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Motivation Posted on 10.14.2010 by greg.kuchyt

A couple months ago a guy in the gym asked me what motivates me to push so hard during a training session. I honestly didn’t even know how to answer the question. I knew what to say, but I didn’t know how to say it. A certain part of all this is somewhat akin to drinking the Kool-Aid; either you understand what it’s about and why, or you don’t. In the back of my mind was a conversation I had with a new climbing partner where he admitted he thought I was an asshole because I’m so quiet when training. When thinking about how to answer this question, I was torn between giving an honest answer (filled with elitist absolutes and indictments) and sounding like an asshole or giving a more generalized response.

I opted for the cop out and strategically pawned it all off on a single inarguable concept; safety. In the gym there are few consequences and failing is safe. Outside, the same isn’t necessarily true. In the mountains, the rule is “speed is safety”. The less time exposed to risk, the better. This training makes me lighter & faster, hopefully helping to me to reduce my time being exposed to objective dangers (falling ice, avalanche terrain, etc). As well, being relatively strong for my size and body weight makes me “harder to kill”. There are enough risks in the mountains and in the back-country, we don’t need to add being unfit to the list.

The above argument about safety is all true, it’s just not the full story. What I really was thinking was, this is training; work done to achieve an ultimate goal (in our case, defined by performance). There’s no room for excuses or half-ass work on a hard pitch of rock or ice. Why should there be in the training environment? If I’m not pushing hard in my training sessions, I’m not committed to my end goal. This training is all about commitment; the mobilization of all available resources dedicated to the task at hand, to borrow from Mark Twight. Perhaps this is a foreign concept; it seems that many people want the results without having to do the work. This shallow desire is reflected in their commitment to the task-at-hand; and in the end it’s also reflected in their accomplishments or the style in which they are achieved.

So, what motivates me? The desire to progress I suppose. The desire to tackle bigger, harder, more committing objectives “in the mountains” and to do so safely, or as safely as possible. The journey itself also motivates me. I know that in order to obtain my goals, I need to put in the wrench time moving barbells, training grip strength/endurance, toughening my mental game, and putting it all together on my version of “game day”. The process transforms who I am at a fundamental level, I learn from and adapt to the things I experience. I know if I don’t push hard while training to become the person I want to be and only pretend to be that person, I’ll be sorely disappointed when the day comes that I try to stand up to the talk. I’m motivated because I want, and in order to get what you want you have to do the work, end of story.

Commitment Posted on 10.07.2010 by greg.kuchyt
What does it take to be committed? What does it even mean to be committed? Can commitment even be defined or measured, or is it one of those things that you only know when you see it? In our society we idolize those who commit more than the average joe and put their extra-human accomplishments on a pedestal, what does this do to our own expectations/definitions of commitment? How much are you really willing to give in order to achieve your goals? If any of these points resonate with you, it’s possible you know the hunger of being fully committed to some larger goal.

While working on my undergrad I learned that in order to fully understand anything, you need to understand the definitions first. So, what is commitment? The dictionary definition includes “the act of binding yourself (intellectually or emotionally) to a course of action” as a definition. Dictionary definitions are nice, but in our society, words become so loaded with connotation they often become contextualized. So what I think commitment is, probably differs from what Joe Six-Pack (of beer) thinks it means. To borrow from Mark Twight, it means “the mobilization of all available resources to achieve a particular goal”. In short, commitment is wanting; it’s hunger. You have to want something before you can be committed, and the more concise that something is the easier it is to make a plan to get there. Second, you need to take action on that goal; to mobilize “all available resources” in an attempt to meet that goal.

If you ask someone what their goal for the next new year will be, there answer will be filled with optimism and lofty goals. If you ask them how they choose to accomplish that goal, they may even have a plan. How about when you check back in around March? Ask them what they’ve done to accomplish their goal, and you’ll probably get a reply with a lot less optimism. More likely, you’ll get a lot of excuses. The excuses aren’t necessarily a sign of laziness or a sign of any inability to commit. The excuses are a handy comfort mechanism we use to dull the sting that results from having nothing to show for all the talk.

