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Water based or oil based hand cream?

High Life- an oil based cream.

Many of us often dedicate a fair amount of money and time on face skincare but when it comes to our hands, most of us are red-handed guilty of overlooking them. Still, they need just as much TLC. This is because our hands are the body parts that we use and rely on the most. They are in constant play whether it is DYI, cooking or typing. Frequent daily washing, while essential in the name of hygiene, also strips natural oils from hands, leaving them as dry as a bone. Additionally, the delicate skin on your hands is where you usually see the first signs of ageing as they are really put through the wringer. This is not only because we use them as soon as we get up in the morning but also, they are constantly exposed to environmental conditions such as cold, UV rays and wind. Finally, the skin on top of your hands is much thinner and has less sebaceous glands, meaning it can become dry very quickly. The most effective way to repair and restore damaged hand skin, then maintain healthy skin is using a quality hand cream.

What hand cream to choose in the mind-boggling selection on the market?

  • Water based hand cream

Water-based creams employ water as the main ingredient into which the other, water-attracting humectant ingredients are mixed. Some of this water will soak into the skin when you apply the moisturizer, but some will evaporate. To prevent evaporation, water based moisturizers will often include one or several humectant ingredients. A humectant is a hygroscopic substance that has a molecular structure with several hydrophilic (water loving) groups. Humectants slow water from evaporating and therefore, keep the skin hydrated. Examples of humectants include glycerin, amino acids, peptides, urea, and hyaluronic acid. A water based moisturizer is best for those with dehydrated skin that is in need of moisture. Ingredients such as glycerin and hyaluronic acid are often used in water based creams, and they can deliver powerful hydration to dehydrated skin.

  • Oil based hand cream

Oil based creams are characterised by all ingredients being dissolved in an oil base. Looking at the ingredients list will clarify if the cream is either water or oil based. If the first ingredient is water, it is a water based moisturizer. If the first ingredient is an oil, such as jojoba oil or coconut oil, it is an oil based moisturizer. When a cream contains a higher concentration of oil than water, it is classified as an oil based cream. It is best for those with dry skin that has a damaged barrier or lacks sebum. The oil based ingredients will help to replenish the skin’s barrier function. Many oils also contain vitamins, antioxidants and fatty acids that impart anti-aging benefits. Contrary to popular belief, most oils and oil based creams will not clog your pores and cause breakouts. In fact, quite the opposite is true. The theory with using oils on breakout-prone skin is that they actually help balance your skin’s sebum production, and help your skin’s own oil flow more freely. Finally, an oil based cream with a thick texture can protect the skin from environmental conditions. Adding water resistant properties to it will also increase its efficacy by enhancing the skin penetration properties and prolonging the time for the cream to actually work.

Is one formulation better than the other?

One of the most important factors to consider before choosing a moisturizer is whether your skin is dry or dehydrated. Dehydrated skin is caused by a lack of water, not a lack of oil. Specifically, the skin’s Natural Moisturizing Factor (NMF) is what becomes depleted. When skin is dehydrated, it produces more oil to compensate for the insufficient water. This is why skin can feel dry and oily at the same time.

 In contrast, dry skin means that your skin produces less sebum than normal. Sebum is the natural oil produced by glands in your skin that functions to lubricate the skin and act as a waterproof barrier. Dry skin can also occur if the skin’s lipid barrier is depleted. The lipid barrier contains about 50 percent ceramides, 25 percent cholesterol, and about 10 to 15 percent fatty acids. Without these essential lipids, the barrier is weakened and the skin becomes dry. Overall, dry skin will look visibly dry and flaky, and can even be rough, cracked, and itchy. Dry skin can also lead to signs of aging, such as fine lines and wrinkles. Also, the hand skin has tendencies to be dry due to external factors it is exposed to. As a result, oil based cream would work more effectively for most people.

Extra care:

  • Protect yourself from the sun. Apply sunscreen daily year-round. Use a broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher. Reapply every two hours and after swimming or sweating.
  • Apply creams while skin is still damp. After bathing, showering or shaving, pat your skin dry with a towel so that some moisture remains. Then apply a cream to help trap water in your skin. Depending on your skin type, you may want to reapply your cream two to three times a day, or more often, as needed. Although often ignored, your hands get more exposure to irritants than do any other part of your body.

Sources:

Draelos, Z. (2018) The science behind skin care: Moisturizers. The science behind skin care: Moisturizers – Draelos – 2018 – Journal of Cosmetic Dermatology – Wiley Online Library. Accessed: July, 2021.

Lukic, M., Jaksic, I., Krstonosic, V., Cekic, N. and Savic, S. (2011) A combined approach in characterization of an effective w/o hand cream: the influence of emollient on textural, sensorial and in vivo skin performance. A combined approach in characterization of an effective w/o hand cream: the influence of emollient on textural, sensorial and in vivo skin performance – Lukic – 2012 – International Journal of Cosmetic Science – Wiley Online Library. Accessed: July, 2021.

McCormick, R., Buchman, T. and Maki, D. (2000) Double-blind, randomized trial of scheduled use of a novel barrier cream and an oil-containing lotion for protecting the hands of health care workers. Double-blind, randomized trial of scheduled use of a novel barrier cream and an oil-containing lotion for protecting the hands of health care workers – ScienceDirect. Accessed: July, 2021.

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Hand skin care routine in Covid-19 time

Since March 2020, we have been bombarded by well-meaning messages about the importance of thoroughly and regularly cleaning and disinfecting our hands, which can eventually lead to dry skin and other issues. Some posts and announcements may come from assumptions rather than science.

However, what Science shows on this matter?

  • Soap and water rinses away germs and dirt, but also strips the natural, protective oils in your skin, causing it to dry out.
  • Sanitizers do not get rid of all types of germs and that only soap can wash away visible dirt or grease.
  • Use of a hand cream immediately after each hand wash can confine both skin dryness and skin roughness.
  • There is no evidence that using a hand sanitizer makes it easier to pick up germs. It’s dry skin that increases your risk of picking up germs.
  • If you have dry skin from using hand sanitizer, apply moisturizer immediately after your hand sanitizer dries.
  • Handwashing helps to prevent illness, but frequent handwashing can dry your skin.
  • When skin is moist, it can better protect you from germs.

How to keep your hands clean and moisturized?

After washing your hands for minimum 20 seconds with preferably fragrance-free soap, pat them dry to avoid any irritation. Leave a small amount of dampness, and then immediately moisturize to lock in the water. Ideal hand creams should not include irritants, such as retinol or other anti-aging serums, allergens or fragrances. Among the many kinds of moisturizers, hand creams are better than body lotion because they are more nourishing. Lotions, which are primarily water-based, can further dry out skin because the water evaporates whereas creams, which are often oil-based, are more effective after washing hands. Preferably, water resistant properties of some creams help them to stay on the skin for a prolonged period, which makes them even more effective.

