Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Does Experience Affect Aesthetics?

Please excuse the lofty title.  While it does accurately reflect what's been on my mind recently, I feel a title like that would be better served by the writing of Feminist Figure Girl than myself.  Indeed, she's probably already written it, but I was far too lazy to go look.  For the time-being you are stuck with my pedantic and undereducated musing.

I've been thinking about this, while watching a guy doing dumbbell flyes at the gym awhile back.  Yes, I watch people in the gym, although not in a pervy way, but just to get ideas about form.  This is stuff I learned from climbing.  One can get a lot better at climbing by watching better climbers.  Sometimes consciously, and more often unconsciously, the style and moves and subtleties of other climbers will inform one's own climbing, so I naturally have adopted the same ploy in lifting.

But back to the flye guy...  One of the things that I was thinking when looking at him was sort of a vague notion of, "What's wrong with his forearms?"  I followed this thought and realised that what I was noticing was that I thought his forearms were disproportionately skinny compared with his big biceps.  I looked around at some of the other men in the room (not really any women to look at, that day), and determined that everyone seemed to have forearms that were slender in comparison to their biceps.  I then looked at my own arms, which I think are not disproportionate in the same way, and I figured out what was going on.

I wasn't particularly active, until I started to climb.  The majority of fit people/athletic types I've been looking at since then have been other climbers.  Climbers use their fingers to keep their body on the wall or help them move up it, and as such the muscles that control our fingers (which are predominantly housed in the forearm) get bigger.  Climbers have well-developed forearms with a fairly distinctive silhouette; ask any of them to flex and see for yourself.  I've become accustomed to these sort of forearms as being the norm. Not everyone in an average gym, I'm guessing, thinks about training their grip and finger strength as they might for any other part of their bodies.  The result is that someone like myself, interprets this as disproportionately skinny forearms.

It gets me thinking about what else I have become accustomed to seeing in a climbing gym and thus internalised as "normal".  Big backs, for sure.  Climbers almost invariably develop their backs far more than their chests and thus develop somewhat rounded shoulders (sometimes referred to as turtlebacks).  I rarely notice this on anyone.  I think the only reason that big chests don't surprise me is that they tend to be featured in the media, but even then, I can sometimes be taken aback by well-worked chest in real life.  Climbers in general tend to be more slender overall, and it's actually unusual to see one with the triangular sort of torso that is favoured in body building and fitness magazines.  In a manner of speaking, you see more Dave Grahams than Chris Sharmas (no links, you can look them up if you're that fascinated).  It also reminds me of hearing a friend tell of a coworker who came to his house-warming and commented that there were "a lot of really, really fit people" present.  The comment had to be explained to me:  the coworker was observing the climbers, whereas I would have never applied the same description, because to me, climbers are within the range of normal.

Of course, all this leads to thoughts about how what one perceives as "average" can be affected or manipulated by one's surroundings.  While I don't want to get into an argument about methodology, it also hearkens back to a rather controversial article describing how obesity can be "contagious", and why that article simultaneously seemed to make sense to a lot of people upon initial reading, while outraging others.  A thinking person can't help but to wonder how trustworthy their own understanding of aesthetic "normality" could possibly be, and how this aesthetic might affect their behaviour.  We've become accustomed to blaming popular media for contributing to body dysmorphic disorder in women, but I don't think we question how the look of our colleagues, social groups, or cohorts might have an impact as well.

I can't claim to have come to any conclusions about all of this, although I'd love to hear other people's thoughts on the matter.  Have you noticed your own perceptions changing depending on who you have been socialising with or living amongst?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Where the Hell Have I Been?

um.... er....  ???

Where the hell have I been?  I'm not really sure.  I can tell you I've been reading your blogs (if you've got one you've told me about), despite not having blogged myself.  Before anything else, I do want to extend a huge congratulations to an awesome woman for her very first powerlifting meet!  I'm freaking impressed... Hauling over twice your bodyweight off the floor is something you should be damn proud of.  I bloody well would be!

