typical macho crap that you see on all those workout posters. When I reached about 7 minutes miraculously my head would be clear, my knees didn't hurt, my heart and breath evened out and the sweat only bothered me a little.

Now usually I'd only last another 7 minutes from that point and then cool down (I was almost 300 pounds at the time...), but I figured out something. If I could get past the initial 5-6 minutes I could do my cardio! I further went down the road of, its only 5 minutes! That's not so much! Anyone can do 5 minutes that's not so bad!

Fast forward 10 years (or so) and I still use this trick today! I've run a half marathon using this trick. In fact I used it this morning! I was 45 minutes and 6 miles in to a run on the treadmill. I didn't want to do anymore. I was tired, and I could already taste my after workout refuel. But I said to myself, come on Alex, just do five more minutes. It's five minutes, that's not too much longer! I ended up doing that a few more times pushing myself to 9.5 miles over and hour and ten minutes! Maybe that's not super quick, but believe me its one of my better times!

The best part about the trick is that it doesn't just work for exercise it works for your diet and climbing too! I did a juice fast a year or so ago. I used the same trick with the mindset of "It's only a week. I can do this for a week! It's not that long!", and you know what? It wasn't! I ended up doing it for two! I've used the same trick when sending my first 5.12. I was pumped out of my mind and wanting to yell take down to my belayer. I told myself to just try to make it to the next bolt. Then to the next rest. Next thing I knew I was two moves (or one giant lunge in my case) from the anchors. So if you're dragging don't feel like exercising, sticking to your diet or just struggling up a route, just break it down to a tiny time frame. It will make it seem much more reachable and much less harsh.

Friday, May 13, 2016

On finding your passion

I didn't come to climbing by the normal routes. I wasn't a child who grew up with outdoorsy parents. I wasn't enrolled at the local climbing gym to burn off extra energy. In fact I would go as far as to say that as a child I was the antithesis of an athlete. I went to college in Florida where the closest thing to a mountain is a sand dune between you and the beach and in total honesty I came out of college tipping the scales at a whopping 320 lbs (That's another story altogether...). The reality is my relationship with climbing didn't even start until I was in my thirties had two kids and had dropped 160 lbs.

The funny thing is it was actually my youngest that got me started. At age four he was a little bundle of energy. One day at Lifetime Fitness he noticed the rock wall. Never a shy one he went running in. I may have been slightly misleading about his age to the staff there but he got on the wall, and of course like all kids wanted his daddy to try too.

The thing is I have a small issue with that whole heights thing. I'm even worse when it comes to descending. At that point in my life, elevators bothered me. Still I gave it a shot. For the next few weeks I'd keep coming in with little man. I started doing a circuit setup there. Every day I'd get a little further. 

One day the director of the wall approached me and pretty much dragged me onto a rope. In that moment I decided that it was time I faced my fear of heights. Drawing on my geek heritage I recited the mantra against fear from Dune, and up I went.

I haven't stopped climbing since. Sure I probably spend more time in a gym than outside climbing (being a father and working a job that occasionally demands 100+ hour weeks pretty much killed the ability to go on week long dirtbag excursions). But that's not the important thing. 

The important thing is I found my passion and I'm acting on it. I make the time for it, even if that time involves waking up at 5 am after going to bed at midnight and waking up twice to deal with the kids. Am I ever going to become a legendary climber? Probably not. Am I going to love every minute up on that walk? Your damn right I am.

Monday, May 2, 2016

5 things to keep track of in your Climbing Log.

You arrive at the climbing gym ready to get a little practise in. Your climbing partner arrives at exactly the same time you did. Fantastic the day is starting well! The gym looks fairly empty, so no lines for routes or problems. This day just gets better and better!

You grab your shoes and get situated under a route when your partner comes over. "Dude, didn't we do this route last week?" Looking up the route does look somewhat familiar but you hadn't slept much last week, and your memory of what the hell you actually climbed (or even that you climbed) last week is hazy at best. You remember flailing on a bunch of routes, and crushing one of them, but you don't remember which ones were which. You shrug at your partner and say "its just a warm up" and pull onto the wall.

By the time you and your partner finish the climb, a rain storm has rolled in and the gym has gotten crowded. The lines for routes are problems are 3 deep. You both crushed the route, and now you do remember this being the route that you totally crushed last session.

In a previous post I talked about the importance of actually keeping a log for climbing. Climbing like any training has benchmarks and milestones and ultimately, like any training, can be much improved with data. By keeping accurate measurements in your climbing log you can identify training practise, route setters, and body compositions that work, those that didn't, and areas of improvement. The key factor though is what the hell should you actually keep in the damn thing.

1. Date/Time and Duration
No brainer right? Being able to link up calendar days to your climbing allows you see when you did what, and how long you are training on any given day. All this can then roll up to weeks months and years (hopefully decades), which gives you an even better idea of your progress and maybe even plan to adjust training schedules and volume around yearly events (like holidays).