Night-time is a really good time to give your skin a rest. Put on a really thick cream and if you can, put on a pair of cotton gloves. Managing this overnight, utilizes all that downtime to hydrate the skin to get it back into gear.

Sources:

Kamp, G. and Ennen, J.,(2006) Regular use of a hand cream can attenuate skin dryness and roughness caused by frequent hand washing.  Regular use of a hand cream can attenuate skin dryness and roughness caused by frequent hand washing (nih.gov) Accessed: June, 2021.

Hobbs, L. and Macllduff, S. (2016) Is occupational dermatitis an outcome of too much hand cleansing? Is occupational dermatitis an outcome of too much hand cleansing? – Infection, Disease & Health (idhjournal.com.au) Accessed: June, 2021.

The Derm Review. Water Based Moisturizer vs. Oil Based Moisturizer: What’s The Difference? – The Dermatology Review (thedermreview.com) Accessed: June, 2021.

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The beauty of natural cosmetic making

Natural cosmetics making in progress.

There are only a few activities that I have true passion for in my life, and one of them is natural cosmetic making. Or at least, avoiding any nasties in my products to promote healthy and glowing skin, hair and general wellbeing. This is anything from making perfumes to body butters or shower gels. It is not only the process of making them which gives me immense joy, but also knowing and deciding what ingredient I’d like to include in each product. Being as natural as possible and offering numerous benefits to our bodies and mind is what makes this satisfying activity unique and wholesome. Also, using these cosmetics helps to retain youthful look and overall healthy feeling, which adds to maintaining positivity and life satisfaction in every respect. 

Here are some of my most frequent or recent creations. I’m going to give the names of the ingredients I’m using, which have been working very well for me for years. It is important to remember that each skin is different and as a result, particular ingredients works more or less effectively for various people. I have generally quite oily skin so always choose light oils for my face creams, which are noncomedogenic (not causing pore blockage and breakouts). However, for body butter, I usually choose from a wider selection of oils to moisturise and sooth dry skin on my body.

Body Butter

Here you could really use any of your favourite moisturising and skin nourishing oils. My personal favourites are a mixture of coconut oil, shea butter and apricot kernel oil. All these are cold pressed and organic so they retain all their skin beneficial ingredients. I mix these with unrefined bees wax so it makes the product creamy and seals in the moisture in your skin after each application. Bees wax is a great natural humectant so it attracts water molecules, helping to keep skin hydrated. Still, do not add too much of it as the mixture may turn into solid. I love adding essential oils as well to create different scents each time, and have some variety in the products themselves. My favourite are pink lotus flower, rose, honey suckle, passion fruit, juniper berry, vanilla and sandal wood. However, this body butter can be used unscented, according to personal preference. Occasionally, I also add some organic cold pressed aloe vera gel to add more soothing properties to this mixture. The amount of the following ingredients can be adapted to the size of your reusable container, and the preferred consistency. Personally, I reuse my old 430ml hair conditioner container. The product is very efficient and 430ml lasts about three months with every day post-shower application. 

Links for some ingredients ingredients here:

coconut oil

shea butter

apricot kernel oil

Essential oils (my fave are Pipping Rock brand or Mother Nature Goodies)

https://gb.pipingrock.com/essential-oils-mc

https://mothernaturesgoodies.co.uk/

Face wash

This one is very simple and quick to make. All that is needed is organic castile soap, small splash of organic rose water and a small amount of essential oils. I usually add some rose geranium, frankincense and lavender oils here as they all have rejuvenating and nourishing skin effects. To make ingredients more affordable, I buy 5L castile soap, as I regularly use it to make face wash, hand wash and shower gel. It is important to mix the ingredients well together. I’ve been reusing a dispenser bottle for years now as a container for this product so it also minimises waste. 

Link for castile soap:

https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/5-Litre-5L-Organic-Castile-Liquid-Soap-100-Pure-Natural-Surfactant-Free/283701523942?hash=item420dedb5e6:g:qoQAAOSwxJdfBGEi

Shower Gel

Shower gel ingredients.

Another quick and fun to make product. All that is needed here is reusable dispenser bottle, organic castile soap, essential oils and occasionally I add some honey for extra moisturisation and mild scrubbing effects. They need to be mixed well and literally, within a few minutes you are ready to go. I add about 40 drops of essential oils, but this depends on the intensity of the scent you want to have. The fun aspect of making shower gel is that every time you make it, you can choose different essential oils to scent it according to your preference and mood making it more fruity, spicy or flowery. Generally, I’ve noticed that most men go for black pepper, sandal wood, nut meg or patchouli with some fruity notes whereas women tend to choose flowery and fruity mixes. 

Hand Wash

This one takes no time at all to make. Castile soap needs to be poured into a dispenser bottle and then some essential oils added to it and mixed well, and voila. My preferred scents here for creating freshness on hands are geranium, lavender and citronella. 

Face Moisturiser

Face cream ingredients.

This has taken a lot of practice, researching and experimenting for years, but now I am able to create a super-hydrating and rejuvenating facial cream. It makes my skin feel super soft, moisturised and subtle, an no more spots or pimples. Here the choice of ingredients depends on skin type and testing which oils work best for us. Every single ingredient I use has many beneficial effects on human skin, which has been widely researched. I will paste some links below for some nerds who may enjoy some academic articles on some of these amazing ingredients. 

I generally mix all oils first with a small amount of bees wax while slowly warming the mixture to dissolve bees wax evenly. As I have naturally oily skin, I choose the oils which are light and do not clog the pores. My personal favourites are: rose hip oil, pomegranate oil, squalene oil, raspberry seed oil, carrot seed oil (this one has a natural SPF), black currant oil, camellia oil, marula oil, jojoba oil and castor oil. All of these are cold pressed and organic to make sure they are nourishing for my skin. When they all nicely mixed with melted bees wax, I add some frankincense, neroli, helichrysum, rose geranium and lavender natural essential oils. Finally, I add a splash of CeraVe moisturising cream with ceramides. Separately, I mix all water soluble ingredients. These are rose water, cold pressed aloe vera, msm powder (strong antioxidant), vitamin C powder, high, medium, low molecule weight hyaluronic acid (HA) and sodium hyaluronate. Higher molecular weight HA sits on the skin binding the water from the outside, while sodium hyaluronate has a lower molecular weight than HA, so it’s more easily absorbed into pores. Sodium hyaluronate has the ability to penetrate into deeper layers of the skin, and also attracts and binds water there. In water soluble ingredients I also add ursolic acid, red Korean ginseng and vitamin B3. Having all these well mixed, I pour the mixture into oils and blend it well till it all sets and has creamy consistency. I make my cream once a month and keep it in my fridge for freshness.

