Category Archives: Training Talk

Move of the Month 2: Straight-Arming Your Rests (Improve Your Climbing Series)

Kevin taking advantage of a great rest by lowering his body weight, bending his knees, and straightening his arms, allowing him to relax and shake out while looking ahead at what's coming up.

Kevin taking advantage of a great rest by lowering his body weight, bending his knees, and straightening his arms, allowing him to relax and shake out while looking ahead at what’s coming up.

This month’s move is a simple one, yet one that often goes under-utilized by climbers: straightening your arms at rests while you’re climbing. It’s a very common tendency for climbers to “rest” with their arms quite bent and with rod-straight legs – especially on slightly less-than-vertical to vertical to slightly overhanging terrain. The more overhanging terrain becomes, the harder it becomes to get away with feeling like you’re truly resting while keeping your arms bent. In other words, super-steep climbing tends to force the issue a bit more, resulting in straighter arms on rests or quicker, more obvious failure from not using rests as efficiently as possible.

Instead of keeping the arms in a powerful, bent, locked-off position during a true on-route rest — a place where you’re still climbing (not hanging), but you can shake out both hands alternately — try to lower your body weight down so that your legs are bent and your arms are as straight as possible.

At the same resting spot pictured in the first photo, here Kevin shows how he can miss out on this rest by keeping his arms bent and his legs straight while looking ahead.

At the same resting spot pictured in the first photo, here Kevin shows how he can miss out on this rest by keeping his arms bent and his legs straight while looking ahead.

The next time you find yourself on a set of handholds that feel good enough for you to take a rest and shake out each hand alternately on a route, experiment by lowering your body weight down on the holds until your arms are straight. Try to make this a habit in your climbing, looking for ways to straighten your arms and alternating which hand you can let go with while keeping the opposite arm as straight as possible. Sometimes this requires a shift in foot positions in order to find the most efficient rest for each arm.

Be careful about not taking the rest to its full advantage, too. What do I mean by this? As shown in the photo below, this most commonly happens when you straighten your arms but fail to bend your legs. In this type of position, you get somewhat of a rest, but not the fullest rest you could potentially get from a great resting spot like this. It takes more energy to lean back like this and keep your legs straight rather than bending your legs and letting your body weight sink down. It’s also way harder to shake out while leaning back like this.

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There will certainly be times when you take a much-needed (often very quick!) rest (a “quick shake”) while climbing when you will not be able to find a straight-armed position, or when you’ll only be able to shake one hand and not the other.  And, you will sometimes need to pull up out of a rest to feel out or get a visual of what’s ahead, particularly when you’re onsighting and you can’t see clearly what might be coming up from your most efficient resting position. However, it’s a good idea to make it a habit of trying to find the most straight-armed, least-fatiguing positions possible when you rest on your warm-ups, onsight efforts and projects — so long as amazing no-hands rests aren’t available, of course.

Recovering by resting efficiently while climbing is a key tactic that can make or break your send of a route, and strategically managing your rests to be as effective as possible can help you achieve this end. Finding resting positions that require the least amount of energy and that are the most truly restful positions for you is a major way to make the most of your on-route resting, and seeking straight-armed positions in which you can lower your body weight so that you’re hanging down (not out) by bending your knees usually supports this effort, allowing you much more ease in shaking out each arm in turn as you rest and contemplate what’s ahead.

This multipart series of articles starts here, in case you have to catch up – you’ll also find a full table of contents, complete with links, in that entry. My designation of each area as “easy,” “medium” or “hard” is purely subjective. I’ve arrived at the designations from my personal experience garnered from 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You may find some of the areas harder or easier to change. You also might not agree with me or my take on things. That’s fine – feel free to take it or leave it as you wish! Also, remember that the information I provide here is purely offered as advice and that no exercises or training program should be undertaken without receiving medical clearance from a healthcare professional.

One other caveat: As will be true for all of the entries and articles in this series, if you’ve already mastered or maxed out the topic at hand to the best of your ability level, you’ll reap far fewer benefits or none at all from my suggestions – good for you that you figured it out, but sorry I couldn’t help you out more. Happy climbing and training!

Improve Your Sport Climbing (16): Nutrition and Body Composition, Part 3 (HARD)

Image courtesy of  AKARAKINGDOMS/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of AKARAKINGDOMS/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today’s entry begins a two-part discussion about optimizing body composition and strength-to-weight ratio,  as covered in my recent interview with Dr. Dan Benardot, leading nutrition expert and author of “Advanced Sports Nutrition-2nd Edition.”

