vrijdag 20 mei 2016

In the meantime, part 2: rock

After the geeky ramblings on training from my previous post, here's the more interesting part: outdoor fun! As explained, I want to focus more on volume and fun, without getting lost in ego-fed superhard projects and hardly getting any climbing done. So no grade chasing, no tunnelvision on superprojects, but just climbing whatever comes across my path. As Teuto happens to come across my path regularly, being the only crag within an hour driving1, this resolution resulted in me bouldering quite a lot in Teuto in the past months. And I can honestly say I've been enjoying it more than I expected to do: it's a lovely forest to be and to walk in with the dogs and off the beaten tracks there is a surprisingly large amount of good and hard bouldering. Sometimes the problems require a bit of a definition to be of interest, but despite my dislike of defined - contrived - boulder problems they never felt unnatural. All fun and games, so who really cares?
Topping out Alpha Centauri, the best ascent of the year so far! Video below...
A 'good' thing about the bouldering in Teuto is that there isn't a guide book or any community kept list of problems. Most lines in the forest have once been climbed, but it's often hard to find out by who and what name or grade has been attached to it. Usually I get my info through Matt, who has the Teuto woods as his backyard and has a great climbing network via his business. Sometimes the grades are soft, sometimes silly hard. They are absolutely meaningless, which is great: it shifts the focus automatically to climbing lines instead of grades. And it's humbling and motivating in a peculiar way to get completely shut down by a boulder someone else perceived as 7A.

iPhone video of a few boulders I climbed in Teuto. The first - Boone low - I have been trying on and of for more than a year and it always eluded me. 
Not this time. Progress?

So bouldering in Teuto fits my present goals pretty well and I've been doing it for quite a few afternoons this spring. Nevertheless I do like some variaty (and climbing routes instead of boulders...), so getting to other crags is always on my wish list. So far I've only managed to do this twice this year, but both times were productive and fun! The first visit was with Matt to the limestone cliffs in Ith, where I climbed the first routes of the year and managed to make quick work of 'Neues aus der Anstalt', a 7b+/7c at Kannstein with a powerful undercling crux and a short bit of power endurance climbing following it. Although both Matt and I felt it was easy for the grade, it feels good to be able to grab a quick ascent in the upper half of the 7th grade.

The other visit - with Matt again - was triggered by a video Matt stumbled upon of German strongman Stefan Hochbaum climbing an amazing looking highball in the woods surrounding Bielefeld (technically still the Teutoburger Wald). Matt used his network to uncover the location of the block and a few days later we went, with two brobdingnagianly big Moon Saturn crashpads stuffed in our car. I fell in love with the boulder immediately upon seeing the video, but walking up to 'Alpha Centauri' in real was even more awesome. It was high though, impressively high. I don't consider myself a big risk taker, I am deterred by the idea of not climbing for months while recovering from a serious injury. At the same time, I do appreciate the appeal of a beautiful, high boulder problem. So we set up a toprope first to practice the top of the boulder. Falling from the top was not really an option, so we made sure we had it dialed in perfectly. Nevertheless, when we removed the rope I felt anxious. The first part of the boulder is a steep and athletic and well protected by a good landing. Halfway it switches to a lightly overhanging arrete, which is hard to downclimb. A big move marks the transition to the arrete and is a psychological point of no return. Above it, you are high enough to not want to risk a fall and the only way is up, to even higher ground. I climbed the first part being very aware of this point of no return, but felt strong. A brief moment of hesitation paused me before the big move, but I flipped the switch and committed to it. I floated up, never once looking down to the ground. Within moments I was standing on the top. It felt absolutely amazing. Minutes later Matt followed. How hard it was? I honestly don't know. The first ascentionist gave it 7B, in the video Matt found 7B+ was proposed. When I climbed it, it felt much easier. But who really cares? Alpha Centauri was the best thing I've climbed in a while and topping out felt like a victory, extremely rewarding and exciting. An additional special touch: after climbing my first 7th grade boulder problem four years ago, this was exactly number 100.

Video of Matt and me climbing Alpha Centauri.

The route climbing season has only just started and I hope to get some more routes done. Nevertheless I'll probably go out bouldering a lot more. No complaints, I'm absolutely loving it again!