Links on the research on some of the ingredients:

Hyaluronic acid:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3583886/

MSM:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5372953/

Aloe vera gel:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2763764/

Squalene oil:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6253993/

Serum 

This is a very easy to make formula. All we need is organic rose water, organic cold pressed aloe vera gel, sodium hyaluronate powder and vitamin C powder. I mix all the ingredients in a small old serum bottle so it ends up as a thick liquid. It takes about 5 minutes to dissolve and mix sodium hyaluronate with other ingredients. I keep it in the fridge so it stays fresh and cool. 

Toner

Here, options are numerous but my most frequent choice is mixing organic rose water with Cistus Incanus tea and a few drops of helichrysum oil. Rose water is recommended by dermatologists worldwide to balance the skin’s pH, which is essential for healthy and happy faces. Its anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties help reduce the redness of irritated skin, and rose water is kind on sensitive, acne and eczema prone faces. Cistus Incanus tea contains polyphenols which have been shown to be strong antioxidants with health benefits. They have antiviral and antibacterial potential and help protect skin from anti-oxidative stress. Finally, helichrysum oil helps smooth both skin tone and texture, reduces the appearance of fine lines, and its emollient properties help keep skin hydrated. A truly multifaceted essential oil, Helichrysum is also beneficial and for treating sunburns, helping to block UV rays to protect against skin cancer as well as for those with acne, eczema, psoriasis and other skin irritations.

Primer

This is very easy and cheap to make. All that is needed, is aloe vera gel as a base, a dash of moisturiser and a small amount of corn flour. Mix it well in a small container, and it is all ready to go. It works as well as expensive primers I have used before and is all natural. It does minimise pores, smooth and soothe the skin. 

Perfumes

Perfume ingredients.

I found that making perfumes, we enjoy wearing, takes some research, tutorial and documentary watching as well as a lot of practice. I’m not able to cover all here in this short blog but as a general principle, it is worth knowing that scents are divided into three categories: top notes, heart notes and base notes. They need to flow together like a harmony to create pleasantly smelling fragrance. A good start is getting a spray bottle, I have a few of different sizes so I can always squeeze a small one when travelling. I don’t need to wear make up, but having a pleasant smell on is a must for me.

The main ingredient here is 96% vol alcohol as a carrier, I buy mine on ebay. Then, we need to choose natural essential oils we enjoy and find pleasant. Generally, I divide mine into fruity, flowery, spicy and herbal notes. The general proportion is 1/3 of essential oils and the rest is alcohol, they need to be mixed well and kept for a few days to ripen the scent. Only today, I made a lovely fragrance consisting of violet musk, lilly of the valley, jasmine, gardenia, strawberry, grapefruit, nutmeg, vanilla and white woods. 

There is a very helpful website where you can find a lot of information of on perfume creation and even steal some ideas from there. It contains details on the perfume ingredients that are currently or used to be on the market. This will help you with finding out what oils are used for your favourite scents so you can recreate them at home. See the link below:

http://www.basenotes.net/fragrancedirectory/?i=a

On the whole, making cosmetics at home is a very satisfactory process that gives us the power to use the ingredients that not only work for us, but also avoid nasty chemicals which prolong the shelf life of most commercial products. We can always make small batches that stay fresh and work their best. Another important factor here is being able to refill and reuse the containers for our products, and then even make some cosmetics for friends and family as small gifts. 

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Keeping physically fit in lock-down as a climber

Being socially isolated, not being able to train in a climbing centre or doing outdoor climbing in this glorious weather is proving challenging both mentally and physically during the lockdown. There are ways though to stay strong and keep immune system working effectively. The choice of activities depends on personal preferences but these are the ones working for me in the time when climbing is not an option. 

Fingerboarding

This acitivity is designed mainly to train fingerstrength and should not be done by climbers who have been climbing for less than a couple of years or below 7a grade to avoid injuries. There are a variety of fingerboards on the market for different grades and made from different materials. My personal choice is Beastmaker. 

How to train on it?

Always warm up first for at least 15 minutes! This could be star jumps, running up and down stairs, core exercices. 

Start with the largest holds, a few series to get going with hangs.

  • Repeat each set 6 times for 7 seconds, rest for 3 
  • rest for 3 minutes
  • choose another type of hold and repeat in the same way
  • on average 10 sets in total is the aim but this can be adapted to personal fitness as long as it is not overdone
  • rest at least for a dayThere are some apps that can help with the training, one of them is Fingerboard Trainer. Personally, I prefer fingerboarding with music and using timer on my phone. 

Core 

This can be relatively easily achieved in the lockdown. The number of repetitions depends on the strength of our core. They can be gradually increased as the core gets stronger. My personal choice are:

  • regular planks
  • side planks
  • leg rises 
  • crunches
  • core scissors
  • abdominal trainer wheel

Dumbbells

Again, this is personal choice in terms of weight, mine is 3kg but some others may prefer 2kg. Stand with both feet firmly on the floor in a chair position. Hold both dumbbells with arms fully stretched in front of you, using your core to hold the position. Then, move your arms apart so they ened up in 180 degree angle. Slowly move your arms back horizontally to the original position. Repeat sets starting with whichever number is suitable for you. The number of repeats can increase with gaining more strenghts. There are some You Tube vidoes on dumbbell exrecices that can be helpful.

Yoga and stretching

Stretching is very important to prevent injury but also to keep your body agile and relaxed. Generally, I follow my post climbing stretching routine in which I focus on back, arms and leg stretches for about 20 minutes. But now and then, I follow a yoga class on you tube as there are many choices there. From yoga for climbers to Yin yoga to relax. 

Pull ups

The pull up bar I’m using comes from an on-line shop. It can be safely installed on door frames and just sit there, so when you feel like doing some pull ups, you don’t need to put it up again. They can be done with different width grip and locking positions. The only one I’m attempting is thumbs facing out on a wide grip, purely as I’m not very big on pull ups. 

Steep hill running/scrambling

It is a relatively recent activity for me that helps with cardio work out, leg strength and maitaing balance not to fall on steep hills is great fun. It is not quite like climbing but as near as it can get to it being outdoors. If you know any steep hills nearby, you can give it a go. 

Road biking

This is another great activity that can help with cardio and leg strength. Practically, anyone can do it as it’s great for beginners. Then, you can pump up the intensity as your fitness level improves, making it a more challenging workout. Trying different routes and landscapes each time is great and roads are emptier than ever before in the lockdown so pushing the speed feels safer as well. Nevertheless, always wear a helmet when you bike outdoors. Head injuries are one of the most common biking accidents when people skip protection.

Stay safe! 🙂

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Busting climbing myths.

Safe and merry Christmas to everyone!

Myth #1: Climbing isn’t much of a cardio work-out. 

