Wednesday, 28 May 2014

BMC Para Climbing Competition - Manchester

Jay, Gwyn, Paula and I made our way to the Manchester BMC Para Climbing Competition for the 3rd and final of the series.

Jay Stompin Owen at his first BMC Paraclimb Comp!
Gwyn on the podium  with Jon & Rad qualifying for the British Team

Jay won his category (Autism) and Gwyn made the British Team for VI (Visually Impaired). The event was very well run by the BMC managers and route setters with more competitors attending as awareness seems to gaining greater momentum.

It' been great working with both of them and seeing them excel in climbing but for me the gift has come from them helping me find a passion in coaching para climbers and I thank both of them for asking me to help them achieve there climbing goals.

Gwyn can now travel different parts of the world representing Britain and Jay will continue on his amazing personal journey of using climbing to change his life for the better.

... And me, I want to coach more para climbers and enjoy my own personal journey (and of course enchain Jerry Moffat's 80's classic 'Masterclass' before my finger tips burst on that gnarly crystal inverted pinch!)...

Full results of the 2014 BMC Paraclimbing Series – round 1-3 and overall series results

If you have a disability and haven't climbed before and would like to try an indoor climbing session or are an experienced para climber and would like to put together a coaching plan then please contact to discuss details and arrangements.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

Same Day Route Projecting and Campus Training... Facing Change

Went on an 8a in the morning then a campus session in the afternoon with Owen to try and drive things a bit harder to break his current plateau in strength and psychological attitude to what he can do in a day when trying to push his level.

It's hard to have a few burns on a project at your grade limit then go straight to the wall for a campus session, but it is this kind of change in tactics that I hope will see Owen begin to bank new gains in his climbing and what he thought was 'training hard' before will evidently not be the case and that our bodies and minds can endure more than we think. 

Owen working another 8a project...

Indy Campus Board
I trained hard in the Pyrenees with Haston for a few months a while back and saw my depth of fitness and mental attitude change massively, and hopefully Owen will begin to see the benefits in a few weeks of 'double shifts' at the crag then back to the campus board. Once we have a lift in ability and change in understanding his true potential, then we change tactics again...

Fight Club in Grotte de Sabart, Pyrenees
Red pointing a great 8a+ in Pyrenees 
'Double shift' after project sessions

Contact for online Dual Factor Training Programme or 1 to 1 coaching sessions in UK.

Friday, 23 May 2014

Campus Sessions... Driving Power from 7b+ to 8a

Good wood from TCA! Campus rungs.
I've been working with Owen on a couple of projects ranging from 7c, 8a to 8a+ at the Ormes and in the Llanberis slate quarries... Including the particularly gnarly 80's classic from Jerry Moffat (Masterclass).
Owen chaining his first 7c 
Having sent his 7c a few weeks ago and had a taste of  the difficulties to be expected from some harder routes up to 8a+, it is time to do the strength/power work in between working the projects for the journey that we are looking to go on from 7b+ fitness to 8a power and we have opted to focus our immediate training efforts with campus sessions to improve 'pull through' on smallish edges.

In a session, I prefer to focus on maximal power movements on the smallest rungs with as big a gap between them as one can muster with control, sets of just two moves until the power level drops then move on to short gaps with more sets still on the small rungs, then finally on bigger rungs on wider gaps again. Effectively draining the power system in a short but effective period (takes about 90 minutes after warm up). I generally do just 2 campus sessions of this nature per week then change the intensity and reduce the volume.

Hopefully after a couple of weeks of this combined with project sessions in between training, we will see some marked improvement in power on smaller holds and we can move on to the next tactic...

Campus Sessions

Contact if you are interested in a bespoke training programme or 1 to 1 coaching...

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Autism, Asperger's - Climbing as Therapy

Jay training at the Beacon Climbing Centre in North Wales, UK
If you or a friend or family member have autism and are interested in trying climbing with Reach Climbing Coach ( UK ), then contact to arrange a 1 to 1 indoor climbing session with Mark McGowan & Jay Owen.

Autism, Asperger's Climbing as Therapy
  1. Develop positive recreation skills
  2. Increase muscle tone and motor skills
  3. Develop trust and relationship building skills
  4. Increase self-esteem and empowerment
  5. Promote independence, health and wellness
  6. Enjoy themselves in a safe and controlled Environment

Why Indoor Rock Climbing is good for children with Additional Needs?
Children on the Autistic spectrum can share many traits such as uneven gross and fine motor skills, over-activity or under-activity. They can have difficulty with communication, social skills and this can be accompanied by repetitive behaviors and restricted interests. Children with autism can also have sensory needs. However if they move while learning, they will actually retain more information. Rock climbing is very tactile, both in holds and in the texture of the walls. The holds are brightly coloured with different shapes so are visually stimulating.

