Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Last climbing session before locking down of the country

How much things have changed within one week. Last week going climbing (or going out restaurants and bars) was not an issue at all. Today, thousands of people in the country have been tested positive for coronavirus (in Europe). The actual number could be 10 times higher, given the shortage of test kits. We are recommended to stay at home, avoid traveling, using public transportations, and going to crowded areas in general.

On the weekend, we decided not to go to climbing gym, and go outside to climb instead. This was the first time we went climbing outside on our own. We found some slab climbing, which means the wall tilts inwards (like an uphill), and handholds are not really needed for going up the wall. We were used to having our hands on juggy holds, so these walls, even though rated very low (UIAA 3-4, equivalent to 5.6-5.7), we didn't trust our feet so much, which meant my calves got really sore going up the wall. Also, I tried to hold on to the tiniest features on the wall, which didn't help with the actual climbing, but instead served to sooth my psyche.

So we got a good work out, breathed some fresh air (some asshole was chain smoking in the vicinity though), enjoyed the nature, and got a much-needed break from obsessively staring at the increasing coronavirus cases in this country and around the world.

The human brain is not used to dealing with exponential growth. It's amazing how quickly the number of cases in so many European country increase every day. It's also mind-boggling how some people continue to deny how serious this is, despite the amount of information out there exists for Wuhan and for Italy. I must admit, I am simultaneously addicted to checking the increases of coronavirus case numbers, reading about the pandemic news all over the world, and freaked out by the whole situation. The best thing I can do is to limit the amount of time I spend obsessively scanning through Twitter, Facebook, and news sites about Covid-19, and spend more time doing yoga and meditation instead. However, addictions are addictions... it's hard to deny the brain of dopamine hits.

The prospect of finding a job during a pandemic as the world's economy gradually slows down into a halt is not exactly rosy. I guess I should instead use this time to work on my coding skills instead. 

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Finger strength in climbing

To push oneself up a climbing wall, one basically pushes the toe part of the shoes really hard into footholds (or the wall itself), and then grab the next handhold.  Grip it hard so one can move the body to the next position. During this transition, one should suck in the belly to activate the core so the body is tense when moving from one handhold to the next foothold or handhold. 

I had no clue this was how climbing worked in the first year. I had weak arms, no hand strength, weak back, weak core, and poor balance when I started. I would get "stuck" on super easy boulders. Moving a hand or a leg would result in me falling off the wall. The next handhold was often out of reach. It was often baffling to me what to do next half way through a boulder problem.

First my core got stronger, then the back and shoulders, and now I can feel my hands firming remaining on a hold even as I shift my body and foot around, snaking/reaching/swinging my way to the next foothold. As long as I have the grip, it is possible to try a move, fail, but still stay on the wall (due to that hand still hold me to the wall). Believe it or not, it's actually more tendon strength than muscle strength (I rarely get forearm pumps when I boulder). 

Recently, each time I climb, I reach that chi flow stage where I can seem to try one boulder problem after another and not feel sore. I usually bang my knees into the wall several times (because I am sloppy), and I just ignore it, and it doesn't affect my climbing. I have no soreness in the body (maybe slight shoulder soreness in the back of the armpit). I feel like I can go on climbing forever. The only signal forcing me to slow down and gradually boulder easier problems to cool down is my achy hand skin. The pain in the skins make it harder for me to grip the handholds precisely and strongly, so I know the session is coming to an end. 

Now that I have had a few hours rest, I feel the shakes in the shins/calves, in the back (the lats), in the abs, in the neck (as always). I will really feel it tomorrow. Last time I bouldered I felt sore for a whole week. Let's see how long this one lasts. I'm happy I am slowly building endurance though. This allows me to stay on the wall to work on tricky boulders. Before, I could only try a hard boulder once. If a move was too hard, then that problem would stay out of reach. Now my hands (and shoulders, and back, and core) are strong enough for me to try alternative moves. Very exciting!

Saturday, March 7, 2020

Using climbing to keep my depression tendencies in check

As I have mentioned before, I have depression tendencies. The worst was when I completed my graduate school, I cried my hearts out. The whole graduate school experience was depressing. I felt like a total failure, since I had to drag on for 6+ years even though it was clear from the beginning the supervisor didn't like me, and the project I worked on became a drag 3 years into it. I could barely get out of bed. I felt like I had no motivation to apply for jobs or do anything else. Then I got a job offer after not so many applications. I was so excited! I felt like I came back to life.

