Climbing by not climbing - a meditative TR


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Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Original Post - Aug 7, 2011 - 05:52pm PT
Climbing by not climbing;
Part I, A Day on the Rock

Ed Hartouni
August 7, 2011

This is a trip report at first, but a longer essay on climbing which you can give or take as you will. The topic is a confluence of a number of thoughts, and some recent events taken from professional sport news... a contemplation on athletic performance, risk, injury, rehabilitation and training. I had thought to work all this out myself, but realizing that will never happen I thought that maybe the community has experience and ideas that would be relevant.

Yesterday I met up with Linda in Tuolumne Meadows to continue a season long rehabilitation coming of various injuries, hers and mine, to build up a base of climbing training through easier climbs on the way to getting to harder climbs. Our object was to find some climbs at easier grades we hadn't done to build up mentally for those harder climbs. We eventually chose to climb Higgy Stardust 5.9 2 pitches on the western flanks of Lamb Dome. The plan was to see how it went, and if it was brilliant, perhaps tackle Nerve Wrack Point 5.9 3 pitches which is just to the left. These two climbs were authored by Tom Higgins and Pat Ament and have been written about look here for instance). We hike up, check the book at the rock apron deciding that we should move left and unaware, until we go all the way over east, that we were at the climb when we checked... but who could feel bad about a hike here?

My mind is cloudy this morning, apparently a stressful week at work signaled by not enough rest and the visual migraine that visits on the drive in, have me distracted... and this confusion over the start, and I pride myself in getting to the start with efficiency, is just another sign.

We sort out what we need and wander up the slabs to the start of the climb... there are many possible starts and we pick one that seems compatible with the pitch 1 5.8 rating. The pre-climb rituals are all the same, here Linda tightens her shoes, the wonderful granite embraces us.

I comment as I am taking off that "I'll soon see what body I've brought today" as lately a number of injuries have pretty much sidelined me. On June 17th I awoke to a fully swollen left knee, for no apparent reason. I dropped off a boulder problem in the gym the night before in an awkward manner, but I had done that before without this effect. My bike riding is up roughly 50% over the last year, which is a big jump, but I hadn't had any past history of body problems due to biking. Ten years ago I had my left knee 'scoped and the meniscus "cleaned up," recently the knee felt a bit weird, that sort of "clunky" feeling to certain external forces.

My attempt ends on the first real committing run out section. Up a classic Tuolumne Meadows face heading for a grooved feature. The section will demand pulling 5.8 moves over 30 feet before the next protection is possible. Given that this is supposed to be "training" from injuries, the major idea is not to incur additional injury. My left knee is not 100%, it maybe 40%, the ball of my right foot has this annoying ache, and I'm just not liking the idea of a fall onto the commodious ledge I am standing on. I go up three different ways a couple of times each before deciding that it's not going to be today for me on this climb. I bring Linda up... she scopes out a the ground above

and decides it isn't worth the risk either, everything looks straight forward, but neither of us have been up on this ground for a while, and neither of us has confidence in how we will do.

We down climb, head back to the packs and discuss how to stretch various muscles as a possible solution to my problems... eventually we park next to Stately Pleasure Dome and just talk until it's time for me to leave for home... another great day in paradise.

Linda asks if I'm disappointed, I reply that I'm not, actually my thoughts are on how this all happens and what the likelihood of recovery is for me... obviously more time is going to be required. By now, my left hip is also hurting and I'm having trouble getting into and out of my car... this set of posts is what I was thinking when she asked... I tried not to stare at her dumbly, as I had been doing all day. Maybe this will explain what I was thinking.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 7, 2011 - 05:52pm PT
Climbing by not climbing;
Part II, A Meditation on Injury

Ed Hartouni
August 7, 2011

Climbers that I have known do not consider injury as part of climbing. Since we want to climb all the time we ignore injuries, especially if they are not caused by climbing, and go out climbing anyway. If they are climbing related injuries, we might say we'll just not climb in that style. But the conclusion of all these arguments is that we're going climbing, no matter what. Some injuries are so sever that they prevent climbing, though I've seen climbers with casts on various appendages climbing anyway...

As a group, we seem to "push through" injuries. Some of this behavior has to do with the fact that climbing can often hurt, so the line between injury hurt and activity hurt blurs, pushing through a hurtful sequence of moves becomes the same thing as pushing through a hurtful injury period.

