Friday, 1 March 2019

Finding the Balance: Life outside the gym

Finding the Balance: Life outside the gym

Up until now my blog has served to guide people through my climbing experiences; people know me as an athlete and that is all. However, for this post I want to write more about myself and how I strive to find balance in my life. For me, climbing is the most important aspect of my existence, but equally, it is for this reason that there have been times when I have felt on the verge of break down because all my self-value relied on climbing and my performance in the sport. I cared little about anything else-my social life, my studies, my other hobbies, even my family. In saying this I may sound like some cold-hearted climbing machine and in many ways that’s how I saw myself, but it is my belief that this mind-set is not uncommon among individuals who dedicate the majority of their life to achieving and mastering a single activity.
I am by no means a changed person from the Jo who isolated herself from the rest of her life in the pursuit of being the best. I still struggle to find a balance where I devote enough to climbing that I can fulfil my goals but enjoy the process and don’t neglect the other aspects of my life which are so important for my mental wellbeing. However, I have made significant progress in finding this balance and I would like to share ways in which I have done this. As it has turned out, sharing some of my devotion to climbing among other parts of my life has actually helped me become a more successful (and happier) athlete as I no longer feel the need to place as much pressure on myself to succeed all the time. If I don’t perform as well as I wanted, I can learn from the experience rather than allowing it to destroy me.
Having this year off (I’ve now finished school but won’t be starting university until next September) has enabled me to take time to invest in other hobbies. My plan for next year is to study German and Japanese at the University of Leeds as I have always loved learning languages. I decided at the beginning of this academic year to try teaching myself a language so since then I have been studying Spanish for around half an hour each day. It’s not very much time so I can stick to it, but the regularity gives me a sense of satisfaction when I can see my progress. For anyone looking for a pass-time to add to a fairly monotonous schedule, I would definitely recommend learning a language! For athletes in particular, having a daily activity which uses a different part of the brain keeps you feeling engaged and motivated in whatever you’re doing.
For A Level, I studied art for the simple reason that it was so different from my other studies. While the subject is by no means easy, and a lot of work is required (as with all A Levels) to achieve good grades, I found the work completely different and in this ways it provided a kind of rest from my other studies and training. During the course of this year I have attempted to feed my interest in art, attending local Life Drawing classes and frequently visiting exhibitions around London. I think it’s really important to get out of the house and do things which aren’t related to training. Sitting at home on rest days may rest your body, but your mind, not being stimulated in any way, remains focused on sport so when you do train, you aren’t as psychologically ‘fresh’.
I realise this post is very different from anything else I have written but I hope it highlights to people that the most important thing you can do for your climbing is ensure that your life is balanced. If you’re not enjoying the process there’s really no point in training because winning trophies and titles only brings very superficial happiness; you will always be looking for the next step to achieve.

Thursday, 14 February 2019

Warming Up

Warming Up

One of the most important factors in pushing your grade in climbing is getting into a warm-up routine. This routine can be so useful for developing mobility and strength, enabling your body to unlock its potential during training, but the most important thing is that you find a routine which you can stick to. I have included a number of steps which I have used in warm-ups in the past, but the key thing to remember is that different exercises work for different people. The three essential stages are a pulse-raiser, dynamic stretching of some kind and easy climbing. However, you must be able to be flexible with your routine, adapting it for different places and time-frames.

Pulse Raiser

The purpose of a pulse raiser is to get the blood flowing through your muscles so that oxygen can reach even your extremities and you can make full use of your muscles. You can have a lot of fun at this stage, playing games if you are training in a group. One main reason why lots of people miss this stage out is because they can’t be bothered and feel sluggish when they arrive at the wall. For this reason, it’s good to keep the exercises varied. My normal routine is as follows: 20xstar-jumps, 10xburpies (with press-ups), 20xstar-jumps, 20xmountain climbers, 20xcross-mountain climbers, 20xstar-jumps, 20xmountain climbers, 20xcross-mountain climbers, 20xstar-jumps. If you are short on time, it might be worth trying to run or cycle to the wall, but bear in mind that you must be out of breath.

Dynamic Stretching

The word ‘stretching’ has, for most, connotations of sitting in contorted positions for extended periods of time, with the purpose of improving flexibility. This is static stretching, something I do at the end of every training session but avoid completely at the start. If performed properly, this type of stretching can be beneficial at the start, but I find that it increases my risk of injury and makes me weaker as my muscles have been elongated just before I need them to be contracting. Dynamic stretching is a way of loosening all the joints to improve mobility. You should go through the whole body, from the toes to the neck, gently moving each part (e.g. rolling back the shoulders, circling the ankles).

