I'm a woman

I'm a woman
Photos copyright Laurence Gouault
No reproduction on other media without the photographer's permission.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Three versions same climber? by Stevie Haston

Stevie the sand bagger, soloing.
This article was published in a mag...

In sport they told you that there were three different body types. The body types were Mesomorph, Ectomorph, Endomorph, and these three types of body, were supposedly standard types of shape which would affect your suitability for different sports. Interesting but incorrect, some shapes are definitely not as good as others but when it comes to climbing there are different ways to skin a cat, or should we say cloth a cat. The most common misconception in sport is that mesomorphic shape is the strongest, and the easiest to put muscle on. This probably arose, because it’s the most liked and loved, wide shoulders, narrow hips are cute, but is it really the fastest and strongest? This all came about from the Greek ideas of proportion and beauty, it’s the kind of body you see painted on Greek urns, and represented in Greek statuary. Remember never bend over, if your climbing partner is called Stavros. Is a Mesomorph the best shape for climbing? Dunno, and how would anyone else know for that matter. You would have to have three different versions of the same person to make comparisons between. In climbing we seem to have many different shaped people who succeed. All that we seem to know for certain is that high power to weight ratio is good, combined with high finger and hand strength. Kind of simple and all you need to know really. Yes but without talk about training and mental preparation there would be a lot of unemployed climbers about. So we, the sport pundits and trainers, use your insecurity to create mystique, and pseudo stuff systems. We get paid, and you can feel good about yourself because you are not after all the ideal body type with the right kind of muscle fibers. You also may not have centred yourselves through a lot of mental mumbo jumbo. I mean where is the profit in telling people that if they want to get better at climbing all they have to do, are door jam pull ups and climb a lot. How utterly seventies, how pathetic, door jam pull-ups indeed and hanging out with good climbers. That’s it, that should be the end of my article, no book, video, DVD with free cosmetics, and signed mixed climbing axe, but no you would feel cheated and worse, much worse, you wouldn’t have any excuses. So here is a little study I did which took me 34 years, and with the right application and a certain amount of dosh handed over to me, your personnel trainer, you to can have three different versions of your self. It’s not for nuffing people call me Guru Spanker.
In the late seventies and early eighties it was clear that the more time you spent in the gym the stronger you became, oh for those simple days without training plateaus. But as a few other climbers and I seemed to discover the stronger we became the longer we seemed to spend at the crux. We could get incredible pumps in our forearms, these pumps were so Popeyesque that they kept us visually entertained until we fell off. The result was the same grade climbed, but we did look better in shorts. The real imputs came from better shoes and a modicum of technique which some how filtered across the channel from prissy Parisians who told us it was all about ‘ze feeling man and ze timing and ze balance’. The fact that these same feeling geezers, were spending fifty percent of their waking hours on a finger board, seemed to escape most peoples attention. There was an additional problem in that lost age, most climbers wanted to be good at a number of normal things like carrying your own rucksack to the cliff. Enter Phil Davidson the British climber of the late seventies and early eighties who was to turn standards almost on their heads. People said that Phil was the best cos he was the lightest. True, but he was also very strong, dedicated, to the point of obsession and brave as anyone I have ever met. But Phil Davidson was indeed thin, he made Bruce Lee look obese and at times was mistaken for ‘walnuts in a condom.’ Phil thought outside every thought box , and would pay people to carry his rucksack to certain crags because his legs could barely support him. He had so little body fat that he looked like some thing from a butcher shop or anatomy that went wrong. If you want a lesson in real climbing class with brilliant improvisation look no further than Phil at this time or Francois LeGrand the multi- titles champion fifteen years later. Ah the French, you cannot beat them, so better join them eh. I had to marry one. My first year in France was more than embarrassing, they called me ‘ze tractor’. A compliment I thought, ‘ze tractor’ sounded strong and sturdy, I rather liked it. It was only later, I found out they called me the tractor because, I was so so slow, and made a lotta puffing noises. About this time I read something JB Tribout had written, he stated that if you could do around 30 pull-ups on a 1cm edge you could do a long 8b+. Simple, I liked that, I also liked it cos I could do it. Did