First, climbing is a form of strength training and is not as cardio oriented as running or fast cycling. Still, if you want to work on it, it could be a workout worth looking into. On average, an hour of non-stop rock climbing burns about 500 to 900 calories. It’s important to note that this type of cardio burn is the result of bouldering workouts. Rope climbing or circuits focus on endurance and strength rather than cardio but still after certain dynamic routes I can feel my cardio definitely not being neglected. Especially when they involve a few dynos which aren’t even cruxes. Another option, why not trying recently gaining in popularity speed climbing, which is one of the Olympic disciplines.

Myth #2: Rock climbing isn’t made for people that are scared of heights. 

People are all different and motivation, interest and consistency in training can help to slowly get used to heights and eventually overcome the fear. Nothing should be unpleasantly forced though and I  f you can’t handle walking across a bridge or climbing a ladder, then maybe stick to exercises that are low to the ground. However, with supporting climbing buddies, equipment in place and visiting spectacular places even people who are terrified of heights can surprise themselves with an enjoyable day of climbing. Take your climbing journey one rock at a time, and you might be shocked how far you’ll go. 

Myth #3: Dropped gear should be retired. 

If it’s damaged to the point of not working, you will likely see the damage in the form of deformed wires, mangled cam lobes, bent metal, etc. In the words of Chris Harmston, former quality assurance manager at Black Diamond, “I have test-broken hundreds of used, abused, and dropped ‘biners (even some that fell 3000 feet from the top of the Salathe Wall on El Capitan. Never have I noticed any problem with these unless there is obvious visual damage to the ‘biner. Climbing protection is meant to be fallen on and can certainly withstand being dropped. I’d be far more confident in buying or using a used cam which HAS been fallen on than I would in trusting a piece of gear without it experiencing such real-world testing.

Myth #4: You can’t rappel on two ropes of different sizes.

Use a clean, well-dressed EDK (European Death Knot) with knot tails of at least 12 inches. There should be very little difference in the rate of ropes passing through your rappel device. For 100 percent assurance that the thinner rope won’t slip through faster than the thicker rope, simply clove hitch the thicker rope to the anchor, have the first climber rappel on just one strand, and then have the lower climber loosely hold (or tie off) both strands at the lower anchor to ensure no slippage.

Myth #5: It is not safe to rappel on a wet rope (dry-treated or not).

A wet rope is not dangerously weakened for rappelling compared with a dry rope. Static strength is most important when rappelling, and ropes can have up to a 30 percent strength loss there. However, when wet, it is possible to see as much as a 70 percent reduction in dynamic performance, which is important when taking a lead fall.

Myth #6: It is ok to fall on a wet rope.

Rope companies do not recommend falling on a wet rope, which may have its dynamic performance reduced by up to 70 percent when wet. Modern dry-treated ropes are a bit better, with dynamic performance reductions of about 40 percent, depending on the type of dry treatment. Any fall on a wet rope causes more damage, so its future performance (even when dried) is compromised.

Myth #7: If you are a female all you need is good technique

Most guys are pretty strong when they start climbing. They tend to apply brute force to their movements rather than trying to find the most efficient way to do it. Only after many months of climbing does good technique start to show. However, many women come to climbing with a relatively weak upper body, which could be a huge benefit down the road. A weaker climber is forced to use good body position and footwork to make it up routes. Since strength is not a default fall-back, good climbing form is accelerated. Still, technique alone is not enough to make a strong climber. Lucky for women, strength is much simpler to develop than good technique. With a regular bouldering routine of 2-3 sessions per week plus some strength training in the weight room, you can go from weak to strong in a year or less.

Myth #8: Backpacking and camping skills are not relevant to mountaineering

 
So you’re thinking that just because you’re not a rock climber you don’t have any applicable skills for getting into mountaineering, right? This is not true. Extensive backpacking, navigational, and camping skills are absolutely useful on the mountainside- oftentimes more so than technical sport climbing prowess. A backpacking and hiking background is beneficial to mountaineering because it means you’re physically adapted to carrying heavy loads over long distances.

If you’re used to living out of your tent for days on end and familiar with the mundane tasks of cooking, cleaning, and sleeping outdoors, then you’re definitely ahead of the game. While scrambling and technical climbing skills are important to develop as well, backpacking is one of the best forms of training for mountaineering.

Merry Christmas everyone!

Sources:

 Lütkemeyer, M., (2019) How many Calories does Rock Climbing Burn? Numbers & Tips.

https://climbtheearth.com/how-many-calories-does-rock-climbing-burn-numbers-tips/. Accessed: December, 2019.

Rock and Ice. (2019) Is dropped gear still safe?

Accessed: December, 2019.

Sturmberg, B., (2012) Do you need to retires carabiners that have been dropped?

Accessed: December, 2019.

Alpine Savvy, (2018) Rappelling on two ropes of two different diameters.

https://www.alpinesavvy.com/blog/rappelling-on-ropes-of-2-different-diameters

Accessed: December, 2019.

Hikes with Tykes (2019) Can you abseil, rappel or climb in the rain?

Accessed: December, 2019.

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Mental strength training

Psychological approaches for optimal rock climbing.

Your body might be strong and willing, however, if you don’t have an equally strong and determined mind, you may feel like you underachieve in your athletic performance. The good news is that you can train your brain just like you train your body. There are skills and mental focus that can be improved to enhance overall climbing.

I often struggle with controlling my head when doing challenging cruxes and even though I’m not pumped, I shout the dirty “take” or simply give up before even trying the move. Ironically, on good days when my head feels stronger and I actually go for a hard move, I manage to succeed approximately 80% of all tries. But, why doesn’t it inspire me to do the same in these self-doubting moments? Falling off can be scary but when it stops you from progressing, it can also be really frustrating. My climbing buddies are aware of my irrational fear and as a result, one of them presented me with a book called ‘Vertical Mind’ by Don McGrath, Ph.D., and Jeff Elison, Ph.Dto help me control my head in critical moments. Here is what I learned and gained from it.

Learning process

Habitual or skilled behaviour is learned by many neurons firing in particular patterns to produce the end results that we observe as thoughts and feelings. In other words, repetition, practice, and drills improve performance by changing neural connections. So, mental rehearsing, redpointing and memorising beta helps being quick, confident and efficient in grabbing holds or making precise moves under pressure. A good example of it is professional climbers imitating each move staring at a route before entering a competition. Some people draw beta maps before sending their projects and rehearse them in their heads either lying on the floor or in bed before falling asleep. I bet most of you tried mental rehearsal of at least crux moves once or twice in your life before falling asleep.

Human brains like creating patterns (scripts), thus, allowing us to react quickly in familiar situations. It’s kind of like working on autopilot, which conserve valuable resources: attention, consciousness, and working memory. These are intimately linked and very limited. Everyone’s scripts vary, but many need to be rewritten in order to improve. In order to do so, there are three simple steps required: Plan, Practice, Perform. 

