Friday, October 19, 2007

New Training Method

There are two main reasons why I climb: 1) because of the emotional / psychological benefits I get from constantly challenging my fears and healing my damaged soul and; 2) because it is an exercise that is similar to weightlifting without the boring repetition. I used to lift a lot in college and, despite getting considerably stronger over time, I never really got the benefits I wanted because I never felt challenged enough. Sure, I could always go up in weight or do more reps, but how does that keep the mind interested in keeping the body fit? For me, it doesn't.

So that's why I became hooked on climbing when I did. It wasn't just the "blow my mind into therapy" that struck me, it was the notion that I didn't have to go to the gym and two three sets of this, two sets of that and one, long set of that. As one might expect, climbing is a sport that offers many challenges that never get old.

However, just because climbing offers variety, that does not mean that one seeks variety necessarily. If one wants to improve, then one needs to train in order to improve. Climbing itself will help, but if one does not have the will power to climb using techniques that are normally difficult, then one will likely stay with the same type of technique over and over again. For some people, that is not a problem, but it is for me for two reasons: 1) I like variety and don't want to stay on crimpers all the time and; 2) climbing only strengthens what is already strong unless one works on those weak areas. The reason why climbing only strengthens what is already strong is demonstrated through a simple example: one only falls where one is weak. Think about that for a moment. If you weren't weak, then you wouldn't fall. Sure, there are many reasons why people fall, but all of those reasons can be attributed to some sort of weakness. For example, a fall due to fatigue may be relevant to a general lack of endurance, or it could be a lack of strength in the particular muscles that are being worked at that moment in time. If one falls repeatedly on over-hanging routes (see Greg vigorously raising his hand) then it means that one is weak in the abs (or the body's core). If one falls on crimpers, then one is weak in the forearms or lacks the core strength to use one's legs. Naturally, there are many variations and excuses that folks can use, but if you fall it isn't because you were strong, because you wouldn't have fallen.

Now then, just to hammer this a little bit more, a fall happens at a particular point or moment in time; when the muscles that are being called upon are no longer useful enough to make the transition from one hold to the next. This is a precise moment in time that is only attributed to that particular moment. I want to note this because I am aware of a specific argument that folks have made against this argument of mine: what happens when a crimp climber gets through a tough sloper section and then, after that, falls on a crimp hold above the sloper section? The answer is still clear as day. The crimp climber wasn't strong enough on crimps after sloper holds. In other words, the slopers wore the climber out so much that the muscles used for climbing in general were too fatigued to hold on. What I'm saying here is not that the crimp muscles specifically (fingers, forearms) were tired (because the open-hand muscles were used for the slopers), but more that the larger muscles used to compensate for being a weak sloper-climber were used too much for the smaller crimp muscles to compensate for the lack of strength in the larger muscles on the other end. It wasn't the smaller muscles that caused the failure, but the larger ones instead. But that is just one example. Naturally, it can happen in reverse, too. There will always be a weakness somewhere right before a fall. If one wants to stop falling, one should work the weaker muscles and that is not always done by simply climbing. One has to climb specific routes in order to isolate the weak muscles.

OK, so that means that if one is weak in one area of climbing then one should focus on that body part. That's OK for me so long, in my mind, that I'm not doing the boring repetitions. As long as there is variety, I can work on cracks versus faces, crimps versus slopers, or overhangs versus low-angle slabs. But, as I mentioned above, climbing isn't all physical, is it? No, it's not, and that is also a weakness.

I'm not going to go into the whole "damaged" soul thing, but let's just say that through my quest for the meaning of life (specifically, my life: footnote - Theory of Moral Sentiments, by Adam Smith), I feel the need to find ways of personal sufferance so that I can work through whatever problems or issues I may have. Probably the biggest issue I have is overcoming my fears of over overcoming fears. I know, that sounds redundant, but it isn't. When I get moving, I have no problem sticking my head under the executioner's axe. I've learned to accept that if I'm going to be honest and blunt about how I feel about people then I need to be able to be blunt and honest about myself (which, essentially, means accepting others' viewpoints of me). But the problem isn't overcoming those fears, its overcoming the fear of knowing that there could be unforeseen difficulties or consequences. In other words, once I realize that something is going to hurt, I'm OK with letting it hurt. It's the unknown that scares me the most.

Now what the hell does this have to do with climbing? Well, I've been stuck on 5.8s all summer long. Yes, these are trad routes and one typically climbs a couple grades lower than sport or in the gym when leading trad, but I know I can make harder moves and sustain those moves long enough to place gear, chalk up, and / or continue climbing. Earlier this summer, as I was getting to know my capabilities, I was OK with climbing 5.8 because I wasn't sure how I'd do. But as the summer progressed, I started to get this itch in my heart that was telling me to climb harder. Well, I didn't climb harder because I wasn't sure if I could do it or not. It turns out I was OK not knowing about 5.8 but not OK not knowing about 5.9. Even though I was leading 5.11 in the gym, I was still afraid of 5.9 or 5.10 outside. This bothered me, but not because I knew I could pull the moves. It was because I was afraid, and being afraid made me very, very disappointed in myself. Emotionally, it got to a point where I knew I had to find a way to get over it.

So how does one train for this? Easy - go to the gym, if that's your choice location, which it is mine, and lead stuff that is out of range both physically and mentally. For me, that's committing or overhanging routes. I've never been afraid of exposure, but I've always been afraid of committing to exposure. I can stand on the edge of a cliff all day long with my legs dangling off into open space, but if you ask me to do jumping jacks on the edge...forget about it.

The idea for me is to get to a point where I'm comfortable pushing myself. It's not really about falling as much as it is about quitting. I don't want to give up on myself. Too many other people have done that already. I don't need me to be in that boat with them. So, every time I go to the gym this winter, which will be several times per week once the cold air keeps me inside, I will have my climbing partner choose a route for me that is out of my range. I will then lead that route and conquer my fears until I'm comfortable getting on something harder or, if Paralysis at Poke-O-Moonshine comes about again, something unexpected. If I get on something harder and I know it is hard, then of course the goal is to climb it clean. But if I get on something unexpected, then the goal to know that I can work through it. In the end, however, the goal is to not be afraid about testing my limits and not be afraid when I get there or above my limits.

I started my training on Saturday and continued it last night. I asked my partners to choose for me so that my own fears and uncertainties don't sell me short. In other words, I know what my mental state is because I'm living it. So if my limit is ordinarily 5.10c, let's say, and I'm not feeling strong then I may cop out and jump on a 5.10a and call that a challenge. However, if my partner knows my limit is 5.10c, but doesn't know my mental state of mind, then my partner will choose a 5.10c for me. There's a big difference there, and I think that will get me to the next step: being able to be strong and secure enough to choose my own challenges.

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