Recently I felt like I got back into almost the same situation again. No matter how hard I worked on it, my boss didn't like my work. It was a confidence killer. I dreaded applying for jobs again. But this time, I understand what is happening to me. Perfectionist bosses make me feel like I am worthless. They make me feel like my absolute hardest efforts just aren't good enough for them. They make me feel like I am stupid, sloppy, useless, ignorant, foolish, helpless.

I managed to apply for more jobs this time than last time, and I made sure I went climbing regularly. Climbing is super informative of what you should pay attention to and what can be sloppier. For certain routes, if my foot slips, it feels super scary, even though I usually manage to hang on with my hands. But then I make a mental note that my footwork is bad. The activity gives a ton of feedback to me: route is too easy, just right, too hard, etc. Certain terrains terrify me regardless of difficulty (aretes come into mind); certain moves feel very off balancing; foot slips can cause huge scares; finally, big steps without handholds are so scary they often prompt me to cheat (grab holds that are not part of my route). These challenges are honest. They literally keep me on my toes. When I finally reach the top, the feeling of accomplishment is so amazing. But even the climbing process itself is so utterly rewarding. I can feel I am somehow not able to exert full force, or my forearms are pumping like crazy but the adrenaline (or just fear of falling) allows me to hold on for several seconds longer because I am only 2 moves away to a comfortable resting spot. Overcoming the soreness and the fear from every hard move brings me so much joy and gratefulness. It's truly an activity that provides constant feedback and rewards, something that has been sorely missing from my life for more than a decade.

Some people are cheerful 95% of the time. I have no idea if they actually feel that way, or if they just fake it because they believe they should act positive and never upset other people with Debbie Downer-type behaviours. I certainly feel depressed and pessimistic by default, and need to actively put in efforts to maintain cheerfulness. Even when I am in a good mood, it's so easy for a negative comment or just someone's look/micro-expression on their face to puncture my cheerfulness balloon. I am so glad I have found climbing to be a consistent mood picker-upper. Other things like sweets, alcohol, or socializing, have never been nearly as dependable mood enhancers. Even if they do, it often feels superficial, unlike climbing, which goes quite deep into the nerves, tendons, and bones. Yoga used to do it, but I blame my first yoga studio for being too amazing (gorgeous, empathetic and fantastically skilled teachers; studios was always perfectly heated, with essential oil-scented air, infrared sauna and complementary yummy herbal teas) that I have trouble replicating the same level of satisfaction. Oh well. Can't be too greedy. Not every city in the world is blessed with a plentitude of fantastic climbing gyms with pretty awesome facilities and well-set climbing routes. I really should be grateful that I am able to keep my depression in check. I sincerely hope everyone else with depression could find their own remedies. I don't really know if depression can be "cured". For me, it feels like it's always there in the background, even when I've had the perfect day, being showered with love and pampering. My mom gets very mad at me about this. She needs me to claim that I am happy and grateful with my excellent life so she can feel good about her accomplishment of raising  children from baby to adults. I struggle really badly with her lack-of-boundary issues. I am a separate human being no longer tied to her, not her show dog. But I recognize now that it is impossible for her to change her way of thinking (for the better) about me and about this world.

So I keep climbing. I wish I could climb more often but I get very sore and exhausted. I feel like I need many days of rest after a tough boulder session. I don't know if it would be better if I force myself to climb for shorter time (usually I climb until near total exhaustion). I feel like if I don't try hard boulders, I would never improve though. And I really enjoy getting stronger. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Good climbing days and bad climbing days

To be honest, last week I was pretty discouraged by how strenuous the level 6 routes felt to me. I thought I would need another 1-2 months to slowly progress back to working on 7's again. Turns out I had a great weekend. I had enough energy to warm up on 2 easy routes, work on a new 7- route on an arête (outer corner), one 7-/7 with scary slopers and bad footholds, one 7 on artificial structures, and finish strongly on a reachy white 7- that I have tried before. I was over the moon.

I don't really know if it's just a high energy day vs. a low energy day. Seems like it's quite important to warm up on a very easy route to let the arms and legs flow a bit and to build confidence. When I get the blood (and chi?) flowing, then the harder routes feel more doable. Also this does wonders for my mood and confidence: finish with a familiar route that has some challenges but is still within my capability. I was on such an endorphins (or dopamine or adrenaline?) high after this last climb that I deluded myself in thinking I could still climb more and that I would have enough energy to go jogging the next day to improve my cardio.