Mobility Exercises

This part of the warm-up is not essential and can be skipped if you are short on time. However, performing some of these exercises several times a week can improve strength and movement in the long term. Shoulder shrugs are a favourite of many climbers. These involve hanging of a bar or a pair of jugs and performing the first stage of a pull-up. By this, I mean alternating between pulling the shoulder blades down so that the neck is raised and allowing the shoulders to relax so the ears sink into the arms. The elbows do not bend at all. This warms-up the shoulders and develops the strength for the first stage of a pull-up. It can also be performed on one arm once you have developed the strength on two. A lot of other mobility exercises can be performed with a theraband. These are easy to purchase and come in many different strengths so you might want several. They are great for working the antagonist muscles and ease your body into strength training, providing a little tension.


Self-massage can be done before or after training (or both) or even on rest days and is a great way to reduce muscle soreness. By massaging out knots in the muscle fibres, you can increase their mobility and can ‘access’ more of your own strength. In other words, if your muscles are knotted, you can’t use their full potential. There are specific tools for self-massage, such as foam-rollers, but you can also use objects such as tennis, lacrosse and golf balls. I would recommend mixing and matching, depending on which muscle group you are massaging.

Easy Climbing

Before getting on any hard projects it’s important to start on big holds. You can use this time to work on technique (e.g. precise and quiet footwork, with no readjustments) and, once you move onto harder climbs, your weaknesses. I always train my weaknesses at the start of sessions as this is when my mind is at its sharpest and my muscles are fresh so I am more able to learn from the movements I’m performing. Whether your weakness is dynamic movement, volumes or bad footholds holds on slabs, dedicate some time at the start of your training to addressing these areas. If, at the end of your climbing warm-up, your fingers are still cold, I sometimes perform a few repeaters on crimps on a fingerboard (7 seconds on, 3 seconds off for a minute), but only do this if you are a relatively experienced climber.

Friday, 25 January 2019

My Top Training Tips

My Top Training Tips

Having not written in a blog post in a long time I felt it was time to resurrect what I started with a few tips which I think could be helpful for a lot of people! I get asked all the time about my training and though there’s no secret key to inevitable success, I do have some advice which can be used whether you’re a complete newbie looking to start a hobby for the new year, or an experienced climber who has hit a plateau.

Train in the right environment

Probably the most important element of training is that you want to do it. There is no point in setting out goals which you aren’t motivated to achieve because you won’t be enjoying the process of achieving them. If possible, try and find a training partner-I always climb better when working with someone of a similar ability to me or better. This way you can learn from each other and take it in turns to train and rest, making the process more sociable. Everyone’s bodies are programmed to work best at different times, so try varying when you train to find what works best for your body-maybe you feel freshest first thing in the morning or maybe you need time to fully wake up and prefer evening sessions. Finally, if you can afford it (and if it’s not too inconvenient) try and visit multiple centres to train at. You will be varying the holds, setters and angles, making training more interesting and helping you learn much more quickly.

Make a training plan

If you can’t afford to purchase a tailor-made plan from a coach, experiment making one for yourself. Books such as Training for Climbing by Eric J. Hörst can help you with this, but the idea is to work different energy systems, thereby ensuring that your body is well balanced and fit to achieve your personal goals. Start by writing down specific goals you want to achieve (e.g. a competition you want to perform well in; a route outdoors you want to project; a trip you’ve got planned and want to climb well for; or maybe you want to have climbed a certain grade by a certain time) as this will help you figure out when you want to peak for. This will tell you when you need rest weeks and when you need to change phases in your plan. If you have a clear idea of what you are doing for every session, you are much more likely to actually do it and you will make consistent progress.

Be creative

Sometimes it isn’t always possible to climb on new problems all the time or problems which fit the exercise/style you want to work. Get used to making up your own problems as this will not only be more specific and thus more effective for your needs, but it will always develop the creative side of your climbing brain, helping you with problem-solving and it will keep your sessions fun. Always start sessions working your weaknesses as this is when you will be physically and mentally freshest, and thus able to learn more. For example, my biggest weakness is dynamic climbing, so I always like to try a few dynamic blocks before I get stuck into the rest of my session.

Combine climbing specific strength training with gym work and technique drills

Make sure that you are not letting aspects of your climbing fall behind. I was once told to ‘train my weaknesses until they became my strengths’. It’s good to do some work in the gym to gain power and strength but you can also work these on the wall, making more climbing specific gains. These exercises (e.g. doing pull-ups on climbs rather than just on a bar) can be more fun and make your strength more specific to the sport. Never forget to train technique along the side as you will reach a point where simply ‘powering through’ won’t cut it!