What I would like to point out is that injury is a part of climbing as it is in any athletic activity. A few examples from the recent sport news sets this in perspective.

This weekend the Boston Red Sox play the New York Yankees in what has become a yearly grind. They play each other this year 16 times, and this past decade this series is consequential, and usually has some large influence on which of these teams will go to the World Series. You may or may not know that the current major league "regular season" is 162 games long. This year the "regular season" runs 179 days long, so the players play an average of 1 game a day, there is a 5 day break in the middle of the season to play the "All Stars Game".. The playoffs can add an additional 19 days of playing if all the series go to the maximum. Baseball is a great sport to study because it is statistically well measured. The average age of the player is 28.8 years, the youngest player is 20, the oldest 45, the average height 6'1", average weight 209 lbs (bmi = 27.4). The average career is 5.6 years, at every point of a career there is an 11% chance of it ending...

The Yankees are playing this important series without one of their star players, Alex Rodriguez, who is out with an injury. His knee was 'scoped and he is returning to playing, this last two years have been hard on him, he is a star player, but he's been injured. But when you play as much as these guys play, you're going to be injured, and getting injured and recovering from injury all become part of the story. A-Rod's absence from the Yankee lineup is definitely a factor in these close games... there is a lot of motivation to play hurt, but when performance suffers, as it did in A-Rod's case, reducing him from a home run hitter to a singles hitter, he had to decide to shut it down, get repaired and then work his way back.

This is, however, not just a motivational issue. A-Rod's body may not be up to the promise that he showed of being, potentially, one of the greatest players to play. While an elite athlete by any standard, his actual body may not give him the longevity he needs in to achieve greatness. Ultimately he is limited by the bio-mechanical limits of his specific body, limits that will power alone cannot overcome.

Mitigating these limitations becomes an essential part of his career, so he is highly motivated to do what he can. This of course can get players into trouble as they use "performance enhancing drugs" to help speed their recovery. But playing at your physical limit to the breaking point, healing, rehabilitating, all become a part of the cycle of the sport.

The second example is from football, the latest "labor dispute" has idled the league. Now players are starting to return to playing. Plaxico Burress, an elite, but troubled player, was practicing recently and "turned his ankle." It wasn't practice within the confines of his new team's (NY Jets) compound so the reaction to the injury was not what would have normally occurred. Burress basically didn't do anything... if it had happened during a "normal" workout it would have been immediately treated, control the inflammation first and foremost, with ice, etc, etc... all this would reduce the recovery time. In addition, his ankles would have been taped for additional support, but he had no trainers to attend to him... he was just practicing.

This is an example where the athlete themselves may not be aware of all the injury prevention and mitigation strategies available to them in their sport. Training for this year's football season will be short, so any time lost to injury could have a big negative outcome. In this case, a receiver can't practice catching passes from their quarterback, it limits what these two can do when the "real" games start.

As an aside, Tom Brady, New England's quarterback, was talking to reporters... in some response he was explaining about training camp: "there are two things happening here, first we're learning the plays and all that, the mental aspect, but then we go out on the practice field and see what we can translate from the mental game to the physical game" (which is a paraphrase, at best).

What we think we can do, athletically and what we can do are different parts of athletic performance... but they are both parts of it.

I'd like to point out, as I have said elsewhere on the SuperTopoForum, that human athletic abilities are not limitless, they are limited, and there are variances in this limit. It is not a negative statement, it is a statistical statement based on the fact that we are physical objects governed by physical laws. We will reach the point where "the mind was willing but the body weak" in many things we attempt. That is where the art is...

But the important question to this thread it: why don't we, as climbers, recognize injury as a part of climbing?
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 7, 2011 - 05:53pm PT
Climbing by not climbing;
Part III, On Training and Bio-Mechanical Ignorance

Ed Hartouni
August 7, 2011

I have thought about training for a long time, and about the bio-mechanical aspects of climbing for a lesser amount of time, though they are ultimately related. The two books on my shelf that I have are Steve Ilg's The Outdoor Athlete and Eric Hörst's Training for Climbing. At times I've thought about Largo's "Workout from Hell" which he only takes credit for writing down, done Yoga, stretched like a rubber band (not really) and participated in the WideFetish exercise challenge: the WideWorkout.

There is a required disclaimer: I don't endorse any of this stuff, and if you do it and get hurt or die, it's by your own choice... I'm offering information only... certainly I've hurt myself participating in many of these things and didn't blame anyone but myself. Fortunately I haven't killed myself doing any of this yet, but there's time left still...

