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Random training ramblings

January 15, 2011

What’s the best way to get back in shape for climbing?  Don’t let yourself get out of shape in the first place. – unknown

A few years ago, I went on an ill-fated (for me) trip to AK to have a go at one of my dream routes with two very experienced friends (who were kind enough to invite me despite my lacklustre alpine climbing resume).  Unfortunately for me, I managed to catch a nasty viral infection a couple of weeks prior to the trip that pretty much wrecked it for me.  My patient friends did well indeed without me, climbing three great routes while I just did my best to stay out of the way and offer moral support from basecamp.  I will go back soon, but that’s another story.

In preparing for that trip, I trained like I never have in my life.  Funny how intense desire and the sense of an impending once-in-a-lifetime shot at a dream climb can motivate oneself.  Once we committed to going (several months in advance), I pulled up all the info I had ever gathered on training for the mountains and came up with a plan that made sense to me.  In addition to a significant amount of time spent developing a good cardio base, I wanted to address two other significant personal issues – one being my general strength and fitness in a broad sense (my ability to perform high-output movements like pushing through a tough crux or grunting up a steeper slope with a heavy pack), and the other being my ability to recover quickly from an effort like that, or more importantly, several efforts over a couple of days.  To those ends, I spent an 11-week period deeply immersed in following Crossfit workouts on the main site – basically it was the power-endurance phase of my training cycle for that trip.

Back then, doing so was difficult.  A lot of the exercises were unfamiliar and difficult to do at my regular gym.  And the intensity of the workouts, as well as the nature of some of the exercises, seemed to cause an issue with some of the other members.  Regardless, I persevered and after much suffering got some serious results from the program.  That I was fit was an understatement, and despite being a bit of a hack I got surprising results.  All that was missing was the test of a big climb.

Flash ahead to now (and a comparatively unfit me), and over the past couple of months my motivation for trying another big trip is starting to build and so I’ve again been immersed in the annals of training literature.  The internal suffermachine has been getting hungry again.  I’ve got a few short-term personal goals, and tentative plans for a big trip well over a year from now.  A few other things have come together lately that have really got me psyched to train hard again (and this has nothing to do with a New Year’s resolution – I’m not the type).  First and foremost among them is that there is now a Crossfit affiliate gym in Thunder Bay (finally!).

More interestingly, the pros (especially Will Gadd) have been posting and discussing a lot of really good stuff pertaining to Crossfit and training for climbing as of late.  Check this, this, this and this out.  In fact, if you’re a web savvy climber interested in training and been living under a rock somewhere, check out Will Gadd’s blog – lots of very interesting stuff on there about training for mountain sports and a lot of discussion about Crossfit.

It’s not necessarily without its detractors either – Will has noted some issues he has in his posts, and this comes from a respected author in climbing training.

“Hybrid” training is also being taken seriously by more elite climbers (Gym Jones, Mountain Athlete), taking a high-intensity approach to training but moving it to the specialized fitness required – Crossfit is unfocused and aimed at more general fitness and physical preparedness.

For now, I’m psyched on this program, partly because I have a need for a type of fitness that goes beyond my climbing goals.  And, I just plain like these workouts, they suit me.  Whatever the pros say, one thing I am realizing is that I grow when I commit to finishing those workouts.  In small ways, they do similar things for my inner self as have my biggest climbs.  And, getting “good” at Crossfit feels like a worthy end in and of itself for now.

Walking into CFSZ in the morning, I feel much the same way I do before a serious climb – I have a healthy respect for what I’m about to undertake, and sometimes I’m even a little scared.  It’s nice to walk into a facility like that – no mirrors or machines, just a simple space for hard work.  Moreover, there is someone in there that cares enough to train me properly.  Coach Bobby is awesome and takes his work seriously – and his reach clearly extends beyond the walls of that box.  I finally feel like I’m getting somewhere in terms of learning about training more seriously instead of wasting my time.  Over the next few months, this program is going to be an integral part of my training regimen.

A few quick thoughts on the plice.  Plain and simple, it works.  My forearm endurance is rapidly coming back to its former levels, and when the next warm spell arrives I’m planning to push it out a bit on some more of the local ice testpieces.  $47 and 27 minutes to build, 5 minutes to strap it to the tree with Jenn’s help (and a confused neighbour supervising).  45 minutes to an hour 2 or 3 days a week.  Up and down. Wow.

I’ve set mine up in a way that I can easily change the angle of it (just loosen or tighten the top strap bracing it against the tree), which allows me to vary the session between a slow endurance fest to a steeper wall for more power-endurance type stuff.

I definitely owe Wes a long belay for turning me onto this thing.  I can’t believe I didn’t jump on it sooner.  Back in my university days I built a system wall to train for rock climbing, and I reaped some awesome results from that.  This thing is essentially a system wall for ice tools – can’t believe I resisted trying it for so long!

Some worthwhile reading, while we’re on the subject – one of my favourite pieces ever on talent and training:  The Talent Myth and short follow-on:  The Talent Myth, Part II.

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