At the gym recently I've noticed a phenomenon that I've seen a number of times over the years. Call it what you want, "Social Abs", "Core With Friends", "Ab Circle", "Club Core", .... whatever. I call it a "Fairy Ring".
This is an actual photo from the gym. Seriously.
Maybe that's unfair. Then again, maybe not. Fact is, almost nobody in that situation gets any benefit at all from what they're doing. Unless, of course, the goal is to impress the girl leading the Fairy Ring with your after workout circus tricks. That might work.
Ok, I'm not JUST ripping on the silliness I see in the gym. There actually is a point to this. Most of the people I see in the gym who are "training" are simply piggy-backing off of someone else's often misguided training program. People always want to know what my workout is that night so that they can do it, too. It just won't work.
Let me explain it like this:
Let's say there are 5 guys and 5 girls in any given Fairy Ring. Everyone is at least reasonably fit. 3 of the guys are ripped, but they are the 3 worst male climbers. The girls are all hot (this doesn't matter; I'm just pointing it out). A couple of the girls are mostly social climbers, and make no secret about it. Their climbing abilities range from about 5.10 to 12-, and from maybe V2 to V5. They spend 2 or 3 hours climbing, then 30 or 40 minutes doing Fairy Ring exercises, followed by 4 or 5 participants doing an hour or so of circus tricks, campusing, and chatting. They all do each exercise for the same amount of time, reps, or intensity levels.
This girl - with the smile? Wasting her time.
Sounds fun. Particularly if it's a rest day. As a workout, it's mostly worthless for all but a few of the people involved. I mean, 10 individuals all doing the same workout in unison? It looks cute, but otherwise, pointless. Here's why:
The 3 guys who are ripped can easily handle a far more intense workout than the less fit people. They could have gotten much more out of working on their sorry technique and learning a little more about climbing. Same goes for the stronger climbers. Their core is plenty strong enough to do the sort of workout they are doing, and they'd get more out of a sport specific core workout that imitates climbing movements - or just from climbing. The people who are, by far, getting the most benefit from the Fairy Ring are the social climbers (the ones who care the least about getting better) and the physically weaker climbers. Not to mention, if you have the energy for post-workout campusing and yoga-style core circus tricks, then your workout might be lacking. If you're in the Fairy Ring, and it's difficult for you, then good job.
If I tried to smile like this during core work, I'd explode.
My point extends beyond just the Fairy Ring and core workouts. If you do the same problems in your 4x4 as your partner, then the two of you had better be uncommonly evenly matched. The same strengths and weaknesses. The same goals. Doing the exact same number of laps on the same routes as your belay partner means that most likely, one of you is trying much harder than the other.
Here's another example: Two guys, Biff and Bam, always climb together and always work on the same problems. Biff sends after 3 or 4 tries then gets to sit and chat with the girls. Bam has to refine his technique, dig deep for the power, and completes the problem after an hour of learning a few new tricks. Unless Biff got a date out of it, Bam wins. He may not be the better climber tonight, but he will be. Mark my words.
There is NO single workout that any group of people can follow to get the optimum results for each of them. Doing your partners workout just isn't what's best for you. You all have different ability levels, goals, drives, strengths, and weaknesses. If your goal is to get stronger, then your workouts MUST reflect your own individual needs. Not mine. Not your partner's. Not the other Fairies.
In this episode, in the midst of a gym tour, Nate and I sit down to discuss how we feel about climbing gym grades. Do they matter? Should they be taken seriously?
If we look for something to complain about, we’ll find it. We try something in the gym, it feels awkward or harder than we think it should, and so we write it off as a "bad problem" and move on.
When you do a rock climb, no matter what grade you give it, or what grade the guidebook gives it, the difficulty of said rock climb does not change. It's exactly the same amount of challenging for you no matter what number anyone attaches to it.
How often do you give 100%? REALLY give 100%? I make my living coaching climbers, and I seldom see a climber try their hardest. Myself included.
If you want to be physically prepared for rock climbing, you need to concern yourself with the following components:
Let's face it, there are some really bad ideas out there. Myths that people cling to. New methods of "training" that just aren't thought through. Trends that are fun to jump into, but really aren't helping you.
