Hi there and welcome to my blog! This blog exists to try and provide some information about climbing injuries, their treatment and some thoughts about avoiding injuries and other pitfalls during training.

I’m based in and around Harrogate, North Yorkshire. My aim is to get you treated either through advice and self care or by getting you referred for specialist help in the NHS or private healthcare.

If you’re struggling with an injury and want some help, you can contact me here. For free.

More information can be found on the About Me page.

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A non productive summer

this summer hasn’t gone to plan! I developed tendinitis in my wrist to an extent where typing was painful for a while. It’s taken a while to calm down so I’ve had a break from climbing and let body and mind unwind a bit. I ate what I wanted and didn’t exercise much. I haven’t put any weight on (maybe 2 lbs) which perhaps hints that the tendinitis was underpinned by some overtraining. It seems that if the mind doesn’t take the subtle hints, the body eventually takes action!

I’m planning on getting back into things soon but will be trying a different approach…..I’ll keep the blog updated and see if I can avoid overtraining and overuse injuries this time!

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Overtraining Part 3: How not to overtrain

Ok, we’ve looked at what happens with overtraining and at how it comes about. How do we prevent it?

The foundation of approaching this is to plan your training regime properly. If you’re really serious about training, i.e. hard enough to risk overtraining, you need to plan thoroughly. In medicine we have been swamped with management speak in recent years but some principles are actually quite useful. We’ll look at goal setting and root cause analysis.

First of all, set your goals- what do you want to achieve? How long do you have to achieve this? Is this timeframe realistic? What milestones (intermediate goals) will you set along the way? When setting these goals and milestones you have to remember that they must be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time bound. A vague goal will not allow you to focus your training- be specific. It must be measurable so you know when you’ve done it. If it isn’t attainable (e.g. climbing f9b+ next week when you can’t climb f7a now) your plans will be based in fantasy. The goal must be relevant, and in training for climbing this is best thought of as is it important to you. If it isn’t, you won’t be motivated enough to put the graft in. And finally it needs a timespan. If you build goals around this structure they can become useful tools to map out a path to achieving them.

Next, work out what you need to do to achieve these goals and don’t be afraid to really drill down to get to root causes, several steps if necessary. What factors prevent you from doing it right now? Are you not strong enough to do the crux moves on a project? Could you do these moves at ground level? If you could then stamina may be the issue. If not, then maybe it’s power or technique. If it looks like stamina then is this physical/fitness related or are you inefficient on the earlier part of the route and wasting energy? Would improved technique help? Write all these things down. You should get a number of goals and reasons why you can’t do them yet. The old phrase is “work your weaknesses”. You’ve just listed them. It might be worth getting a coach or climbing partner to help with this list and the reasoning process as it’s not easy to assess yourself.

Next step is to look at all the limiting factors and start listing what you could do in training to overcome them. Again a coach might be helpful in identifying solutions to the issues you have listed. I once had a day’s coaching with John Kettle which lifted me through 2-3 grades very quickly by identifying several issues I thought were due to fitness as technique issues making my climbing far more inefficient than it needed to be. You should now have a list of things to work on- maybe improve finger strength on pinches, get over fear of falling, improve stamina and practice climbing on limestone. It might be quite a short list or quite long, dependant on how big a stretch your goal is. Now we start getting to the trickier bit and to the decisions that will either set you up for success or overtraining, injury and failure. You need to tie this together into a plan.

There are a multitude of training books, blogs and webpages available explaining different ways of building a training program to achieve your goals. Most use periodisation as a basic structure; this is where you can maximise your gains in a given timeframe by training specific qualities in a certain order, aiming to hit peak fitness for a brief target period. This is borrowed from other sports and is a solid theory. It works but it requires discipline; you must accept that during your training regime you will not be climbing your best until you peak. My favourite books for explaining this concept are “Performance Rock Climbing” and “The Self Coached Climber”. All periodised training plans start with a foundation stage. Almost all books skip over this saying you need to be fit and need to optimise your body composition. But it is this phase that builds the foundation that everything else rests on. It is this phase that makes you less likely to get injured and less likely to develop overtraining. The only book I’ve found that really covers this and places the correct emphasis on it is“Training for the New Alpinism” by Steve House. I’ve written a review here, on this blog. It covers the physiology behind energy systems and recovery in great depth and gives some useful benchmarks for fitness.

