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Climbing: Training for Peak Performance


 Climbing: Training for Peak Performance
 

by Kelly Bates

February 19, 2003

For Joe Average Trad Climber and Alpinist: A Comprehensive Fitness Training Manual

By the former editor of Rock & Ice magazine's "Performance" department - Clyde Soles

  • Suggested training programs for rock vs. alpine vs. expedition/high attitude climbing
  • Flexibility and resistance training exercises keyed to special needs and challenges of climbing, each with photo illustration
  • Performance nutrition discussion includes charts on "Supplements that Might Help," "Suspicious Supplements"/ "Herbs of Doubt" and "Supplements for Altitude"
  • Manuscript reviewed by medical experts specializing in sports medicine, sports nutrition, exercise physiology and high-altitude physiology
  • Part of the Mountaineers Outdoor Expert series

The standard concept of training for climbing has long been, "Just climb!" "While it may suffice for twenty-somethings and a few gifted individuals, this philosophy has also resulted in countless climbers reaching performance plateaus and suffering recurrent injuries," says Clyde Soles, climber and former editor of Rock & Ice magazine's "Performance- department, which covers training and nutrition for climbers. "Even after the benefits of training began to be recognized, many of the regimens developed by climbers were physiologically unsound; some were downright dangerous," according to Soles. Meanwhile, he noticed that recent training books and articles "have mostly focused on the young five.absurd sport climber but are ill-suited to middle-age Joe Average trad climber and alpinist." To fill the gap -- to help the average "normal" climber get the most reward with the least effort -- Soles presents CLIMBING: Training for Peak Performance. This comprehensive manual is the newest installment in the Mountaineers Outdoor Expert series, joining titles including Climbing: From Gym to Crag: Building Skills for Real Rock by S. Peter Lewis and Dan Cauthorn.

After three decades of climbing, Soles can usually roll off the couch to lead 5.10 trad or 5.11 sport routes. When he has bigger aspirations, Such as the 8000 meter peak, Gasherbrum II his training becomes more focused. He has long held an interest in what actually works ... and been frustrated with sifting through the claims. The emphasis here is on sound nutrition and time-efficient training methods that will benefit "normal" people from late teens to octogenarians. The goal is to improve climbing performance, but also to prevent injury through a balanced program of exercise. Combining sports nutrition, aerobic conditioning, strength and flexibility training and more, CLIMBING: Training for Peak Performance is based on the latest sport science. Soles takes established research and translates it into clear, simple explanations of complicated health and fitness topics, the manuscript was also reviewed by several medical experts specializing in sports medicine, sports nutrition. exercise physiology and high-altitude physiology.

Performance Nutrition

No matter the type of climbing, peak performance starts with a solid nutrition foundation -- you can't climb well if you don't eat well. After covering the basics of performance nutrition, Soles includes a detailed discussion of suppliments separating those that work from those that don't -- or may even be harmful. -"When I was editing the "Performance" section of Rock & Ice magazine," says Soles, "my mail was flooded with press releases on the latest miracle supplement that would help climbers in unbelievable ways." He provides clear, easy-access comparisons in charts: "Supplements that Might Help," "Suspicious Supplements." and "Herbs of Doubt" (pp. 38-47). Caffeine is one of the useful supplements, says Soles: You can get a slight performance boost by supplementing with 2.5 mg caffeine per pound of body weight about an hour before a long endurance climb. Gingko Biloba (200 mg per day) may aid balance and acclimatization, among other benefits (see "Supplements for Altitude," pp. 110-13).

In his discussion of the benefits of sports drinks, Soles notes that ad hype never mentions that combining products -- which many people do in the real world -- can decrease performance. His advice: Sport drinks can be a good choice if you're not consuming any other food. If you eat energy bars or gels and then wash them down with a sports drink, the high carbohydrate concentration can increase dehydration because water is drawn into the small intestines. It's best to consume a sports drink on its own (without dilution) or to eat bars and gels with just water.

He also mentions that while beer might not be the ultimate recovery drink, you could do worse. You get about 12 grams of restorative carbs per bottle. A finely crafted beer with high hops content contains nine flavonoids that you won't find in sport drinks.