Script rewriting process

Planning

In this stage, it is crucial to identify the areas we’d like to improve. It is recommended spending at least 30 minutes or more a week reflecting on our climbing to recognise the things that will help us climb better. One way of doing so is to ask other climbers who watch us in action to draw our attention to details we need to work on. Swallowing our egos is necessary, as there is nothing better than constructive criticism to reap profits here. Perhaps, it’d be more effective to talk to experienced and supportive climbers, whose observations really matter to us. Another way of finding areas for improvement is videoing ourselves whilst climbing. Even though it seems slightly narcissistic, it will help to notice what needs to be worked on.

Practicing

The next stage is to rewrite scripts based on the observations made in the planning phase. Spend at least 25 percent of your climbing time working to develop the skills you need to climb better. These can easily be done during warm-up, or the time when you are climbing easy routes to build these skills. It is important to work on our weaknesses in a calm atmosphere, allowing ourselves to fail. But then, try again and again. The objective in this stage is the repetition of movements, thoughts and positions to rewire the scripts. For example, our footwork is a bit sketchy and we just don’t trust our feet especially on tiny, weirdly angled footholds or big moves. First, find a boulder problem or a route where we can practice using these “nasty” footholds. Then, notice which foothold to use to get optimal effects and consider why. Repeat the moves on a variety of challenging footsteps, maybe even attempting a dyno from a semi-awkward position whilst using them.  Do it again and again till overwriting the script or gaining the confidence to climb effortlessly when on challenging footsteps and being pumped at the same time.

Performance

In this final stage, we solidify the new habits that we created by finding a route that we are excited about and will be challenging for us. This is the most exciting part of the journey, where new scripts are applied in attempt to send routes under the pressure of challenging moves, being pumped and potential falls. What really matters here is the will to climb a challenging route well applying what we have learned and believing that we can do it. Whether it’s an on-sight or redpoint is less relevant. This will create emotions and feelings, including excitement, that build a proper environment in which to practice the new scripts. As a result, they move deeper into our subconscious and become automatic. 

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Rest, recover, smash it…

Sweet rest.

Although often overlooked, rest is a crucial aspect of any training program. It takes years to develop the recovery rate of a professional climber and most of us will probably never get to this level if it takes three or more days to recover after every hard-climbing session.  Let’s be honest, having to work professionally and often lacking in adequate sleep and nutrition makes it very difficult to optimise the recovery process. Still, the goal is to gradually and progressively expose our bodies to more frequent bursts of training, while constantly monitoring progress in order to avoid overtraining.

The first step is to gain a greater understanding of the processes involved in recovery. With any form of high intensity exercise, the muscles are traumatised with every session, and they must then repair afterwards with the assistance of dietary protein (a process known as hypertrophy). Endurance sessions deplete muscular glycogen stores, which must be replenished with the assistance of dietary carbohydrates. Additionally, you need to replenish the enzymes within the muscles that produce energy, top-up the various hormones that strenuous training depletes, and allow the nervous system to fully recover. Remember all you go-getters, not only returning to the original pretraining status but also progressing to a higher level of performance ability, known as super-compensation, is important.

So how much rest is enough? This really depends on the intensity and amount of training done.  Experts typically recommend resting anywhere from 24 to 72 hours. Listening to your body and knowing your limits is what matters here. For example, doing a dozen of routes well below your ability level will probably require a day of resting. But, if you climb eight routes that are at your limit, it may take even three days to fully recover.

Recovery stages

In general, there are three major recovery periods that the body goes through to achieve supercompensation. The first recovery period extends from 10 seconds to 30 minutes after a workout. This is roughly the amount of time typically spent resting between routes during a cragging day or in the rope climbing gym. The second stage is the fuel recovery period, which takes place 30 minutes to 24 hours after exercise, with most of the refuelling taking place in the first 16 hours. That average 16-hour break between consecutive climbing days will allow the body to recover to only about 80 percent of its pretraining capacity. Finally, during the Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS) period strength is attained. During strenuous exercise muscle fibres are microscopically damaged and as a result, the amount of DOMS that you experience is equal to the amount of damage your muscles have experienced. If the DOMS is only minor, it can fade within 48 hours. However, if you suffer from greater soreness, it’s possible that it will take four or more days for your muscle fibres to repair themselves. Listen to your body and make sure to give it enough time to properly mend itself before training again. In addition, taking the occasional extended rest period is also very important. This means breaking up your climbing routine with stretches of recovery training or active resting (e.g., running, skipping rope, swimming, biking), and don’t be afraid to take a week off. Remember, it’s during rest periods that strength gains are realised, not during your training sessions.

Other important aspects

Recovery Nutrition

Nutrition is the single most important factor influencing the recovery process, but climbers commonly leave the crag or gym and wait several hours before eating a meal. Worse still is to go drinking with your buddies and grab takeaway afterwards at midnight. The body is in a mildly traumatized state after a training session and needs the correct nutrients to kick-start the recovery process. Treat it well and it will reward you with maximum training gains. Treat it badly and the results are likely to be burnout and injury. The crucial tip is to consume a moderate amount of carbohydrate and protein immediately after training. The most convenient way is in the form of a recovery drink, which contains a mix of carbs and protein in an approximate ratio of 4:1. An alternative would be to eat a small sandwich with fish, egg or a protein-rich filling. The latest studies have found that the rate of protein synthesis is almost as strong after pure endurance sessions as it is after strength sessions, so the idea that you need only carbs immediately after endurance work has become outdated.

Hydrotherapy

Many elite athletes believe that taking a plunge into an ice-water bath after training will reduce muscle soreness and improve their recovery. However, scientific evidence to support this masochistic practice is far from conclusive. Some athletes also use contrast water therapy (alternating between cold water and warmer water) to achieve a similar effect. By constricting blood vessels, the ice bath is thought to flush out lactic acid, decrease metabolic activity and reduce muscle swelling. Then, with re-warming, the increased blood flow speeds circulation, which aids the healing process. There is no precise protocol for either therapy, but for pure cold-water therapy, most coaches recommend a water temperature between 54 to 59 degrees Fahrenheit (12-15 Celsius) immersion times of 5 to 10 minutes, or a maximum of 20 minutes. Don’t over-do it as cold water can make muscles tense and stiff. Dress in warm clothes and take a warm drink straight afterwards. For contrast water therapy, the most common method is one minute in a cold tub or shower at 50 degrees Fahrenheit (10 Celsius) and two minutes in a hot tub at about 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 Celsius), repeated about three times.