What I remember from my first mentors of climbing was: "only climbing is training for climbing." This is fatuous remark which underscores the ignorance of just what makes the climber a better climber, in terms of athletic performance. Now that my not be your training goal, you may have no interest in getting better, climbing harder, being able to send that golden line at your local crag, etc, etc, but I doubt that any honest climber would dismiss the idea of being a better climber as a goal, and that being a better climber, in part, has to do with learning how to perform better, both mentally and physically.

That said, to be a better climber physically requires knowledge regarding the bio-mechanical aspects of climbing. In 1987 Ilg writes: "Documented literature on the biomechanics of technical climbing are [sic] nonexistent" (page 103 op. cit.). Hörst's index has an entry for "Fig Newtons" but is silent on bio-mechanics. His training regime is essentially an empirical approach to training in which the self coached climber figures out what works and what doesn't. This is not a bad way to go, it is essentially what all of us do. There is a line that is work speculating on, however. Hörst writes: "...but numerous research studies confirm my belief that the mass of climbers have the potential to succeed at the lofty grade of 5.12, regardless of genetics." This book, unfortunately, has no references to those numerous studies. Most bio-mechanics studies I know about and have read have to do with understanding injuries in climbers.

I find that statement interesting because in a statistical analysis of first ascents in Yosemite Valley I found that if you view the number of routes at a grade as a finite resource, the curve of grade versus time of FA is fit by a logistics curve. That begs the question: what is the finite resource? The answer is not that the routes don't exist. I think the answer is that the number of climbers capable of doing those routes are finite. You can explore this in Stephen Jay Gould's book Full House. The distribution of climbing route difficulty, interestingly, is centered at 5.12, coincident with Hörst's supposition. What all this means is that the limits of human performance in climbing is distributed about 5.12, and the maximum grade would be 5.17a to be reached sometime in 2046.

The reaction to this statement of limits to climbing difficulty met with such virulent objection when I made it that it is interesting to understand both what that statement means and why the objection to it underlines the basic ignorance of training and the bio-mechanics of climbing, though it is right inline with ideas that Gould popularized in his book, which fundamentally gets to the nature of evolution, the "why" of why we got here.

Let's randomly sample the population of California, say take 10,000 people, and have them show up at a climbing camp. How hard would each of these people climb? We know some of this from the popularity of climbing gyms where people, self selected, show up to climb... depending on the ratings of your local gym, it is surprising when these people climb a 5.10 route, but not unheard of. But most of them are going to be able to achieve only the modest grades. Now you might object and say that these people are probably not in shape for any athletic performance so why would they be expected to do anything?

That is the first point of this part of the essay, that there is a base level of fitness that can (must) be achieved in order to perform. Ilg makes that point, essentially prescribing at least a year of training before touching the specific training regimes... But the objection to the random sample reveals that we expect at least some level of fitness to be necessary. The problem is, we can't specify much beyond that...

So now let's pick a level of fitness we'd expect from a high school athlete (which no doubt has changed since my days as one), that gets the field of our 10,000 down quite a bit, guessing from my experience maybe to 1,000 of those people, say 10%. That's roughly 2 sigma on our "average curve" which is to say that those people would be expected to perform better, but there are only 1000 of them in our sample. They climb easily at something like 5.9 or so... now some of the ones we picked could actually be rock climbers, maybe 2% of them... that's 20, and something like 4 standard deviations high... this being climbers, these people do quite a bit better... but now let's ask, how many of them climb 5.10? I'd say maybe 50% so 10, 5.11? maybe 20% so 5, 5.12? maybe 1? anything higher and I've run out of people...

It is people and their capability that limit the upper grade of climbing. I can increase my sample 10 fold to 100,000 people and get many that climber harder than 5.12, but I can't increase my sample size to infinity, it will stay at some finite size. That finite size limits the number of people who would do hard first ascents, an ultimately limits the hardest climbs done. That is what my statement above is about. The resource of people is limited.

But why is that resource limited? The physical attributes required to climb at hard grades is one reason, and that is related to the ability to train to reach those limits. Technique which helps to overcome physical limitations, and to reduce injury time which reduces training time is another factor.

Can we be specific? not really, we haven't agreed yet on what the bio-mechanical factors are important to climbing performance!

