mattbell: (Default)
At the local indoor rock climbing gym, all the routes are given names.  Usually the routes in a given area all have names along a similar theme -- eg whiskies, Shakespeare plays etc. 

One section of the gym has routes named after sweeteners. 

"Sucralose, aspartame, saccharin, xylitol, Jessica, fructose, glucose"

Jessica?  I'm sure there's a story.  Maybe it's one of the route setters' girlfriends.  In any case, despite her sweet demeanor, the run by her name is one hell of a challenge.  However, it's a very interesting run, with lots of lateral moves and unusual holds.  I found myself drawn to Jessica, but repeatedly rebuffed by her (5.11a) tricky route.  I tried to get to the top several times over the last month, usually falling 4-5 times along the way if I made it to the top at all.  I had much of the route memorized.  Obsession brewed.  I worried that the route would be taken down before I had a chance to make a clean ascent.

Yesterday, we all decided to film each other at the gym to study our technique, so I happened to get onto film my first successful clean attempt at topping, err.. mounting... uh... summiting, conquering, climbing... oh I give up... Jessica. 



If anyone wants to give climbing a try (if you can climb a ladder, you can do a beginner route!), let me know.  This Friday is bring-a-guest-free day.
mattbell: (Default)
Parkour class was a lot of fun, though it also was mixed-level, so it pushed me very hard as the only beginner in the class.  It's an interesting shakeup going from being a fairly competent rock climber to a clueless parkour-er.  You all should try it as well.  The class uses soft barriers so you're much less likely to injure yourself.  This is what the class is like, moment-to-moment:


 There are lots of other cool classes there as well, including silk dancing, capoeira, trapeeze, tumbling, handstands, and more.  First class is free!  I'm thinking I want to use my discount pass to try a variety of other classes and get the experience of being a beginner in them as well.  There's a certain meta-skill you can develop that allows you to deal with getting dunked into new and challenging situations of a particular sort, and I learned the travel version of that meta-skill while going around the world and having to get used to a new language, culture, and way of moving around a city and a society every few days.. 

mattbell: (Default)
Yesterday I managed to climb my first 5.11 b/c.  Prior to this, the hardest route I had completed was a 5.11a.  Granted the grading systems are somewhat uneven and arbitrary, but I'm still drawn to curated semi-official achievement validation.  :-)

I did have an exciting first couple of months where I went from 5.8 and 5.9 to 5.10d in the span of just a few visits.  I remember remarking on how great and smooth the challenge ramp was.  However, I soon hit a metaphorical wall, and it took another ~2 months of almost no progress before I had a successful 5.11a run.  At this point I still can only do some of the 5.11a runs cleanly and the majority of the 5.10d runs cleanly. 

I can think of several reasons for this:
- The gradings are designed to allow for rapid progress at the beginning
- In the beginning, I was climbing with people who were substantially better than I was.  Now my climbing partners are about of equivalent skill to me.  Perhaps I need to find more advanced climbers to mentor me.
- I've been spending more time bouldering lately, which is a different skill as it emphasizes strength over power endurance.  I have been making progress in bouldering -- I did my first V3 around a month ago, and now I can do most of the V3s on the wall. 
mattbell: (Default)
This is fascinating:


As a child I very much shied away from and often ridiculed the "jock" approach to things.  "Jock" was often synonymous with "dumb".  This probably was aided by the fact that the cool kids in my school were not the jocks but the academic overachievers.  (I went to a well-funded public school that was full of Stanford professors' kids).  However, it's interesting to come around and realize that the jock approach can often have a lot of value.  It should be seen not as an antithesis to the "nerd" approach, but as a separate skill that's worth using when appropriate.

Back to the video...  The weightlifter, Kirk Karwoski, has spent years building up his strength via a variety of exercises and fine-tuning his proprioception so that he knows exactly how far he can push himself.  It's not the most intellectually demanding work, but it involves an incredible amount of willpower, perseverance, and an ability to be extremely in tune with his body.  When it comes time to do the record-setting lift, the movement sequences and possible contingencies are all completely mapped out into muscle memory and learned procedures, requiring little to no deliberative conscious input.  When there's 1000 pounds of weight on his back, he has to know exactly what he's doing.  He also has to set aside any doubt, minor pains, or other mental obstacles in his way.  All the animal grunting serves a purpose -- it gets him purely focused on the task and ready to push his abilities to the limit.  Nike understood this when their marketing department, after I'm sure was a long and extensive deliberation, chose the slogan of "just do it".

What can "nerds" learn from the jock approach?  When is it applicable outside scenarios where large amounts of mass must be moved using human muscle power alone?  I've noticed a lot of objectively highly intelligent people suffer from indecisiveness, hyper-rationality, procrastination, getting lost in details, timidity, lack of focus, poor body awareness, and poor body care (lack of exercise, poor diet).  Often these issues are over-expressions of a trait that is good in moderation; indecisiveness is overactive comparative analytical skill, procrastination is overactive perfectionism, etc,  However, these issues prevent their intelligence from translating into making a significant impact in the real world.  I believe that having some fluency in the "jock" approach, and knowing when to apply it, can go a long way toward correcting hyperactive "nerd" abilities. 
mattbell: (Default)
The vast majority of my exercise now comes from indoor rock-climbing.  There's a gym about 5 minutes by car from my house.  In terms of atmosphere and focus, rock climbing is one of the geekiest sports out there.  It tends to be more collaborative than competitive and has a heavy intellectual emphasis.  Climbing routes are called "problems", which you must "beta", or solve from a technique perspective, to get to the top.  It's a giant 3D puzzle that you solve using your body.  In the process of solving the puzzle, you are strengthening a wide range of muscles.