Turns out that in the middle of night I was awake again with pulsing sore arms. My guess is that when I'm on an endorphin high, I can push my body harder than normal. In this case the last climb I pull of some handhold hand switches that were quite strenuous for my hands and arms. I'm glad I can sometimes push my body this way. My guess is that confident people experience this high more commonly. This allows them to speak confidently even when they are not very sure about the subject they are being asked to speak about. I never thought that through climbing I could experience what confidence feels like, and that it is not there on low energy days.

I am hoping to get to the point that I can work on 7s even on low energy days. But then on good days I hope to be able to send the 7 routes and work on 7+s.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Progression in climbing is not linear

In my last post I was making a list of what progress I hoped to make this year. It mostly involved going up in grade difficulty in climbing. But for the past few weeks, I haven't been making much progress in climbing harder routes. In fact, I find 6s (5c's) more strenuous now than before. How is that possible?!?!

Come to think of it, my strength in my arms and fingers have definitely improved compared to, say, 6 months ago. I notice my style of climbing has changed because of this. I would do moves that I couldn't do, back when I had less strength. These moves are more powerful and playful/fun. Also, I am now strong enough to have my arm in a bent position and/or grip a handhold quite strongly/securely when I clip the rope into quick draws. This makes me feel more secure about the climb overall, but it also uses up more energy. There was a period when every time I needed to clip in the rope, my heart rate would accelerate, because I didn't feel secure. Who knew that style of climbing uses up less energy than the secure way that I climb now? I would also try to clip the rope as soon as the quick draw was within the reach of one hand (ie. above my head), instead of the ideal clipping zone, where the quickdraw lies between the chest and waist area of the climber. Now, because of how secure I feel on the wall, I dare to climb to a comfortable position, sometimes until the quickdraw is at waist level, before I clip in. I would definitely call this progress. However, it is not reflected in the grades. I am currently climbing mostly 6s and 6+s, with the occasional 6+/7-.

I finally understand why my boyfriend, who can boulder way harder than I can, was getting more tired/pumped climbing the same routes as me. He definitely also uses more strength than necessary to do the easy routes.

I recently met a new friend, who is very lean, and is super enthusiastic about climbing. Her problem is that she lacks strength. She also had a minor surgery not long ago and could not climb for weeks while in the process of recovery. When I started climbing myself, I also had no strength to hang at all, which means I couldn't boulder very much. I was lucky that I have a boyfriend as a pretty reliable belay partner, who could go sport climbing with me at least twice a week. So I focused mainly on route climbing, which helped me slowly but reliably build arm and back strength, as well as endurance. She doesn't have a regular belay partner, so she has to do more bouldering. Since harder boulders are quite tricky to do, whereas rope climbing routes are less tricky, so one can perform climbing moves for longer, I personally believe that rope climbing is a better way to get used to climbing movements and to build strength for people who have trouble with strength building. But I recently realized not everybody thinks about climbing the same way I do, so I can't force people to do things my way. I have another friend who was also frustrated about her strength. She would go to the gym, not warm up, climb the hardest boulders/routes she could do, get tired in about 30 minutes, get frustrated, then try a bit more, and then be done (physically tired out) in under 1 hour. She had been climbing for longer than I had at the time, and she was really frustrated that she got stuck at a certain level. I tried to suggest some things, but I quickly learned that I shouldn't offer suggestions unless people ask for it, if I want to be able to keep the friendship.

Going forward, I guess I need to focus on relaxing more when doing easy routes. It is not necessary to use the death grips on routes where I could pretty much balance on my two feet. I also need to force myself to try harder routes, and do fall training. I really hope to increase my endurance, and also, I hope to have some spare time to boulder, so I could work on building power as well.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Back to climbing after 3 weeks vacation

Like last winter, I took 3 weeks vacation from climbing. However, this time, in November and December, I got quite sick for a week or so twice (cold and winter stomach flu), so my climbing pre-vacation was not so regular either. Last time I was completely shocked how much strength and endurance I lost. This time I was mentally expecting it.

