The Hottest Training Tip this winter?

A Season Ticket!

That’s right if you want a tip for how to improve your climbing this winter, then I can’t recommend anything more than getting a season ticket to your local climbing wall. What it means is that say you finish work and you have a spare hour or so, then rather than think well its too short a time to head to the wall instead, you’ll be heading up there for half hours sessions just to get your money’s worth.

Of course that is if you live a reasonable distance from the climbing wall, and don’t have kids you need to feed, wash, and put to bed. If things are all in your favour then climbing little and often is a great way to improve. As several hour long session a week gives you enough time to warm up, and then do some form of intense work out before heading home in time for tea and medals.

It also stops you climbing/training to absolute failure as many climber force themselves to climb until they develop the kind of pump and fatigue where you struggle to get the keys into the ignition of the car and changing gear is an activity you need a co-pilot for. Generally though training for climbing shouldn’t be that so intense that doing your shoes up becomes a task in itself. If you do you’ll find yourself getting technically messy, lossing contact strength and often become more likely to injure yourself as a result.

In Print

You may have detected from my previous blogs that I am reasonably unimpressed with what is currently available in terms of print media. I have ranted on at reasonable length, and what I think is wrong with them. If my inbox is anything to go by then I have also upset a few people people with my opinion.

What I want to do over the coming few weeks, as I suspect that this may well take a few blogs to get through, is take a look at climbing media across the ages. Now you have probably realise that social comment is not a strong point of mine. However I am in the position of having a reasonably large number of old magazines, I have already photographed and uploaded 150 covers from crags and mountain magazine’s.

I invite you to take a look through the shots and judge for yourself. Now I am not say that every single shot is better than much of what we see today. In fact there are a few totally out of focus, over/under exposed shots, so technically the occasional shot is little more than a snap shot that many people could probably take with their own camera’s or even there phone nowadays.

However generally the type of image is totally different, there are a large number of wider images that capture an almost Cleare-esque architecture to the rock. Putting the climber in context to whole route, rather than focusing on the climber. There are even some experimental images that work really well, not to mention pictures that deliberately work in landscape.

The one thing that is missing from these early forays in Mountaineering Journals is are the tag lines, and content description spread all over the cover image. In a way I think I like many of these images simply because they have a romantic, pure and innocent feel to them.

There are no logos, and if there are they aren’t the focus of the images, let alone repeated four or five times across the climbers garments and equipment!

I have picked out these two for social comment though, Ed February the first coloured climber to grace the front of a UK climbing magazine.

…and the first women? (I might be wrong here as I don’t have a complete set of magazines!)

Some People

I unfortunate couldn’t make it to the BMC Cymru/Wales AGM this Saturday, I have got the joys of several hours of the BMC National Council meeting next weekend. As the area chairman, Mike Raine had arrange a few workshops throughout the day at Plas Y Brenin on various things like how to place bolts, GPS & The Environment and Self Rescue for Climbers. These were well attend and receive by those that took part.

The concept though was these workshops were a bit of a stick to attract people to come to the AGM, imagine his disappointment when some people decided to attend the free workshop, have some free dinner before sneaking off before the the meeting! The cheek of it!

A Father’s Night Out

It probably shows my age, and something about me when I spend my Friday night climbing with the WAG’s and Sunday night with the Fathers. Now unlike the WAG’s the men have more of well manly conversation, so less talk of Strictly Come Dancing and more Top Gear. Not that there is anything wrong with Strictly, I am a bit partial to partially dressed professional dancer or two. However there comes a point in a man’s life that he has to turn his back albeit temporarily on the Pasodoble, twistles and overtly camp judges, and act like a man.

The irony of doing this with three dad’s that are obsessed with terms like ‘sleeping through’, ‘teething’, ‘nappy rash’ and other terms that a thirtysomething single man really should be aware of. I should probably add nipple pads and mechanical expressor’s to that list. Anyway our conversations were of course merely pretend macho, after all you would hardly expect the climbing wall to be full of the kinds of women that will turn the us into scaffolders at a mere glance. Especially on a Sunday Night in deepest darkest Llanberis.

Instead we just boulder, which given that my finger is still to give it a scientific term, buggered, meant that the session went on for all of 20 minutes before I met the glass ceiling where to break through could well break me again. Still it was nice to get out of the house, and get some form of exercise of such a bleak day. Hang out with a few friends and watch them crank it out!