When someone who has been climbing half as long as you is performing as well as you would like to be, do you write them off as being "a natural?" Or, do you take an honest look at yourself and admit that maybe you haven’t been putting in the work necessary to become the climber you want to be?
What if wanting to be a better climber is the reason you aren’t improving? What do you value in good climbing? What does being a "better" climber look like?
Of course, there are two types of "Beta Sprayers." Those with good intentions, and those who just want to hear themselves sound smart. You know the latter. Ignore them. But the ones with good intentions might also be harming you.
Around here, we like to use the hashtag #webuildmachines. However, I'm acutely aware that you could just as often substitute with the hashtag #webuildmonsters, and I don't mean that in a positive way.
It's the new buzzword that's been around forever: sandbagged. "This is WAY harder than the other two 13a's I've done, so it MUST be 13d! At least!" Funny, I never hear, "That 13a felt pretty hard to me, I guess I should actually work on slopers for a while."
Fact is, I train hard. I train smart. Most of the people I work with do the same, and I'm not shy about telling them that if they are taking shortcuts, they are only hurting themselves. But here's where it goes wrong...
Recently "Rock and Ice" posted a video from Daniel Woods and The North Face and like everyone else, I watched. At first I just dismissed it, but the more I thought about it, the more I needed to rant a little. There are loads of pro-climber "training" videos that are, at best, silly, and at worst, irresponsible.
Here at The Power Company, we don't often talk about the differences between climbers who choose to mostly climb on routes and those who choose boulders. I'll go ahead and call that neglectful on my part, because there are some fundamental things that are different about the two.
It's the new buzzword: "training". Everybody and their mom wants to train, has training advice, and can give you a 3 minute video depicting their training. This may sound like a plus, particularly for someone who sells training programs, but that isn't necessarily the case.
If you're cross-training for fun - because you like it or want to excel at it - or because it simply makes you feel good, then by all means keep doing it. If, however, you do it because you believe that you'll become a better climber, keep reading.
Danger is everywhere. I’m not talking about the kind of danger that we as rock climbers put ourselves into. I’m talking about the kind of parasitic danger that searches you out. There are two main types that thrive in the chalky environment in climbing gyms: The Lurker and The Exspurt.
There are three components you must have if you expect to improve your climbing. There are lots more you could use, but without these three, none of the others will mean a damned thing.
But Sharma doesn't train... Or does he? If you will, allow me to hypothesize. Chris Sharma, through the course of his normal routine, is in fact training, despite merely calling it "climbing".
I get it. Talking is easier than doing. Talking is far easier on the ego than trying and failing. What it isn't, however, is nearly as satisfying.
My friend Nate Drolet, asked his belayer if she wanted half of his banana. Of course she did - who wouldn't? Rather than peel it and break it off with his chalky, dirty fingers, or dig in his pack for a knife, Nate snapped the banana in half. Clean break, right through the middle. Like a ninja.
You can almost always find a reason to continue training the short-sighted way: if you get attached to your method of training, the method that has worked for years and gotten you to where you are (and where you've been for 5 seasons), then you're probably missing out on some great advice.
There is NO single workout that any group of people can follow to get the optimum results for each of them. If your goal is to get stronger, then your workouts MUST reflect your own individual needs. Not mine. Not your partner's.
Let me start off by saying that I still believe that periodized training is the way to go for anyone with specific goals that require them to perform at the upper limits of their abilities. Now that I've said that, allow me to tell you what I think right this second... when dealing with the unpredictability of weather in this region of the country, periodized training can kiss my ass.
I hear them coming from every corner of the gym. From the mats beneath the boulder. From 30 feet up the lead wall. I hear them in the lobby before I even make it into the gym. No, not the voices in my head. What I hear are excuses.
The fact is, you WILL NEVER get to within earshot of your potential if you don't have a complete skill set. No matter how hard you train, no matter how much blood, sweat, and tears you contribute to the cause, you'll never get the job done without the tools. So what are you waiting for?