So the first 4 of my 16 weeks learning to climb are up.
I have used this time as a trial period for testing ideas out, noting my body’s responses to the abundance of new stimuli and using the results to set up the next 12 weeks properly.

As with any new goal or target, you’re going to increase your likelihood of success if you incorporate it into your lifestyle. This essentially forces you to look at lifestyle design; specifically, how to design your own.
If you’ve been following my LEARNING TO CLIMB series thus far, you should have already figured out your goals list. Part 2 showed you how to get your secret formula in place if you’re goal is to learn a new skill, thanks to a heroic influence of mine, Tim Ferriss, who much to my delight, actually posted part 2 on his facebook page.
Now in Part 3, we’re going to look at the importance of a 4 week trial period, how you can use it to increase your chances of success, and have a laugh at some of the lessons I’ve learnt during mine….


I understand. You just want to get cracking and start seeing results as soon as humanly possible. That’s fine. But do you want to burnout before you even reach halfway? With the intense nature of rapid skill acquisition using D.S.S.S., it’s all about the planning, and planning smart. Let me explain.

Your lifestyle is made up of habits. So having a 4 week trial-period of testing new ideas, monitoring responses and noting lessons learnt is a more sensible, gradual approach that should lead to higher chances of success in the long-run.

To jump in at the deep end and expect your 3 or 4 goal-oriented programs to immediately become part of your day-to-day life is not only unrealistic, but also so stressful on your body and mind, that you will reflexively give up, way short of your goals.

Any new stimulus on your body is received as stress; good stress, or bad stress. The idea is; we want to filter out the bad stresses in these 4 weeks and be left with a design for good stress that we can use for the next 3 months, so that the body and mind want to continue.

Motivation is mistakenly sought before starting out on a goal-achieving journey, when in fact, you will find the motivation once you have begun, not before.
Your peer group is also a massive player in the motivational game – you are the average of the 5 people you surround yourself most with.
You will gain even more motivation if you pay attention to your trial period, as you will notice what pushes your buttons and what really puts you off, especially if you’re not absolutely clear already.
You gotta play to your strengths in the beginning to create that all important, self-sustaining momentum, and get rid of those things that are going to slow you down. This in itself is quite a mentally demanding task, as it will require a level of self-awareness and examination that perhaps you are not quite used to doing.

A trial period will also take the pressure off from needing to get results straight away, enough so that you can refine your approach in a way that is smart and a little more 80:20.

Here are some things I have learnt during my first 4 weeks of my Learning To Climb self-experiment:

FOOD and DIET: Grain is the Devil

Here at White Spider, we have an abundance of white grained paninis, sandwiches and gut-battering ciabattas in the centre’s café. Fine for those who eat grain regularly, and not too lethal if consumed right after a heavy session or on your cheat day. However, when the café stock goes out of date, the staff fridge is filled with an abundance of granular delights. And as a car-park residing dirt-bag, the novelty of free food that I don’t have to dumpster dive became all too strong to resist for the first three weeks.

Some days I found myself eating as many as 4 toasted devils back-to-back, barely feeling full, until swigging through a beer and cuing the ultimate bloat-reflex.
The crazy thing was, I knew wheat was not good for me. I knew it drastically reduced my physical performance.  Yet I managed to override this novel, free-food factor only when I noticed my skin flaring up and spotting out, my workouts turned to a salted slug-like pace, and my mood became more darkly depressive.
Of course, there was about a 2 week delay before these symptoms showed as a result of my shit food intake. It was then that I started to feel like a week-old ham sandwich, waddling around like a biped balloon.
No vegetables, fruit or anything prepared/cooked by myself was asking for disaster. And yet somehow, despite knowing this, I carried on!?

Lessons Learnt: The human’s quest for novelty is a very powerful force, and not to be underestimated! I am not one of those people who has a mindset that overrides their diet. There are some people out there who can eat shit and perform physically. I can’t.
I think in a strange way, I needed to re-realise this for myself, the hard way. Hence my decision to incorporate Intermittent Fasting for the next 12 weeks.

SLEEP and REST: 7 hours sleep is not enough

For the entire summer, I engrained the habit of awaking early into my lifestyle. This is easy when you have more daylight to play with. You can sleep less and know that the sun’s rays will keep you going. I wasn’t working out on a program or experiment, either, so life was pretty easy and stress-free.

But now I’m on this learning to climb mission, around week 2 I really started to feel tired. I was still only sleeping 7-8 hours a night, but I felt the lack of rest carrying over into my experiment. I let nature take its course, and now I know that I have to sleep 9+ hours, more often than not, if my mind, muscles and everything in between want to recover.

Lesson Learnt: Since increasing my sleep, I have noticed that I actually recover much faster, sometimes as fast as 24 hours, compared to 48+ hours on only 7 hours sleep. This has been the best excuse for lying in, ever.

AVOIDING INJURY: Conditioning is Numero Uno

The last time I got into a strenuous sport, full throttle, I managed to give myself a bulging disc. How? By slacking on my conditioning work. My body simply couldn’t handle the stress that I was putting it under.
Some 3 years later, after a lot of pain, stiffness and hard-learnt anatomical lessons, I have engrained the teaching that conditioning is number one.
That’s why coming into this self-experiment, involving climbing sport routes and the even more strenuous bouldering component, I make sure that my time spent conditioning:climbing falls in the ratio of at least 2:1, i.e. for ever hour that I climb, I will spend at least 2 hours stretching and strengthening my body, (mostly stretching).
There are plenty of climbers that come to the centre who only need to do the most minimal amounts of conditioning to their bodies, simply because their bodies are already conditioned. I don’t have that bodily experience to fall back on, so I’m taking no chances. Not to mention climbing is a sport that is littered with injured practitioners. I don’t want to add my name to that list.
I will be writing a separate article on my conditioning program/s, as weight loss and getting as ripped as I can were inclusive goals within this experiment of learning to climb.