1: The only exception is Isterberg, which is hardly ever dry enough to climb. When it is, there are a few very hard boulders left to do, which will probably resemble the type of project I try to avoid right now.

donderdag 12 mei 2016

In the meantime, part 1: training

In a previous post I made the promise to fix some flaws in my training routine and to focus more on volume and fun outdoors. Whether that was a pledge to you or myself I'm not really sure, but either way I somehow felt obliged to keep it. And so I've been doing! There's enough to write about to fill several posts, but I'll try to keep it down to two.
Focussing on fun outdoors!
Let's start with the training and leave the outdoor fun for last. Most importantly, I abandoned the quite strictly linear training programme based on the Rock Climbers Training Manual by the Anderson brothers. I've been following it for more than a year now and came to realize that for me it has a few flaws. Three, to be precise. Firstly, the very predictable performance peaks that a linear periodized schedule produces may be very desirable for competition climbers or for training towards a big climbing holiday, it is far less ideal for the recreational outdoor climber that wants to get out whenever time and the weather allow, i.e. me. High peaks come with big troughs and when peaks coincide with bad weather or limited time that's rather frustrating. It is uncanny how much rain fell during my performance peaks.

Secondly, some phases of the programme have a strict planning that favors training over outdoor climbing. I want to be flexible enough to go out whenever I can, which doesn't happen nearly as often as I'd like to. A training schedule shouldn't be another limiting factor to outdoor time when having a job and grown up responsibilities already are. Thirdly, I felt the training programma neglected maintenance of the performance aspects trained during other phases. For example, it provides little maintenance of strength during the power and power endurance phase. Most of the gains made during a strength fase evaporated during the rest of a training cycle.

So I started reading a lot again and set out to design a schedule that is less linearly periodized, includes more maintenance and always offers the flexibility to go out. I opted for a combination of classical and non-linear periodization (no periodization at all will result in plateau for sure: been there, done that) that cycles rather quickly between a focus on strength, power, power endurance and endurance while maintaining the other aspects. I'll have to stick a bit longer with it to tell whether it's an improvement or not, so I'll leave the description of the schedule for a future blog post. What I can say already, is that I can handle a bigger training volume in the new schedule.
Slowly all T-nuts on my homeboard are getting filled with climbing holds. The latest additions: Core mini jugs (grey) and Core Font micro jugs (dark green).
I also fixed a major flaw of my homeboard. So far, I've only invested in small holds to set hard boulders. Although it allowed me to do relatively short power endurance circuits (~20 move circuits in the 7b-7c route range were the easiest thing I could set), there was absolutely no way at all to train endurance in the aerobic energy system. So I asked my friend Matt from Flow Climbing Equipment to set me up with a new set of climbing holds and he did a great job again. There are 36 'mini' and 'micro' jugs from Core Climbing on my home board now (they really don't do those names justice, they're massive) and I started training on them. Although I aim for exercises around the aerobic threshold, I quickly noticed gains in power endurance as well. It's a bit unexpected (and may imply that the intensity of the exercise is actualy too high), but I'm not complaining.
Core Font micro jugs: extremely positive 2-pad jugs 
Surprisingly (and rather unexpectedly), the jugs provided a new challenge: skin management. Having climbed mainly on small 1-pad (and occasionally 2-pad) holds, my callusses are getting beaten up completely by the bigger holds. They get irritated, deep red and feel like they are about to turn into blisters or even flappers quickly. After a few sessions I figured out that if I climb on them at the end of a session (having well warmed up skin), not longer than 15 minutes and sand down my callusses agressively, I can train on them without getting debilitating skin injuries. It's enough to get quite a lot of moves done (about 200). Let's see if I can increase the volume as my skin slowly adapts to the torture I put it through...

A final fix in my training addresses my flexibility. I've always known that I don't have an impressively flexible body and that with my build genetics aren't exactly in my favor on this. The biggest mistake (the one I've been making for years) is to embrace this as an excuse, accept the weakness as it is and focus on strengths instead. Weaknesses provide the biggest potential for improvement and can be conquered with relatively little investment. So after getting shut down by a high foot placement on an otherwise easy boulder on the competition I joined in Februari, I finally decided to attack my flexibility weakness. At the end of every training I take between 10 and 15 minutes for stretching exercises, primarily for the hamstrings and hips. I'm getting noticably better at using high feet already and will try to keep stretching a part of my training routine.