The aim of this foundation stage is to ensure that your body (and mind) can cope with he repeated stresses you are going to put yourself under when you come to do specific training for your goals. If you have old injuries or an imbalanced/unstable joint this is the time to put in some work to get it functioning properly. This is the stage where you should build your core strength so you have a stable physical platform. Mentally, you should get used to trying hard. And also learn to read your own body and understand the subtle signs that warn you to back off. It is really worth spending as much time on this stage as you can. If you have had an injury issue previously it may be worth seeing a physiotherapist to get the function and stability of your joints assessed. “Prehab” is better than rehab. If you envisage training on the wall for 2 hours 4 times a week you need to know that you can handle exercising at that frequency and duration without overloading your system. In earlier parts of this series I discussed looking at all your stress; physical, emotional and mental as contributors to overtraining. Now is the time to address any issues you can to minimise your background stress, although the real world often has other plans! By preparing yourself physically and mentally in this period you can increase your capacity for dealing with stress and maybe even reduce the background issues. The difference between these two is your capacity for training.

Another key area in this preparation is nutrition. Just as the training regime will alter with time, so indeed does the nutrition you need to fuel your body and achieve your aims. If you are looking to reduce body fat, you need to create a calorific deficit to do so. In fact it is more complex than this as not all calories are created equal, but that is another series of articles in itself. Before we go any further I will warn you that trying to lose weight and train at the same time places you on a tightrope where overtraining is a high risk- not only are you stressing your body through training but you’re not giving it the resources to recover between workouts. Injury usually follows. If you are looking to increase strength you need adequate protein in your diet to allow muscle repair and you may need protein supplements to do this, especially if you have a typically hectic lifestyle (see here for a brief article about protein supplements). If you’re pushing yourself hard you can reduce the activity of your body’s immune system (you’re putting a lot of stress on the physiological system, after all) so vitamins and minerals might need a boost to reduce the likelihood of infection. If you do get ill or feeling excessively tired DO NOT TRAIN. Your body is under enough stress, don’t add to it. Let it recover. Any time you lose is less than what you would lose through illness and injury. Get enough sleep so your body’s soft tissues and homeostatic balance can recover and adapt to the previous training stimulus. Serious overtraining takes months to recover from, rushing may sabotage your schedule completely. Don’t be afraid to adapt your plan as you progress; as the situation and the knowledge you possess changes, so should the plan.

If this seems a bit vague and repetitive that’s because I’m trying to illustrate a few simple ideas that manifest in multiple ways. Reduce your stresses and maximise your ability to recover with strong foundation. Maximise your injury resistance by strengthening problem joints to make them stable. Give your body the resources it needs (sleep and nutrition) to recover and adapt. If extra stresses occur (illness, life events etc) reduce your training volume to avoid exceeding your capacity to recover. Every individual will have a different capacity for stress and react to circumstances uniquely. You will learn by trial and error. If you read around some of the resources I’ve mentioned in these articles and hopefully you’ll be learning from somebody else’s errors. It hurts less. Good luck!!

Next time we’ll look a little at the mental and emotional aspect to overtraining.

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Overtraining: the trap

This is an additional snippet to my series on overtraining. Overtraining syndrome has a nasty little trick that can really catch you out. It is especially applicable to climbers and can mislead you into a one way trip to burn out. Which sucks. (Just been there and still finding my way out)

I wasn’t trying to lose weight. I hadn’t increased the intensity of my training. I didn’t have any major injury problems. But I was being careful with my diet, avoiding all the rubbish and exercising 2-3 times a week. My energy levels started to drop slowly and I put it down to a virus or maybe work stress. Niggles in fingers became a bit more persistent. So I reduced the training and allowed myself to sleep more. 

Then my weight went up by 2 pounds. Ok, I thought, just the effect of not exercising as much. I compensated by reducing my diet. My energy levels dropped a bit more and weight went up another pound, all in a week. 