2.  Personal Measurables
Lets be honest. Performance in climbing is very much tied to power to weight ratio. Meaning body weight, body fat percentage etc all matter. The thing is though, everyone is different. Some people climb better when they're carrying extra weight in muscle. Some people don't. And some of us just need a helpful reminder not to the donuts brought into the office. Keeping a log of this can help you figure out your optimum body composition.

3. What the hell are you doing?
Did you lift weights? Do 4x4s? Campus? Fingerboard? Run? In the case of weights keep track of exercises, sets, repetitions, and load. With running, how far? how fast? What did your campus workout look like? There are a metric ton of fingerboard workouts out there, did you do one of those?

Those ones are the easy ones to document. What about routes and problems? Well lets discuss that next, because even if you aren't in training mode, and are outside you should write that down.

4. Route/Problem beta/info
Lets face it not all grading is equal. What one person feels is V3 can feel like a V6 for someone else based on the problem type and strengths of the climber. So just writing the grade of the problem is useless. Instead look at writing down the Crag/Gym, Name (if available for nothing other than a unique identifier in the gym. failing the name some other unique identifier, "the pink one in the corner"), Route Setter (if available), angle of the route, types of moves and holds, type of problem (technical, powerful, sustained etc.), did you flash it? Redpoint it? 3 tries? 10? Only got half way before slipping off that damned sloper for the 17000th time? How long did it take? Lead, or Top Rope? Any tweaks to your body during the climb?

5. How did you feel that day
This sounds all touchy feely, but it is absolutely critical. Climbing is as much mental as it is physical. There will be days when you can walk up to a wall tie into the pointy end and fly up the most sketchy looking route. Other days you're head is filled with other crap, and getting clear on the wall is an exercise in futility. Sometimes your body just doesn't feel right.

Keeping track of what you felt during and after the climb helps you figure out other things you need to work on. Did you take 4 times on a climb because you got gripped with fear above the bolt? Did your hamstrings feel super tight when you went for those heel hooks all day? Is your tendonitis flaring up? Incorporating mind and body awareness lets you uncover things that may be holding you back and possibly help you identify days where you should probably take an extra rest.

Wrap up
After reading this I'm sure you are thinking that this is a whole lot of data to keep, and your right, it is. One of these days I might get around to actually writing an app to keep all this stuff in it, the thing is usually I'd rather spend my time climbing. Fortunately there's an indiegogo campaign for a climb tracker called The Whipper that starts on May 3rd 2016. That will begin to track some of this. There are other apps like MyFitnessPal for body composition, food, water intake and exercises. Keeping all and looking back will help give you a good picture of where you are and plan how to get where you want to be.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

4 Reasons to Use a Workout Log

You walk into the climbing gym or up to your local crag ready to get after it. You've got your properly broken in redpointing shoes for PR attempts, your chalk bag or bucket filled with your favorite chalk, your harness, trad rack, and or handy bouldering pad at the ready.

You and your climbing partner go through all your pre warm-up routines. Dynamic stretches, a quick traverse, maybe a quick session on a system board, and finally on to your warm up routes or problems.

Everything feels right. You are ready to go at your limit. You look around and identify problems and routes at your level.

A few hours later you leave the gym in one of three states: Elated with a phenomenal climbing session where everything just felt right, frustrated as to why you couldn't send those "easy" routes and why aren't you climbing a harder grade, or just meh it was an ok session.

The thing is, all these states can be a lie, and you have no reason of truly knowing if you actually had a good session beyond just your "feelings". If you're serious about climbing and training you need to keep a workout log.

A workout log can reveal patterns of development, weight change, mental attitude or deficiencies, overtraining and plateaus far clearer than even the best coach or climbing partner. Every climbing session, warmup, supplemental exercise, yoga class, run, route, and problem should be recorded and here's why:

1. An Accurate Record
A workout log is an actual record of what you really did. Think you can trust your memory? How many boulder problems did you do last session? How long did you spend on the campus board? Did you spend more time on the hang board in that mono than you did on the previous session? I would put money on the fact that you can't reliably answer that question and that you may have plateaued and not even realized it.

It's easy to remember the big milestones: your first 5.whatever, the first time you did the V-Next, but remembering the little things like how many moves and how long your last 4x4 session took, the log can take care of that.

2. A Roadmap to Success
If you have a time where things just seem to flow for you. Where all of a sudden you are crushing it session after session and you shoot up a grade or two in a matter of months, that there's a strong chance you've found a training regimen that works for you.

Its not a guarantee that it will work forever, and it will always need tweaking, but you can bet that it will probably work better than trying to mimic Adam Ondra's workout routine.

And what if you aren't getting anywhere. Well the good thing is you can identify that and learn something from that experience as well. Not getting anywhere in your training helps you identify things that you may not need to work on, and helps you push towards things that will help you become a better climber. While it sucks to bust your ass over and over again during training and not make any progress, at least you can identify things you are already good at an refocus your training towards your weaknesses.

It also helps identify when and how you climb best. Does a certain weight seem to lead to the best climbing for you? Do you climb better at night or in the morning.

