Greetings gentle readers.
It's been four months since I set myself the goal of climbing my first 7a boulder by the end of 2021. Climbing gyms have opened again and travel restrictions within the UK have been lifted, which means I can now search a little further and wider for bouldering fun times. So, it seems like a good time to update you on what I’ve been doing over lockdown to work towards my goal and share an exciting development related to my plan going forward.
So, let’s crack on with the first situation report on what I’m referring to as Project 007a in a bid to make the whole endeavour sound more epic and like some kind of spy mission. I find puns motivational.
Here’s what I’ve been up to, climbing wise, from February to April.
As we discovered in my post chronicling my humbling attempt at the 9c strength test, I could stand to be better at pull-ups. My giant resistance band and I have been working hard to address this issue.
I’ve mostly been working on improving my form as I suspect some reckless and clumsy pull-ups contributed to the shoulder injury I suffered at the end of last year/start of this year. Continuing a long-established millennial tradition, I hopped over to Google and searched for something along the lines of ‘proper pull-up form’. Unsurprisingly, this led me to some videos of burly men (some with, some without their nipples out) cranking out rep after rep of beautifully performed pull-ups.
If these men are to be believed, my form was indeed shocking.
I’ve always found the initial part of the pull-up (going from straight to bent arms) the most difficult. According to the burly men, this may be because I was not sufficiently engaging my shoulders by driving them back and down to initiate the pull-up. It appears I was also not driving my elbows down and my chest up with adequate gusto, so I was lacking on the very top range of motion as well.
Everything in the middle was grand though. Well done me.
This stuff may sound tedious and nitpicky but I’m really glad I took the time to do some research and a lot of monotonous shoulder shrugging. I had a lightbulb moment during one session, when it all came together and I could really feel the difference all this work on form had produced.
I can now do a pull-up with 3kg extra weight so I’m halfway to getting an extra point on the 9c test and all the way to feeling smug about getting stronger. Every added kilogram builds my muscles and boosts my ego.
I was, and continue to be, surprisingly pleased with my finger strength. I haven’t tried to surpass the bodyweight plus 6kg hang on a 20mm edge I completed for the 9c strength test. Along a similar line as the pull-up training, I’ve been working on maintaining good form but also getting used to trusting my fingers again.
With climbing walls shut, Cumbrian weather being what it is, and being hampered by a dodgy shoulder I hadn’t spent a lot of January/February testing out my finger strength. Now I’m back working my fingers again, I’m taking it slowly and gradually building up the intensity.
This process has also introduced me to my nemesis holds on the Beastmaker 1000.
The 35-degree slopers aka the bastard holds.
With the support of my giant resistance band, I can hang off these holds very easily. Without it, I can cling on for 2 to 3 seconds before sliding slowly off the slopy bastards.
I’m not a fan of slopers on the climbing wall either. Tackling this foe is just going to take some practice.
Curse you slopers, curse you!
Climbing on Plastic at Home
After what felt like a very long and wet winter, we’ve had a decent number of sunny days up here in the north of England and the homewall has once again had time to shine.
As is always the case after a period of not climbing regularly, it took me a while to become familiar with how climbing works again. There are movements you do on a climbing wall that simply don’t crop up in other aspects of life. For me, it takes a few sessions to remind my body of these basic movements.
And it’s not just the physical side of climbing. When my fingers grab their first crimp in months my brain’s response is always:
“What the fuck? We can’t hold that. That’s tiny!”
It takes a fair amount of cajoling to talk my brain into allowing my body to use difficult holds again. Thankfully this usually doesn’t take too long. After just a couple of weeks of semi-regular sessions on the homewall, I found my flow and felt very much like a climber again.
It’s hard to put into words exactly what changes. I’m not suddenly stronger. My fingers don't get grippier overnight. I don't spontaneously acquire extra flexibility. But at some point, my body’s muscle memory kicks in and enough climbing-based information gets to my brain to remind it that this is something we’ve done before and done well.
It’s a lovely moment.
I’m planning to write another post about the lessons I’ve learned from routesetting and climbing on the homewall so I won’t go into much detail about that now. Let’s just say that professional route setters are geniuses and I’ve had a lot of fun with a limited space and set of holds.
Climbing on Plastic in the Gym
We’ve had one trip to a real bouldering gym since lockdown restrictions eased and I really cannot stress enough how happy it made me.
Our current gym is Eden Rock in Carlisle and it’s basically my dream wall. There’s plenty of corners to wedge yourself in, roofs to ruin yourself under, and slabs to balance yourself up. I absolutely love the place and would highly recommend checking it out if you’re ever in the area.