Electrostimulation

For elite athletes, electrostimulation devices are worth considering for improving recovery after intensive training. They emit an electrical wave that varies in duration and intensity being transmitted to the selected muscles through two or more electrodes. The electrical impulse causes the targeted muscles to contract without the brain being utilised, which does not cause significant nervous fatigue. Electrostimulation assists recovery by increasing intra-muscular blood flow. This in turn helps flush lactic acid and restore glycogen levels. The process occurs without increasing heart rate or arterial pressure. It also creates an analgesic and endorphin effect, which lowers anxiety levels and further relaxes muscles by reducing spasms. This technology is nothing new and has been a component of electroacupuncture for many years. However, these machines have advanced considerably in the last decade, as have the strategies for using them. Even though nowhere near the elite level sport enthusiast I am, for sure, electroacupuncture is my favourite’s way for muscular relaxation apart from deep tissue massage. Still, electrostimulation should not be regarded as superior recovery strategy to quality nutrition and a good night’s sleep. Rather it is another measure that may help athletes to gain that extra edge. As a guideline, Compex-Sport recommends a 20-minute “active recovery program” with stimulation at very low frequencies (from 9 to 1 Hz) that decrease progressively every two minutes.

Sleep

Sleep is another important aspect of rest and recovery when it comes to sports performance. Athletes who are sleep deprived are at risk of losing aerobic endurance and may experience subtle changes in hormone levels, which can lead to higher levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) as well as a decrease in human growth hormone, which is active during tissue repair. Above all else, remember that recovery is a non-precise science. The need to listen to your body overrides everything. 

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Sleep to thrive

Quality sleep really matters.

Sleep and circadian rhythm

Sleep is proven to be one of the body’s most significant biological functions which affects physical performance, cognition, development and mental and physical health. It is governed by circadian rhythm which is basically a 24-hour internal clock running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals.  Not only is it controlled by hypothalamus but also external factors like lightness and darkness can impact it. When it’s dark at night, your eyes send a signal to the hypothalamus that it’s time to feel sleepy. Your brain, in turn, sends a signal to your body to release melatonin, which makes your body tired. That’s why your circadian rhythm tends to coincide with the cycle of daytime and night-time. It is recommended to go to bed and wake up day to day roughly at the same time to ensure the best sleep quality and keep the circadian clock in sync. In some cases, though, it can get disrupted and this can be seen in shift workers struggling to sleep well during the day or people suffering from jet lag. Experts say that most adults need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep every night. However, they also say that individual sleep needs vary, sometimes widely.

Sleep and athletic performance

From an athletic perspective, reductions in performance, decision- making ability, learning and cognition can occur alongside reductions in immune function and an increased susceptibility to weight gain. While there is limited research on exercise performance and sleep, a small number of studies have examined the effect of partial sleep deprivation on athletic performance in adults. Sadly, it has been reported that a range of psychomotor functions is negatively affected after only one night of restricted sleep. But good news is that muscle strength, lung power and endurance running are unaffected.  Similar effects have been noticed in females following partial sleep deprivation, with gross motor functions being less affected by sleep loss than tasks requiring fast reaction times. From the available research, it appears that submaximal prolonged tasks may be more affected than maximal efforts, particularly after the first two nights of partial sleep deprivation.There are also a number of other biological functions that can be altered following sleep deprivation. Changes in glucose metabolism and neuroendocrine (cells that release hormones into the blood in response to stimulation of the nervous system) function as a result of chronic, partial sleep deprivation may result in alterations in carbohydrate metabolism, appetite, food intake, and protein synthesis. Ultimately, these factors may have a negative impact on an athlete’s nutritional, metabolic and endocrine status and as a result, potentially reduce athletic performance. This shows that we all need to get some adequate amount of beauty sleep not only to look well but also to fully enjoy active life on daily basis.

Power of napping

Active people suffering from some degree of sleep loss seem to benefit from napping. Some limited research has been done on sprint performance following partial sleep deprivation (4 h of sleep). Following a 30-min nap, 20-m sprint performance was increased (compared to no nap), alertness was increased, and sleepiness was decreased. In terms of cognitive performance, sleep supplementation in the form of napping has been shown to have a positive influence on cognitive tasks following a night of sleep deprivation (2 h). Naps can markedly reduce sleepiness and can be beneficial when learning skills, strategy or tactics. Napping may be beneficial for athletes who have to routinely wake early for training or competition and for athletes who are experiencing sleep deprivation. Personally, I can’t resist a good nap and find it really refreshing, especially after a long day at work or being out and about but still wanting to do some climbing or cycling. It is great to know that naps can pick us up but they shouldn’t be too long or too close to bedtime as then they can interfere with regular sleep pattern.

A few interesting sleep facts:

  • Being sleep deprived means being as impaired as driving with a blood alcohol content of 0.8 which is illegal for drivers in many countries. This is one of the main reasons for car crashes.
  • 12% people dream in back and white.
  • Within 5 minutes of waking up, 50% of your dream is forgotten
  • Ideally, falling asleep at night should take you 10-15 minutes
  • Each child in a household increases the mother’s risk of getting insufficient sleep by 46%
  • No vitamins, pills or drinks can replace good sleep. Consuming caffeine close to bedtime can affect your sleep. Alcohol and nicotine will also interfere with your sleep.
  • Doing the same things every night before going to bed teaches your body that it’s time for bed. Try taking a bath or a shower, this will give you extra time in the morning.

Sources:

Leeder, J., M. Glaister, K. Pizzoferro, J. Dawson, and C. Pedlar (2012). Sleep duration and quality in elite athletes measured using wristwatch actigraphy. J Sports Sci. 30:541- 545, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02640414.2012.660188?scroll=top&needAccess=true. Accessed: June, 2019.

Reilly, T., and T. Deykin (1983). Effects of partial sleep loss on subjective states, psychomotor and physical performance tests. J. Hum. Move. Stud. 9:157-170, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/279564435_Effects_of_partial_sleep_loss_on_subjective_states_psychomotor_and_physical_performance_tests. Accessed: June, 2019.

Waterhouse, J., G. Atkinson, B. Edwards, and T. Reilly (2007). The role of a short post- lunch nap in improving cognitive, motor, and sprint performance in participants with partial sleep deprivation. J. Sports Sci. 25:1557-66, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02640410701244983?scroll=top&needAccess=true. Accessed: June, 2019.

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You are what you eat.

Varied & balanced diet is the key.

This phrase says it all. But how true really is it?

Throughout my life I’ve been paying a lot of attention to what I eat, not exactly how much though. I stopped eating red meat over twenty years ago and still occasionally eat fish. This probably makes you think, “But where does she get all her protein from?”. Well, small lifestyle changes and getting used to them, adapting and finding food we enjoy which also offers us some health benefits is the key. In addition, being quite active, eager to maintain my fitness and achieving rapid recovery makes me constantly re-evaluate the optimal combination of nutrients on my plate.

Even though nutrition seems individualistic, there are some overall recognised guidelines to help to optimise athletic performance. It is generally recommended that no matter your height, weight, or gender, all athletes should aim for about 120 grams of protein daily, divided as evenly as possible into 20 gram servings that are consumed being separated by three hours breaks between them. The best high-protein foods for me would be as little processed as possible and these include: 

  • Lean meat (poultry, fish, sea food or lean red meat)
  • Eggs
  • Legumes
  • Low-fat cheese
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Tofu
  • Chia seeds

Embrace the Complex Carbohydrates

The best diet for athletes in training, must include at least 40% of complex carbohydrates. They’re a significant source of long-lasting energy that helps your body maintain strength and brain power.