I did manage one manly exercise whilst there, a new fist jamming eliminate that the moving around of the campus board (which if your planning a power session is actually pretty much unusable as it stands), to make room for the Cornetto wall has created a fist jamming crack up between the board and the old resin wall. You need to eliminate any lay-backing and tackle it as an out and out fist jam to make it proper thuggery. Just one lay-back move make sit far easier, but if you tackle it like a man then you get the fist jamming rash to prove it!

Do you Dream of White Horses or is it just a Goal?

We all have a dream, whether its to scale the 3000ft vertical cliffs of El Capitan or something closer to home like traverse across ‘A Dream of White Horses’ at Goagrth. Whatever you dream is there are various strategies to set yourself goals, some of which are more effective than others at helping you reach your Dream. So when is a dream just a goal, and how can you turn that Dream of White Horses into reality.

The psychologist have looked at goals in a variety of ways, to start with though they categorised them into different types of goals which are.
1. Outcome Goal or Dream – The final goal or dream – e.g. Climbing Dream of white horses.
2. Performance Goal – Some form of measurable performance – e.g. Climbing the Grade of E1
3. Process Goal – The processes that make the Outcome or performance goal possible – e.g. Placing gear, staying calm, good technique…

So whilst for instance having a Dream Goals is important to make sure that there is a light at the end of the tunnel that is your training program. The important thin g is the proximity of that Dream. Too far away and the light at the end of that tunnel is going to be awfully dim for an awfully long time. The worry is that this goal will just seem too far away, and rather than direct your attention and effort towards reaching it, you will find that you disengage from attempting to achieve it. A dream goal needs to be close enough that it feels achievable in the medium to long term.

So whilst you actual dream might be to climb Right Wall on Dinas Cromlech, you might find that that simply isn’t achievable in a year, as such you end up setting more overt mini dream goals with Right Wall being a more covert one, at the back of your mind, with the mini goals making stepping stones across each few months and eventually you’ll reach that major goal. One of those mini dream goals might be a performance type goal, like climb at least 10 routes of E4 over the summer.

The important thing to remember is this goal proximity, if you are close to achieving a goal then the behaviour that you have towards that goal radically changes. The best example I can give is a bouldering one. Imagine there are three problems, one you complete easily, the next you find impossible and will takes week to work out and develop the strength require to succeed, the third problem is just out of you ability to link, you can do all the moves and you believe it is possible. What you’ll find is that the effort and mental attitude you towards achieving the third boulder problem will be far more intense than, if you find something too easy or too hard.

The last type of goal I want to talk about is the process goal. These are the most powerful types of goal you can set yourself. Unlike the Dream or performance goal, which offer a distance focus on the horizon, something to look forward to if you like. However what is a goal like “I am going to climb ‘A Dream of White Horses’ this year”, actual going to do to help us actually achieve it. This is where the process goal comes in, where if you like you think through the processes that climbing your dream would involve and set many mini goals that build up your skills, confidence and fitness to eventually reach your dreams.

Often this setting of specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and time specific process goals is where people fail on there training regime. Often running head long into a regime of fitness training when maybe all they need was to work on their technique and ability to read routes! This is where the help of a coach can come in useful, assessing your needs and setting goals can be done through our online coaching

An evening amongst friends

I have to admit that usually when I go to my local climbing wall, I am often found in the bouldering wall, hopefully not strutting too manfully about pull down on holds, gurning and power screaming. If you observe this behaviour from a distance and I have on many occasions, then it is like some form of homo-erotica, with loads of men stood about tops off , catching each other in some big fat gay fest. In fact I have seen less overtly gay behaviour in gay bars.

This is probably due to the sheer amount of testosterone that is in the air, no wonder so many women climbers grow moustaches, they must absorb too much of the stuff simply breathing in an indoor wall. At times it gets pretty primal, with showdowns of power and supremacy on this tilted plastic rutting ground, as all the wanna be alpha males go head to head to see who’s going to be the silver back.

I have to admit to actually liking climbing walls for this, the narcissist in me likes to play up to the crowds, and seeing that this year I had done most of my climbing inside, meant that I was holding my own, against the fitter, faster and lets face it, younger generation; It did my ego no end of good. However, as the inevitable happen, a move to far, a tearing pain in my finger, i was instantly sidelined from the manly pursuit of supremacy to one of a more sedentary nature.

As such i went up the wall with a large group of friends who I am more likely to go for a leisurely cycle with or even more likely to go and drink, as heavily as a lightweight can do, when there are professional about. Going on a Friday night meant that the wall was quiet, and largely full on people with similar social life’s to my own, where it’s either the wall or the TV, and strictly come dancing can always be Sky+’d.