Due to very a high level of giddiness, I hardly got to the top of any boulders during our first session back in the gym. Our two hours at Eden Rock were spent trying and falling off every fun looking boulder in the building, of which there were many.
I’ll certainly start to be more selective and focused now I’ve got the initial excitement out of my system. But it was delightful to just let myself run a little wild and embrace the joy of climbing.
Climbing on Rock
Husband and I are currently battling a boulder project that doesn’t necessarily play to our strengths but is proving to be an enjoyable and worthy adversary.
The boulder is located just down the hill from the Honister Slate Mine and is creatively named the South Boulder. We first encountered this rock in August last year, when we managed to complete some of the lower grade problems on the rock including, the High Traverse. Having finished that one, we thought we might as well give the Low Traverse a bash. The inventive names just keep on coming.
The main reason this problem doesn’t exactly suit us is that it’s really bloody long. We filmed a video of me going through all the moves we’ve worked out so far and it’s two and a half minutes long. That’s at least two minutes longer than I generally want to be on a rock. However, the moves are powerful and interesting and I really appreciate a fun problem that stays close to the ground so it’s worth persevering with.
I plan to do a full blog post about this particular problem (hopefully when we’ve completed it!) so I won’t give you the full tour of the rock just yet.
For now, I’ll tell you that we’ve worked out the beta for approximately 80% of the moves and done each of these moves individually or in small chunks. We spent our last session trying to work out how to do the remaining 20%. After a couple of hours of “maybe if I put my right hand there”, “what if I try the heel hook here”, and (Husband’s favourite) “what if I just try and span it” we were still pretty flummoxed. It feels like this section will be hard but achievable if we can just work out the best sequence.
The plan for our next trip to this boulder is to leave the mysterious 20% for now and start joining the moves we do understand together. Hopefully climbing this problem will take less time than explaining it. Two and half minutes is a long time for amateur boulderers to remain attached to a rock!
Health and Well-being
Possibly my most significant achievement over the last few months has been maintaining a set of healthy shoulders. I worked very diligently through my rehab exercises for my shoulder injury and have taken great care to maintain a balanced training plan while introducing pull-ups and fingerboarding back into the equation.
For the most part, this has been successful, particularly during a rainy lockdown when there was only so much hard climbing I could do anyway. My general rule of thumb has been that for every climbing/pull-up/fingerboarding session I do, I also do an antagonist session to even it out. These antagonist sessions have included:
Weights/Rehab sessions focused on shoulders
Squats (so many squats)
Lots of soothing stretching
Press-ups, press-ups, press-ups
I've tried to mix these sessions up as much as possible as they can be quite monotonous (as I mentioned in a post about the initial stages of rehabbing my shoulder injury).
Unfortunately, I found this balance much harder to maintain once I started to incorporate more hard climbing into my schedule. My shoulders started making more clicking sounds than I’d like and I began to feel the wear and tear of three months of hard training. By mid-April I didn’t have any injuries but I felt sore and tired.
So, after our session at Eden Rock, I decided to take a week off from anything especially strenuous and give my body a break before starting . . .
. . . My New Training Plan!
Overall, I’d say I have a relatively sound knowledge of many aspects of climbing training. I’ve read a lot of books, watched many YouTube videos, and listened to numerous podcasts. I’m pleased with the amount of data I have shoved into my brain on the subject and have used it wisely over lockdown.
On the other hand, gathering this information and trying to put it into practice now I’m back climbing again has made me really appreciate the expertise of climbing coaches. I have even more respect for the wizards who can pull all this data together and turn it into a coherent plan that actually makes people better at climbing.
So, I have enlisted a wizard of my very own to put together a plan, which will hopefully enable me to complete Project 007a.
The wizard in question is Rachel Carr of Core Climbing Coaching. I had a delightful conversation with Rachel (over Zoom, of course) in which I fully embraced my nerdy love of talking about all things climbing without having to worry that I was boring the other person to death. I told her all about my dodgy shoulders, weedy triceps, and potentially unrealistic dreams, all of which she took very gracefully in her stride.
Something I hadn’t realised until Rachel asked the question “Are there any exercises you don’t like?” is that there aren’t really any areas of training I don’t enjoy. I genuinely am one of those maniacs who is just as happy doing sit-ups as pull-ups. Heaven help me, I even relish the burn of leg day! I’m sure that’s not an annoyingly obnoxious character trait in a training partner (citation needed from Husband).
I am currently awaiting the arrival of my shiny new training plan, which I’m sure will test my levels of enthusiasm with some new methods of exercise related torture. Needless to say, I am extremely excited about this new venture and really looking forward to sharing the experience with you all.
Keep your eyes peeled for progress updates and try hard faces in the upcoming months.
Cheers to climbing success!