Stay fuelled

One of the main causes of feeling unmotivated to train is simply not feeling energised. It’s really important to never go to a training session feeling hungry and to refuel after (if not during) your session. While you don’t want to feel bloated and heavy on the wall, you do need the energy to focus on what you are doing and to be able to perform to your potential. A personal favourite snack of mine is banana with peanut butter. Super simple to make, nutritious and filling, this combo gets me through training and it tastes great! Obviously everyone has their own food preferences and needs but try and find something which works for you. Never forget to bring a water bottle to the wall-dehydration effects your precision!

Saturday, 20 August 2016

GB Team Training in Arco

As I sit here on my laptop, staring out of my window onto a grey, raining gloom-August in England-I can't help but think of the sunny skies of Arco, Italy, where I spent my last week on a GB Team training trip. The trip was a perfect combination of activities in a perfect location-we spent our time eating ice cream. swimming in Lake Garda, playing 'Manhunt' in the warm evenings and of course climbing, both at the incredible Rock Master Wall and outdoors at a variety of crags.
Having not done much outdoor sport climbing before, I was quite nervous at the start of the trip, expecting to be completely out-climbed and terrified of the whole experience. To my surprise, my fears soon subsided and as we visited more crags, my confidence grew and by the end of the trip I had flashed 7b and redpointed my first 8a outdoors. Topping out on 'La Cucina dell'Inferno' (8a) was definitely the highlight of my trip but I also really enjoyed trying the competition style routes set at the wall which proved to be very difficult but perfect practice for the European Championships coming up in a couple of weeks!
Overall the trip was great fun and I really enjoyed getting to know some of the team better. Thanks to everyone (especially the coaches) for making the trip such a success-I hope to be back next year to climb 8a+ or harder!
Keep climbing!
The team at the wall
Sending 'La Cucina dell'Inferno' (8a)

The Rock Master Wall

Sun's out guns out! (with Emily Phillips)

Monday, 11 July 2016

Senior British Bouldering Championships

Despite initially not being particularly bothered about attending this event (as it was a senior comp so would be very difficult and was not in my favoured discipline), I ended up finding the Senior British Bouldering Championships one of the most exciting events I have ever been to.
Located in a tent outdoors on Devonshire Green, Sheffield, the BBCs was part of the annual Cliffhanger festival, a festival showcasing outdoor sports with food stalls and live music to add to the atmosphere. However, upon arrival in the heavy rain, my initial feelings were not entirely positive and I began to wonder whether it had been worth turning up at all. The qualification format was one with which I am not entirely familiar-5 mins on 5 off for 5 problems (so no extra time to read the problems and no chance to grab some other beta)-and I found it stressful to figure out my own beta and get each problem done in the time. After almost flashing the 1st block but slipping off the last hold and then being unable to repeat the start, I did not feel positive at first. However, a flash of the 2nd gave me a confidence boost. Unfortunately, this was to be my only top, but it was enough to sneak into semis at 18th place (with 20 in semis).
After a good rest I awoke early on Sunday to get back to the wall before isolation closed at 11.30. I felt more comfortable with the time format and knew that even if I screwed up, I could only move down 2 places and, being one of the first out, the problems would not be too greasy. With only 4 blocks to climb, the semis was less tiring and went quickly-I soon found myself sat on the mat at the end smiling, for I had managed 2 flashes and 3 bonuses, a result good enough to at least retain my 18th place. However, to my surprise, I found myself sitting at the top of the score board for a while. Waiting anxiously by the barrier to watch the others, I counted down as people scored below me...a top ten finish was within site.
When it came to the last 4 or so climbers and I was still sat comfortably in the top 3, Watching the last climber-Shauna Coxsey, overall Boulder World Cup Winner of 2016-fall of the last problem (one which I had got first attempt) was something I did not expect! The final results were announced and I had somehow qualified for the final of the Senior British Bouldering Championships in 4th place (with 6 in the final) along with seasoned comp climbers (and world ranked athletes) Shauna Coxsey, Tara Hayes, Michaela Tracy, Leah Crane and Gracie Martin. As the youngest (by 3 years) and least experienced of the men and women in the final I was the clear underdog-the Wales of the European Football Championships.
The finals was incredible. With people from all over the world watching on the live stream as well as the live crowd, I felt anxious but excited and gave it my all. Being one of three to top the 1st problem and narrowly missing out topping the 2nd, I was pleased with my climbing despite finishing in 6th. Well done to everyone who competed and thanks for all the support from the viewers!
Keep climbing!
Head shots of the finalists

