Blog

Working Weaknesses

One of my First Lock-Offs Ever I can feel a muscle spasming in my back as I sit here this morning. I felt it start when I was meditating/visualizing a few minutes ago out on the balcony. It doesn’t hurt; it just feels weird, all jumpy and twitchy not of my own volition. I’m tired. I need rest.

I climbed yesterday, despite my lats feeling like “soggy bags of fluid,” as they were so aptly described by another person. Ugh. It’s from training. It’s frustrating. I didn’t climb all that well, but I managed to sort out a bunch more and smarter beta on what will be the hardest route I’ve ever climbed when I send it, whether it’s at the end of this summer or the start of the next (or maybe I’ll send something hard in between while I’m traveling—who knows?).

Still, I’m trying to maintain my perspective here. I’m training as I try to rock climb, which is what I’ve been doing all summer long, and what I did all of last winter as well. I’ve only had one long break from training since last November—I took six weeks off in April and early May while I traveled to Red Rocks and Arizona. Other than that, I’ve had a few two-week breaks here and there to let my body recoup, and also, honestly, to see how much better I feel climbing when I stop training.

Back to the perspective thing. The whole point of this training is to catch up my weakness—power—to my strengths that I’ve developed over a 17-year time period of rock climbing. I have strong hands, flexibility, endurance, and technique in my corner already. Unfortunately, I spent most of my climbing time believing that I “have no power,” and not only that, but also, that I couldn’t gain power, or not much of it.

So I worked to find routes and boulder problems that allowed me to employ endurance, technique, flexibility, or strong hands to “outsmart” any power requirements. When I look back, it’s actually amazing to me how many of these routes and problems I managed to find, all the while avoiding anything that required power and only power in order to succeed. (Read: steep rock was not my favorite.)

I did try to gain power, but it just never worked very well. “Just boulder,” some folks told me, but now I realize that my power levels were so low that I could never actually do the sorts of moves that would make me gain the power I was looking for. What do I mean by this? I mean that whenever people would say, “Just go for it! Fire!” I’d confusedly drop off the rock, not even having the power to start” just going for it” and not comprehending what it felt like to actually “fire” with any sort of authority or confidence.

I’m rambling. The point of this is that I am now training power religiously to catch it up to everything else, and it’s addictive. I spent much of last winter building a base in order to accomplish this, and now, I’ve moved into a time period in which I’m making huge and noticeable gains every time I train.

As in, in the last three training sessions, I’ve gone from being able to lock-off on one arm for a second, to three seconds, to eight seconds (on my left arm, which is stronger, with similar gains on my right, ending on a five-second lock-off for that one). Because I’m gaining so much so quickly, I look forward to each training session. It’s exciting to see the results of my efforts and to actually feel what it feels like to feel powerful for the first time in my life.

But consequently, I’m sacrificing feeling great outside on the rocks here for however long it takes. It’s more worth it to me at this point to build my power level up to a point where I can do a one-arm pull-up.

Simply put, I want to not feel like I’m at a disadvantage every time I’m confronted by a huge move or a hard lock-off. I know it doesn’t have to feel this way. There’s plenty of strong folks that aren’t super tall out there, and it’s just an excuse (instead of just saying “I’m too weak”) to blame stature, usually, as the reason for not being able to do a move.

It’s funny, I used to sort of scorn brute power, but that was out of ignorance. I’ve come to see now that if you have enough power, it can quite often compensate beautifully and effectively for a lacking in almost all of the other departments I spent so much time honing. But that’s not to say those areas are not worth anything, either. I’m just saying that I actually think power (pull power and hand power/strength, both) is probably the single-most important component required for hard rock climbing.

Having all of the other tools in your arsenal (endurance, flexibility, technique, etc.) can help you direct and utilize that power more effectively and efficiently—but you have to have a certain level of power to start with. And that’s why I’m training it so hard and so much, and sacrificing so much of my climbing time to training for the moment. Yes, it’s hard to make climbing take a backseat to training, but in the end, I think the results will be well worth my efforts. I’m finally truly working my weakness, and (as people always say), you make the greatest gains if you work your weakest link.