Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Pilates Cross-training for Climbers

As a climber, have you ever wished you were a little taller so you could make a big reach, or a little more flexible for a high step? Have you ever resorted to picking up your foot and placing it where you wanted it to go because you didn't have the flexibility to get there in the first place? By adding Pilates to your cross-training, you'll find that monster stems, killer high steps, and sketchy rock-over moves get easier. By practicing Pilates, you'll improve the quality of your fitness, reduce your risk for overuse injuries and improve your climbing. Not only will you log more pitches in a single day, you'll climb them in better style.

The higher the grade and the more you climb, the greater the stress load on your body and the more at risk you become for an overuse injury. Preventing overuse injuries means maintaining uniform muscle balance in the forearms, uppers arms, and shoulders. Muscle imbalances are responsible for many common climber injuries. Overly developed back muscles and underdeveloped rotator cuff muscles often lead to shoulder injury. Meanwhile overdeveloped flexors of the forearms and wrist paired with underdeveloped extensor muscles can lead to elbow injuries. To avoid climbing related injuries an effective Pilates cross-training routine should focus on achieving the following:

• Boosting Core Strength (abdominals, hips, and mid back).
• Improving flexibility.
• Restoring overall muscle balance.
• Strengthening non-climbing muscles (antagonists)
• Stretching climbing muscles (agonists).

Adding Pilates exercises to your current cross-training routine is easy. All you need is a flat space where you can lie down and move your arms and legs freely. Camping mats or pads work great. If you are using a yoga mat, it’s best to stack at least two together. If you’re outside in a park, picnic tables work great as practice space if the ground is wet, uneven, or sloping.

Here's are three excellent Pilates exercises for Climbers. Learn many others in Lauri Stricker's Pilates for the Outdoor Athlete.

Double Straight Leg Stretch
Purpose: Strengthens the Core Begin by lying on your back.

Stack your hands behind your head with you elbows bent and gently lengthen the back of your neck. Roll up to the base of your shoulder blades. Bring your legs perpendicular to your body. INHALE and lower your legs to 45 degrees. Imagine your legs are straight and solid as a strong board. Avoid arching your lower back. Keep your spine flat on the mat. EXHALE and lift your legs back to perpendicular, keeping your tailbone on the mat. Only lower your legs as far as you can while still keeping your lower back on the mat. (6-10 repetitions)

Single Leg Push Ups
Purpose: Strengthens the shoulders, chest, upper arms, and the core.

Begin by standing tall with your arms over your head. Hinge from your hips and lift one leg behind you as you lower your torso forward and raise your leg up father. Keep your hips square. INHALE, keep your leg extended, and walk your hands out until you are in a plank-like push-up position with your arms under your shoulders. EXHALE. Use a full breath for each one-legged push-up. Walk your hands back in and lower your leg back down as you hinge back up from the hips to an upright standing position. Repeat, standing on the opposite leg. Do 5-10 pushups per leg.

Rotator Cuff
Purpose: Improves shoulder strength and joint integrity.

Lying on your side, stack your hips and shoulders and bend your knees in at a right angle. Bend your top arm at a 45-degree angle with your elbow on your hip. INHALE and externally rotate your arm from your elbow so your hand moves away from your body. EXHALE and release it down slowly with control to the staring position. Maintain your sideline position; place the dumbbell in the hand of your lower arm. INHALE and internally rotate your arm from the elbow so that your palm comes up toward your shoulder. EXHALE and release it down slowly with control. (20 repetitions per side. Use a light 2-5 pound dumbbell).

Lauri Stricker (pictured in photos) is an avid rock climber, and the author of the book: Pilates for the Outdoor Athlete, Fulcrum 2007.

For more information on Pilates cross-training for climbing please visit: PilatesForTheOutdoorAthlete.com.

Click here to buy Pilates for the Outdoor Athlete from the Author!

Friday, February 02, 2007

Six Mental Tips to Improve Performance in 2007

In the last few articles you’ve learned how performance operates from the inside-out. Your beliefs, focus, fears, confidence, motivation, and for that matter every thought that crosses your mind, form the foundation from which you will either succeed or fail on a climb. Therefore, succeeding on a project or advancing to the next grade level is often more a matter of the mind, than it is the body.