Monday, 20 June 2016

Weekend in Wales

Eyy! Exams are over!
To celebrate the start of my long 'summer' holidays (though it doesn't look much like summer to me) I travelled up to Snowdonia for the weekend to get some indoor and outdoor climbing done. Because I will be having a GB team training event next weekend to select for the European and World Championships, I decided to spend a day at the Beacon Climbing Centre where the selection event will be held to get some practice on the different walls.
I like the walls at the Beacon as, despite not being very steep like most other walls, they are very tall and often have consistent, non-cruxy routes which require stamina and solid vert technique-the kind of routes which suit me best. I enjoyed getting on some of the harder routes to onsight but discovered a couple of routes set with wooden holds-holds I had only experienced on circuit boards and did not like on routes. These were slippy and unpredictable but I gave them a go anyway. My favourite route of the day was an 8a up the main wall which had a dynamic beginning but very technical end. Unfortunately I fell off a bit over halfway up but I managed to get all the moves in sections.
On Saturday evening, after visiting the Beacon, I had just enough time to spend a couple of hours at the Cromlech Boulders in Llanberis Pass. I hadn't expected to do any outdoor bouldering but had brought a mat just in case-and it was a good thing I did because the problems were brilliant and by the time I had to go back to the house I had already ticked a crimpy 7a/v6 called The Edge Problem and given a good go at the famous Jerry's Roof (7c/v9).
The following morning I got up early as I knew it was due to rain at midday and I had to get back to London that evening. After a drive through not-so-promising mist and light showers, we arrived in the valley where the Cromlech Boulders are and got out the pad. I though our session would be short lived and was beginning to regret coming outside again after feeling the slippery, slanted footholds. Nevertheless, I pressed on and the weather began to get better. I soon found myself topping out on Roadside Arête, a nice 6c/v5 I had looked at the previous day, and proceeded to work the pumpy, sloper traverse into it, which formed Cave Route (7a/v6). The traverse was of course concealed in the local sheep toilet, which was less than pleasant, but I figured out the moves fairly quickly and managed to get the link.
Having battled hard keeping the sheep poo off my climbing shoes and bearing the pain of my quickly disappearing skin, I though it would be a good idea to try the next link-Roadside Basic (7a+/v7) and surprised myself sending it on my second attempt of the full link. Alas, the weather starting really packing in and I ran to seek refuge in the car-it was time to go anyway. I hope to return soon to claim the other links-Rampless (7b/+/v8) and Full Roadside (7c/v9)-and get back on the classic Jerry's Roof.
Keep climbing!
A cool problem I found-don't know the name

The Edge Problem (7a/v6)
Coming out of the traverse on Roadside Basic (7a+/v7)
Next move on Roadside Basic...

The sequence continues...

Friday, 3 June 2016

Imst EYC

Last weekend I entered my first ever international competition-the European Youth Cup held at Imst Kletterzentrum. Due to having an exam the day before the comp, I was unfortunately unable to travel with the GB Team, so arrived late on Friday.
The demos were scheduled for 8.30am on Saturday, so it was an early start for the whole team and we all got down to the wall in time to have a look around and get warmed up before the climbing began. The wall ( or I should say walls) was amazing,but what struck me in particular was the indoor wall (we were competing outside) which had an amazing range of angles, all crammed into a space smaller than most centres in the UK and yet far more impressive. My first qualifier was soon revealed to be a very technical vertical route up the middle. This should have suited me. However, extreme nerves overtook me and I found myself greasing of a pair of chalky crimps halfway up the route, with lots of energy still to spare. To my annoyance, the route was brushed straight after I climbed, but to my relief, I still managed to come 22nd out of 37, which, although not an amazing result, was reasonable for my first ever international route. I enjoyed the route nevertheless and would have liked to have given it another try.
I soon found out that I would be climbing last on my second qualifier, giving me a 6 hour wait in the heat and blazing sun. After watching a few of my team mates compete, I headed back to the hotel, with the intention of returning an hour and a half before my climb, enabling me to warm up and grab beta of some of my teammates (I would be missing the second demo).
Back at the wall, I began to feel nervous again and even started reading the wrong qualifier route (luckily my teammate Rebecca pointed this out to me!). When it was finally time for me to climb I had overheated in the sun and I found the first part of the route sketchy, as my sweaty hands struggled to grip the chalky slopers. This wasted energy and unfortunately I came off lower than I should have due to misreading the route and clipping from the wrong places. This placed me in 25th overall, which I was a little disappointed with. However, I feel that I learnt a lot from the experience and know that I can improve a lot as I will hopefully be less nervous at my next international.
The following day I enjoyed watching the finals with the rest of the team (big up to Hamish, Emily, Will and Molly who all made finals!) and was inspired by some of the incredible talent on show. I can't wait to return to the wall for another competition!
Keep climbing!
Squeezing the life out of the chalky crimps on my first route