SOME THINGS YOU CAN’T RUSH: Tendon Strength vs Muscle Strength

Admittedly, I didn’t realise the amount of physical stress I would be putting on my hands and fingers when starting this experiment.
I was looking forward to my muscle memory kicking in at the abundance of new muscular growth stimuli; building the muscular strength needed for climbing wouldn’t be a problem.

I had heard that I was to stay away from finger and campus board training for at least the first 1-2 years of climbing, as they were both massive contributors to the injured bench. I haven’t used either of them, but there have still been times where I have needed to take a couple of days off just to let the tendons in my hands, fingers and forearms recover, which did surprise me a little. I am not training my tendon strength as a result. I am just letting the climbing do that on its own. A little frustrating sometimes, as during this trial period I have noticed a weakness in my grip strength.

Essentially, the connective tissues joining muscles to tendons and bones, takes up to 3 times longer to gain strength than muscle tissue. A common problem in climbing is that you increase your muscular strength quickly, but the other tissues are not as developed – you think you can take the strain because your muscles agree, and then pop goes a tendon.

Fortunately, learning how to precaution tape my fingers before a climbing session has helped a lot, as has stretching my wrists and fingers multiple times a week.
But the most important part has been knowing when to stop. Ego and pride have had to be placed aside a few times during this trial period, in exchange for rest and replenishment.
I have also heard from a trusted source that taking a high dosage of fish oil, up to 72 hours after a heavy climbing session, acts as a natural anti-inflammatory; ideal for replenishing the joints of the wrists and fingers. (Taking fish oil as a supplement will start from week 6, as I’m eager to test this).

Lessons Learnt: Know when to stop, based on feel, not emotions. Pre-tape weak spots. Stretch the wrists and fingers daily.

IT’S LONELY AT THE TOP: The (anti)social side of being a machine

Perhaps the most surprising lesson from this trial period has been a factor that I completely overlooked since starting the experiment: The Social Side. Living outside your lab is a bonus for focusing on yourself, but not so great for focusing on others. During these four weeks I have found a massive fluctuation in my moods, and a strong need to connect with something other than a plastic hold.

I realised at around week 2 that I really have changed my world to one of climbing, in every way. I work with climbers. I climb, train and stretch with climbers. I eat with climbers. And I sleep outside the location of the climbing. Holy shit. What happened to everything else in my life!?
Well, to be honest, I’ve attacked this self-experiment with such full force, that the everything else’ has been pushed aside, without me really realising.
I’ve found that on my rest days or time off from work, I have to get away, meet up with some friends; preferably ones that don’t climb. This has helped balance out the weird feeling that strikes when the centre empties, everyone else goes home, and I just step outside into the hollow car park, wondering what happened.

Lessons Learnt: The plus side of this emotional realisation has been that I am learning just how important it is to willingly give your time to other people. I use my days off now to do just that, and I think it’s working.
Ultimately, whatever your experiment, the reward has to outweigh the sacrifice, so don’t underestimate the social implications of what you’re about to undertake.

In Part 4, I’ll update you with my progress as we take a look at weeks 5-9. At the time of writing this I am on week 7, and my progress has been nuclear. I’ve cut fat, jumped climbing grades and started feeding others’ motivation.
You’ll get to hear about my epic first bouldering trip, get an insight into the nutritional supplements I am trying, witness some photos of my corporal progress, and check some footage of my climbing improvement.

Harry Cloudfoot is a self-experimenter, writer and balance freak.
Follow him on twitter, and say hello on his Facebook page

Some other stuff you might like to read:


10 thoughts on “Self-Experiment | LEARNING HOW TO CLIMB | PART 3 | WHY YOU NEED A TRIAL

  1. Pingback: Self-Experiment | LEARNING HOW TO CLIMB | PART 2 | HOW? WITH THE SECRET FORMULA | harrycloudfoot

  2. I recommend the Neil Gresham ‘Masterclass’ DVD for helping to turbo-boost learning technique. I was trying to learn by watching others, getting tips etc but found the DVD the most useful for learning to get the most out of the ‘mechanical advantage’ of each individual method, i.e. I was using drop knees but was dropping my knee after pulling up thereby negating most of the advantage of using the technique in the first place…

      • Wow, you’re hitting V5’s in under 2 months? That’s crazy. It’ll be interesting to see if you can hit V7’s by the end of March. That would be impressive. Are you still climbing 5-6 times a week? My fingers can barely handle 3 days a week.

      • Hi Steve,

        Two new V5s today! I think V7 is on the cards if I maintain this progress….!
        I am climbing hard twice a week – to the point where my body and mind feel tired… Then I climb approx. 3-4 times a week light; high volume, low intensity, as like you, my fingers can’t take much more either.

        So yes, I would say 5 times a week is accurate. But knowing when to stop, and still keeping on my conditioning, is what makes 5 times a week not too strenuous.

        If you can only climb 3 times a week, I would do 1 heavy session, and 2 light ones. You should see good progress every week on your heavy sessions that way.

        Hope that helps,

  3. Pingback: Self-Experiment | Learning to Climb | Part 4 | LET NATURE DO THE WORK | harrycloudfoot

  4. Pingback: Self-Experiment | Learning to Climb | Part 6 | CONDITIONING: How to get strong for climbing, FAST | harrycloudfoot

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