In this article I will outline six simple, yet powerful tips for elevating performance. Recognize that these six strategies are interlaced and can produce a powerful synergy when all are in practice. In aggregate, they may produce an effect similar to unloading a 10-pound weight (or more) from your back that you have unknowingly been hauling up climbs. Hence, I call this, using your "mental wings." Okay, let’s get started.

Mental Strategy #1 for improving performance: Separate your self-image from your climbing performance.
Chance are climbing plays a major role in your life (as it does in mine). However, if your self-image is tied too strongly or singularly to this role, it leads to an obsessive need to perform perfectly every time you touch the rock. The result is intense pressure, anxiety, and fear of failure—-all of which will make performing your best difficult, if not impossible.

The fact is, you will perform best in a process-oriented frame of mind, where the outcome is accepted as unknown, allowed to unfold without forethought. Detaching your self-image from your climbing performance is the first step to escaping an outcome-oriented mindset. Strive to focus only on things immediate to the act of climbing—your warm-up, mental rehearsal, gear selection, and then when climbing, focus only on the move at hand and never project ahead. Accept feedback the route gives you without frustration or judgment and liberate yourself to try new things, take chances, and most important fall. Such process-orientation and self-image detachment will reduce pressure and anxiety and, paradoxically, you'll climb better by not needing to!

Mental Strategy #2: Surround yourself with positive people.
There is an aura of influence that surrounds each of us and its effects are based on our personality and attitude towards life and its events. Your thoughts and actions will affect the thoughts and actions of those around you, and vice versa. As I see it, there are three options--either climb alone, climb with upbeat and positive people, or climb with cynical and negative people. But why would you ever want to climb with the negative, excuse-making complainers of the climbing world? Their negative aura will adversely impact your climbing and enjoyment whether you recognize it or not. The Bottom line: Vow to either climb with positive individuals or climb solo--both approaches can be hugely rewarding.

Mental Strategy #3: Stretch your comfort zone.
To improve in anything, your goals must exceed your current grasp and you must be willing to push beyond your comfort zone in your reach. In performing on the vertical plain, this means climbing onward despite mental and physical discomfort; it means challenging your fears head-on by doing what you fear; and it means attempting what looks impossible to you based on your past experience. Through this process, you will stretch your abilities to a new level, redefine your belief system, and reshape your personal vision of what is possible.

Mental Strategy #4: Anticipate and proactively manage risk.
Climbing is an activity with obvious inherent risks, and the desire to climb harder often requires taking on additional risk. This risk can come in the form of obvious physical danger such as a potentially injurious fall or as invisible mental risk like opening yourself up to failure, criticism and embarrassment.

Make it your MO to carefully assess all the possible risks before starting up every climb. Determine ways that you can lower the risk of the climb (such as rigging a belay differently than usual or getting an extra spotter or crash pad) and anticipate how you will respond to new emerging risk as you climb (for instance, discovering there’s no gear half way up the route). As for the mental risks you might face on the climb--things like the fear of failure--see Mental Strategy #1 (above) on separating your self-image from your performance.

Mental Strategy #5: Fortify your confidence.
Your degree of self-confidence is primarily based on your self-image and the thoughts you possess minute-by-minute and day-by-day. For example, pondering past failures, allowing free rein of demeaning self-talk, or dwelling on the chance of falling, will deflate self-confidence and sow the seeds of failure.

Conversely, peak performers consciously narrow their thoughts and focus onto things that will fortify and build confidence. You, too, can do this as you prepare for an ascent, by taking a mental inventory of past successes, believing your skills and strengths, and acknowledging your preparation and investment in training. Do all this and you will grow more energized and confident as you engage the rock, and most likely climb your very best.

And, Mental Strategy #6 for improving performance: Love climbing, no matter what.A common trait of successful people is resilience to bad results and criticism, and an unwavering belief that success will come with time and effort. Developing such a mindset takes a disciplined effort to constantly spin negative feedback into some kind of a positive-—real winners never dwell on the setbacks or admitting defeat.

Remember, the essence of climbing is the journey, not the summit. Vow to love the process of climbing and all it entails, whether it is a perfect send or a painful struggle. Sure, a perfect ascent is immensely gratifying; however, it’s on the arduous journey that you actually become a better climber and grow as a person.