Some of the best complex carbs for your diet are:

  • Wholemeal bread and pastries
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Brown rice
  • Quinoa
  • Fruits (blueberries, bananas)
  • Green veggies (spinach, kale, broccoli)
  • Starchy veggies (regular and sweet potatoes, green peas)

Simple Sugars

One of the more persistent myths in sports nutrition is the idea that long-acting carbohydrates delay fatigue better than products containing “fast-acting” sugars because they provide a more sustained level of blood glucose. In fact, just the opposite is true. Exercise performance declines very rapidly when muscle-glycogen (the form in which the muscle stores energy) stores are depleted. To minimise it, preserving muscle glycogen as long as possible is extremely important. Fast-acting carbs are rapidly absorbed in the GI tract, transported to muscle cells, and metabolized to provide energy to working muscles. By providing an instant source of energy, fast-acting sugars preserve muscle glycogen resulting in extending endurance and this is critical for climbers. Some of the simple sugar sources are:

  • Honey
  • Fresh fruit
  • Energy bars
  • Some veg including carrots and beetroot
  • Sesame snaps

We need fats 

Generally, athletes shouldn’t consume excessive amount of fats. Though healthy fats are a vital source of energy and their primary role is to slow down the process of digestion. But, wherever possible replace saturated fats (fatty meat, palm oil) with small amounts of monounsaturated (avocadoes, olive oil) and polyunsaturated fats. Polyunsaturated fats include omega-3 and omega-6 fats.

Omega-3 fatty acids are good for your heart in several ways. They help:

  • Reduce triglycerides, a type of fat in your blood
  • Reduce the risk of developing an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
  • Slow the buildup of plaque in your arteries
  • Slightly lower your blood pressure

Omega-6 fatty acids may help:

  • Control your blood sugar   
  • Reduce your risk for diabetes
  • Lower your blood pressure

A rock climber’s diet should consist of 25-30 % fat at the most, depending on your activities. The best foods with healthy fats are:

  • Avocados
  • Coconut and its products
  • Olive oil and olives
  • Grass-fed butter
  • Nuts
  • Ground flaxseed
  • Raw cacao nibs and dark chocolate
  • Fatty fish (tuna, mackerel, salmon)

 Eating times

It is crucial to supply the body with consistent energy throughout the day but not overeat shortly before the physical performance. This is such a bad idea! So, not only start the day with some hearty breakfast but plan on eating small amounts of food throughout your climbing sessions to help sustain the energy. This will prevent the shakes when the sugar level drops, how many of you have been there before? These shakes are known as bonking. Bonking is what happens when an athlete’s blood sugar drops during long term exercise. 

Also, an amount of research has shown that protein, when consumed with carbohydrates during exercise, reduces muscle damage and thereby, delays fatigue. Personally, to prevent bonking from happening and maintain sustained energy flow with minimised muscular damage, I often snack on natural energy sources such as bananas, dry fruit and nut mixes, honey sesame snaps, Nutella bars (not so natural but yummy) cheese and veg wraps. 

Immediately after exercise, the metabolic machinery responsible for replenishing muscle-energy stores, rebuilding muscle protein and reducing muscle damage are in a heightened state of activation. Unfortunately, this metabolic window of opportunity is only open for about 45 minutes. As a general guideline, consume about 125 calories of a recovery beverage for every 30 minutes of climbing. The ideal recovery beverage contains carbohydrate and protein in a 4:1 ratio. In fact, compared to a carbohydrate-only beverage, a carb/protein beverage replaces muscle energy stores 128 percent better and rebuilds muscle protein 38 percent more effectively. The results compared to water are even more dramatic. The bottom line is that you need to consume appropriate recovery nutrition within 45 minutes of finishing each and every climb.

Hydration

Most climbers use the pre-climb stage to fully hydrate their bodies. The beverage of choice is water and the standard recommendations suggest consuming one litre or more prior to starting the climb. However, fluid intake should be driven by three considerations: the number of climbs (or pitches), temperature and humidity and the fact that, on average, our GI tract can only absorb about 36 ounces of fluid per hour. If you are fully hydrated before you start climbing, top off by drinking 16-20 ounces. Drinking too much before you start climbing will make you feel uncomfortable and if you exceed your body’s absorption capacity, will do you little good.

There is no question that maintaining hydration is a critical goal. A fluid loss of two percent of overall body weight, which is not unrealistic when climbing in high temperatures, can significantly reduce muscle performance. However, hydration is just one part of the equation, and the pre-climb plan should always include nutritional supplementation beyond water. The reason why, is that muscles contain a limited amount of glycogen. When glycogen is depleted, muscle performance drops dramatically. Even though climbing utilises a selective group of muscles, the body cannot recruit glycogen from other muscle groups. In other words, there is no central glycogen pool. When you deplete glycogen in your forearms, it is not readily restored, and sustained use of the forearm muscles rapidly depletes the glycogen pool.

Replenishing lost electrolytes during physical performance, especially on athletic sport routes is also important. One of the best ways is to sip on young coconut water. But if you have kidney disease, the amount of potassium in a cup of coconut water could be dangerous and lead to an irregular heartbeat. People with chronic kidney disease should limit high-potassium foods and beverages, which includes any item with 200 milligrams or more potassium per portion.

My little favourites…

There is no magic bullet and we should eat well-balanced and varied diet but there are a few things that I consume almost every day. These include:

Freshly squeezed juice

To provide my body with vitamins, minerals and enzymes, I try to juice a selection of fruit and veg in my slow juicer and drink it as fresh as possible. My preferred selection of ingredients is half a cucumber, an apple, a carrot, a medium size beetroot, a cup of kale, a slice of ginger, short celery stick and a teaspoon of dry organic powdered pomegranate skin to increase antioxidant content. Its flavour is quite sweet and refreshing with pomegranate aftertaste. I do it approximately an hour or so before a physical activity or climbing outing. It is claimed in numerous studies that drinking beetroot juice can boost athletic performance up to 16%. This is because nitrate in beetroot juice leads to a reduction in oxygen uptake, making exercise less tiring. A number of studies reveal that drinking beetroot juice reduces oxygen uptake to an extent that cannot be achieved by any other known means, including training. Peak levels arrive about 2-3 hours after ingestion and are approaching baseline again by 12 hours later.