Strength Training

While recovering from a shoulder reconstruction fifteen years ago, Soles first started to realize the advantages of resistance training. But he eventually discovered that applying a little science to his activities increased the payback in the same amount of time. In CLIMBING: Training for Peak Performance, he presents 28 resistance training exercises keyed to the special challenges of climbing. He explains the "why" of each exercise and how it will benefit climbing performance --, each "how to" explanation includes photo illustration. For example:

  • Lat Pull (p. 142-44)
    Why: This multi-joint exercise is the next best thing to real climbing. Lat pulls are superior to pull-ups because you can lean back to simulate the angle of overhangs and better target muscles.
  • Finger Hangs (p. 161-62.)
    Why: Short of actual climbing, there is no better training for finger strength than short hangs on a finger board. Novice climbers should only use large holds and longer hangs-you need to strengthen the ligaments and tendons before working on the forearm muscles (there are no muscles in the fingers). For a multitude of reasons, no matter your conditioning, fingerboards are a bad choice for endurance training and pull-ups.
  • Straight-arm Pull-down (p. 147-48)
    Why: This single-joint exercise, also called levers, is akin to dynoing for a hold. It works the back muscles with a different movement pattern than the standard exercises.
  • Dip (p. 150-151 )
    Why: A multi-joint exercise that can help on those mantle moves. This also balances the major climbing, muscles. Dip machines reduce your body weight to allow more weight than might otherwise be possible.
  • Reverse Wrist Curl (p. 160)
    Why: These muscles are little-used when climbing so they are often underdeveloped-the underlying source of many elbow pains.
  • Calf Raise (p. 172-73)
    Why: Strong calves are essential for all climbers-we spend a lot of time on our toes. If you ever climb at Devil's Tower, you're going to wish you'd done more of these. And frontpointing up a long couloir with a pack is like doing calf raises for hours!

Mental and Flexibility Training

While muscle and lungpower are important, "much of climbing is mental," says Soles: "greatness comes from training the mind." Among the most difficult problems for climbers is learning how to relax. says Soles. "Prior to launching up a difficult climb, 5 to 10 minutes of gentle stretching gives you quiet time to clear your mind and prepare for the action ahead. As you concentrate on stretches, you become more kinesthetically aware of your body..." Flexibility is also important because "when climbing beyond the vertical, we sometimes contort ourselves into bizarre positions," says Soles. Stretching should be done not just for the torso, but also for regions including the hips (athletes tend to be tight there), groin, forearms, and neck. Stretching before and after climbing can also decrease the chance of injury because the elasticity of muscles and tendons is increased; with proper technique, muscle strains, eventual misalignment of the joint, and chronic tendon problems are significantly reduced. Among the 18 flexibility exercises Soles presents are:

  • Butterfly (p. 74)
    Why: An excellent stretch for the groin that will help you get your hips in closer to the rock. Men are often very tight here.
  • Neck Roll (p. 70)
    Why: Due to the nature of the sport, climbers spend a great deal of time with their necks fully craned upward. Stretching these muscles can prevent soreness.
  • Forearm Flexion (p. 69)
    Why: When your forearms are about to explode, it's the flexors that are pumped. Stretching them can prevent golfers elbow, which is pain on the inside when our palm is facing forward. This can also stave off join deformities that are often seen in the middle and ring fingers.

Putting it All Together

In chapter 6, "Synergy: Coalescing and Planning," Soles discusses how to put it all together into a time-efficient plan of action. He presents a selection of training routines that can serve as stepping-stones to greater levels of climbing performance, including "Weekend Warrior: Intermediate Maintenance," "Hard Rock: Injury Prevention," and "Fun Hog: Advanced Fitness." These are presented in easy-access charts.

Soles also includes 2-month programs in the "Peaking for Goals" section, with specialized programs for rock climbing, big wall climbing, ice climbing, and ski mountaineering; his program for alpine climbing is 3 months and for high mountain expedition climbing, 4 months.

About the Author

For seven years. Clyde Soles was an editor at Rock & Ice magazine. For the last two of those years, he edited Rock & Ice's "Performance" department, which covers training and nutrition for climbers. A climber with three decades of experience. he still leads 5.10 trad and 5.11 sport routes. He has also climbed the 8000-meter peak. Gasherbrurn II. Soles' other titles published by The Mountaineers Books are Rock & Ice Gear: Equipment for the Vertical World and the forthcoming Climbing: Expedition Planning (with Phil Powers; due in June 2003). He is a Wilderness First Responder. a former Emergency Medical Technician, and has taught numerous Advanced First Aid and CPR classes.

For more information, visit the Mountaineers Books website.



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