I look around and I am the biggest person at the gym. I know I probably have body dysmorphia but I also have an exceptional ability to be critical – so not only am I the biggest person at the gym, I’m also the strongest. It is not easy hanging from three pads at a buck fifty seven. That’s nearly 53 pounds per finger pad when a static downward force is applied and it almost never is so at certain times I can withstand more than 80 to 100 pounds per finger pad.
I feel like a total bad ass.
Then right when my climbing begins to degrade, I leave the gym. No sense in ruining a good thing. But as my drive home ends and my endorphins wane, my left middle finger releases an uncomfortable sensation. The same left middle finger that irked me in October 2017.
I poke the finger, move it, roll it around, speak to it. It is aggravated and I am too.
My dream is crumbling.
The Dream of Body Positivity
The topic of body weight is ceaseless when it comes to climbing. Walk into any climbing gym and you’ll see a person with a maximized strength to weight ratio sending. Or at least trying very hard to send. Male or female, being lean has been a hallmark of a potentially good climber since climbing became less about hanging on gear and more about hanging on your finger tips. But this notion of the ‘lean’ climber lends itself to people who look pathetically unhealthy when they are not climbing.
Their comically large forearms drag their shoulders into a permanent stoop. They compulsively look and nibble at the skin on their hands. Their spindly legs with calloused feet that pronate and ‘duck’ out under the slightest load. For all the imbalances, I cannot with a straight face say that ‘this is an athlete’, no matter how hard they climb.
Then there is the prohibitive thinness (in the men of climbing in particular). For all the weight loss I do wonder, are they healthy? Are they truly happy?
As having both the experience of being thin and then not thin, I know how brutally cold you get when you don’t have enough body fat. I also know how long it takes to heal and how much more it hurts when you land hard if you don’t have a little fatty padding.
More importantly, I learned the hard way (as per my usual learning habit) that no amount of thinness will make up for a lack of strength. And yet I find that many climbers will neglect building their overall strength and opt instead to lose weight.
I often scoffed at the idea. Especially, after being thin and weak on a climbing trip in January. Then there is the fact that both my hubs and I love my ass.
Currently, however, my body – my fingers, appear to have a limit on how much I can weigh and how hard I can climb. While my onsight grade has steadily increased, my fingers are playing a game where we both lose.
Blame or Regret
Knowing that I must have missed something during the rehabilitation of my middle finger, I poke it some more and attempt to feel for the oncoming injury. Feeling nothing, unsurprisingly, I slather on the newly purchased DMSO and analyze the videos of myself climbing. Where am I going wrong? What am I doing that could take a seemingly healthy finger and make it feel as though it is on the verge of failure?
Admittedly, there were movement patterns that would lend themselves to injury and there are muscle imbalances in the chest and front shoulder that should be resolved sooner rather than later. There are also serious issues with timing that need further assessment. But then again, after a long and thoughtful review of my climbing notes, I find that while my body is strong, my fingers are not. Time and again, my finger strength and stability pops up and I find that I’m often negotiating a means to bypass relying entirely on my fingers.
While this is often a good thing; it is also frustrating. Hand strength takes an incredibly long time to build and it is easy to lose. So I cannot help but to wonder where my finger strength would be if I had started climbing earlier in life? If I had not taken so many breaks from climbing over the past decade? If I trained my fingers just a little bit more?
Is this my failure?
Is this truly the physical limitation that I will reference time and again?
I feel like a fraud. No worse. I feel like I’ve stepped into the best restaurant in town and I am under-dressed.
Self-conscience, ashamed and sensitive.
Do I need to lose weight in order to keep climbing harder? For all my know how, my ability to problem solve in this instance is falling short of my personal expectations –
To be as brutally strong (aka heavy) as I can be and climb harder than ever. To show myself that there is more to climbing than being thin.