Q: How should climbers/athletes work toward optimizing their strength-to-weight ratio?

A: For starters, weight is the wrong metric, period. Anybody who uses weight as a marker of prediction of athletic success will fail. The first question that should be asked if somebody says, “I need to lose five pounds before a competition,” is, “Five pounds of what? Muscle? Fat? Bone? What?”

Telling an already-fit athlete to lose weight is absolutely the incorrect strategy. If you gain five pounds of muscle and lose five pounds of fat, you’ll look smaller and be stronger, so your strength-to-weight ratio will be better. You’ll have more endurance because your muscles will work more efficiently. The bottom line is that if you think of losing weight and only weight, inevitably you’ll go about doing that differently than if you specifically tell yourself, “I’m going to lose fat.”

To ideally alter your body composition, you have to work at it in a way that allows you to sustain sport-specific muscle mass and lose fat [assuming you have fat to lose]. The body’s reaction to an inadequate caloric intake is to lower the tissue that needs calories [i.e. lean mass, meaning muscle]. It has to figure out how to survive with fewer calories – the only way to lower your need for calories is to lower the amount of tissue that needs calories [again muscle mass]. You’ll consequently lose muscle, so that you alter your strength-to-weight ratio negatively, ultimately making your athletic endeavor more difficult.

You have to be in a negative overall energy balance to lose fat, but not too far below the balance, or you lose muscle. If you go too low [i.e. let yourself get very hungry or have long periods of time between eating], you’ll actually lose muscle and gain fat – even if you experience overall weight loss [remember, fat weighs less than muscle, so if you replace muscle with fat, you’ll weigh less but have a worse strength-to-weight ratio]. If you delay eating, you are not in energy balance or close to it, and you are promoting fat production and muscle loss. (Check out NutriTiming® for an app that can help you track this metric effectively).

This multipart series of articles starts here, in case you have to catch up – you’ll also find a full table of contents, complete with links, in that entry. My designation of each area as “easy,” “medium” or “hard” is purely subjective. I’ve arrived at the designations from my personal experience garnered from 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You may find some of the areas harder or easier to change. You also might not agree with me or my take on things. That’s fine – feel free to take it or leave it as you wish! Also, remember that the information I provide here is purely offered as advice and that no exercises or training program should be undertaken without receiving medical clearance from a healthcare professional.

One other caveat: As will be true for all of the entries and articles in this series, if you’ve already mastered or maxed out the topic at hand to the best of your ability level, you’ll reap far fewer benefits or none at all from my suggestions – good for you that you figured it out, but sorry I couldn’t help you out more. Happy climbing and training!

Improve Your Sport Climbing (16): Nutrition and Body Composition, Part 2 (HARD)

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today’s entry covers the top three areas of priority for climbers to focus on in a nutrition plan, as covered in my recent interview with Dr. Dan Benardot, leading nutrition expert and author of “Advanced Sports Nutrition-2nd Edition.”

Q: What are the top three things athletes/climbers should focus on in a solid nutrition plan?

A. Never get hungry, never get thirsty, and eating small meals frequently is better than eating three large meals a day with the same amount of calories.

One of the things people don’t often realize is that insulin is produced exponentially according to calories consumed, meaning that the greater the caloric load in a given sitting, the more insulin you’ll produce. Controlling the insulin response is a key to keeping body fat down. Big, infrequent meals increase insulin production. If you allow your blood sugar to get low, your body will have a proportionally huge fat production at your next meal – no matter what you eat.

By allowing your body to get hungry, you can actually lose muscle [more on this in the next entry]. Satisfying your blood sugar needs helps keep your appetite-controlling hormones at bay, so insulin is better controlled. It’s better to eat six small, well-balanced meals a regular intervals throughout the day than to eat three huge meals with lots of hours [time to get hungry] in between each meal.

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This multipart series of blogs and articles starts here, in case you have to catch up – you’ll also find a full table of contents, complete with links, in that entry. My designation of each area as “easy,” “medium” or “hard” is purely subjective. I’ve arrived at the designations from my personal experience garnered from 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You may find some of the areas harder or easier to change. You also might not agree with me or my take on things. That’s fine – feel free to take it or leave it as you wish! Also, remember that the information I provide here is purely offered as advice and that no exercises or training program should be undertaken without receiving medical clearance from a healthcare professional.

One other caveat: As will be true for all of the entries and articles in this series, if you’ve already mastered or maxed out the topic at hand to the best of your ability level, you’ll reap far fewer benefits or none at all from my suggestions – good for you that you figured it out, but sorry I couldn’t help you out more. Happy climbing and training!