Climbing can help support language as it encourages cross pattern movement. It can help to develop the vestibular system (balance) and proprioception (spatial body awareness). It improves overall muscle tone, fine and gross motor skills and its wonderful the benefits that climbing can have on Interhemispheric integration (communication between the two sides of the brain). Climbing encourages problem-solving; independent thinking and can help improve behaviour through Interhemispheric Integration. Climbers are motivated to communicate by the joy of climbing, bonding with the belayer (the person holding the other end of the rope!). Overall climbing builds confidence in a safe and nurturing environment. Therefore Rock climbing is one-stop therapeutic shop and, is therapy disguised as play!
Every movement is a sensory – motor event.
The corpus callosum the thick bridge of neural tissue in the middle of the brain connects the two hemispheres, conveying information from one side to the other. The right brain is the more creative or emotional hemisphere and the left brain is the analytical and judgmental hemisphere.
It has been known for years that children who miss the vitally important crawling stage may exhibit learning difficulties later on. Crawling, a cross – lateral movement, activates  development of the corpus callosum. Research shows that muscular activities, particularly coordinated, balanced movement, appears to stimulate the production of neurotrophins, such as dopamine, natural substances that stimulate the growth of existing nerve cells and increase the number of new nerve cells, and neural connections in the brain. We have discovered that boys need more movement time than girls for brain growth and development.
The tactile system plays a major part in determining physical mental and emotional human behaviour. Every one of us, needs steady tactile stimulation to keep us organised, functioning and healthy. We get tactile information through sensory receiving cells, called receptors, in our skin from head to toe. We are always actively touching or passively being touched by something – other people, furniture, clothes, the ground under our feet, and the air on our skin. The ability to process tactile sensations effectively is very important, not only for visual discrimination, motor planning and body awareness, but also for academic learning, emotional security and social skills.
Balance and Movement, The vestibular Sense. The vestibular system is the unifying system, giving us a sense of where we stand in the world. Movement and gravity stimulate special receptors in the little “Vestibule” of the inner ear. The vestibular system takes in messages about balance and movement from the neck, eyes, and body; sends the message to the central nervous system for processing; and then helps generate muscle tone that allows us to move smoothly and efficiently. The vestibular system tells us where are heads and bodies are in relation to the surface of the earth. It tells us whether we are upright, upside-down, or at a tilt; whether we are moving or standing still; and whether objects are moving or motionless in relation to our bodies. It also informs where we are going and how fast, and if we are in danger or in a relaxing place.
Proprioception refers to sensory messages about the position, force, direction, and movement of our bodies. It helps integrate tactile and vestibular sensations. Receptors for this sense are in the muscles and joints. Proprioception the “position sense” sends messages about whether the muscles stretch or contract, and how the joints bend and straighten. Even when we are motionless, gravity stimulates the receptors to create Proprioceptive messages without our conscious awareness. The functions of proprioception are to increase body awareness and to contribute to motor control and motor planning. Proprioception helps us with body expression, the ability to move our body parts efficiently. It lets us walk smoothly, run quickly, climb, carry, sit, stand, stretch and lie down. It gives us emotional security, for when we can trust our bodies we feel safe and secure.
Climbing helps to develop and enhance all of the above sensory and motor movement themes.”

Mark coaching in Siurana, Spain
for Mountaineering Council Of Scotland
If you or a friend or family member have autism and are interested in trying climbing with Reach Climbing Coach ( UK ), then contact to arrange a 1 to 1 indoor climbing session with Mark McGowan & Jay Owen.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Staying the course ...

7c Happiness!
Young Owen and I saw him have a mental tussle yesterday getting to the last move twice on his first 7c project. But today we hit the mark, with a chilled out chat, no one at the crag and the most breezy send I have ever seen, where he wandered up placing the clips as he went, waking up at the top when he successfully chained his first 7c. Well done Owen!

Saturday, 10 May 2014

Accommodation at Montserrat (Spain) for UK Climbers

If you are heading out to Montserrat for a climbing trip then get in touch with my friends for accommodation at the Magic Mountain that is Montserrat. Just 40 minutes from Barcelona... See them here at

Climbing Areas


Montserrat covers 5 x 10 kilometers squared of terrain and in practically all the areas of the mountain there are sport climbing routes.