Here's an well learned example: I pull up with my arms when I climb. I deduce that strengthening the muscles that allow me to pull up, and reducing the weight I have to pull up might be good things. I start to do pullups as part of my training, I also become obsessive about my weight so I don't eat. There are a lot of skinny climbers who are fantastic that can allegedly do hundreds of pull ups and do so routinely. Gee, using a Bachar Ladder will make me a great climber like Bachar!

So most likely I end up with elbow tendinitis (tendinosis), my diet doesn't provide enough energy or material for strengthening, and I might have a body type that likes to bulk up when I exercise... I'm injured, weak and not climbing very well after all this.

The question is, does ability to do pull ups improve my climbing performance?

The answer seems to be no. But it also seems to be more complicated than that. When I was doing pull ups on some funky pull up machine back in the 80's, I was doing lots of reps at low body weight (I could set the machine to compensate) and I felt really good. Lots of light reps seemed to help ice climbing, I did my hardest ice climbs that year, and also help rock climbing. So something helped. But I've never been able to do many full body weight pull ups.

Hanging from hang boards?

Full up weight training in the gym?

Aerobic training outside?

Some of this works, some of it doesn't none of it is explainable in terms of what is necessary for climbing because we don't yet know what climbers need.

This translates into injuries too. My very first Physical Therapist was treating me for a bad right shoulder which I strained doing a chicken wing on some FA out in the wild. She knows a lot about the shoulder and explained that it is possible to put the arm in a position that the stabilizing muscles cannot compensate for, and dislocate the joint. It is also possible to exceed the mechanical strength of the cartilage and damage the joint. This all makes sense when you consider how the shoulder joint works...

...without going into that detail, it occurred to me for the first time that, obviously, some climbing moves are better than others, and that some would greatly increase the risk of injury. Stemming in a corner with your shoulders far inside and your hands far outside is not good technique, it is putting great strain on your shoulder. Or reaching over an overhang behind your head, same thing, or dynamic moves loading the shoulder in just the "wrong" position.

We should learn good technique, and practice good technique, and have an eye on a set of moves that takes that into account.

As far as I know, there is not such body of knowledge. There should be.

Maybe some one reading this will be inspired to go get an XBox Kinect, hook it up to there laptop down at the gym and study climbing bio-mechanics, what forces are generated where with various moves... once we understand the bio-mechanics of climbing we can actually start to understand what to train for, until then it's trial and error.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 7, 2011 - 05:53pm PT
Climbing by not climbing;
Part IV, Risk of Injury or Death

Ed Hartouni
August 7, 2011

We all consciously make climbing decisions we know weigh the probability of injury or death. First off, as the Challenger investigation showed, we tend to think that a long run of luck is indicative of a low probability of occurrence. But it is not. We roll the dice each time we go out, and more often then not, we win. We like to think we've engaged in a set of choices to minimize injury or death. We do to some extent.

Linda and I were weighing many things in backing off our climb yesterday. Our goal in climbing is not to send Higgy Stardust, it is just a training climb for us now, and we learned something important that should help us achieve the level we want at the end of the training. Sliding off some hold and breaking ankles or worse was antithetical to our stated goal of getting in shape. We decided not to push it, there was no reason to. I also learned that I was more injured than I let myself believe, and that I'm going to have to shut down my activities until the knee/hip thing resolves. I don't want to, but I have to.

Sometimes the risks are worth it, or at least we tell ourselves. Doing an FA with a dear friend earlier this year he took a long whipper, his gear held, he didn't seem hurt at the time, but he hobbled back to the car on a moderately sprained ankle, and the next day couldn't get out of bed because of back problems that took weeks to heal. In engaging in that FA we took a calculated risk, on my turn up I trundled off large blocks that could have been pulled out on the FA onto the leader or onto the belayer or both... all this just to put up some new line in an area where, really, no new lines are required. The new route isn't going to be a "thirty six point seven star dick wrenching mega classic," it isn't going to bring us fame and fortune, it really is inconsequential on any level except our own personal satisfaction.

Beyond the world of climbing, the risk we incurred would be termed "irresponsible."

To my friend, it was a decision that affected his livelihood, which requires physical activity, and he could not do that activity fully for days after. It is with this in mind that I puzzle at climbers doing climbs demand safe ones be put up, and accuse FA teams of all sorts of evil motivation when the climbs are not engineered with the maximum contemporary definition of safety. The first line in safety is you! Don't do something unsafe! The FA team is risking considerably more than the subsequent teams climbing the route, at least if the FA team lets the route be known.