3. Motivation
A workout log can be very motivating. It is easy and quick to look back and see where you were weeks, months and years ago and that your redpoint attempt then is your warm up route now.

This is what makes the workout log rewarding. Having the data in your back pocket about your progress is an invaluable tool to help build long term confidence and self esteem. When you can look back and see that over time you have made a huge jumps in relation to where you were, it makes the work seem worth it.

When you realize that you started off weak at something and now it is a point of strength through nothing but pure hard work, its powerful and motivating feeling.

4. Injury Prevention
Workout logs inevitably can predict and possibly even prevent injuries. When you get hurt you can go back through your log and see what the hell you've been doing. Not enough rest days? Too much volume? Pushing to far to fast? Weigh to much? Maybe you just haven't been getting enough sleep and you try stupid stuff when you're tired.

Once you can pinpoint what it is that seems to lead to your inevitable injury, you can hopefully plan to stop doing it so you don't have to deal with it in the future.

Wrap up
Athletes from other sports have been documenting their training for decades. If you are serious about training for your peak its important to maximize the use of your time. The less wasted time you spend repeating something thats not working for you the more time you have to try projects you never dreamed were possible. If you haven't been keeping track of your climbing progress, its never too late to start.

Now as far as what to track, and how to track it, look out for an upcoming blog post about what to keep in a log.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Gear to watch: The Whipper

Ever watch or see someone training for marathon, triathlon or bike race? Do you get jealous of their heart rate monitors, GPS devices and all the neat little training tools that they have for their passion? Ever since I got into climbing the one thing that I've been looking for is some way to measure my progress. I mean sure, I can write down that I onsited that new purple route in the corner of the gym. Or that I managed to nail that boulder problem in 3 tries out at the HP 40, but what does that really tell me, and how does that help me? Thankfully someone has finally heard the pleas of data needy climbers (aka me), introducing The Whipper!

The whipper is a durable, lightweight, unobtrusive tracker made specifically for climbers by climbers! Just set up the app on your phone, clip it to your harness and let the Whipper do the rest! The Whipper can measure vertical foot gain, incline, pace, effort level and altitude and more. When your done with your climb, the clip will happily sync all this data to your phone via bluetooth. 

As if getting your metrics wasn't cool enough, the partnering app is adding a whole new set of helpful features. The smart coach feature provides advice based on your performance, a number of training modes, and supplemental exercises to help you reach the next level in your climbing. It also has a range of social tools to help you challenge friends, find new climbing partners, track team progress and the Whipper team is even donating $1 to AccessFund for every 1000 feet climbed! Did you need more motivation?

So time to get excited! A better way to train for climbs is coming. Earn money for AccessFund, get some coaching, track your training! Watch your gains and maximize your training and climbing potential. The Whipper is coming to Indigogo on May 3rd 2016, and the device will hit shelves on Q4 2016. Check back with this blog for further updates, or follow me in Instagram, Twitter or Facebook for updates as I will be keeping a close eye on this!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Five ways to get better without training

This article by Neil Gresham has a slightly misleading title. Most climbers emphasize training as, well, actual training time on the wall. The reality is there is a lot of improvement that can happen OFF the wall.

It's important for recognize your weaknesses when you are climbing. Every time you fall is a new lesson for you to learn and a new opportunity to check I with where you are versus where you want to be. Don't get caught up on the rush to push grades as you will just ingrain bad habits that you will just later have to unlearn.

Use the above lessons to set small goals for yourself to help focus. Make sure you are working on good technique. Don't pay attention to the grade level as grades are more of a suggestion than an actual level. Sure they sound good but what do they really mean? Finally make sure you are working on the mental aspects of climbing. It's amazing how mental climbing is.

To read the full Rock and Ice article, click here

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Petzl Freino Review

Do you own a Petzl GriGri? Do you often belay someone heavier than you? Does it annoy you (or at least bother your safety self) when your Grigri cross loads while lead belaying? Do you seriously dislike the smell of burning flesh as you lower your partner?

Then why do you not own one of these fantastic devices?!? Petzl has gone and created a belay carabiner that eliminates cross loading for the GriGri while at the same time increasing the friction to help with lowering!

How do they handle this piece of magic? By adding a second wire gate carabiner onto the backside of the main auto locker of course! Running a rope through this second gate prior to lowering your partner not only forces the rope over the correct path of the GriGri, but also allows you to add friction on the rope and have more control of speed during lowering.

Needless to say, I've had this thing for two days and I love it. It stays out of the way when I don't need it, and is right there when I do. It's replaced my old auto locking carabiner and I'm really glad I shelled out the cash for it. I haven't had any more issues cross loading like I used to, and it keeps the GriGri right where it should be.

So what are you waiting for? You can buy a Petzl Freino from Amazon with this link! Don't have a GriGri? Buy one of those here Petzl GriGri from Amazon.

Want me to do more reviews on gear? Leave a comment on what gear you'd like me to review. Like this review? Share it on Facebook! Follow me on Facebook, on Twitter, and Instagram