And the weight was going on around my waist like a laser guided bomb dropped it there. After 2 weeks of this I was really tired and then a finger tendinitis flared up and I stopped training altogether. 

It was a re-run of the way I felt the last time I pushed too hard. The bottom line was I needed a break. From work, climbing and moden life in general. Thankfully I had a vacation booked so had a week lazing by a pool in Italy in which to recover. I’ve just got back. I ate what I wanted and the only exercise I had was a brisk walk across Rome to catch a train and walking up streets in Tuscan hill towns. I drank a heroic amount of espresso and enjoyed the local food and wine. And I have come back slimmer and lighter and more energetic. And tanned.

What has happened? When overtraining kicks in the cortisol level rises. One nasty little trick of cortisol is to increase fat deposition around the middle of the body. You eat less but gain weight. And feel rubbish. To test if this is happening to you take a week off. Eat whatever you want ( but still avoid junk food) and rest. Do something other than climb or train. Enjoy a complete break. If your weight drops (apparently nonsensically) and you start to feel stronger then you needed the rest. The intuitive response to the increase in body fat is exactly the wrong thing: eating less will tip you into full overtraining. This is the trap. You probably won’t see it coming until you’re there but recognise it early and you can prevent a full crisis.

Ps: first wall session since my return led to me on sighting a problem and route at my onsight limit despite not climbing for nearly a month. And I felt I was moving better than before too! (And that is another discussion)

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Overtraining pt 2- a personal perspective. (Or if you can’t be a good example, be a dire warning)

Let me tell you my personal story of overtraining, and we’ll see if we can spot the predisposing factors and work out the changes needed. I work full time as a GP, have a family yet still manage to climb regularly. I am a bit of a perfectionist and when I decide to do something, I give 100%.
Yet at the beginning of this year it was all grinding to a halt. I was putting on weight and although my indoor grades were steady my energy levels were shocking. Getting out of bed in the morning became a major task. Some days even climbing the stairs was hard. I was exhausted. The final straw came on a proposed winter trip. My motivation just couldn’t overcome the inertia, the tiredness and the anxiety. We managed one route and then I got a calf injury. Game over.
What went wrong? You probably have to go back a full 12 months to understand the causes of this. I won’t bore you with the details but 2014 was a majorly stressful year on just about all fronts, constantly firefighting one crisis after another. In the back end of the year we decided to alter course to get out of this rut. We adopted a clean eating diet, and I started doing regular runs in the morning before work. I lost weight and felt great.

If you go back to my previous post you’ll remember that overtraining syndrome is (in my opinion) what happens when your body can no longer compensate for the stresses you are under. If you look at the tale above you can see that I had adopted exercise and diet changes to offset the other stresses I was under. My body was compensating via it’s neuro endocrine (brain & hormone) system. But you’ll also remember from my last post that this response is finite and time limited. So all it took was a dose of flu in December and I crashed.

Full on overtraining syndrome with exercise only 3 times a week.

Ok, so how do we stop it? The time to do this is before you even plan your training regime.
And you need to be honest. Brutally honest.
Take a look at your lifestyle, job and day to day routine. What are the major stresses? How do you deal with them?
I’m guessing a fair few people will say that they deal with stress by going climbing. That’s great. But if you start training for climbing and taking it seriously, pushing yourself to get better, then climbing will place your mind and body under stress. So before you do this, think about what you will do to relax. Yoga is a popular option; it improves flexibility and joint stability while also reducing your cortisol levels (according to some evidence). Meditation can also reduce the cortisol response. So does petting the cat etc (in fact I’m writing this with 2 cats sat on me now).
The next thing to consider is your base line fitness. Are you fit enough to put your body through this? If you don’t have a good level of fitness your body will be under much greater stress when going through training. This equals more stress response (ie more cortisol) and this provokes a catabolic response: you break down tissue.
To really spell it out, IF YOUR CORTISOL LEVELS ARE TOO HIGH YOUR TRAINING WILL NOT BE AS EFFECTIVE AS IT COULD BE AND YOU ARE MORE LIKELY TO GET INJURED.