So the recognition of the risk calculation that any climber makes should be a part of climbers' thinking. And you are responsible since you are the one who will be paying the consequence. Where more than a single person is involved, the decision is necessarily a group decision, and that is much more involved because there are times when, as much as you want it to be true, you just can't walk away from the situation you and your mates have gotten into. Choose your climbing friends well with the obvious consideration being that you will depend on them with your life in some situations you encounter.

We train with a certain amount of risk. We could get hurt training. Debbie doesn't like it when I weight train because she knows it's going to end up with me getting hurt. She's right, I don't train correctly, I don't know what to train, I am too motivated to go easy. At the gym I've learned to be unmotivated, lots of ways to get hurt there... or on a training crack. Moving outdoors all of the normal risks exist, no matter how easy the climb, how many times I've done it or what shape I'm in...

While experience is important, we often overlook the fact that as we age our bodies change. It is well known that cartilage, to take an example, is more prone to unhealable damage as we get older... the training regimes we could execute in our youths may be entirely irrelevant to our needs as we age, but habit and sentiment rule over what makes sense, especially when we can't define that.

The nature of our knowledge on how to train forces us to undertake a course of trial and error, but with age recovery times increase and incurring any injury may terminate our ability to climb. That is a risk. Certainly injury can limit what we could do in climbing to an unacceptable limit, unacceptable in our image of what we as climbers are... and that is something we have to face ourselves... and decide whether or not we're done.

Sometimes a blank stare is deeper than it seems...

Trad climber
Aug 7, 2011 - 06:18pm PT

you guys should've climbed with us. my back was too sore to climb hard again, and refused to loosen up, so we hiked in and tagged a couple easy summits in the echoes.

soaked in the lake on the way out.


Somewhere out there
Aug 7, 2011 - 06:39pm PT

I think you could have had more fun if "training" and getting better were not in the mix.

Have you ever stopped to ask why humans feel the need to "better" themselves?
I put this in quotes because when it comes down to it "What is better?"
Yes, as a child I was not able to walk, but eventually became better at movement and was able to walk, like most others not confined to a wheelchair.

What if you ans Linda had hit an easy climb site, took your chances and ended the day with a climb on the tick list, without the "I'm getting better" mindset, as this can only hamper any real and decent progress.

Its good to hear you got out.


Sport climber
Boulder, Colorado!
Aug 7, 2011 - 06:44pm PT
Thanks for the quality post - the norm for you.

Trad climber
Douglas, WY
Aug 7, 2011 - 08:09pm PT

Thanks for writing down these thoughts. Many of us have similar ruminations but are incapable of finding the words necessary to fully express them.

Last year when we climbed together for a couple days, you must have wondered what was my motivation, and perhaps what I hoped to achieve. We both were coming back from injuries, and were motivated to "do something." It was my first time back in the Valley since the 1980's and I was disappointed by my poor showing. In retrospect, it was amazing that I could do anything at all, considering my close call with the grim reaper only 4 months earlier. I had done some training in order to have enough strength and flexibility to do our climbs, but obviously was at the toe of the sigmoidal conditioning curve.

My thoughts on recovery from injury and "training.": First of all, one must be fully recovered from the injury before serious training for "getting better as a climber" has any significance. Anything else is simply asking either for re-injury or worse. Secondly, one must be free of the psychological barriers erected by outside problems. It's taken me a long time to work through those problems, and I've laid off climbing until I can again begin focusing on the matters at hand.

Over the years I've gone through several phases of mind on the issue of training, difficulty, goals, etc. At this point I really don't care about "difficulty" and am content to climb at whatever grade I can. That said, the fire still is burning inside me to do some "good stuff." So...what to do about it?

I've been involved in working outside on the ranch all Summer and find that doing lots of walking, climbing over gates instead of opening them, using hand tools, etc. has done a lot to keep my body "improving." Now as I'm getting close to having time available again for climbing, I'll be revisiting my Health Club conditioning. I now am convinced that simply being in decent overall physical condition is paramount to "training for climbing." For me at my age of 72, that will still get me up some modest but decent routes.

So, my advice is take things slowly and carefully as you return to chasing those "37 star dream routes!"



