from the book "Champions in Training" by Kate Howe copyright 1992, 1999, 2008
This is a favorite torture device of mine. I mean, this is a great training tool that I use. It all started with Lactate Threshold Endurance Training for Rock Climbing. Here’s how it works:
When you rock climb, you get this awful burning feeling in your forearms. They are the tiniest little muscles that are working harder than any other muscles in your body, as you try to remember to use your BIG muscles in your legs and butt and core, and save your forearms. But human nature is to hold on and pull, and so those little guys just die. They flame out. They are on fire. You can’t close your fist anymore after a while.
That burning feeling is lactic acid building up in the muscle and impeding its ability to function. There are two things your body can do here, they can learn to tolerate it, and they can learn to shunt that lactic acid away quickly. We train these things by climbing continuously until you can’t hold on anymore. We climb to failure.
So I had this AMAZING client named Eddie Babyans. When I first got him, he climbed pretty hard, V-4/5, and he was very muscular. Like any big strong guy, he liked to pull with his hands and let his feet dangle fantastically out in the air behind him. Very exciting to watch. Not the most efficient way to climb.
I put Eddie on the traverse wall and I had him climb sideways, using all the holds he wanted to, until he started getting tired. Then I had him keep climbing. Then, I had him keep climbing. He wasn’t allowed to touch the ground, rest, shake out, just continuous movement. Standing on his feet, with good technique, he stayed and stayed and stayed on the wall. Then, I had him tell me when he felt like he was going to fall, like he only had one more move in him.
And then we started counting moves. The first time we did this, he had about 9 more moves in him, and then he fell off. But did he climb to failure? Did he climb until his fingers couldn’t close, physically couldn’t grip on the wall anymore? Or did he step off? I put him right back on and we started counting again. He had another 9 moves in him.
In climbing, boulder problems are about 7-9 moves long. So if he had nine more moves in him, he certainly could have enough for ONE more move, if he were at the crux of a problem.
Another client I had had 26 more moves in him, about the length of a sport route, or three more bouldering problems.
Lactate Threshold training is brutal. It is hard to be honest with yourself, to dig deep and give everything you have. To go totally to failure. Some people do it better than others. By our second training session, Eddie could climb all the way to failure on his own. He’d tell me, “Start Counting” and he’d only have one or two more moves in him. He had truly tapped his deepest reserve. Yet he’d hop back on and make sure. One or two more moves and fall off again. Yes, Eddie had dug as deep as there was to go.
Eddie was special, a shining example of what we wish all of our coaching clients could be, and because of this extraordinary ability to listen to his coaches and apply what they said, he climbed very hard, very quickly. He was climbing v10/12 and beat climbing sensation Chris Linder at one of our American Bouldering Series competitions.
What is it about Eddie? Why could he instinctively have access to all his reserve energy? Why could he work so hard, while others had to work hard just to get halfway there?
I have a theory about this, one I tested on Eddie and all my clients with interesting results. This is the theory of the Will-O-Meter.
Everyone has one. Imagine that your ability to dig deep, to try as hard as you can, is like climbing up a ladder. When you feel like you have reached the top of the ladder, you have nothing left to give. Now imagine that the top of the ladder is just a saran-wrap ceiling. Push through it and on the other side you will find more of YOU!
Challenge yourself to check your Will O Meter every time you think you’ve given all you can. You’ll be surprised at how much more is in you!
A great example of this is a story I love to tell about my mom. In her sixties, she decided that she wanted to come and see what it was that I did all day. She came to the climbing gym, and we put her in a harness. She got up on the wall, went about ten feet off the deck on the teaching terrain (which is slabby enough that you could actually walk up it without even using your hands) and froze.
“Okay, I understand, I think I’m ready to come down.” She called.
Unfortunately for my mom, this is what almost every adult who has never climbed before says when they get off the ground, so I have a bag full of tricks that I use to get them calm and keep them going. And yes, I was going to use all of them on my mom.
“Okay, mom, just rest there.”
“I don’t want to rest, Katheryne, I want to come down. NOW.”
Crap, she used my whole name. Tough, she still isn’t coming down. In my heart, I know she can reach the top. I start pulling out the tricks.
“I want to take your picture, wave to the camera.” She takes her death grip off the rope (did she really think she was holding herself up there with her hands?) and waves. I have her say hi to her husband on the other side, with the other hand. I point out that she is no longer holding on, and she hasn’t fallen to her death yet.
She argues back that she wants down. NOW.
I tell her she can come down when she touches the blue hold above her head. She doesn’t have to go to the top, she just has to stand on her feet, make one more move, and then zip, down she’ll come.
She scowls at me, looks up at the blue climbing hold just out of her reach, and decides to get this nonsense over. She stands on her feet, she reaches for the hold (and in doing so, goes through her saran wrap ceiling), and then decides (as I guessed she might) to just keep going. I expected another ceiling along the way, but surprisingly, she climbs very calmly to the top and then RINGS THE HECK out of the cowbell up there.
I lower her to the ground, and when her feet hit the deck, she starts crying. I think, oh, dear, I’ve broken mom. But there is a big goofy grin on her face. She’s proud of herself. This experience affected her so profoundly, that she, a woman who has never been able to swim, decided to sign up for classes at the YMCA, got red cross certified, then got SCUBA certified, then went diving with turtles in the Cayman Islands. Because all her ceilings are made of saran wrap now.
What will YOU accomplish if YOU push through?