Again you need to be brutally honest: do you need to be doing 4 x 4 s at the wall or should you be raising your aerobic fitness and injury proofing your joints first? Some recent training books (very good ones) have proposed that cardiovascular work (especially running) is not useful for climbers. But these guys were champion runners already and are working with athletes who are already superfit. And they do recommend having a basic level of fitness before climbing. That basic level is quite high! For me, I wasn’t there. Probably still aren’t.

So, your body needs to be ready for the road ahead. In the next post I will go into more detail about what this actually means. And then what you can do to make it happen.

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Hitting the wall- overtraining

Have you ever reached a state where in spite of regular training you see your performance starting to decrease? Where instead of climbing you project you’re struggling to climb the stairs? Have you ever found yourself suffering from a complete collapse in your energy and motivation levels?

There is a name for this phenomenon. In fact there may be several names depending who you talk to. Athletes and coaches call this overtraining. Physicians talk about chronic fatigue syndrome which shares a lot of similarities. The core symptoms are fatigue, muscle aching, loss of motivation, reduced immunity and reduced physiological function/performance. If you’ve ever seen the climbing film Wideboyz 2 both guys talk about how run down they were after their trip to climb century crack in 2011. Both were ill for 2 months and Tom Randall got injured. Again.

It used to be thought that overtraining was due to insufficient rest between training sessions not giving tissues time to recover from the micro trauma created by training. The next session then did more damage until the muscles became weaker and injured. There is likely some truth in this but I suspect it is not the whole story. To see the wider picture, and to help us find ways to avoid this scenario you have to look at the body’s hormonal  response to training and other stresses. Now this is beyond the scope of this blog but suffice to say that a key player in this response is cortisol, a hormone made in your adrenal glands. Cortisol is there to allow you to deal with stress. It has a multitude of affects in the body ranging from affecting your blood glucose and blood pressure to your muscle protein metabolism and body fat percentage. It has a role in altering your appetite- if you are under stress and crave chocolate you can (partly) blame this hormone.

To understand overtraining you have to understand 2 things. Firstly, the body does not differentiate between causes of stress. It responds the same way to training for climbing as it does to a 60 hour working week as it does to an infection or emotional trauma. This accounts (along with genetics) for how different people can vary hugely in their susceptibility to overtraining. The athlete undergoing serious training 5 days a week and the weekend warrior with the stressful lifestyle are both applying the same hormonal pressure to their body, just from different triggers. Secondly, this response can not be perpetuated for ever, cortisol was never meant to be a long term measure. When the system is saturated, your can no longer compensate and you get the symptoms of overtraining (i.e. you become decompensated).

There are some excellent articles on overtraining here and here which go into a bit more detail and show how bad this can get. I’ve never heard of anyone actually dying of overtraining but it can make you wish you had! So how do you prevent it? Well, resting and controlling overall stresses are key. I am personally very prone to this as I use exercise to combat my own stress levels but this is a recipe for overtraining unless you get the regime and nutrition spot on.

In the next post we’ll start looking at how you can reduce the likelihood of this happening to you.

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Thanks for all the Support!! (And a word from our Sponsors!)

My last post, a review of Arbonne Phytosport: Prepare and Endure has now been viewed almost a 1000 times!! Wow! Thanks!!

I’d like to do some more reviews of other products such as Arbonne’s nutrition range and the other Phytosport products. It would be really helpful if you could support us in doing this; all I ask is that if you are looking at buying some protein powder, nutrition bars or sports nutrition then please consider trying the Arbonne products and buying them from:

http://jojohnson.arbonneinternational.co.uk/

Discounts are available for readers of this blog: email Jo here to receive up to 20% off all products!!

I do genuinely rate the products, they are well worth trying and on a nutritional basis they don’t contain the “nasties” that you can find in other products. Take a look!