First post-vacation bouldering warm up initially felt like my arms were in shock about having to hold the body weight. It took awhile for the "shock" to go away. I can't quite tell if the shock was in the arms or in the head. The fingers weren't quite sure if they could hold the weight, but obviously they could. I did 5 rope climbs -- 1 red 5+ (5a), 1 green 6+ (6a), 1 black chimney 7- (6a+) that I have done before, 1 hard white 6 (should be a 6+/6a), and 1 hard white/blue dot 6 (5c) to end, where I was too scared to try the last move because I couldn't stand stretched out on one leg to reach the last hold.  The lower level climbs felt quite fun because they were at my limits. They required me to reach out, stretch, put my body in uncomfortable positions, but did not require more strength than what my body is currently capable of. I am hoping by the end of February I would be able to climb multiple 7s (6bs) and to work on short 7+/6b+s again. 

I went bouldering the next day, and could boulder up to 6a's. I did not have my full power back, but was able to play with some attempts on the less strengths/more tricky-technical boulders. My limiting factor when I first start bouldering was hand skin. Then it became my arm strength/core strength. Now it's back to skin again. My hand skin and my achy toes prevent me from climbing further before my core/back/arms are exhausted. Hoping to toughen up my skins again so I could train my muscles further.

Glad to feel I have some techniques/endurance under my belt now. I'm hoping by June I could be working on 6b+s indoor and 6a/6a+s outdoor. By the end of the year I hope to be able to do multiple 6b+ routes and 6b boulders. I hope I can do 5 pull ups consecutively. I hope my bunions do not worsen.

Things to work on:

- Core
- Finger strength
- Pull ups
- Overhangs
- Footwork
- Flow
- Body tension
- Power
- Pistol squats
- Pinch power/endurance
- Lock offs
- Handstands
- Cardio

Monday, October 28, 2019

Policing other people's behaviours

Recently I have been watching a lot of Chinese shows talking about all kinds of social and psychology issues in society. One of the episodes had a discussion about a newly invented label "green tea slut" that is supposed to be given to a woman who gives the impression of being innocent, elegant and naïve in order to make other men fall in love with her, but in reality they are scheming and they take advantage of these "poor men" financially and emotionally. These labels are usually given to women by other women. It's basically the Asian version of slut-shaming, with women being particularly angry that this type of women don't also dress like the promiscuous type to give obvious warning to other women. Also, promiscuity discussed here is not only about sexual behaviour. Women try to police other women for being "emotionally/verbally slutty" as well, ie. talking in a way that makes men feel like they have a chance to date her/become her boyfriend.

In the episode, instead of criticizing the type of women being given this label, the invited "relationship experts" and psychology counsellors try to explain that instead of listing all the ways women with this label are horrible, maybe one can try to admit one is actually jealous of this type of women, and figure out the specific relationship skills this type of women possess that make men fall in love with her easily, and one can think about acquiring some of the particular skills that make them likeable and attractive to men.

In the comments section, women continue to voice their hatred for this type of women. In actuality this is not a specific type of women. It can be any woman who is super well-liked and is fantasized by male classmates, work colleagues, and even most women's boyfriends. It could be a woman who "stole" the heart of one's biggest male crush. This woman can actively manipulate men's psyche such that her multiple boyfriends don't realize they are not exclusive with her, or she could simply be actively pursued by multiple high quality guys, all competing to become "the" boyfriend.

Since this "green tea slut"-shaming is not a thing in the west, I am having a bit of trouble understanding the mentality of it. I guess many women are brought up to believe that as a woman, there are "good" and "bad" ways to behave. Women who are successful at garnering attention from a large number of men are "evil" and men should be ashamed of themselves for falling for this type of women.

I mean, I guess it sucks to fall for manipulative people, period. It happens to all of us, whether in romance, at work, in politics, in social circles, etc. But from what I can observe, these critics consider non-manipulative women who have personalities that genuinely attract a lot of men to be just as evil as the manipulative ones. Maybe it all comes down to the question "why can't I attract the men I'm interested in and woman X gets attention from all the men?" Their interpretation of the answer to this question is that these women are behaving in ways that are not allowed (not allowed by what? By their inner police).

It comes down to what is attractiveness. The most obvious answer is looks. In the west, charm, sense of humour (for men) are also obvious. In the east, what makes a woman charming (besides looks) is less understood by women. The dominating judgemental way of thinking of how a woman should and should not behave will take some time to shift I guess.