Enough about training for now! In the future I'll sit down to write about some details of the training for those interested. First I'll stick with it for a while and see what it brings me! Time to write about my modest outdoor endeavours now, stay tuned!

donderdag 24 maart 2016

Why all climbers should do push ups

All climbers should do push ups. Period. Well, that is my opinion... I have some arguments to back it up though that may sway the many climbers that dismiss push ups as a useless exercise for climbing: 
  • Pushups work the triceps and pecs: important antagonists for the pulling muscles that we use in climbing moves. Keeping the antagonists just as strong as the pulling muscles helps keeping a balanced, injury free body. But it doesn't stop here: both the triceps and the pecs are recruited in many actual climbing moves: when moving up one hand, we (should) push down with the other. The triceps does this. And think of all the moves that require the pecs to come into action: sidestepping, locking off sidepulls, compression moves, etc.
  • Pushups train core strength and stability, especially when instability is introduced by doing the excersice on one leg, using rings, a suspension trainer or a fitness ball. Core strength is required in nearly every climbing move, especially when the terrain gets steeper.
  • Pushups can train a variety of shoulder muscles by varying in hand positioning (wide, narrow, above the shoulders, close to the waist, etc.) and by introducing instability to the hand using gymnastic rings, a suspension trainer or a fitness ball. Shoulder injuries are common among climbers and can hold you back for months or longer. Chronic shoulder injuries are almost impossible to get rid of. Strong shoulders are much less likely to get injured. By varying the push up excercises a lot of shoulder muscles can be trained, including all the small, tiny ones that get tweaked easily (think rotator cuff...).
There are endless variations of push up excercises. Varying them is important. Which ones you like comes down to personal taste, but I would recommend introducing some sort of instability and doing only exercises of which you can do at least a few good repetitions. It is easy to injure the small stabilizing muscles with an exercise that is too tough. That kind of defies the purpose of the exercise, wouldn't you say? 

For inspiration I've made a little video of the excercises that stuck with me and keep coming back regularly in my trainings. Enjoy training!

woensdag 24 februari 2016

Ramblings from an old man

My God, am I a bad blogger! Months went by without sharing a single post. And all of the sudden 2015 is over and it's almost March 2016. Many goals for 2015 aren't realized, although it's easy to blame that on me landing on the intensive care and taking over half a year to recover to old fitness levels. A collection of uncorrelated, impossible to combine snippets of written story is scattered across a series of draft posts and by now there is no point in finishing them all and publish a tedious cluster of posts about the past months... Instead it seems more appropriate to wrap up the gap briefly (I've posted two 'new' video's from 2015 to the videos page). save you - my beloved reader - ploughing through my ramblings, and end on generally positive note rather than dwelling on the things I didn't do.

I'll go awry straight away: I tend to trivialise the physical impact of the illness I suffered this summer and expect to be climbing on the top of my game consistently again. Even without the illness that would be unreasonable, so unsurprisingly I've been disappoint myself regularly. I climbed ok, but not great. Honestly, I should be thankful to return to this shape and not having sustained some serious permanent damage. But my immune system suffered noticably (probably due to the fact that all of my blood plasma has been replaced...) and I'm tired and ill much more frequently than I used to be. Obviously that isn't complementing my training very well. I'm just returning from a four week break from training (longer even than after the intensive care!) and I hope I'll be able catch some momentum again now. It's frustrating to really want to go for it, but not have my body cooperate. Maybe I'm just getting old...

On a brighter note: lacking my sharp edge regularly is learning me to enjoy easier climbing without feeling the pressure to outperform myself all the time. I get better at picking climbs because I want to climb the line, not the grade, making every day out a more enjoyable experience. I try to broaden my palette again, the need for which was pointed out by a comp I participated in following the advice of climbing coach Jan Martin. I performed badly and discovered some weaknesses I have developped. Although I didn't feel too good during the comp and got ill the day after and I may blame part of the sub par performance on that, those weaknesses are unrelated to fitness. So I'm changing my training routines a bit and shifting my outdoor focus towards volume and fun for 2016. Lets see what the year brings!