By Micah Elconin
Did I get your attention? Are you searching for the magic bullet that will instantly transform you into a stone crushing Crankenstein that eats hard rock climbs for breakfast?
I sure hope not.
The truth is, there is no magic bullet. My sincere hope is that if you’re reading this piece, you already know that, and you’re still here because you can’t turn away. There’s an accident on the side of the road, and you’re slowing down to see what happened.
Well… yeah, I don’t actually think there’s any way to go from zero to hero in 14 days. I don’t even think that’s possible in 14 weeks! Give me 14 months, and maybe, we can make something magical happen.
But here’s the thing, there actually are a few relatively simple things that anyone can do to help perk up their fitness and performance almost instantly. None of these ideas are a replacement for measured and consistent hard work over extended periods of time. However, most folks will find that at least one of these suggestions catalyzes a noticeable bump in the right direction in just a couple weeks. Of course, like most simple programs, many will either overcomplicate things or get bored and stray from the path too soon.
- Stop Drinking Alcohol
Trust me. I don’t love this idea either, because like you, I love good beer, wine, and well-crafted cocktails. You might think that enjoying a drink or two any night of the week has negligible effects on your performance in subsequent days. I used to think that too. But it’s the “1-2 drinks a day” sort of person, who may benefit the most from going dry for a period of time.
Even moderate amounts of alcohol disrupts the recovery process. This 2014 study concluded that “alcohol ingestion suppresses the anabolic response in skeletal muscle and may therefore impair recovery and adaptation to training and/or subsequent performance.” This study of over 4000 people concluded that even moderate amounts of alcohol consumption had negative effects on sleep quality. “Alcohol intake disturbs cardiovascular relaxation during sleep in a dose-dependent manner in both genders. Regular [physical activity] or young age do not protect from these effects of alcohol.”
Finally, if impaired protein synthesis and sleep quality aren’t enough of a reason to get on the wagon for even a few weeks, let’s talk calories. One beer contains between 100 and 200 calories. A glass of dry wine usually clocks in around 125. Cocktails can easily surpass 200 per drink (each shot of liquor is about 100 calories plus mixers….). So, let’s use easy math and assume that 1-2 drinks per day averages out to 250 additional calories each day. Quit drinking for 14 days and you’ll consume 3500 less calories in that period, which is roughly the same amount of energy contained in one pound of body fat. Improved anabolic response, better sleep, and less body fat in just a few weeks? Projects beware.
- Unplug Your TV
I know. I know. You’re not a couch potato. You train hard, are active every day, and only watch TV at night because it helps you relax before going to bed. It’s a nice way to wind down and turn your brain off, right?
The truth is, watching TV might be too relaxing for your brain. Studies are now suggesting that increased time spent watching TV can lead to reduced amounts of cranial gray matter. Furthermore, “curiously, while earlier research has established that regular physical activity can slow cognitive decline, those participants who reported engaging in both above-average TV viewing and regular exercise showed the same gray matter reductions.” So, it doesn’t seem to matter how much you train, or get outside on the side. The more TV you watch, the more your brain is rotting.
Screen time also wreaks havoc on sleep quality. Sure, you might not be able to ditch screens completely, due to work etc, but unless you’re getting paid to review the next season of Survivor, I don’t think your time lounging before bed is a necessary part of your day. This study of 653 people found that “longer average screen-time was associated with shorter sleep duration and worse sleep-efficiency.” Furthermore, “longer average screen-times during bedtime and the sleeping period were associated with poor sleep quality, decreased sleep efficiency, and longer sleep onset latency.”
There’s also a considerable opportunity cost to consider. What could you be doing instead during the time you spend in front of the TV? When I unplug the TV at our house, I find that I spend my evenings doing one of two things. Usually, I just end up in bed earlier, which leads to more sleep, or I spend the evening doing other productive things thus taking items off my list and making more space to focus on training hard or sending my project the following day.
- Walk Every Day
This is not an invitation to start debating the merits of running for climbing performance. In summary, anyone arguing in absolutes on either side of that debate is wrong. No, the reason I’m telling you to go on a walk every day is because it helps improve your recovery and provides critical time for your mind to process things.
Light aerobic activity increases blood flow, which facilitates the body’s ability to move waste products out of the system and shuttle fresh nutrients into tissue. Less waste plus more nutrients equals faster recovery, and yeah, the best way to perform better tomorrow is to recover better today.
The best class I took in college explored the science of creativity and the history of how artists related to it. The number one takeaway from this course was that creativity is a function of the unconscious mind. The idea of a muse touching the artist may often have spiritual or personal elements integrated into its description, but when stripped down to its most basic elements almost all accounts are exactly the same. The person works hard on their craft or practice and when they step away for a walk or some other active leisure activity suddenly there’s an “aha” moment. The idea here is that practice primes the pump of the unconscious mind in the same way that training stimulates adaptation. Giving the conscious mind time to relax while it focuses on a simple task like walking creates the “rest cycle” necessary for the unconscious mind to metabolize the work.