Why is it then that committing to goals is something that so many people falter on? It’s hard, plain and simple. Truly committing to something takes, as Twight side, the mobilization of all available resources. That means everything you have goes into achieving your goal. You don’t half ass work, you don’t get to blow off the things you need to do to succeed, you work, pay attention, learn, adapt, and grow. The completion of a goal is more an expression of the journey taken to get there and this is reflected in the accomplishment. Hard & honest work will yield stronger results than half-assed, dishonest work.

So what is commitment? It’s hiking in the rain to check out your project, knowing full well you won’t be able to climb it. It’s training when you should, but don’t want to. It’s leaving the doubles on the ground, forcing yourself to work with the gear you have. It’s the countless other examples of actions taken in the pursuit of some larger goal. So while we can split hairs about what commitment means, it’s always something you know when you see.

Protein, activity, & you Posted on 09.20.2010 by greg.kuchyt

The role and differences between types of protein is a somewhat complicated section of performance nutrition, but it doesn’t have to be super complicated. Protein intake in the pre and post workout phase can help to aid recovery and minimize muscle breakdown. Prophylactic intake of protein in the pre-workout phase will provide free amino acids in the blood stream to help buffer the catabolic effect of physical activity on muscle. In the context of the post workout phase, the role of protein is to help the body recovery from and adapt to the specific stress applied.

Soy protein is generally better reserved for pre and during workout/activity consumption. This is due to its amino acid profile which has higher levels of the three main amino acids hit during activity (leucine, isoleucine and valine), and the lack of a metabolic ammonia by-product during activity. Ammonia has been linked to increased muscular fatigue and it also forces the kidneys to work overtime to remove the ammonia from the circulatory system. Approximately 16 oz of soy milk is a good amount to intake an hour or so before a hard workout, especially if that workout goes into the endurance timeframe (> 90 minutes).

In essentially all cases, whey protein is the preferred type of protein supplement to use for recovery. This is due to whey protein’s ability to be easily processed by the body (bio-availability) and its more complete amino acid profile and how that relates to how completely the body utilizes the protein (biological value). When discussing whey protein powders there are generally two options; whey protein concentrate and whey protein isolate. Whey protein concentrate is the less pure form of whey protein, being at most less than 90% pure (generally far less) with the rest being fillers (carbohydrates, principally lactose, and fats). Whey protein isolate is at least 90% pure with very little fat or lactose. Whey protein isolate is more expensive than whey protein concentrate but generally is a better choice for recovery or protein supplement.

After physical activity, there is a 30 minute “window” for recovery in which the body is primed to intake carbohydrates and protein and restore muscle/liver glycogen stores and engage protein synthesis (muscle recovery) respectively. Ideally, a 3:1 ratio of carbohydrate to protein is considered to be the most effective combination to maximize recovery from a workout. You can find pre-mixed powders that conform to this ratio (Hammer Recoverite being one example, and the one I use). Pre-mixed powders will be at a premium price though, 32 servings of Recoverite runs about $50. Alternatively, chocolate milk makes a great substitute for the expensive powders; a sort of poor man’s recovery drink. The important thing to check with chocolate milk is that high fructose corn syrup is not used as the sweetener. Try to find the chocolate milk with the shortest, most natural ingredient list and watching the fat levels won’t hurt either. Ideally you want your recovery mix to be minimal calories, minimal filler, and maximum nutritional benefit (3:1 carbohydrate to protein ratio).

In the end, anything will be better than nothing. Depending on your activity level and objectives, you’ll have to supplement with additional protein intake outside of the post-workout period. This is where protein shakes come in handy. However, consuming straight protein isolate with no additional sugar before bed anecdotally has been linked to increased levels of human growth hormone and elevated immuno response. If training hard, consider pre-workout nutrition as important as post-workout nutrition to minimize muscle breakdown. You should notice how when you get recovery right, it will allow you to push harder and feel better the next day. Just remember that your body has limits and remember to listen to them.

So called “secrets” Posted on 09.07.2010 by greg.kuchyt

SELF Magazine - Today's snake oil

The following is a rant filled with elitist tirades; be fore-warned.

This is the kind of crap that gets me fired up. SELF Magazine ran an article through MSN entitled “Secrets of the Fittest”. In six short paragraphs the “feature” reveals six “secrets” fitness “trainers” use in order to get that [insert whatever crap-filled line about what a good body they have line here].

