Saturday, 23 June 2012

Review: 9 Out Of 10 Climbers Make The Same Mistakes

Dave MacLeod's "9 Out Of 10 Climbers Make The Same Mistakes" is not a new book. It's has been around for a couple of years. I had heard good things - climbers that had read it paid testament to the effect it had on their outlook on training and improving their climbing ability. But it wasn't until very recently that I finally got around to reading it for myself. And, to be honest, it wasn't something I set out to find and devour. I was browsing around the Mammut shop in Hathersage, in the Peak District, and came across the book shelf. Among the biographical tomes of climbing legends completing epic goals, "9 Out Of 10 Climbers..." stood out as a self-help manual to getting better at something I dedicate so much of my time to.

I have been climbing - on and off, due to injury and work commitments - for more than a decade. The first five or six years, when I was still in my teens, I can't say I had any illusions of grandeur. As I have mentioned in another post, I had little awareness of what could actually be achieved in climbing. My 'goals' revolved around climbing once or twice a week and simply enjoying it. When I went to university, however, everything changed and I wanted to get better. I saw other 'psyched' climbers and this, in turn, gave me enthusiasm to push my limits. I had no understanding of how to do this and, over the years, I have learnt the hard way - through trial and error. Had I been given this book earlier (before it was actually written) I could have saved myself a great deal of time and, I'm willing to stick my neck out and speculate, I would probably be better at climbing by now. That is a bold statement to throw out there so early in a review, but I do believe it to be the case.

When I started reading "9 Out Of 10 Climbers..." I couldn't help but see parallels with my own experiences. In fact, it read like the author had been following me around for years, making notes on how I was training and listing them under the heading "How Not To Train". I did it all. I lost loads of weight, in the hopes that being light would boost my ability - and it did for a time, but you can only lose so much weight and then you hit a very hard wall. I have spent hours on the campus board, trying to build finger strength instead of working on my climbing technique. I trained seven days a week, with little time to recover. I stuck to my strengths and never worked on my weaknesses. The whole lot. But I learnt from these mistakes and I have changed my climbing and training habits over the years.

To this end, a great deal of the book felt like reassurance, to me. It was reassuring to learn that I knew a lot more than I thought about how not to train - because I had done it all myself! Not that I have anywhere near the knowledge and ability of the author. And in this I could learn something new. In this, everyone can learn something new. Providing you are willing to push yourself to get better at climbing, climbers of all abilities can get something out of this book.

Of course, it is not a be-all and end-all. Do not start reading it thinking you are suddenly going to see a leap in your climbing abilities. That bit takes dedication and hard work. The book will give you ideas, however. And, in my case, confidence. A simple passage that stated that a great deal of climbers out there are already strong enough to achieve their goals was an eye opener. Without wanting to toot my own horn, I am a strong person. But this is because I have spent a great deal of time working on this aspect of my fitness. I do hundreds of pullups and pushups a week, and have left hours of my life in the gym, cycling and crunching weights, not to mention the hours of bouldering each week. Since I started reading the book, I have decreased the amount of strength work I have been doing and have concentrated on climbing more - simple as that. And it has worked: I have seen minor improvements. (Note: I started reading the book 3 or 4 weeks ago, but had to leave it for a while and only just got around to finishing it this morning.)

My criticisms of the book are limited. Firstly, I found parts rather repetitive, which served to drive certain points home, but became monotonous and sent my attentions elsewhere on occassion. And secondly, the last section of the book, named "What's next coach? Planning your improvement" seemed a dumping ground for content that wouldn't fit into the previous sections. I felt there was little cohesion between the paragraphs, leaping from one subject to the next without warning. This is a minor criticism, however, because the points being made were useful and clearly written.

In that last sentence lies a major plus point, as "9 Out Of 10 Climbers..." is incredibly accessible. I have read the author's blog and he does occasionally break into scientific jargon, demonstrating a deeper, technical knowledge he seemingly tries not to unleash on the unsuspecting public (read "Lack of Enzymes" as an example). But this book is easy to read and understand. Line breaks between paragraphs, sub headings and sections all serve to provide you with natural stopping points every page or so. This is helpful if, like me, time is a commodity you don't have much of. A quick 10-15 minute read in the morning before work is all I could eke out of my day, and this book allows you to read as little as that and still garner golden nuggets of knowledge that would otherwise take years of trial and error to discover for yourself.

If you are serious about wanting to improve your climbing ability, get the book, read it and take from it what you will. "9 Out Of 10 Climbers Make The Same Mistakes" really is a must read for committed climbers.