by Steve Bechtel
I wrote a newsletter a few months back where I discussed the idea of “big rocks first.” The general gist is to take care of the most important things in your life before you obsess about the minutiae. People, not just climbers, tend to fixate on the wrong things. We obsess over the things that we perceive as holding us back when we should be leveraging the hell out of the resources we already possess that can move us forward.
Along the same lines, I think we too often imagine ourselves making big changes if we commit money to the cause. As a person who makes his living from building climbing training plans, this might seem like strange advice, but I’ve found that there are some huge basic issues that climbers can and should cover before they start paying…for anything.
I remember trying to justify my first computer purchase by telling myself all the possible ways a computer would make money for me: I could write articles for Climbing Magazine, write guidebooks, keep track of my money, etc. Of course, I wasn’t doing any of those things before in, say, a notebook. The framework wasn’t in place, and the tool only briefly increased the motivation.
We see this sad story play out time and again in the weight room at Elemental. People who want to lose weight or get some strength come through the door and want to jump right into a 12-month contract with the belief that it will keep them motivated to keep working out. The problem is the same as my computer issue. If they weren’t committed before, a few bucks won’t make the difference.
There are any number of resources for training information in climbing these days. Once you are fully committed to getting better a the sport, it’s a good idea to start using them. I firmly believe in the value of paying for expert services (as well as steering clear of anyone who offers “expert” advice for free). For the most part, you get what you pay for. Free advice and “coaching” can be easy to find, and they’re worth the money you spend. Buy a book for $30 and you’ve got a great resource, but you still have to do the work of reading it. Higher up the ladder, say hiring Justen Sjong to coach you, would an unbelievable value at twice the price.
Again, the problem is some of us think we can ignore our glaring errors if we just throw some money at the thing. As Rob Robinson famously quipped back in the late 1980s, “You can’t buy 5.13.” Here is my list of eight things you need to do before you buy a book, join a gym, or hire a superstar coach. Take care of these, and you’ll either not need to drop the cash or you’ll get more out of the experience. I guarantee it.
1. Get Some Shoes That Fit. It might seem crazy, but good shoes mean more to your performance than anything. Forget beginner or all-around shoes. Look for a high-performance shoe from a reputable brand, and keep trying different ones until you get one that fits you perfectly. Yes, they need to be tight, but shoes are so good these days that they don’t need to hurt to work well. Also, dump the untied, loose “training” shoes. Every time you lace up you should be looking for maximum performance from your shoes. Sloppy shoes mean sloppy technique. All the training in the world won’t make up for that.
2. Train, at all. It’s not uncommon to see a climber “train” by occasionally hitting the gym and doing a tough bouldering session. The problem? Training is repeated stress designed to elicit a long-term result. There is nothing wrong with hitting the gym randomly for a workout, it’s just that unless you teach your body that it needs to adapt by repeating similar stresses regularly, you can’t be sure you’ll adapt at all. Get into some kind of regular routine, even if it is as simple as climbing every Tuesday and Saturday. Build the habit first, then start investing your effort in improving what happens during those sessions.
3. Take Yourself Seriously. Somehow the laid back dirtbag attitude has been romanticized in the climbing world. There is nothing wrong with being laid back about things unless you want to improve. Yes, there are climbers that get very good without formal training. Yes, there are some that keep it pretty casual. As a rule, though, this doesn’t work. If you want to perform well athletically, you need to be focused at the crag, eat to perform, and think about the importance of injury prevention, mobility, strength, and the like.
4. Eat Like an Adult. Eating right is more than keeping your love handles in check. We all know that too many sweets and too much beer makes us fat, yet it also diminishes our ability to perform. You have little to gain from processed food, loading up on breads, drinks with calories in them, and sugars. You know that lean proteins, vegetables, and good fats are the right thing to eat. Make a rule for yourself that 9 of 10 things you put in your mouth are going to be good for the machine. Eating “anything you want” works until you’re about 16. Time to grow up.
5. Climb For Yourself. There are a few ways we commonly see climbers behave at the crag. Some climbers go to “just have fun.” Those people never get better and are generally a lost cause. Some pick projects based on what their friend/significant other is trying. Although diplomatically correct, it’s probably a great way to limit your own improvement. It’s best to have the trade-off talk, and push for equal time on the routes you want to climb. This goes for training, too. The rule of thumb is that training should be done alone, or simply in the company of someone else that is doing his/her own program.
6. Focus on Things You Can Control. You are going to fail. When you do you have two choices: you can look for ways you can improve your future efforts, or you can lay blame. Falling off and complaining about your shoes, conditions, or your friend’s beta are all great ways to stay stuck. Looking at ways you can act more efficiently, improve your tactics, or focus your efforts better are going to get you up the route. Highly successful people tend to take responsibility for everything they do, good and bad.
7. Stack The Odds. Want a reality check? Figure out how many climbing days you have left in your career. Once you have this number in mind, I’d hope you’d understand that your great days are going to be very limited. Each climbing day is a precious commodity. Get a good night’s sleep before a redpoint day. Eat a good breakfast. Warm-up well. Take your redpoints seriously – relax, rest, and then turn up the heat. Most of all don’t do stupid shit like drinking beer between burns. I know, I’m not cool and probably not that much fun at a party, yet my athletes send.
8. Consider That You Might Be Doing It Wrong. Your whole program might be upside-down. You might train too much, might not warm-up enough, or might be missing a fundamental facet of your fitness. If your beta is always different, it might be because you can’t do it right. You might get the most out of three hours a week stretching rather than campusing. Watch video of yourself. Ask your friends what they think of your climbing. Most of all, be willing to toss out what you are doing in favor of what you should be doing.
Behaving like a professional means always making decisions with your goals in mind. If your goals are to have fun and spend a day with friends, good for you. But if your goals include getting better at this very difficult sport, you need to give it the attention it demands.