Category Archives: Training Tips

Improve Your Sport Climbing (16): Nutrition and Body Composition Part 6, (HARD)

Image courtesy of Kittikun Atsawintarangkul/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Kittikun Atsawintarangkul/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Today’s entry discusses the topic of taking supplements as related to athletic performance and recovery, as covered in my recent interview with Dr. Dan Benardot, leading nutrition expert and author of “Advanced Sports Nutrition-2nd Edition.”

Q: Are there any supplements athletes should take?

A: Supplements should be used to be used to supplement known biological weaknesses, not as a preventive measure.

For example, if somebody is low in iron, they will not perform up to their athletic ability. Women are predisposed to having an iron deficiency. If this is the case, then a reasonable iron supplement makes sense – but if you take too much, it’s toxic, so iron should only be supplemented if a deficiency is found [via a blood test]. It can increase risk of all sorts of diseases if you supplement unnecessarily.

Most athletes don’t realize that there’s a reduced tissue sensitivity that occurs with a chronic intake of supplements. If you’re healthy, you use a tiny bit of stored vitamin C per day, and you could go a long time without any symptoms of scurvy. But if you chronically take a huge supplemental dose, your tissues “figure out” that they don’t need it, and they consequently don’t let it in as easily, so you get a resistance in tissues to the vitamin in question, and then you’re stuck having to take the vitamin, as you’ve altered your daily requirement. If you stop taking it, you will need it – because you’ve increased your daily requirement by supplementing.

Be extremely careful about how and why you take supplements. If there’s a biological need, sure – have a logical dose. Most people don’t realize this, but they are being given huge doses of vitamins and minerals. For example, with iron, taking too much every day is an ineffective way to return to a normal iron status. Chronically exposing yourself to a huge amount of any particular vitamin or mineral predisposes your absorption system to take in less and less of that particular substance. Also, receptors that take up a number of different vitamins and minerals can become completely saturated by the overly supplemented vitamins and minerals, causing other necessary vitamins and nutrients to not get absorbed. This can create other nutrient deficiencies, even if your diet appears to be well balanced. So generally speaking, even with a known deficiency, taking a smaller supplement here and there tends to be better to return to normal levels than taking a regular and relatively huge daily dose.

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In “Advanced Sports Nutrition,” Dr. Benardot also discusses ergogenic (performance-enhancing) aids in depth, concluding, “There is no ergogenic aid that can make up for a proper fluid intake, a solid nutrition intake, an appropriate training regimen, and sufficient rest.” He warns that many ergogenic aids actually contain potentially harmful and/or illegal substances not listed on the labels. He is of the opinion that most athletes would see a marked increase in performance if they paid more attention to regularly consuming carbohydrates and fluids before, during and after training and competition, as it’s common for athletes to underfuel and get dehydrated despite having plenty of fluids and foods readily available to them.

Dr. Benardot summarizes his main point about ergogenic supplements as follows: “Of all the ergogenic aids mentioned…it is very clear that carbohydrate holds the greatest promise for improving both endurance and power performance. Before trying anything else, athletes should consider a regular consumption of carbohydrate with plenty of fluids.”

The next entry will delve into the roles that carbohydrates, along with protein and fat, play in supporting peak performance and recovery in greater detail.

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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!

Move of the Month 3: The Backstep (Improve Your Climbing Series)

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It’s very common for those new to climbing to approach each rock climb they attempt as if climbing up a ladder. This actually makes sense, as climbing a ladder or a tree is probably the closest thing most people have done to rock climbing before they actually start rock climbing. When you climb a ladder, you tend to stay square to the ladder, positioning your hips parallel to the rungs, and stepping up each foot in turn after reaching up to grasp the next rung with your hands, often with bent arms, gripping the rung with your fingers.

When rock climbing, this ladder-like approach can be extremely limiting and draining, sapping your strength and endurance very quickly while also making holds that are well within your reach range seem much harder to get to than they actually are. Learning to keep your arms as straight as possible (both while resting and while climbing) is one part of the equation; I discussed the resting aspect of this in the previous Move of the Month entry, and I’ll elaborate on the straight-armed approach to making climbing movements in a future entry. But today’s focus is on the feet, and more specifically, integrating the backstep into your climbing footwork.