Collagen drink

Another drink which I consume on daily basis is my first thing in the morning collagen drink. This helps me to regenerate my muscle tissue quicker, strengthen my bones and joints and regulate energy output. I started drinking it years ago, when I was recovering from my badly broken arm followed by two surgeries. In order to speed up the recovery of my damaged tissue, my physio recommended drinking hydrolysed collagen (type 1,2 and 3) with a mix of glucosamine sodium powder, chondroitin powder and MSM or eating chicken broth every day. Being a veggie, I went for option one. This is very simple to prepare as it takes a pint of lukewarm water, a large measuring spoon of premixed powdered supplements and a dash of lemon juice, as vitamin C helps to absorb collagen.  I believe this drink really helps me to regenerate soft and hard tissue as well as speeds up the recovery process after injuries.

Shilajit- known as the “destroyer of weakness”

This mysterious sticky, black, tar-like substance comes from rocks in high mountain ranges. Shilajit has been used in traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine for centuries, and when used correctly, shilajit may have several benefits for the body. This may be due in part to the high concentration of fulvic and humic acids, as well as many minerals. Decades of intense scientific analysis and study have revealed that it reduces stress and improves sleep and endurance, reduces pain and inflammation, promotes healing and detoxifies heavy metals, balances hormones and supports longevity. I take it only occasionally as it contains easily absorbable iron, as a veggie, I try to think about my overall diet and having my vitamins and minerals sourced in as natural way as possible. In order to introduce shilajit to a diet, a person can dissolve a pea-sized portion of it in liquid and drink it up to three times a day, depending on the instructions on the package. I dissolve it in a glass of lukewarm water and drink it about an hour before a physical activity as it can have slightly stimulating effects, not nearly as much as coffee though. The recommended dose of shilajit is 300 to 500 milligrams per day. However, it is important that a person speaks with a doctor before taking any natural supplements.

References:

Hutchinson, A., (2013), Beet Juice: How much and when?
https://www.runnersworld.com/nutrition-weight-loss/a20806337/beet-juice-how-much-and-when/ . Accessed: June 2019.

Portman, R., (2015), Nutrition: Eating your way to better climbing. https://rockandice.com/rock-climbing-training/nutrition-eating-your-way-to-better-climbing/. Accessed: May 2019.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services; U.S. Department of Agriculture. 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. 8th Edition. health.gov/dietaryguidelines/2015/resources/2015-2020_Dietary_Guidelines.pdf. Updated December 2015. Accessed: May 2019.

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The importance of hand and skin care for climbers

Aby’s hands during Geyikbayiri climbing trip.

When training to become a stronger climber, we often focus on improving technique, power endurance or core strength. Undeniably, all these approaches play an important role in the process of achieving the goal but quite a few of us forget about the importance of hand skin care when training. Reoccurring flappers or worn-down fingertips may prevent us from obtaining optimum performance. Luckily, maintaining healthy and strong hand skin is easily manageable with some products and techniques and these can be simply performed by any climber no matter their climbing experience. 

Hygiene

Either using liquid or powdered chalk causes skin dryness and it is very important to thoroughly wash our hands after each session. Some chalk unwashed may linger in cracks of the skin leading to further dryness and damage. While washing seems obvious after each session, this is also important before each climbing. There is no need for any grease on our precious hands before we get on these holds, sweat may just be enough to cause slipperiness. Also, being mindful of other climbers, no one really enjoys a greasy crimp, especially when it caused by the lunch you just had. Another seemingly obvious approach to remember is regular nail trimming.  Make sure to trim round the edge all the way to the side of your finger to avoid hangnails and making that dreadful scraping sound that sets everyone’s teeth on edge when you accidentally hit the wall. Finally, smooth your standing out calluses by gently filing them. This practice helps to prevent forming flappers, which may have detrimental effect on the length and quality of your climbing session. If they happen though, make sure you keep them clean and wrap some tape around them if possible so you can still get on some rock without leaving trails of blood behind.

Skin Care

Here approaches may vary depending on the type of skin we have. Some of us are blessed with naturally dry skin whereas some others may have constantly sweaty palms. For those who wish to decrease the amount of sweat on their hands, one option out there is Antihydral, a popular but extreme drying agent that can be applied at night for dry hands during the day. It works well for chronically damp hands, but it can be harsh at first for the skin, so a light coating on the tips could be applied for a few hours, over a couple of days, and then the results can be seen. Another incredibly important thing to remember is to moisturise hands regularly. Hydrated and elastic skin is much more subtle and resistant to cracking or flapping when either pulling on sharp real rock jugs or plastic-fantastic holds. This means moisturising your hands no later than 2 hours before climbing and helping the skin become more elastic for the climbing session. Please, forget about moisturising your paws just before climbing as this will leave too much grease and slipperiness on your skin, making some crimpy climbs impossible. Again, think of others too, there is no need to leave greasy holds behind so others will struggle as well. Additionally, it is always a good practice to moisturise hands after each climbing session as this soothes the skin and prevents skin damage. There are many salves on the market that do not contain any nasty chemicals and are packed with natural oils to nourish the skin. These are High Life or Climb On which can be purchased on line or in some climbing gyms. Applying them on hands before bed will bring even better effects as the cream stays on and is being absorbed by our skin all night. Some other option would be using natural oil of our choice that works for our skin best, like apricot kernel oil, but we need to make sure it is of a good quality, cold pressed and preferably organic.

Hydration and Diet

There is absolutely no doubt about the fact that what is eaten and drunk affects not only our skin but the whole body. It is important to eat varied and as natural as possible food, which contains crucial nutrients to help us stay strong and healthy. Avoiding refined sugars, processed foods and chemicals is beneficial not only for our muscles, bones and joint functioning but also speeds recovery time from injury and maintains skin in healthy condition. I could go on here forever, but this will be a topic for another blog.

Hydration is an absolute key in physical performance. This is because it affects the skin suppleness and everything from flexibility to mental sharpness. Being dehydrated for prolonged periods of time increases the likelihood of splits and tears on our skin and reduces its ability to heal well. The best drinks to keep in the crag, apart from a coffee flask obviously, is just pure water or on hot days or in stamina sessions, electrolyte water. This would be natural young coconut water or easily made drink with electrolyte tablet dissolved in a bottle of purified water. Nourished, pliant skin is more resilient to tears so do your whole body a favor by keeping balanced diet and staying hydrated.

Stretching

There are two types of stretching, dynamic and static. Dynamic stretching should be done before the work-out, and static stretching after. Dynamic stretching, incorporating movement, lubricates the joints in the body, improves movement, and as a result, reduces the chance of an injury. This practice should not be the replacement for a proper warm-up but a part of it, you need to feel your pulse raising and the whole body warming. Static stretching is important for muscle recovery and flexibility and is performed without movement of the joints. This is to prevent our precious fingers from permanently curling due to over gripping, overusing and stiffness. These stretches should be held for either 20-30 seconds for recovery, or 30-40 seconds to improve range of motion. Static stretches relax the muscles for up to two hours and are not recommended before a work-out as you want your muscles to be active and engaged when exercising.

All the above practice seems relatively easy to maintain but it takes discipline to make it a good habit.