As I sit on a lift going back up for another ski run, tie onto the rope for another lap, or catch my breath before running up another hill I can’t help feeling like I’m cheating, that I’ve given myself an advantage over myself in previous years. Strength has given me a capacity to do just one more route, one more lap, and these extra efforts are what are allowing me to improve. Step by step. Is it cheating?
Strength vs TechniqueI tie in and start my way up the steep and overhanging wall in front of me. Grunts and lunges bursting out of me, holding on for dear life as I move between placements. I breath deep, filling my lungs with muscle-feeding oxygen, and commit to the final few moves, clipping the chains at the top before being lowered to the ground.
Next up, I watch as Mike glides up the wall, making the moves look easy. I can’t help but wish I could move like that. The comfort and finesse he exhibits has taken thousands of metres of climbing, hundreds of hours of practice, and countless frustrations, mistakes, and internal battles but right now, it is all coming together.
The difference in our approaches is clear as night and day but so is our levels of experience. A recent Facebook Memory reminded me that it was just two years ago that I even tried this sport of dry tooling. I am incredibly proud of myself and the fact that I can even fight my way up this route cleanly at all.
Each time I tie in and start up these training routes I improve, I get more comfortable in the correct yet stressful positions, and I am getting better. I am also getting stronger.
I don’t believe that strength is a replacement for technique but it sure is helping allow me develop the technique.
By building my strength, managing my weight (well, getting back to managing it..!), and training in the gym, I am developing a work capacity that allows me to climb more, ski more, be out more and thus gain the relevant experience and techniques to move more efficiently in the mountains and, in fact, in the end require less strength.
The advantage of a strong foundationAt the beginning of this winter season I was a competent piste skier; I could make my way down and enjoy skiing any difficulty piste. The moment I went off the carefully groomed lines, however, I felt like a complete beginner.
While on an avalanche awareness course just after Christmas we were skiing off piste to explore the terrain. I was struggling. I was having fun and I could keep going but I found it very tough. I was waiting at the bottom of the run with our guide, Guy Willett, and talking about how I can improve my skiing.
The lasting word of advice he gave me was ‘Just get more skiing in’ and then said, ‘the good thing about you is you’re fit and strong, you can keep skiing. When someone else needs to rest because they are tired you can keep going. This incremental volume will not just help you improve but it will also keep you safe when you are at your perceived limit.’
I hadn’t really thought about it this way before but it resonated across all of my endeavours in the mountains. By being stronger and fitter, I was able to improve my potential outdoors two-fold; first, I was just able to be out longer, try harder, and keep going; second, more strength is a deeper security buffer for when things go wrong.
I have since witnessed this acutely across all of my mountain adventures. I might not be the fastest runner but I can move and keep moving. I might not be the strongest climber but I can get myself up routes. I might not be the smoothest skier but I can get down a wide range of terrain safely.
I am only training two or three times per week in the gym but it really is making a huge difference. Digging deep and pushing my limits in my dungeon is directly improving my mountain explorations and, if I’m honest, it feels like I’m cheating.
By training hard, I feel like I’m taking a shortcut to where I want to be.
I am fortunate that I have the opportunity to be outside most days but I remember back to when I lived in London and overlooked this. I trained and I worked hard but I didn’t really see how much of a benefit training really added. We all half-heartedly try 6 Weeks Ski Prep exercise programmes, etc. and we know it is a good idea but so often I haven’t committed and really reaped the benefits.
As I go into the summer I have some very exciting projects lined up. Projects that are going to take all of the skills and experience I have been building up over the last 5 years. But these projects are also going to require something else – a depth and level of strength like never before.
I am fortunate to be in the position to be training not just myself but other people regularly. Now I need to commit, focus, and believe that the work I am putting in here will not just be an added bonus but a prerequisite to success.
All sexy training photos were taken by Alpine Photo – Kamil Tamiola