As covered in Move of the Month 1, your foot placements dictate the direction, efficiency and outcome of your climbing movement, making it imperative that you watch your feet connect with each intended foothold precisely, and that you start to develop an intuitive sense of foot placements, so you’re not restricted to trying to get your foot on the biggest hold possible, but rather, you’re looking for footholds that will enable you to advance on the climb with as little effort from your upper body as possible. This takes time and practice, of course – you’ll probably need lots of repetition and patient exploration of/experimentation with different options to develop an intuitive sense of efficient body positioning while climbing.

To expedite this learning process, the backstep is a technique that beginner climbers should start exploring and trying to integrate into their technical game as soon as they begin climbing. To perform a backstep, step on a climbing hold on the outer edge of your climbing shoe, the pinky toe side, as opposed to stepping on the inner edge (the big toe side). Sometimes when backstepping with one foot, the other foot will not be on a hold; you can often simply press it into the wall for extra balance or leverage as you rotate into the backstep. When you backstep, the hip of the backstepping foot often gets turned into the wall as well, taking you out of the straight-on, frontal positioning.

Backsteps of course won’t work for every climbing movement, but they tend to put the climber into a more straight-armed position AND to extend his or her reach, rendering holds that seemed out of range much more easily accessible with less effort. It can be confusing at first to coordinate this motion, so be patient with yourself, and don’t be afraid to ask other climbers to help you learn how and where to backstep – especially if you observe those other climbers backstepping a lot while they climb a particular route that you’re going to try. Watching others and then trying to replicate what they do is a fantastic way to speed up the development of technical skills like backstepping.

Unlearning ladder-style climbing once it’s engrained is more difficult than starting out climbing with the idea that you don’t need to be locked into facing the rock frontally for every climbing move. Even if it feels unnatural and confusing at first to try to backstep, don’t be afraid to experiment with this basic foot position, understanding that it will take time to sort out when it makes the most sense to use this type of foot placement versus standing on your inner (big toe) edge. Knowing when, where and how to backstep will add an element of efficiency to your technical climbing game, enabling you to climb harder routes without getting stronger just by allowing you to make more of the strength and endurance you possess right now.

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 4 (HARD)

Image courtesy of Raktim Chatterjee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Raktim Chatterjee/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“[A]thletes should work as intensely as possible within a given time frame to increase fat loss and optimize body composition.” (Dr. Dan Benardot, “Advanced Sports Nutrition-2nd Edition“)

Today’s entry continues the previous entry’s discussion about working toward optimizing body composition (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: What is the best way to lose fat and sustain or gain sport-specific lean muscle mass?

A: There are a couple of physiological realities that people don’t generally understand too well. First of all, genetically, we’re coming from a place where calories were hard to come by. Our bodies are always trying to become more energy efficient. And, we are amazingly good fat storers. We have remarkable ways to store fat!

Secondly, if you lift weights [or train] with regularity, your body will be forced to make an energy-efficient adaptation. Once that adaptation – with larger, stronger muscles and a more efficient cardiovascular system – occurs, the adaptation to activity is associated with a lower caloric requirement than you had when you started the activity.

In other words, you need to constantly ramp up the activity’s intensity to maintain caloric burn and to push for greater adaptations. And, while it may take you weeks to become extremely efficient at a certain level of physical work, if you stop doing it for some time or don’t continue to increase your intensity, the body will try to go back to baseline.

There’s also a common misunderstanding of proportion and volume when discussing activities for fat loss. Doing a low-intensity aerobic activity to burn 100 calories, let’s say that 80 percent of those calories come from fat, so 80 calories are burned from fat stores. Double the intensity of that exercise so that you’re burning 200 calories in much less time, and the fat-burn proportion has gone down to 60 percent – but you’re still burning 120 calories from fat. People chronically confuse proportion with volume, and this has led to the erroneous idea that relatively low-intensity aerobic activity is the best way to lose fat or is necessary for fat loss. It’s not. [For more on this, check out “High or Low Intensity Exercise - Which Is Best For Weight Loss” on ShapeFit.com.]

Summing it up, these two things – our bodies’ ability to store fat and our propensity toward energy efficiency – make an athlete’s life difficult. Athletes need to focus on getting calories in regularly in relatively small doses in order to sustain muscle mass and keep body fat levels desirably low, as well as engaging in sport-appropriate training programs that continuously challenge the body in new, more intense, ways.

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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!