I went to Rumney and climbed with Lola again, a week after the first time.  I want to extend congratulations to her as well (even though she doesn't read this), for doing her first 5.7 sport lead.  And, might I add, she cruised it like it was part of her morning routine rather than the hardest lead she's done to date.  I have got to say for Lola, she gets into the zone.  I am awed and humbled by her ability to focus.  I just do not have that talent, nor do I have any idea how to create it.  I think about midway through the climb I stopped shouting encouragement at her, because I realised that she wasn't even aware I was talking, let alone what I was saying.  Lola also did her first onsight (climbing a route clean on lead despite never having tried it or watching anyone else on it before), but that was so way below her normal climbing ability it's not worth writing more about.  Lola's been good about pushing me to get on at least one 5.10 every time I've got to go out with her, but honestly, that weekend was a relatively weak one for me, so I won't bore you with the details.  I also won't bore anyone with the details of my day climbing at Farley this past weekend, because again, I was climbing poorly.

I also haven't been to the climbing gym for about 2 weeks, which is something I'm pretty pissed at myself about.  I have no reasonable excuse.  I've been keeping up with the lifting, though, so I'm not a total loser.

I think the past few weeks (even time preceding, and between, Rumney trips) have had work-related stress.  The boss is anxious and intermittently pissed off at the lack of work that has been getting done in the lab of late.  I've been chasing after non-existant orders and arguing with financial people and sales reps and doing a lot of hurry-up-and-wait kind of work where I can't show off successes.  Other people, well, I don't want to speak for them, but suffice it to say I share some of the boss' anger.  Oddly, this work stress just makes me quiet, and hence, so is my blog.  No worries, though, there's verbiage a-brewing, and in the meantime I'll leave a photo of myself looking pensive (were one to crop it appropriately) from my first weekend in Rumney, shortly after my very awesome lead fall.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Double Sessions

In my last post I talked about some of my intentions with regards to climbing.  What's still lacking is the plan.  I really don't know jack about training for climbing or anything else.  ....er....well....  That's not entirely true:  I know a little rudimentary stuff about training for climbing, but all of it seems to be dependent upon having a training partner, or at the very least, three or more days a week in the climbing gym.

Climbing is one of those unusual sports in that the very best thing you can do with your time, if you want to get better at climbing, is to to climb more.  No amount of chin-ups, lat pulldowns, or barbell curls, and certainly not squats, will help you climb better if you're doing that sort of thing in lieu of climbing.

So one thing is clear.  I have got to start getting back into the climbing gym at least two weeknights a week.  I keep falling into this trap where there isn't a really convenient time to sneak away from work and do my lifting.  That means it gets put off to the end of the day, which pretty much guarantees I'm not out in time to visit the climbing gym (it's a long drive and I have this odd rule wherein I have to be climbing for more time than it takes to drive there and back in order to make the trip worthwhile).

I also need to improve my finger strength, so I really have got to create and maintain a weekly fingerboard session.  That'll be a challenge, given that most of the time I'm completely worn out by the time I get home.  I have a nasty habit of working late if I don't have something else time-sensitive planned like climbing or laundry.

Finally there's the challenge I don't really like thinking about... I don't climb as hard as I might if I've been lifting earlier the same day.  This isn't just when I have a back and biceps day, shoulders, chest, and triceps all make me a little bit weaker on the wall, and legs just makes me want to surf the couch all evening.  I don't want to feel like lifting and climbing are clashing.  I want both at the moment, but if I have to choose, climbing will be it.  It keeps me sane.  I can't afford to give it up at this time.  And I love it and don't want to give it up.

