- BOULDERING & POWER TRAINING - Malcom Smith
- During the height of the sport climbing boom in the early 1990s a young lad from Dunbar in Scotland called Malcolm Smith silenced the climbing world by repeating Ben Moon's Hubble, the worlds first 8c+. The following year he went on to notch up a string of ascents that would reserve him a place in the sport climbing history books. A flashed ascent of Chimes of Freedom 8a+ and a 'first redpoint' of Cry Freedom 8b+ were among the highlights. And these days Malcolm is stronger than ever. He now focuses exclusively on bouldering and operates in the upper echelons alongside the likes of Sharma, Nicole and Zangerl, being one of a small handful to have climbed the coveted grade of Font 8c. Even more notorious than Malcolm's power levels are his training methods - in a previous interview he put it all down to training rather than talent. Let's see if he still views it this way:
- Fact file: Malcom Smith
Height 5' 11"
Started climbing: 1989
Routes & Boulder problems selection: Yorkshireman, 7c+ (Kyloe) Working Class, 8a+ (Bowden) Superman, 8a+ (Crag X) Progress, 8c (Kilnsey) La Rose, 8b (Buoux).
The Monk life V13 (1st asc) Sit down to Pool of Bethesda V12 (1st asc)
Can you give a brief Synopsis of your climbing:
I started with my Dad at local crags in Scotland and in Northumberland. It was training for me from the word go, as it was so hard to get out regularly. I had a board in my bedroom and used to read a lot about training and set my own goals. I suppose things took off when I did Magnetic Fields (8b) at seventeen. I started training for Hubble in Scotland but moved to Sheffield to do the route. For the last three years I've just bouldered which is kind of how I started out in Northumberland.
Do you still follow that same legendary structured approach to training?
Very loosely - I don't follow a regime; I sometimes have a specific goal in mind and I adapt my climbing to suit it. Otherwise I try to maintain all-round power and make sure that all the various areas are well trained. For example, if I ignore campusing or body tension problems then I notice those types of strength suffering. The main change now is that I do more days on. In the past, we all did day-on, day-off when it was fashionable, but that's only cos we weren't fit enough to sustain a higher volume. Real athletes train up to six days a week and that's what I aim for.
Do you achieve this by varying the intensity of each session and having 'recovery days'?
Not so much. I prefer to just do shorter, sharper, high quality sessions. For example I might have ten attempts at a really hard project with loads of rest in between, and then finish there when I still feel strong.
So do you supplement your bouldering with other forms of strength training?
Definitely. I do deadhangs, campusing, locking holds to the neck and 1-armers on a bar or an edge (although the 1-armers are mainly for a tune-up at the start of a session). I also do a few system style problems such as body tension moves at full stretch or front-on with my feet splayed out, or climbing with a weight-belt. I don't do much isometric (static) work but I would do if I was training for a specific move again like I did for Hubble. I still use weights but for overall body strength rather than climbing strength - I only do compound movements like clean & jerk, deadlift, benchpress, upright row & shoulder press. I'd also use a Bachar ladders if I had one at the moment! I also do an hour of yoga at the end of the day - it really loosens you off and helps you relax and recover mentally as well as physically.
Does endurance still figure in the equation?
No, which makes things less complicated; although session endurance definitely comes into it. I have no interest in being able to recover on a long route but I need to be able to do lots of boulder problems in one session. I do what I call 'mileage sessions' where I may do up to 200 boulder problems (including laps) at 80-85% of my limit, so say up to Font 7c+.
Do you have any tips for the procedure of working a boulder problem?
The most important thing is to pace yourself, especially if you're on your own. Take 3-5 minutes rest between attempts. It's always a balancing act between allowing your skin to cool down and preventing your muscles from cooling off - it depends on the conditions on the day. Don't thrash and be methodical: use your rest times to analyse your performance and think how you could be doing something better. With regards to the amount of rest you need between days, that's down to your own level of fitness. I find I can sometimes work a problem, try it again the following day and then do it on the third day, but then I've trained to be able to do that. Either way you should be fit enough to recover from anything apart from weights within 24 hours! Also, don't underestimate the importance of mental recovery - your whole system gets tired from concentration.
Your extreme dieting tactics were notorious in the early 90's, have you eased off now?
I kind of watch what I eat all the time in order to maintain my weight at 11stone. I can climb well at that weight, as I'm stronger now than when I did Hubble even though I'm way heavier. If I really wanted that extra edge I could shed a few pounds. It's always good to have that up your sleeve, but nothing extreme - no more target weight at 8st 13!
So what about Wolfgang Gullich's famous quote that it's all about getting strong without getting injured - can you relate to that?
I've never really had a problem with injuries as my fingers are naturally strong. Then again it's probably because I did so much finger training at that critical age between 14 & 18. Finger strength is everything and if you lay down a foundation at that age then it gives you a real advantage, both in terms of performance and avoiding injury. I suppose it's a combination of training and predisposition.
And finally, who are your training role models outside of climbing?
When I was in Norway with Marius (Morstad) I saw some Olympic Gymnasts train and it made me realise just how weak climbers are, apart from in the fingers of course!