I'm a woman

I'm a woman
Photos copyright Laurence Gouault
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Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Training for climbing, training for life N°1, by Stevie Haston

Training for most British climbers seems to be anathema, almost as if it’s the antithesis of the sport. Training in other places seems better excepted. But for many training is definitely not cool, and of course its way too much work. Training is a bad word, not sporting, unfun, I could go on ad nauseam, but its not training that gets me sick, its people not training in a sport that can maim and kill, and which is supposedly hard.

I don’t know why I agreed to write this, except Neil the editor is training, and most of my friends are training (in one way or an another) and all the best climbers in Britain (such as they are) train, I think its because I want you to have a bit more success, and joy in your success. If I was honest however I would tell you the truth, I need to finance a new rabbit hutch.

Einstein said that the greatest stupidity of all was to do the same thing, and expect the outcome to be the same. So why do the a huge number of climbers world wide do so little to change the way they climb. You can say you are happy to do easy stuff, or bumble along at the wall if you like, but any psychologist will correct you, you are deluding yourselves. Humans are brill at delusion, it’s a human thing, they are not good at much else. To train for 9a takes alotta time and effort, just because 14 year olds, and 50 plus do it, don’t be deceived, its not skill, its training, and over a few hard years too. But, and its not even a very big but at all, to go from easy to moderate difficulty, is very easy, and would take a very small bit of training and thought. Like wise E4 to E5, 5.10 to 5.11, and 6a to 6c+ is easy peasie. How do I know, cos I have done it, and I did it years ago. Today its easier, more knowledge, more facilities and better equipment.

I have been training to climb better all my life, from the moment I was born I started to exercise and develop patterns of movement and learn to use that huge lump on top of my neck. That’s 52 years and counting, cos I still want to get better, if you don’t want to get better, go switch the teli on and switch your brain off, become a couch potatoe, there’s nothing wrong with it, hey, you can even watch some good climbers, doing what you are to lazy to do-yes! The first book I read on climbing I saw a photo of a young kid balancing on the palm of his dad’s hand, which kid was it, and how strong did he become? That guy was one of the best for his time and his fitness would still embarrass 99% of Britans so called alpinists today. To become a great alpinist is no small thing and there is perhaps an element of character, and intuition that may be a gift from the gods, but the French of course produce them by the score. How do they do this? Yep, they train them!
Melody training for her Karaté belt, 5 years old...

The word Train comes from the French wouldn’t you know, it means to draw, or to arrange, its from gardening and vegetable growing. Now then, I was trained by my Scottish dad and Maltese pappy, who both thought and acted like I was some kind of dumb but robust legume. Neither of them liked me, there wasn’t much to like after all, but they persevered, they tried to instil in me a little work ethic, and pride in accomplishment. What’s this got to do with climbing some of you are asking, well, actually a lot. I was under their guidance, and they trained me, I took some notice and got better. Did they teach me to climb, yep they did, but accidentally. My pappy took me fishing off the loose coastal cliffs of the island of Gozo, and dad took me to work on high and dangerous building sites, to keep me outta trouble. When I started climbing as practised as a sport in Britain I could already do it. So, is that it then, to hell with health and safety, bring back dangerous illegal chid labour. And what about the lack of male influence in most children’s upbringing nowadays, or any meaningful input from anyone else at all? Well who knows, but you must train if you want to get better at climbing, just like other stuff. If you want to be one of the better climbers maybe you should train very hard and systematically, and get the best advice, eh! What about if you want to be the very best? When I was 14 I asked my dad how to train better (I was already doing finger tip pull ups), he thought about it and added two strips of wood above the door lintel, and made me what amounted to be the first campus board. About a year and a half later I asked him again for some advice, he made me a weight belt, a 20 pounder. I have still got it and still use it, its 37 years old. I never asked him for anything else in my life, and to be frank haven’t needed anything else. So that’s the secret of the universe of climbing, well no but it’s the first secret. Strong fingers are the first secret, coupled with a bit of upper body strength they will take you a long way, its taken a few who didn’t have very many other skills or secretes to the top. Let’s say Wolfgang Gullich was one of these, and don’t think I am maligning him for one micro-second. To be at the top of your game and be a one trick pony, deserves respect, total respect. I will however temper my respect with a bit of blasphemy, Wogu was defiantly not as good as Ben Moon or Jerry Moffat in my humble opinion, they were not just one trick ponies, they knew many of the secrets. But who did the hardest route of the time? Interesting question, ‘do you not fink’?Is Hubble harder than Action Direct.