the equation prove correct, well not quite because he said it would work for some one with reasonable technique. I of course had no technique. I was after all ‘ze tractor’ and a British one at that. A little later I read that some of the French champs used to train fat, and the loose a few kilos to sharpen up. I liked that, simple, easy to understand, but again I misunderstood. Their fat photos, were actually my lightest ever weight! Wrong again. It was to take me a long time to get really good, I had to train harder and do more climbing than I'd ever done, and some times eat only about 800 calories a day doing it. Along the way I experimented, I used myself as a guinea pig. And because my sporting needs were different at different times I came up with three widely different bodies. Please take a good look at the photographs that I have chosen to illustrate this article. Firstly yes they are of the same guy, they are all of moi. They have not been altered in any way and the guinea pig took no drugs (except recreational ones) no steroids at all, even when he was injured, and no stimulants to help with training except a double cappuccino. Instead of looking at three different peoples physique I thought it would be more informative if we looked at the same guy but with three different bodies. We wont talk about his mind too much, even though you probably guessed he has three different heads, to go with the three different bodies. An important aspect of much climbing happens in the big muscle between some peoples ears. We decided to go with photos of this particular subject because it is permissible for me to make fun of myself and say odd things without legal complications. I also apologize for not having more photos available since the subject went thinner and heavier, possibly vanity is to blame or shame for the lack of photos, you can hazard a guess. During a climbing career that has spanned 34 years it would be unusual not to see some variance in physical shape but this is a little more than you would expect and is perhaps an indication of what is possible. Not really desirable, just possible OK. The first photo shows a subject who weighs 58 Kgs that is 127.5 lbs and is 5 foot 8 inchs, 173cms. The height will remain constant in all photos, if I could have changed it believe me I would have done. In some ways this photo is very important because it represents a great sandbaggers physique. This subject is the seventies ‘off the couch climber’ par excellence, he can climb up to E.5 without seemingly training, or going climbing. How? Well he is as fit as a starved butchers dog, goes bouldering, but tells you he doesn’t do any climbing, and does a lot of circuit training. He is also borderline anorexic, if not actually anorexic, due to poverty. If this subject was a woman a doctor would class them as ill, no periods and bone depletion would be evident. If he were a youngster future growth could be impaired. Actually cause for concern in who ever it is, whatever sex or age. The fact that he is a good climber who is a better runner confuses the issue. You have all seen photos of climbers like him in mags, or at comps all the time. The fact that he is totally happy at this weight and feels on top of his running form is further confusing. If he stays at this weight he runs at least the risk of diminishing sporting performance, injury, stress fractures, and being mistaken for a clothes hanger. The subjects lowest weight was 54 KGs thats 118 lbs when he came back ill from the Himalayas, he could boulder well but had surprisingly no stamina. When the doctor told him he needed to put some weight on urgently he was cross, and stormed out just like the Frenchman he had become. Many male champion sport climbers who are 5 foot 8 are between 54 to 60 KGs. At 118 lbs you are officially a Bantamweight, at 127 lbs you are in the Featherweight class. Lets move on to the second subject. This guy is 65kgs (143lbs) he is a climbing machine, any kind of climbing it doesn’t matter. On top of his game, he is paranoid about his standard dropping, he actually has nightmares about his standard dropping in any of the many disciplines he is paid to work in. That’s right, it is work, full time, he is always tired, and always hungry. He does not enjoy climbing, he doesn’t enjoy running, he is close to enjoying nothing. If he only did one thing he might be really super good at it, and happy, but no he wants to be remembered as the great all rounder. His power to weight is optimal except for his crimp strength, because his legs are too heavy, because he runs too much, it is his Achilles heel. Is he a nice guy? Not really, he is self-obsessed, very proud of some of the things he has accomplished and very demanding. A life that revolves around training, eating and resting. He can climb 8c or on-sight 8a, by dropping 3 KGs in body fat he gets over his crimp strength deficit. Does this make him happy? No. He wants to on-sight harder things, he wants to red point harder, and harder. The worst is he might be right, he is toying with the idea of going down below 62 KGs but is worried that he’s loosing the plot. He would get two paragraphs for doing an 8c+ and maybe a