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Product Review: Arbonne Phytosport Prepare and Endure

The number of people I’ve climbed with who’ve seen me hitting the wall is quite long. I’m not referring to temper tantrums or belayer induced impacts after a fall, but the physiological phenomenon of when the fuel runs out. One time I felt I was moving really well, nice and fast all the way to the CIC hut on the approach to Ben Nevis’ north face. Then a few hundred meters up Observatory gully and my legs turned to jelly and I could only manage a step or two between rests. Some energy gels and water and I slowly got moving again. The physiology of why this happens is centred on the limited carbohydrate supply the body carries. You can support up to half an hour’s intense exercise using your glycogen supplies before you run out (about 2000kcal worth). Your metabolism then needs to switch to a fatty acid based system which can then keep you going for hours. This process of switching is what happens when you hit the wall. “Bonking” is another name for it. You can prevent it in 2 ways: either keep topping up your carbohydrate supply or train your body you use the fatty acid system in the first place. This is your aerobic system and by raising your aerobic threshold you will save your glycogen for when it counts. In both cases you will run out of carbohydrate eventually if you’re working at moderate intensity continuously. In the past my preferred method was to use isostar in a hydration system to keep drip feeding carbohydrate into my body, which worked quite well. In the last year I’ve upped my aerobic threshold which also works. But what if there was a way to keep the energy pathways working better so you could keep up that level of intensity for longer without hitting the wall?

Enter Phytosport. There are three products in the range: an electrolyte mix called Complete Hydration, an energy drink called Prepare and Endure and an after workout supplement containing branched chain amino acids called After Workout. This article centres on the Prepare and Endure. I mixed up a scoop of it with half a litre of water and a sachet of the electrolytes and and drank it in one go. The taste is good and it settles easily on the stomach. I then put on my trainers and did a little test: 10km run along a river gorge near my house. Oh, and I hadn’t eaten anything before the run since the night before. This was a surefire way of setting myself up to hit the wall at around 8km if not before (I’ve done this many times). The run ends with a hill climb back out of the gorge to my house and without eating beforehand this climb is evil. I wanted to see if the Phytosport would sustain me.

Did it? In a word, yes. I managed the run with very little fatigue and even the final climb was completed at a steady pace. There was no surge of energy, no burst of speed. What I did feel was a sense that I would simply keep going and going. Uphills felt tiring but once on the flat my legs recovered quickly. The final climb was ok enough for a sprint finish to my house. Ok, so maybe I wasn’t pushing hard? When I checked my time I found I’d run a personal best. Previously when in optimum conditions and well fed I’d done this route in 1hour and 8minutes. When running on an empty stomach, I’ve scarcely got within 10 minutes of this and have often been unable to run up the last hill. My stopwatch said 1hr 4 minutes. And I haven’t run for more than 20 minutes in several months. I was impressed.

But here is where it gets interesting. Unlike your average sugar laden drink, Phytosport Prepare and Endure only has 50kcal per serving and 6g of sugar. What it does contain is a mix of vitamins and amino acids that play a major role in the cellular energy pathway. These include ribose,citrulline, arginine and carnitine. Carnitine is involved in the uptake of fatty acids by cells as well as the process that processes lactic acid (and turns it into a fuel). Ribose is a key component in the pathway that makes ATP, the molecule which all energy pathways ultimately leed to. Arginine and citrulline are involved in producing nitric oxide, a potent dilator of blood vessels which helps improve blood flow to the muscles. And hence oxygen supply.

I’m not a biochemist so I am still researching this but my hypothesis is that the Prepare and Endure is designed to support aerobic energy production and to raise your aerobic capacity. It primarily facilitates the use of your own energy stores (mainly fatty acids) but the sugars that are there may help keep the anaerobic, glycogen based system topped up for when you need to work harder. The blurb on the pack says it “delays the crash” and improves endurance. I would agree. I have also had a test at the climbing wall during an endurance event and found I was a lot less pumped while taking the Phytosport than when I wasn’t: I was able to run laps without a pump setting in but the same route got very lumpy later when I ran out of Phytosport and switched back to water. Was this the effect of improved nitric oxide levels, and hence better blood flow? More testing needed on some steep climbs.

This product has not been officially launched in the UK yet but will launch in the autumn. However, I have acquired a limited supply from the U.S. For testing (my wife works for Arbonne) and if you want to try some then get in touch with her here. As ever with Arbonne, these products are vegan friendly and GMO and gluten free.

I will be doing more testing on this as time goes by, as well as a write up on the After Workout  product as well. The ultimate test may have to wait until the winter, when a rematch with Ben Nevis’ winter climbs beckons……

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