So what's the advice out there for double-sessioning?  If the term is unusual, it's pretty self-explanatory and will crop up in the climbing community to reference the act of having two climbing sessions in a day.  This typically only happens in certain circumstances, like if the person went outside for the afternoon, then decided after dinner, or when the rain started or whatever that they wanted to climb some more and thus went indoors.  Or sometimes you get your climb on in the afternoon at the gym then find yourself persuaded outside in the evening, or more likely back to they gym because that guy you like climbing with said he was going to be there.  There's no secret to how to do this.  You just tend to comparatively suck at the second session. Do people do this sort of thing with lifting?  I mean, they must do something like that if they're training for power lifting competitions, mustn't they?  So how does one do it?  How can I regain energy and strength for that later session?  How do you regain your strength and energy if you need it later in the day?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Pondering Climbing

warning: this post contains references to forms of climbing and climbing grades, which for the sake of brevity and flow of writing will not be defined herein.  Feel free to ask, however, and I will explain as best I can.

This past weekend I drove 3 hours to meet a new friend face-to-face for the first time and to climb outside with her.  She's a friend of a couple  I absolutely adore and admire, so I knew she'd be cool when I first approached her for a potential climbing partnership.  "Lola" absolutely lived up to my expectations, and I hope to spend many more weekends with her before she moves across the country in 2 months time.  We are both hoping that these next 2 months will provide an opportunity to improve our climbing and to push past our present experiences and (though I hate the phrase) "comfort zones".

I know that Lola already has her hopes come true. Previously she's only attempted a single 5.9 climb in the area on a toprope, but didn't finish it.  On our very first day together I had her working and finishing both a 5.9 and a 5.10a on toprope.  I also put her on a 5.5 lead, and that would be the first lead she didn't redpoint on toprope first.  I have every intention of seeing her lead 5.8 by the end of August, and have at minimum one 5.9 climbed clean.  She doesn't know this, but if she hasn't had an outdoor lead fall yet, I'm planning on seeing that, too.

I can't learn a lot of technical stuff from Lola*.  But I also have enthusiasm for the partnership and believe I will make gains from it.  Given that I am the stronger climber, I will have to lead pretty much anything and everything I want to attempt to climb.  I have always said I wanted to learn how to work things on lead, and this will absolutely force me to do it.  I will have to get braver and more confident and I'll have to fall.  I'll probably have to fall a lot, and will suffer a great number of cuts, bruises, abrasions, and ego injuries.  I already started that on the first day as I fell completely unexpectedly on a 5.10a lead.  I think I surprised Lola and her friends because after I safely came to a stop I whooped with delight "That was awesome!"

It was awesome, and awful.  It was sobering and emotionally hard falling on a 5.10a, because I used to be able to climb that with ease, but it was invigorating (as lead climbs often are), and it reminded me that falling is not necessarily a bad thing.  I gouged my knee and surfed the wave of the endorphin flood (giggling while being borderline weepy and shivering a little).  I was also reminded, and it was reinforced by Lola's perspective, that I climb better on outdoor 5.10s than I do on things with lower grades (I find the routes so much easier to read).

This means I have a little better idea of what I can possibly do with myself in terms of goals, or at least make promises of what I will try...

  • I will attempt 5.10s, ideally a minimum of one every day I'm outdoor climbing.  
  • I will stop "taking" on climbs 5.8 and easier, even if I get lost or pumped.  
  • I will climb 5.11a (albeit maybe not cleanly) by the end of August.  
  • For each new grade I climb cleanly (or sub-grade as I'm talking 5.10a, 5.10b, etc)  I will reward myself with a new quickdraw, and I will not cry when I have to abandon gear because I can't finish a climb.  
  • In the unlikely event I climb something in the 5.11 range cleanly on my very first attempt (at all),  I will reward myself with my own rope.
  • I will attempt at least one 5.12 by the end of August (toprope acceptable)
  • I will lead 5.6 and 5.7 trad before the end of the August (more difficult if I keep going out only to sport crags, but I'll do it anyway)
  • For each new grade 5.8 and above I climb cleanly on trad, I will give myself a piece of trad gear (again unlikely given my preference for sport, but why not?)

I will also, and perhaps most importantly, revel in every new success that Lola meets as though it is my own.

* Yes.  I know that many people will tell me about how the teacher can learn form the student et cetera, but my experience is that while I initially did learn things from people who didn't climb as well as me (not so much about how to climb, but more about how to observe my own climbing), that's petered out significantly.