What was great about this climbing session was the lack of testosterone fuelled homo-eroticism that I usually find I become sucked into whenever I go to a climbing wall. Instead there was lots of standing around, mixing up belayers, chatting, laughing and generally having a nice time rather than a hard time! Not once did I get pumped, not once did I pull on a hold smaller than a massive jug and not once did my injured finger hurt.

It made me remember that for me its not so much the climbing, but who your climbing with. I am lucky to have the climbing buddies I do, I am often criticised for not climbing with other people in North Wales, but I just really appreciate and enjoy the company of the few people I spend my time with, whatever we are climbing.

Learning Good Technique or Unlearning Bad?

Often people who want to be coached want to improve their technique, which in my mind is often the best way to make rapid improvements, as improving how you climb will improve your grade and confidence without the need for lengthy conditioning through aerobic, anaerobic or strength building regimes. Often where people fall down is how to develop good techniques, and this is where the science of skill acquisition can help.

At its simpliest level there are three stages to skill acquisition – Cognitve/thinking stage ; Associative or Intermediate stage; Autonomous or Elite Stage. If you then see this as a continum rather than seperate stages then we start off as a beginner, were we are first introduce to a skill, by practicing that skill we move from the first stages of learning where we are having to think about it all the time (hence cognitive stage), to where from time to time we will associate that skill with a given task, before after more practice we can carry out that skill without consciously thinking about (Autonomous Stage).

The key to moving from the cognitive/thinking stage through to the Autonous stage is effective practice. Now many people will have heard the saying practices makes perfect. Unfortunately this simply isn’t true, a modern coaching maxim is that only perfect practice makes perfect. So the chances are that unless you have used perfect technique from the very start of your climbing you will have some less than perfect technique that you will need to over write in your brain to adapt to better technique.

What often happens when learning new technique is that you practice it in an nice and easy environment, and then as soon as you try and use it in anger for the first time on the sharp end of a hard route is that it goes out the window, and you revert back to your old bad technique. This is because you haven’t practised it enough in the right type of environment.

Lets take for instance the habit of trying to face sideways when climbing, one of the quickest and easiest of technique to practice, and great help to your climbing. Try and climb keeping your upper body facing left or right as you climb. Now if you try and practice it on hard boulder problems then you simply won’t be able to practice it enough as you will get to pumped. If however you practice facing sideways as a technique drill every time you warm up on easy routes then you will effectively have more and more practice everytime you go climbing. After a few sessions try practicing that skill in a variety of situations e.g. leading easy routes, top roping hard routes, climbing corners, climbing arete, climbing slabs, climbing walls, etc… Adding in the different places and types of climbing that you practice the skill in help to make it a robust technique that will stay with you.

Remember though it won’t all happen over night as one researcher in sports science said ‘It take 10000 hours or 10 years of practice to reach an elite level in Sport’. So keep at it, as everyday is a school day when it comes to learning technique. I still use climbing drills during my warm ups!

Who runs the BMC?

As a reader of this blog you are probably aware of the British Mountaineering Council, and a lot of the work that it carries out on the behalf of mountaineers in the UK. As the national representative of climbers, hillwalkers and mountaineers* one pertinent question that very few of us choose to ask is who actually runs it?

The obvious answer is Dave Turnbull the CEO of the organisation, however underneath this public face of the BMC lays the true answer. As a council the policy decisions are made by believe it or not a national council of representatives from across the various geographical areas of the UK, as well as honorary presidents. Each of these areas has two voting members on the council who attempt to represent the views of the people who turn up to area committee meetings to discuss proposed policy decisions and local points of interest.

So theoretically you, the near 60000 members of the BMC steer the ship in the direction you choose and poor old Mr Turnbull has to command the staff in the mother ship (BMC office and other volunteers) towards those policies and decisions. In reality around 300 members make it to the 9 different area meeting, meaning that less than 0.004% of the members of the BMC are actively involved in what can be very important decisions.

None more so than some issues that are on the agenda at present, in particular through some very good budgeting from the finance team, and a profit sharing scheme set up with insurance company that provides BMC travel insurance means that the BMC has £200000 to spend at present, for which there are several suggestion as how spend this cash.