Trad climber
Millbrae, CA
Aug 7, 2011 - 08:21pm PT
"Climbers that I have known do not consider injury as part of climbing. Since we want to climb all the time we ignore injuries, especially if they are not caused by climbing, and go out climbing anyway."

Hmmm. Pretty sweeping statement.
I have always considered injury a part of climbing. Both the possibility and the fact of getting injured while climbing and the impact of injuries from other events on being able to climb. Maybe I am unusual but from my very first injury, I have always taken the long view, i.e. that it would negatively impact my ability to climb for the rest of my life (which I plan to do) if I don't let my body heal in the short term. And by short term, I mean up to a year.

But climbing while you have an injury that is healing does not necessarily mean that you are making an injury worse. I think you just have to have enough self-awareness of what will aggravate the injury in question, and how that relates to the particular routes you plan to do. For example, the first time I got a pulley tendon tear, I was completely ignorant of what to do and what it was so I went to see a very good hand surgeon, someone who has treated a lot of climbers. Basically what he told me was: "it will take 8-9 months to heal completely, but if you tape it up so you can't use it, feel free to climb. Let tenderness of the finger be your guide." At the time of the injury, I had been doing a lot of fingery, technical sport climbs. So I didn't climb at all for 3 months and after that, had a blast climbing things I could do with my injured finger completely immobilized, which were things like easy multi-pitch routes at the Leap. I've now had pulley tendon tears three times and each time, they healed completely in 9 months, and each time I managed to get a bunch of climbing in while injured.

If you want to climb, maybe you can think of what type of climbing will not aggravate your injuries. But I do think it's very important to just listen to your body. When I need to give some body part a complete rest for a while, I just try to think of fun ways to cross train other body parts.


Aug 7, 2011 - 08:54pm PT
I read the first two chapters but my diligence dissipated when I got to the commercial sports.

I think the crux realization came with someone's suggestion of "how to prepare for the wonderful routes you have not done", or something like that.

Here it is. Fageddabout that.

Somewhere in my upper thirties I was doing an old problem at Carderock and felt a small tear probably at a tendon. Not so bad as to cause swelling or lasting weakness but it was obviously not nothing. My body had deteriorated and were I to pretend otherwise instead of walking and working comfortably into deep old age, I would be plagued by aches, pains, and strange weaknesses. A Broadway Joe who can barely walk.

The trade did not compute so my plan became that of slowly decreasing the peak demands I would make upon myself over the remaining years. That schedule isn't flat. It actually got steeper when I got to 70.

And you will run into limitations that are organic and not muscular. They will come.

For me, the goal is to appreciate what I have.

In the mid fifties I cut an 18" deep ditch through Joshua Tree rock for 100' using a pick axe. Not smart. Both elbows were a problem for two years but I out waited them. Seem back to normal now but I don't even ask myself whether they would respond like an 18 year old's to more abuse. I have since ditched the pick axe.

the last bivy
Aug 7, 2011 - 10:27pm PT
GReat thread.. just printed it out for a full read.. never done that before from this forum. Thanks Ed !

A long way from where I started
Aug 7, 2011 - 11:13pm PT
Hmmm. I think I'm with jstan on this. It's not nuclear physics, it's climbing. It might be the emotional center of one's being, but unless one's living depends on constantly outperforming other climbers, overthinking can create problems.

Yes, not thinking can also create problems, but, for me at least, it always seemed pretty simple. Which is not to say I didn't sometimes get hurt, or hurt myself, but that just seemed like part of the deal. Maybe it helped that I actually enjoyed some things that other folks think of as "training", but...

Aug 7, 2011 - 11:45pm PT
What training did Fred do?

Is it applicable to the rest of us?

A lot of ground covered there, Ed. Nice pictures and nice trip.

I see the relevance of pro sports. When my elbow tendon was giving trouble I really wished I had a baseball doc instead of the guy whose customers were old tennis-playing ladies. The elbow fixed itself, though, and impatience can be harmful to your health.

Old people can still climb and not get better and still enjoy themselves.

I admire the people who do analyze the sport and see the many factors involved in performance and address them, but I'm not one of them.

Trad climber
Poughkeepsie, NY
Aug 7, 2011 - 11:47pm PT
Geez, Ed, what do think this is, the Online Journal of Climbing Metaphysics? I can't believe it , now I gotta take effin' notes while reading a Super Topo post? I read these forums to get away from thinking hard, dammit...but...interesting stuff...hmm...