A 2014 Stanford School of Education study confirms the idea that active rest is better for stimulating creativity than passive activities. “They found that those who walked instead of sitting or being pushed in a wheelchair consistently gave more creative responses on tests commonly used to measure creative thinking, such as thinking of alternate uses for common objects and coming up with original analogies to capture complex ideas.”
Aim for somewhere around 30 minutes of light walking everyday and you may be amazed at how much better your mind and body recover between climbing sessions. You may also discover some meaningful insights about your current project, training, or other part of your life.
Not sure where to begin?
We have training plans available for any level athlete!
- Eat Enough Protein
You’ve probably started to notice a theme in these strategies. We’re looking to optimize recovery as a means to “instant fitness”. Most climbers I know focused on training and performance are more or less chronically overworked and under recovered - especially the ones motivated to read lengthy articles like this one! When we get recovery optimized, the hard work starts to yield better results literally almost instantly.
Protein is essential for the recovery process. The specific recommendations for daily protein intake vary a bit by source and specific athletic pursuits. However, just about every nutrition professional agrees that any athlete should be getting AT LEAST 1 gram of protein per kilogram of body weight every day or roughly 0.5 gram of protein for every pound of body weight. If you’re not hitting this protein consumption goal every day, then we may have just found your magic bullet for improved recovery. Those engaged in especially hard training or with high stress levels may want to explore upping their consumption to 1.5 gram per kilogram of body weight.
If you want to learn more about the details of how/why/when protein should be consumed, you can check out this piece I wrote a number of years ago. The truth is, like most of the stuff we discuss here, the details are far less important than consistency. Just commit yourself to eating a decent amount of protein every meal and you’ll be well on your way.
- Actually Try Hard Once Each Session
When was the last time you truly gave everything you had on an attempt on your project or a workout at the gym? You prepared properly and executed drawing on every last bit of your being to remain present. Your focus didn’t falter for even a moment and you left everything out there. The sad truth for most of us is that this doesn’t happen very often. However, if you’re able to summon this sort of effort for even just one attempt every workout or session at the crag, you’ll be amazed at what begins to happen.
First off, don’t get ahead of yourself. The efforts I’m describing are not possible every attempt. The cue is to do this once each session because a true “try hard” takes an incredible amount of focus and certainly takes a toll on our body and mind. I can’t stress enough that this type of effort has more to do with preparation and focus, than really sticking any particular move or lift. Pick one lift, attempt, or specific circuit in the gym and commit to giving it everything you have. Warm up properly. Take plenty of rest before the attempt. Think through your plan and rehearse in your head exactly what you’re going to do. Create very specific goals for your effort.
For example, “No matter how tired I feel entering the crux, I am going to place my left foot exactly on the ticked smear, twist my left hip into the wall, look directly at the small edge, and then decisively deadpoint my left hand to the hold. Regardless of how well I stick it, I’m going to immediately bring my left foot to the higher foothold and bump my left hand to the jug.”
Climbers that are able to summon a true “try hard” effort once every session consistently prove to themselves what they are actually capable of, a process that only builds upon itself. Furthermore, because these efforts are so intense, they also create strong adaptive responses in the body, leading to even more strength, endurance, and resilience down the road.
Enjoy The Fruits of Your Labor
Again, we all (I hope) agree that real fitness and high levels of performance are never earned overnight. There’s no magic plan and there’s no secret sauce. Consistency, focus, and passion over months and years is what creates tangible results. However, many of us are short changing ourselves by not taking full advantage of the time we’ve put in. Maximizing recovery and then using a fresh body and mind towards a truly engaged “try hard” effort is the key to unlocking the next gear in your performance. The good news is that you’ll often see almost immediate results from implementing these strategies. The even better news is that you’ll keep reaping those benefits if you continue to prioritize them.
ABOUT MICAH ELCONIN
Micah has cultivated his climbing practice for more than twenty years. Based in Eugene, Oregon he coaches local athletes through his business Good Stone, and offers remote coaching as a part of the team at Climb Strong. Micah has climbed all over the world including dozens of first ascents on the Central Coast of California and Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Despite entering his fourth decade in 2021, he continues to slowly, yet steadily, improve.
As a coach, Micah draws on a variety of experiences to support his athletes. He is well versed in climbing specific training modalities and holds multiple Performance Climbing Coach Certificates. He spent the first half of his twenties deeply committed to Ashtanga yoga practicing under the guidance of Steve Dwelley and Michele Nichols. He also spent 3 months at Shri K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India. As a former professional chef, Micah has extensive culinary experience and holds Nutrition Educator and Natural Chef’s certificates from Bauman College. He’s also earned an MBA in Entrepreneurship from University of Oregon and a BA in Philosophy from University of California at Santa Barbara.