* Including ski mountaineering

The Perfect Man

I first met Tom on my first day at university, fate had put us a few doors apart in Seiriol Hostel, in what is now know as George Site, University of Bangor. It quickly became apparent that Tom could turn his skills to almost anything. Amongst other things I have seen Tom Pole Vault, Juggle 5 balls and clubs, balance a Kayak on his chin, play various sing-a-long tunes on the piano, total rip up the surf, climb E5, Hang 5 on his long board, do a somersault on a wake board, solo across a high slack-line and to be honest the list goes on.

The real killer is that he is one of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. He came up to North Wales this week for work, and we met up on one day for a bit of climbing. Now Tom lives just outside St David’s and mainly surf’s now. For the numerous climbers that now surf, you’ll probably run into him if the surf is up around pembroke. However up here I took him out into the Slate quarries which were our proving grounds during University, some 10 years ago or more. After warming up on the transform Dali’s Hole, which blew him away just how many routes and how convient the climbing was. I took him to the best of the retro bolted routes in the quarries Off The Beaten Track E3 5c.

Despite not having climbed for ages, Tom styled his way up the route. A nice revenge after tom threw me on Rock Idol, after I had not climbed for 6 months due a bad back!

Despite being the perfect man there is one thing that another of our mutual friends point out, ‘at least we aren’t as grey as him, yet!’. It’s always the small victories that keeps us going|!

Message from the UKC editor

It wasn’t long after I had posted this link on UKC (under 5 minutes!) that my phone rang. It was Mick Ryan from UKC, he had already sent me written warning about posting links to my blog, without a commercial profile that costs £200. Bearing in mind that the present financial crisis has seemed to devastate the outdoor industry, which as only a small part of the rural economy passes under the mainstream media radar. Meaning that the only £200 I am likely to spend is on rent or food.

However, Mick’s only wanted to point out that actually UKC aren’t killing magazine, instead he offered the hypothesis that an inability to move with the times is leading to there downfall. Fortunately Mick liked the blog, and said a few things that as an industry outsider I had only guest at, but it seemed some of my guesses where right on the money. Like the BBC though I do feel that in the interest of balance and fairness, I should perhaps take up Mick’s challenge of saying why UKC isn’t destroying print media, and maybe lay into climber magazine a wee bit.

Now the big advantage magazines have over the Internet is that they have a budget to pay for content, meaning they have authors that work professionally within the adventure field. Now for some like Ed Douglas and Jim Perrin, who have both made full time careers out of writing for both climbing and mainstream media, so as such you get a polished product. However other authors are less professional, I cite myself in this bunch, when I was writing area reports for OTE and CLIMB, but there are certainly other writers who fit this category.

An argument from the heavy weights of climbing literati is that idiots like me shouldn’t be allowed the space to publish, as amateurs, we simply pollute their industry. Now generally I would agree with this however, my personal preference is for Douglas articles, which use interviews and research, rather than say Perrin’s approach which is to quote long dead climbers, and dredge his mind for some experience he may or may not have had in the long distant past, when climbing was proper, unlike this modern pish that we call climbing today. If I was an editor Perrin would be relegated to Walking World by now.

So whilst the magazine can pay for content the question is, is it the right content, for me it is not, but for others it might be what the doctor order. So someone more senior than me may find Perrin’s writing interesting and informative. Now the demographic of climbing has changed, and I suspect that with a generally ageing population with higher amounts of disposable incomes to, well dispose of on magazines, means that Perrin will be offering the SAGA column for a few years yet.

On top of authors, magazine also pay for images, as such you expect that they would have better images than UKC. I have kept images off the Internet to allow me a better chance of getting them published in magazines. Only when they don’t sell do I put them on UKC. However, looking at the last few Perrin articles, what we get is one of Ray Wood’s ageing collection of climbing images, often ones we all saw a few years ago. Often each is aged by a harness, rock boots, rucksack or lack of stubble on a young climbers face. In defence of Ray he does a very good job in the main of knocking out new images every month for Panton’s Stone Circle’s, if you want a training tip, then go on a photo shoot with Ray.

Lastly writing for the Internet, is an art in itself, in that most online blogging sites recommend no more than 500 words per item, as people tend to click away after that. Meaning that any news is often just the headlines and a small amount of detail, this does allow print media further and more in-depth coverage. As well as short and sweet, often web writing, and this is one thing UKC aren’t that guilty of to be honest is keeping up key word density. Where search engines now use a combination of keyword, keyword density and online clout (how many visitor the site gets) to rate how high up the search list an article or webpage comes, after all one of the keys to successful web writing is being discoverable through the main search engines (Google and Yahoo). Fortunately UKC already has a captive audience, and a massive online clout.