The most outstanding sectors of the mountain can be found on:


The South Side of Montserrat; there are the more recently opened 1 and 2 pitch sport climbing sectors amongst classical multipitch climbs. The area named 'Agullas' (The Needles) is mabye one of the most beautiful parts of Montserrat, here there are more multi pitch routes and less 1 pitch sport climbing sectors. There is a tendency to climb on the south side of the mountain during the winter months when we can enjoy the sunshine on colder days.


 The North Face of Montserrat; here we can find our 'summer' routes, the sport climbing areas, many of which can be found by setting out from San Benet (a small 'hermita' sitting at the top of 1000 steps)are short and explosive one pitch climbs requiring a high level of strength and technique, there are also routes that reach the well known summits such as 'The Mummy', The Elephant' and 'The Bishops Belly'.


Apart from being able to give you advice and recomendations on what part of the mountain to climb there are a variety of published climbing guides , some of which we have available in the Climbers Bungalow.

Dude on 8b+
Montserrat has one of the highest concentrations of multipitch routes per meter squared in the world.

Bearing in mind that the first recorded ascenciones of Montserrats rock pinnacles was in 1912, we can journey through Catalunyas climbing history as we ascend; finding very classical protection such as wooden pegs to the modern parabolt.

Amongst the typical conglomorate slabs we can climb the classical routes following chimeneys,corners and cracks, with classical protection, and modern bolted routes ascending slabs and overhangs.

Although we can find multipitch routes all over Montserrat the northern part of the mountain has the highest concentration(750) of long routes and the most variety in grades (up to A5, 8b+)and beauty (Cavall Bernat).


Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Making the choice...

I've been lucky enough to be climbing with a cool young Welsh guy (Owan) over the last few weeks. I'm not coaching him, but I am kind of in a stealth way! We did a 7b+ the other day at the Orme and I reckon we will finish his year with an 8a. It's a good team, flows easy and we are of similar fitness with an equal focus on projecting some nice Welsh sport routes. Today he made an important choice in this years climbing. Happy days...

I suppose the journey is to nudge a 7c out the bag quickly (which is imminent), then a long fight for a 7c+ whilst simultaneously working a longer term 8a project then accidentally do the 8a before the 7c+! Climbing's weird man...

Monday, 5 May 2014

Training For Manchester BMC Para Climbing Competition - 3 weeks to go...

Gwyn's return to training after a 2 week cycling trip kicked off today at the Beacon with some bouldering, top rope work on a 7b, maximal finger hangs on the Beastmaker then blob campusing and finishing him off with feet on campus up/downs to failure. A hard session to return from a break but we have just 3 weeks to get to our best for the competition at Manchester.

Gwyn's climbing style is now that of a fully sighted climber where he moves towards the next holds with anticipation of where they are likely to be. We discussed this after our session waiting on the Llanberis bus and where this change is coming from. It seems that it is a combination of increased confidence and less holds to choose from as the routes are harder, but mainly we feel that a greater understanding of what the holds are that he has in his hands and an expectation of where and what the next hold is likely to be based on his increasing experience of movement. That takes work and he has...

I chose to put Gwyn on a 7b (even though we haven't completed 7a yet) because to compete at a higher level he has to simply climb at that level as much as possible so that he pulls, reaches and thinks at that level until it becomes how he climbs... That way, he gets better!

I can't wait to see the guys and girls at Manchester demonstrate their strength, ingenuity in working with one limb less than most and their hugely positive spirit in overcoming the climbing put in front of them. They inspire me the most in climbing as there has been no worst sight in my life (looking in and out) than an amputated spirit...

BMC Paraclimbing Series 2014

Thursday, 1 May 2014

Recruiting for ReAch Dual Factor Online Programme..

 We are taking bookings for our Dual Factor Online Programme for June start. Contact to join the Team. It will involve a 6 week intense online training programme designed around your own goal. The cost is £100 (UK) or 100 euros. Available in English or Spanish.

(Photo: Jon Stoelker)

The Overtraining Threshold

Throughout the Uploading periods the workload should be just great enough to produce stress marked by fatigue and adaptation, but not so high that the overtraining syndrome results. The level at which overtraining symptoms first appear is the “overtraining threshold.” The overtraining threshold is a moving target. The workload that causes overtraining when fitness is low may be easily tolerated when fitness is high...

Malcolm Smith

Referrals from clients:

"...This training season I decided to get all the help I can to speed up my improvement. I needed guidance to work towards my goals in long term. I also needed more vision and opinions about my exercises and weak links. I am glad I can share my training with Mark..." (Ville Mustonen, Finland)

" I met Mark in Glen Nevis on his return to climbing to check out some lines he had in mind for me, I wasn't really training at this point but after a day or two talking and training with him I had a much more structured idea of what to do to improve and I did" (Kev Shields)