Re Part I:

"Our object was to find some climbs at easier grades we hadn't done to build up mentally for those harder climbs...The section will demand pulling 5.8 moves over 30 feet before the next protection is possible..."

Ed, are you serious? This is how you build mentally for harder climbs? Man, when I'm just coming back, I want to get on stuff I bloody know I can cruise. Mileage, not up-and-down run-out scare-fests. I want whole days of climbing during which I barely pause to put in pro and just about never pause to make a move. If it has to be 5.4, so be it, it's all about moving over a whole bunch o' rock.

I most respectfully suggest a reconsideration of your comeback routines!

Re: Part II:

I don't know if I buy the claim that climbers don't see injury as part of the enterprise. This is especially true for sport climbers and boulderers, who have to deal with injuries fairly regularly. Sure, the "play through" the injuries if they can, just like most other athletes. Climbers are not different in this regard. Look at Tiger Woods, with a major career and who knows how many bazillions of dollars riding on it, and he plays on a bum leg and screws it up big time. Take a look at the tape on the finger joints of so many elite (and not so elite) climbers. We're as much the walking wounded as any other sport, and accept some level of injury as the price of achievement.

No athlete of any accomplishment gets there without pushing past pain barriers. I think many are proud of the self-control that enables them to endure hardship. The hardest lesson for them (I surely include myself in this) to learn is that for the athlete used to pushing hard, the real self-control is in limiting what is done, not in striving for more. Once you get good at pushing, what really takes discipline is holding back.

Re: Part III:

Horst is good, but Ilg was out of date the minute it came out, and it is now ancient news. Your bookshelf is in need of some serious updating! Ilg understood almost nothing about climbing. Take, for example, his claim that no specific hand-training is necessary for climbers, because they will get all they need from gripping barbells. That should tell you all you need to know about his relevance right there. And his appendix on eating is a veritable paean to anorexia.

There are a ton of far more up-to-date sources about training for climbing, but most of them are aimed at sport climbing. In that genre, The Self-Coached Climber is among the most interesting in my opinion.

The wide workout is interesting. Perhaps the most interesting thing is the video of the guy doing front levers, muscle-ups, and (most impressively) planche pushups. What is interesting about it is I guarantee you that guy developed that strength without any of the exercises in the wide workout, save perhaps for the body-weight ones.

Which doesn't mean, I guess, that the wide workout isn't good for the wide. I don't know enough about wideness to even guess at an answer.

To my eyes, the wide workout and other cross fit-style training regimens look too intense. I think they become an object in themselves for those who keep at them, and the fact that you are training for climbing is easily lost. In all that intensity is a considerable potential for injury, either traumatic or overuse.

Here's my personal view about training, arrived at after committing every exercise sin known and a few I may have invented. It should allow you to build climbing strength in a way that is more controlled than you can get through climbing itself. More controlled means that you can carefully decide on and intelligently change the levels of resistance, and you can stop when stopping is called for and adjust when adjusting is called for. Training is not simply supposed to be more efficient at targeting specific strengths than climbing, it is also supposed to be safer. A lot of people blow it by making training into some sort of contest with themselves, which, in view of the field of contestants, guarantees that you end up losing sooner or later.

To give an example, a carefully-constructed hang board routine is safer than doing bouldering 4X4's, which force you to do moves, often dynamic moves, when you are off the ground and fatigued. Of course, you can hurt yourself on a hang board too by being stupid about it, but the opportunity is there to plan things carefully, progress reasonably, and stop as soon as things start to feel wrong. Underlying this is the ability, mentioned in the Part II response, of the athlete to exercise restraint .

Of course none of this addresses your point about it not being clear what type of training to do. i have not made any attempt to keep up with the literature, but I think you are wrong in your estimate of the amount of specific current knowledge about the biomechanics and biochemistry of climbing. Knowledge may be far from complete, but there isn't quite the dearth you suggest.

Re: Part IV:

I think this is your deepest contribution. I like the idea of emphasizing that a long run of good luck does not guarantee a positive outcome on your next endeavor, I think it is something climbers should think long and hard about. But you also know this isn't true. It would only be accurate if each climbing endeavor constituted and independent event, meaning that whatever one might have experienced previously had no effect on behavior the next time out. You do have the opportunity to change the odds through experience, the question is whether you can think clearly enough to do so---some people can't. I'd also note that changing the odds is not the same as eliminating all risk. Bad things happen to the most experienced climbers.

