Performing better (while older or younger)
This spring I’ve put a fair number of days into sport climbing, and it has paid off. I’m climbing close–but not there yet–as hard on rock as I was in my mid-20s, even though I’m now 46. Yeah, that’s a dire number, I don’t know how I managed to live this long. It wasn’t planned. In any case, I’ve been thinking a lot about training, aging and life. In no particular order:
The first key to staying fit for climbing–or any sport–as you age is to goddamn well stay fit. This means not ever turning into a desk-jocky office sloth any more than is necessary to make a living. Move. Even if I’m not climbing I’m paddling, hiking, skiing, mountain biking, lifting weights, swimming, whatever, doing something, pretty much every day. I sometimes shudder when I see some of my friends who I haven’t seen in years; a few pounds is OK as we age and fighting that probably isn’t worth the effort, but for god’s sake it’s not OK to be the stoop-shouldered shuffling smoked husk of a human body that I see so often in North America. Gain 40 pounds, sit around, you can just see the toll it takes on a body and mind…
Eat well. The heaviest I’ve ever been was 185 pounds. To reach this weight I did a lot of Crossfit and not much other activity while eating a ton of meat and basic foods; my bodyfat was probably still under ten or 12 percent, but definitely higher than it normally is. The lightest I’ve been as an adult was 145, and I was, let’s face it, an anorexic stick boy at sub-4 percent or less body fat. That sucked. My best climbing weight when climbing “fit” is about 155 (best in terms of performance, the only “weight” that counts). I’m now about 160. Good enough given that I’m 20 years older, although I suspect my weight will drift toward 155 as I climb. I eat well enough, exercise enough, and don’t let some neurotic diet interfere with actually performing well at my sport, which right now is rock climbing but in general is life. I’ll get heavier during paddling season, lighter during climbing season, and lightest of all if I’m doing a ton of aerobic mountain sports where I lose muscle and burn fat for energy every day.
Attack your weaknesses. As I’ve aged my “natural” power has gone down. I have to work at this more. My endurance is as good as it ever was. I boulder more, do some fingerboard workouts, and rest adequately. If you don’t know your weaknesses then that’s your weakness. Most of the “general” workouts on the web and in print are for someone else’s weaknesses, not yours.
Be ruthless about distractions: You can’t climb hard and do Crossfit and ride your mountain bike and go to barbecues every night and have a family and a job and a new car and a perfect lawn and and. Ya gotta decide what’s important, and then do that. I coach athletes and often hear, “I’m too busy to do more.” Probably 30 percent or more of what we do in any given day is nonsensical BS. Cut the TV, internet, weight workouts, yoga, brunch, whatever, do your sport and what’s actually important in life. Yes, there are exceptions, but everyone seems to think their exceptions are relevant. Most aren’t. Doing your sport and what you really feel is important in life is what counts. Reading your kids books counts; keeping current on internet memes is not.
Avoid “performance boosters!” If anyone mentions “The Force,” homeopathy, magnets, “The Secret” or any of this sort of head-in-ass dreck avoid them and their products. They are idiots, and so are you if you buy into their snake-oil. There are a few supplements that demonstrably do something positive for our bodies and performance. Most of them are illegal, and I’ve yet to find one that is worth taking day in and day out other than my daily Red Bull or coffee prior to training. If the claims sound ridiculous or have no plausible (I’m not talking peer-reviewed double blind studies, let’s just start with plausible) explanation then in all likelihood the product or system is bogus.
Avoid any book with “Diet” on the front cover. It doesn’t work. That’s why there are thousands of diet books. If any one of them actually worked there would only need to be one. Eat basic unprocessed foods mostly, exercise lots, the rest is marketing hype.
Hang out with people who do what you want to do, are stoked, and are better at it than you (but chose fun over talent if it comes down to that). If your friends are really stoked on barbecues and brunch then you’re not going to be any good at anything but barbecues and brunch. Hang out with people who are psyched to do fun things regularly and you will be too. Avoid negative time-sucking people, they are evil and if life were fair would be struck down by lightning. All of my best sports performances have a psyched training partner in common.
And do ten sets of ten of exercise X… Or go do your sport with love, intensity and meaning, track your progress carefully and ruthlessly edit your training to get results. My goal for this spring is to rock climb as well as I did when I was 26. Right now I’m onsighting 12c/7b+ with about 50 percent consistency. I’d like to onsight some more 13a/7c+ routes this summer. Let’s see how that goes. Progress reports here. I like getting older so this isn’t about turning back the clock, this is about climbing hard routes without falling off. Game on.