tiny bit more money, but does any of it matter. Er good question. Finally he blows it all, goes to Wales, goes drinking, gets fat, gets happy, and gets depressed. The last subject weighs 83 KGs that is 183 lbs his height believe it or not is still 5 foot 8, but he is wider, definitely wider. A full clothes size bigger although carrying lots of fat, make no mistake this guy is strong, want your fridge moved, no trouble. This guy can not run very well, it feels horrible to run, but he can snowboard at hypersonic speed, something to do with gravity I believe. Subject A could literally run all day with food, and water stops. Subject B was starting to prefer cycling as his upper body got heavier. Subject C¸ can walk carrying A and B together, but doesn’t like running. The surprising thing about C is that he can still climb, indeed he and subject A would be nearly evenly matched. How can this behemoth, this juggernaught, this fat gorilla still climb? Puzzling, is it not? We are so used to featherweights being the ultimate and ideal physique in climbing that the thought of a light heavy weight being able to climb is astonishing. What is more this guy is happy, he can drink lots but within reason, he is still training after all, and eats for two, no lets say five sports climbers. OK you are thinking the guys strong, but surely he is just too heavy to climb. Well not only is he strong he is really strong so don try arguing with him. As an example of his strength try this, his best two-arm pull up is with 200 lbs added to his waist. Yes his crimp strength is his weakness but on I cm edge he can bang out 20. He is very unlikely to go above small wires though for fear of snapping them, and loose rock might very well become broken handholds. So for fun we have looked at three diverse guys, who all happen to be the same guy. For sure subject B was the best climber, the sad thing is if he had have talked to his mate C about training he might have got a 9a. The limiting factor was his hand strength, and his runners legs, and having a bit of patience and proper mind control. Ask yourself who you are and who you would rather be, remember life is about many things not just climbing, or moving fridges. Unfortunately it is not possible to be all three at once, but you are not locked in a set body type like people think, or you have been told. But if you look at subject C, Big Stevie has the other two inside him. He can become either. Medium Stevie or Small Stevie is possible by loosing weight, and hey presto magic different sporting levels will surely result. The reverse, going from Small to Large, is possible but would take years, possibly by more than five years regular training. It is very hard to put 10 lbs of muscle on in a year and its definitely impossible when you are an anorexic.
Stevie the beast.

So in some ways size is more important than every body lets on. Subject A by the way was a vegan. Subject B was a lacto vegetarian, and subject C was a rabid carnivore. The ratio of training they did was also different. Subject A, did way more running than bouldering, up to a hundred miles a week, and three brief sessions of bouldering or climbing. Subject B was mostly a bolt climber, and a fitness freak who really had no spare time or energy to get better. Big Stevie pushed and pulled more iron than you can imagine, but by not neglecting his hand strength was still able to climb, really more of a power lifter, and to invent a new phrase perhaps a power puller. They wont mind me saying that they were anomalies; and were more than a bit mad. So after 34 years the experimenting is over, or nearly over. What is the secrete? Well it is easy take subject C, keep his fore arms, his upper arms, back, then loose his 47 inch chest, legs and huge bum, and lipo suck a stone of fat off. What is left? A bigger version of subject B. You knew it all along, did not you? I whish I had. The trouble was I did know, but knowing isn’t doing! So as a final exercise look at the different body types, and group famous and successful climbers, into the three categories. This is the fun part. Is Dave Graham in group A? There are lots of As and lower end Bs, Wolfgang Gullich was upper end B, when he did Action Direct, 5 foot 9 67 Kgs. Fred Nicole is between A and B. But Cs are as rare as hens teeth in climbing. At my biggest I was down to E4 but could one arm curl a small sports climber. As I aspire to move on rock again, and not move it, food elimination time has come once more for me. Remember knowing isn’t doing, lots of people know things, but few, precious few, do bugger all. Also remember if you want to loose weight ie fat but not muscle don’t do the sports climbers thing, and stop eating, because you will loose as much muscle as fat. Muscle is hard to acquire, especially functional muscle, function first, Greek fashion second, moving fridges last. But climbers are stupid, and arrogant, and prefer to believe in their own talent. Talent is very over rated, hard graft, and good power to weight with reasonable technique will get you very far, even near to the top. You can believe me, or at least one of me.
Stevie is sponsored by Grivel, Sportiva, and www.v12outdoor.com