Take this first tip, which effectively suggests that exhaling during a situp will give you “hot abs”. Really? I’m sure that’s why all of us don’t have six-pack abs…we haven’t been exhaling at the right time. There are some many things wrong here, I don’t even know where to start. First, if you care about looks more than your fitness, you might as well go masturbate in front of the mirror because that’s what your workout will effectively be. If mediocrity is your goal, than your results will be mediocre. “Fit” bodies come from hard work, trying to say anything else is ignorant, naive, and just plain wrong.

Second, the idea of isolating a muscle group is myopic and misdirected unless you’re a meat head body builder. In the words of Dan John and Mark Twight, there is no “core”. The body is “one piece”, as all movements originate from the center. Training natural movements improves flexibility, proprioception, leads to functional strength gains, and trains natural motor programs for everyday movements. What more accurately describes a movement you’d do in daily life, sit in a chair and curl something with nice comfy handles to your chest through a fixed plane of motion or pick something heavy up from the floor?

It’s ironic that our society focuses on image over fitness when image is a consequence of fitness. It’s pretty remarkable how form follows function. When you concentrate on becoming fitter your body follows in suit by striping the excess and keeping the essentials. However, most people will look at you and think you’re not fit because of the predominant over-loaded idea of fitness in our society (i.e. big muscles equals fit). That’s fine, just load them up with a pack and have them try to keep up on a trail with you over 12 hours; if you even care. Otherwise get out there and start getting stuff done.

Regardless, I’m pretty sure I lost whatever thread of coherency I managed to strike here. Anyone who suggests you can get results from anything but plain damn hard work is 1) wrong, b) ignorant, or 3) lying. Remember, in the end it’s all about the journey and how you get there, rather than the destination. If you take shortcuts, you miss out on some of the finer points and your journey is less fulfilling and you gain less from it. Maybe you only care about the destination, in that case I’m surprised you made it this far. For the rest of us though, here’s to experimenting, learning, understanding, and getting at it!

Whooped Posted on 07.23.2010 by greg.kuchyt

I’ve been slacking on a lot of stuff lately. I’ve got a podcast in the process of being written, and an essay mostly written with some thoughts on training. I’ve just been really tired lately. I’ve been climbing hard lately and really pushing on the training side of things as well. In the past week, I completed a couple bouldering projects, pushed my limits on trad leading, took some falls, and generally have been going at the edge of what I can put out.

I think I’ve been over-reaching/over-training here. In retrospect I’m exhibiting a lot of the symptoms; exhaustion, lack of motivation, suppressed appetite, trouble sleeping, etc. It occurred to me that over-reaching/over-training is a negative feedback loop. You feel like you’re not performing at your best, which forces you to try to push harder or train more, which just puts you deeper in the hole, which pushes the psychological need to train, ad nauseam. For me, I think one big indicator that I need to scale back is when I just don’t even feel like heading to the gym/boulders/etc to train. For me training is an integral part of my daily existence; my release. When I don’t feel like doing it, it should be a pretty powerful flag to stop and look at things. More often then not, I’m concerned I’m just having a weak mental moment, and I’ll push myself to hit the trail, work a project, or grind through a workout solely to push through a mental barrier. Maybe I need to take more time and look back at the training log and consider whether I’m just being lazy or if I really do need to take a seat for the day. I guess this is what they mean when they say only a fool has himself as a trainer.

Fear, Style and the Unknown Posted on 05.29.2010 by greg.kuchyt

First things first. I’m not going to pretend like I’m setting any kind of benchmark for the world of climbing. I don’t pretend to believe that I do anything that matters to anyone other than myself. Everything I write here is really more of a chance for me to work through the mess of thoughts in my head. A lot of times I’m too diplomatic and consider too many points to be able to come to easy opinions without working them out first, so this helps with that.

In general I’m afraid of new things; I’m afraid of the unknown. I’m not afraid to fall, I’m afraid of not knowing what the fall will be like. I’m not afraid to make a decision, I’m afraid to make a decision when I don’t know the outcome of it. I’m not scared of new things, I’m scared of new things when I don’t know how they’ll integrate into my life. I think we all get the point now.

