Is losing weight for a hard redpoint worthwhile? Is there a downside to being lighter than normal?
—Jeff Delay, Canada
Weight anxiety has haunted climbers ever since hominids opted to get off the ground for a better view. Modern climbers, however, have truly re- fined the condition, with the climbing elite at times bearing a resemblance to insects. To answer your question, “Yes,” climbers can manipulate the power-to-weight ratio, but anything other than a transient shift will be detrimental to your health.
The conversation starts at finding your ideal weight, that beautiful point between fat and skinny, where all of your cells are dancing a biochemical tango with perfect balance and dexterity. This is your optimum level of functioning, stress-free and fully nourished, and where your immune system is blazing away. Going below this weight will see
your body operating at a sub-par level and proceeding toward a state of decline.
There is no calculation, no textbook to reference, for your ideal weight. My ideal weight is about 160 pounds, give or take a pound. I can drop to 157 and, for a week or two, feel a certain snappiness and confidence. Beyond this period, however, the upsides ebb away, and in their place grows a yearning for deep-fried ice cream. That’s my body saying time’s up, get something to eat!
Temporarily dropping a few percents below your optimal weight does have obvious strength-to-weight-ratio advantages. Because your strength remains when you temporarily lose weight, you become effectively stronger. Although there is a clear attainable advantage in the short term, losing weight quickly becomes a game of diminishing returns.
The first problem is that climbers rarely have much weight to lose, pushing the body into famine mode almost immediately. As a result, nutrients that should be used for recovery get channeled toward more vital functions, such as feeding your brain. As recovery diminishes, initial gains in the strength-to-weight ratio are quickly tempered by reduced physical capacity and an enhanced propensity for injury. The longer you linger in this state, the worse it all be- comes. You are doing laps in a field of land mines—eventually you will detonate one. Pick your time and be disciplined with how long you maintain fighting weight. Recognize that you cannot biochemically finance it for very long without serious downsides.
Feature image by Dan Krauss
This article appeared in Rock and Ice 245