I have an extremely hard time reliably integrating things like exercise into my life unless they're fun.  Weight rooms are never able to hold my attention for more than a few minutes.  Yoga is more useful than fun, so I tend to do it only occasionally, like when my body is aching.  However, rock climbing offers continual and varying challenges, and seems to keep my mind engaged.  In the past I used the videogame Dance Dance Revolution as exercise.  While it was fun, it was pure cardio and didn't do much muscle-building.  Rock climbing manages to hit balance, cardio, and strength at the same time.

Now I do about 1.5 hours of rock climbing three times a week, and I force myself to piggyback some time in the rock gym's weight room to work out muscles that aren't hit by rock climbing.  All in all it's been going well.  I've picked up a few pounds of muscle in the process, though that has plateaued in the last month.  I've paid a lot of attention to pre and post workout nutrition; since I'm an ectomorph I have to give myself a ridiculous amount of protein and carbs around workouts. 

--

Rock climbing geekery:
 
It took only a couple of months to reach the point where I was doing 5.10c and 5.10d routes, but progress has been very slow over the last three months.  I'm now doing some 5.11a routes, but not reliably.  Perhaps I should remember that skills often progress along a punctuated equilibrium model.  My bouldering has improved somewhat over the last month though.  I'm finally able to do some V3s, though I still can't do many V2s with steep overhangs. 
mattbell: (Default)
There are four types of exercise I need:
1. Cardio
2. Muscle building
3. Balance
4. Stretching

How do my current forms of exercise stack up?
Hiking hits 1 and a bit of 2.
Rock climbing hits 2 and a bit of 1 and 4.
Snowboarding hits 3 and a bit of 2.  OK, when it comes down to it, snowboarding is more of an adrenaline rush and a physical skill than heavy exercise.  I'm usually the most winded and worn by the times when I have to push the board along the ground over long distances, as opposed to when I'm actually riding.
Physical video games (Dance Dance Revolution, Wii Fit) hit 1.
Yoga... while not quite as objectively fun as the others, manages to hit all of 1,2,3,4. 

It's kind of funny that I live in a big city full of yoga studios but I haven't tried any of them.  I've done some yoga with D over in Oakland but none in SF.  Anyone have any recommendations for yoga places in SF?  Better yet, anyone else want to join me in learning?
mattbell: (Default)
I went snowboarding for the 3rd time in my life over the last couple of days.  I now have a total of 6 days experience. 

- You have to dispose of a hell of a lot of potential energy when you go down the mountain.  If I weigh 90kg (snowboard and clothes included) and the run is 300m, then I have mgh = 90*9.8*300 = 264600 joules of energy that I need to dispose of as quickly as possible.  For reference, 264600 joules is enough to run one of the big 23w compact fluorescent lamps for over 3 hours.  If I fell straight down the mountain, I'd impact the ground at close to terminal velocity and get turned into a pile of mush.  Thus I need to impart that energy onto other things.  These include pushing air molecules around, kicking up snow, pushing snow down the mountain, compacting snow, and warming up myself, the snow, the board, and the air.

- Snowboarding is such a lovely activity because it combines two very different things I like a lot.  One is looking at serenely beautiful 3D terrain (natural or otherwise) from an elevated point of view.  The other is zooming around and feeling the rush.  The two states are nicely alternated -- ride the lift and peacefully take in the landscape, then zoom down it. 

- I never feel quite in control when I'm going straight down the mountain with the board flat   I feel like I'm constantly in danger of catching an unexpected edge and falling over.  I've mostly worked around this by always having a slight edge to one side or the other.  I know this likely slows me down, but it makes me feel more in control. 

- It took a little over an hour to refresh myself back to my prior skill level after 2 years of no snowboarding.  On the second day, there was still a refresh period, but it was around two minutes. 

- I'm wondering how hard to push myself to maximize my rate of learning.  I could go down the mountain at a comfortable pace and learn to maximize my amount of control by repeatedly practicing known movements.  Or, I could try to push myself beyond my comfort zone and learn to perform acceptably well under more demanding circumstances.  One potential disadvantage of the latter approach is that I'm likely to get fatigued faster from falls, and that will likely reduce my learning rate. 

- Having lots of padding totally helps my rate of learning as it reduces the penalty associated with falling.  I have wrist guards, knee guards, and a tailbone guard (ok, ok, I have ass pads). 

- How do I reduce the amount of soreness and pain I feel after snowboarding?  I imagine stretching would help, but the top few google results for snowboarding stretches were unimpressive.  I imagine there are several muscles I need to build up.  My neck, shoulders, inner thighs, knees, and ankles are all sore at the moment.  However, I don't spend enough time snowboarding to give my muscles the encouragement they need to grow.  Are there exercises I can do at home that work out similar muscles? 

- A high school PE teacher told me that heavily exercised muscle groups need a day to recover after a day of heavy use -- if you don't give them a break, then they don't have a chance to build up strength.  This of course makes fitting a lot of snowboarding into a short trip hard.  After two consecutive days snowboarding, I'd have to take it easy the third day. 

- I learned how to carve properly.  It feels really good to carve well, like I'm riding a roller coaster of my own creation.

- It seems like friction is lower at higher speeds.  If I'm moving slowly on a path with a very mild slope and the path itself is slanted, I seem to go farther by going down the slant to get up some speed and then heading down the path. 

- I feel like my reflexes are slow.  If I'm going on an edge and the snow changes from mushy to icy, I have to very quickly readjust my stance.  It seems like I often can't do it fast enough... or perhaps the problem is that I don't intuitively know what stance to switch to, and that slows me down.  It's hard to tell what the snow is going to be like just by looking at it, but I hear the change in sound as soon as I transition onto a new type of snow. 

- I need new snow pants.  My first ones are ready to self-destruct, and that's probably not pretty to watch.

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