I’ve been using climbing to help work on broadening my ability to deal with “the unknown”. My emotions always seem magnified when climbing; I’m super excited when I have success, super scared when I get challenged, and super frustrated when I fail. Because of this, I’ve been really trying to push myself, on both rock and ice, the past 6 months to get into “uncomfortable” situations where I won’t know what’s going to happen. Through this process, I’ve run into a dilemma of sorts regarding rehearsing vs. on-sighting routes that are at my limit.

In my mind, the purest ascent is the on-sight, I don’t think that’s a controversial opinion. I prefer to on-sight routes rather than rehearse moves because I think it is an expression of skill level, again nothing controversial here. Where I was struggling was the notion that rehearsing/working a route (head-pointing) is a cop-out. I think I felt working a route was a cop-out because it’s me saying I’m scared to get on this route because I don’t know how it’s going to end. Will I succeed or will I fail? If I fail, what does that mean? This is the stuff that made me accept repeating the same climbs over and over last year, not putting it out there on something new.

So, an on-sight is an expression of current skills/fitness. On-sighting means you were able to put it all together there and then; that you were good enough to do that route. For me, it’s also validation that I’m pushing my comfort zone and not falling into the patterns I’d like to break out of. A couple weekends ago I put aside my on-sight mentality on two 5.10b trad routes I had my eyes set on. One was because the conditions were really cold and the crux looked thin (i.e. small, finnicky gear) and I didn’t think it was smart to go at it. The second was on a face route where I just didn’t see the gear. Keep in mind the gear was all there, I just didn’t see it, so I rehearsed it all on TR to make sure it was safe in my head. I struggled with this decision, eventually leading the second climb from the ground later that day and leading the first climb last weekend. I got through both routes fine, but after completing the first of the two routes two weekends ago, I felt like my accomplishment was somehow tainted.

In retrospect, when you’re learning something, you have to practice it to make progress. As well, progression happens in steps; big walls and hard lines had to be aided before they were freed, which bumped up the standard. In reality, head-pointing doesn’t do any harm, it’s a tool in the tool box to keep you safe and push your limit. Use it right and you can use it to propel yourself safely onto other “hard” objectives. The day after that second 10b, I on-sighted a fairly sustained 140ft. 10a face route that forced me to move above micro-cam placements. Progression; that’s probably one of my hardest leads yet in my 2 years of leading, and it was on-sight.

My dilemma was that I felt like I was wimping out, that I was falling prey to my fear of the unknown. I realized, I was willing to take risk, but sometimes you need to know what’s good for you and limit your risk. That same idea carries into life too, sometimes the unknown part of a decision is too much risk, and you change things to limit that risk. That 5.10a was plenty dicey in a couple spots (more so than the 10bs possibly). To quote Dustin Hoffman’s character in Confidence, “You know what I learned about style that day? … Style can get you killed”. A tad extreme? Yeah, maybe, but a valid point to consider as we push ourselves closer and closer to the limit.

Training thoughts Posted on 04.23.2010 by greg.kuchyt

In the past month I’ve realized a couple of things. First off, I can’t train super hard for four days a week and take climbing trips. If I am to train that hard, I have to not do any type of climbing or anything on the off-days or the weekends. This paradigm would probably work if I didn’t climb year-round (rock & ice). Since I do climb year-round, and would like to continue doing so, I now know I can’t train that much and still get out without getting injured. Hopefully I’ll be able to escape being on the injured list aside from aching shoulders every now and then.

Second, somewhere in the past year I made a lot of progress in my climbing specific strength. I think it’s fair to say that all the training has definitely helped in this respect. Being fit helps you in that it reduces the limit physical conditioning plays when you get to a “difficult” section. I can hold on longer to try and work through the moves and apply better technique. I experienced this a few days ago, leading a 5.9 trad route that I had followed a year or so ago. Last year, I made the move way harder than it needed to be by trying to lay-back where I should have stemmed and finger locked. I used “better” technique this time, though still probably not so good as I was a bit scared from the mental history I had with this route. Stemming and jamming was orders easier & felt way more secure than lay-backing and soon I was above the crux putting in my next piece of gear. It’s nice to feel progress.

2010 Rock Goals Posted on 03.16.2010 by greg.kuchyt

I previously posted my “report card” from the 2009 rock season. So to follow suit, here’s my goal list for 2010. It’s exceedingly bold and optimistic. We’ll see how things go. 2010 Rock Goals