I might add that it is a lot easier to take risks when you have never paid any price for it. Once you've had an accident and know what it feels like, you are likely to think differently about things.

Your comments about age are particularly interesting to me, because I'm getting pretty damn old. Injuries have not yet been a major problem, partially because I am now very sophisticated about avoiding them, but sheer age-related physical decline---in spite of training---is an ongoing tribulation. Your comment about "what body am I showing up with today" is right on for me; I really don't know from day to day what I really have to work with. This makes climbing riskier in spite of my increased caution. I think I may have fallen half as many times on the lead since I turned 60 as in the entire previous 45 years. The good news is that, anticipating just such a problem, my approach to protection has so far been up to the task; the falls have been inconsequential. Still, it is clear that making the mental adjustments that properly correspond to changes in physical ability is a major challenge.

By the way, when aging is discussed, we always get comments to the effect that Methusala is a old know who...he's still pulling down on 5.ridiculous, so anything is possible. Although this may be true in some technical sense, it has little reality content. Most of us will encounter limits imposed by the genetics of our aging bodies, and frankly, anything is not possible.

The trick in old age is to see clearly what really is possible, and if it is less than one would hope for (which it almost always will be), to then grasp how to enjoy what you can do rather than pine for what is no longer in reach. I don't think the brain ever adjusts, at the instinctive level, to the body's decline in physical prowess. The brain thinks we are at our fittest, even if that was many years ago.

We are obliged to substitute a strong, continuous, very conscious level of control, something that wasn't required in our younger days. This is a daunting, difficult, and I think worthy struggle, one easily lost to blind optimism on the one hand and blind depression on the other. It may not be the struggle we would have chosen, but in its own way it is the kind of mental self-confrontation that climbing is all about, and so, even in decline, we have the opportunity to fight anew the kinds of battles that drew us to climbing long ago.

Ed, I hope you heal up and get fully back in the game.

Aug 8, 2011 - 12:19am PT
great value added, rgold

A long way from where I started
Aug 8, 2011 - 12:25am PT
great value added, rgold

Well, he just said what I meant.
Ed Hartouni

Trad climber
Livermore, CA
Topic Author's Reply - Aug 8, 2011 - 12:34am PT
any good work on climbing bio-mechanics?

Trad climber
Aug 8, 2011 - 12:52am PT
any good work on climbing bio-mechanics?

the first piece of work on climbing bio-mechanics that i have found appeared in the 1870s (in German of course) and was a brief piece on the kinetics of foot and leg motion. by 1932, club alpin francais was publishing an instruction manual that used vector diagrams to represent climbing movements.

there's been some recent work (in sportsmed) on finger injuries that deals with the mechanics of open/closed hand positions. none of it especially surprising or insightful (crimping is hard on you, undercling crimps are even harder, single finger crimps esp. so, etc.)

richard already mentioned self-coached climber, which is far and away the best for actually discussing movement. much of that book is an application of current dance theory and training.

my guess is that bio mechanics isn't going to offer much of a revolution, primarily because climbing movement is so varied and complicated when compared with, say, long jump or discus or even gymnastics.

funny thing, when the bio-mechanics "revolution" first hit back in the seventies, one study of elite level gymnasts discovered that the elite gymnasts were actually less mechanically efficient in some aspects of their movement, because "more efficient" movement looked like hell and actually generated lower scores. for instance, cowboying a tuck and flexing yr toes is more efficient that doing a formal tuck with toes pointed. but it sure looks like hell.

not that any of that would stop most climbers today.


good on richard for doing a full response


Trad climber
South Lake Tahoe
Aug 8, 2011 - 04:55am PT
I think Linda would have had no problem sending that climb if she weren't wearing 15 year old Mythos..

Social climber
Joshua Tree
Aug 8, 2011 - 11:50am PT
none of it is explainable in terms of what is necessary for climbing because we don't yet know what climbers need.

IMO, this is simply incorrect. We know very well what physical ability is necessary to climb "hard" and that is the ratio of grip-strength (finger flexor) to bodyweight. It is the single best predictor of climbing performance. This has been shown repeatedly. It doesn't mean the person with the very best ratio will be the very best climber (because mental and tactical decisions play into performance), but it does mean that among the best climbers virtually all will have freakish, extreme levels of GS:BW.

Flexibility rarely matters, lats (pullups ability) rarely matter.

Get strong + get light = climb hard.
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