Do you want to be a one trick pony? Its harder now of course, routes aren’t as simple. Wolfgang’s era has passed, the blacksmiths of our sport have faded into the mists of time. Plus Wolfie had pretty good genetics, have you, do you know, are you even interested? No, today you have to have all the tricks. If you just want to improve your game however, its a lot easier today, it’s so easy, it’s almost criminal to be an under achiever.

What is secret number two? It is how to move, how to get from one hold to another with the minimum effort. Notice the word minimum, underline minimum effort. If you want to be macho fine, I like seeing people overpower, I still do it myself from time to time, but you are probably in the wrong sport, try power lifting, or the rings in gymnastics. Climbing is a very physical sport that can also be won by cunning, the clever skilful weaker boxer, beating the brave, hard as granite brawler. Think Sugar Ray Leonard beating Marvellous Marvin Hagler. I have a personal admiration for the brawler over the boxer, but boxing just like climbing is not always what you think. Climbing is perceived as athletic daring do, but most routes can be overcome just as easily and probably more neatly by twinky climbers whose fore arms are bigger than their biceps. Think gritstone, or slabby walls where many of the hard routes can be vanquished by prizzy balance and a bit of timing. A lotta Trad climbs are also very gear intensive, and much skill goes into placing protection equipment, assessing risk, and recovering enough strength from doing these two things, and then going forward. How to move, then becomes how to move gear from your rack, into that fiddly crack, and move into a partial recovery position, and then assess the ground ahead for more of the same. These are skills often over looked, and practised by very few. Simple strategies like training to place gear quickly, or knowing when to make do, are not typically part of what most people consider training. Learning how to move is best done by repetition just like training your fingers, biceps or lats. The same kinda move, but at slightly different angles will throw you, different temperatures, with a wind, an extra foot above gear, it’s all different. You have to train for this difference. We are all different and some aspects will be much harder to learn than others. Danger for many throws a big spanner in the works, not just the dramatic danger of death, the quite trivial danger of failure on a totally safe climb will blow it for most. Being brave, or indeed supremely, gallantly, reckless, is a very odd thing. I don’t know what to say about it, as its not very useful in modern life, but occasionally for some routes you defiantly need some bottle. Bottle training is best done from an early age in unfashionable impoverished places, but has also been known to be trained on the playing fields of England, and the public pubs of market towns. Bottle in boxers always comes from the inner cities, the slums, the barrio, were as most climbers nowadays seem to come from Berkshire and be driven around in four wheelers driven by nannies.

Learning to move is often thought the way forward and is said to be the most important. I disagree. Some people think that being strong is the most important, I disagree. Some people think that training your weaknesses is the most important, I disagree. You cannot move if you cant hang on, you cant move if you cant use muscles to turn yourself into more favourable positions for moving and pulling, and hanging on. And you cannot do any of these things if you are rigid, or even a bit stiffish with anxiety, through fear, to gross terror. Climbing is an onion with many layers (wow dad and pappy were right after all, its a common or garden vegetable), it’s a round thing, a holistic thing, watch the best, Sharma, Patxi, and the rest. Some are maybe more intuitive than others, some have more gifts from the gods, but without working at what they really love, they would not be so golden. Patxi says he must work harder. Sharma says, he should climb more. Ondra says he is weak. I agree with them, they could all be better. They are not doing it perfectly, just nearly and admirably, damn near perfectly. Most people of course are happy chatting to their mates about climbing, and never break into a sweat. Train sensible and with purpose, and you will get better. As little as two hours a week training, will improve nearly every ones climbing who reads these words. Climbing more impressive, and harder routes is better, whether you are happy and content, or a good moral person is another story. I know how to train, never said I knew the way to heaven, but then again I have seen heaven at the top of icicles, or at the chain of a few sport routes, and lucky for me, I was strong and well trained.

If you have made the decision to train, well done. What do you need to train? In reality you need very little; a simple strip of wood to do pull ups, and hangs on, and space to stretch, and do a few free exercises. Cost is zero. If you go and use a wall , obviously use their facilities, but you should have a pull up station at home, and if you have a bit of money you should buy a good finger board or two, with a variety of holds. Cost now is up to about 80 quid a board. What else do you need? Well if you are like the Scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz, you also need a brain, or like Tinman a heart. Desire, discipline, days training, days resting, the delirium of deserved success, achievable dreams and unachievable dreams. How do you get these thingies? You get these things by keeping the faith. Climbing is the New Religion, and if we Train, we will ascend to Heaven

Stevie Haston is sponsored by La Sportiva, Grivel, and www.V12 outdoor.com

He is desperately training to get better, and is slowly, very slowly getting better. By the time he is 100, he should be climbing 9b, by which time the top standard of course will be 10b...