Lee Cossey and Andrea Hah

Lee Cossey and Andrea Hah are two of Australia’s best and well-known rock climbers, from big walls to sport routes and boulders, they’ve done a little bit of it all, a talent that they’ve also parlayed into Australian Ninja Warrior, where their fame as ninjas has almost eclipsed their renown in climbing. Apart from vying for the title of Strongest Couple in Oz Climbing, Andrea and Lee are also both health and training professionals. Andrea is an exercise physiologist, while Lee is a physiotherapist, with the two of them owning and running the Move Clinic in Katoomba. During last year’s festival they were overseas climbing big walls in Yosemite, USA, but this year we are very psyched that they are coming down from the Blue Mountains to take part and run a couple of clinics. We spoke to Lee to find out what people can expect.

The pair of you are running two of our Sunday sessions. The first is called Injuries: Avoid & Overcome. Can you give us a brief precis of what it’s going to be all about?
Injuries suck. They are not well understood. The internet as a whole probably makes people's experience of them worse. And sadly some of the messages people get from health providers can also do more harm than good. We’re aiming to arm people with some practical understanding of what's going on when something hurts, what to do about it and how you might avoid it next time round!

 Lee giving the kids some real deal ninja-climbing Jedi Mind Tricks during The North Face Global Climbing Day at 9 Degrees Parramatta.  Kamil Sustiak

Lee giving the kids some real deal ninja-climbing Jedi Mind Tricks during The North Face Global Climbing Day at 9 Degrees Parramatta. Kamil Sustiak

The second is called Big Picture Training – what’s the big picture and in what medium are you planning to sketch it?
The ‘big picture’ is what you see when someone effortlessly climbs your project on their first attempt. Their body positions, movements and strength look to fit the boulder or routes’ features in a completely perfect/unfair way. Training the big picture starts with developing the ‘feel’ on the wall and then building the skill and physical capacity to do something with that feel. In what will be a mixed practical and theoretical session we will provide a framework with which to keep perspective on the multifactorial nature of improving as a climber in the face the current trend toward obsessive and singular approaches. We will play on the boulders experimenting with each individual’s own learning style to help develop the ‘feel’ and then try out some training drills that develop the big picture skills and physical capacities. Finally, participants will leave with our simple fingerboarding matrix. Which is a guide to implementing finger strength training in a safe, progressive manner that ensures consistent progress across the years.

What do you think is the biggest error climbers makes when it comes to injuries?
Emotion is the biggest saboteur when it comes to injuries. As the injured person our focus is primarily on the subjective experience i.e it hurts and I’m going to get weak and shit. This human tendency to get caught up in the immediate details and lose objectivity when we get get scared of losing what we love or worse, getting weak, means we need to outsource the objectivity to someone who knows what they’re doing. Too few climbers do this soon enough! That doesn’t mean we can’t arm ourselves with knowledge or take an active role in our rehab, in fact this is typically the best thing you can do!

What do you think is the most common error that climbers make with their training?
There could be so many answers to this! Most people are doing some really effective things, but I reckon a step that often missed in the rush to get started is to really understand what it is you’re looking to get from climbing and ‘training’. Understanding this helps to make climbing your own journey, set personally meaningful goals and allows you to be congruent with why you’re submitting yourself to all the effort and compromise that goes with sustained training. I would guess that missing this step may be the root of many people's up and down training history.

 Andrea doing what she does best (after being a ninja) on Some Kind of Bliss (31), Diamond Falls, Blue Mountains. Image by Lee Cossey

Andrea doing what she does best (after being a ninja) on Some Kind of Bliss (31), Diamond Falls, Blue Mountains. Image by Lee Cossey

Andrea actually suggested that the pair of you run a ‘Mind tricks and levitation: advanced techniques with Lee Cossey and Andrea Hah’, while we said no to this because we think levitation is cheating, we were curious about some of the techniques involved?
That course was going to cover several topics around psychokinesis as well as transcending gravity and the self. But it looks like we’ll have to keep those techniques to ourselves.

Can a climber think themselves stronger?
Absolutely.

In what way could injuries be seen to provide opportunities?
We can see most climbing injuries that result from going too hard on too little tissue tolerance as existing on a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum we hurt and can’t do as much climbing as we’d like and at the other end we are performing well and and are at our strongest. Being injured is one of the clearest insights you’ll get into understanding your weaknesses and preferences. It is also an opportunity to play your own game as you get to take a step back and reassess what is important and where you want to go. I have seen so many people for whom their most severe injuries were their biggest positive turning points after which they progressed to a level they’d not previously achieved.

Is getting injured just a part of climbing?
To some extent it probably is just as it is in day to day life. But it doesn’t mean we can’t do a lot to minimise the likelihood and severity of them.

How does a person know when they should ride an injury out and when they need to seek the help of a professional?
As soon as someone is modifying their behaviour due to pain or even just fear of injury it’s probably a good time to get some external input. It may be one consult for some reassurance that they can happily ride it out or it may involve some more in depth intervention, typically involving specific loading to either make the area stronger or more skillful.

Where do you stand on the Getting Better vs Getting Stronger dichotomy?
To me getting better is about the application of all the tools: physical capacity, skill repertoire, mental capacity etc. It is about overall performance and can be measured with grade climbed, the style in which a route or boulder is completed, not dying or how much fun you have etc. Getting stronger just happens to be the more obsessed over single factors that are relevant to getting better.

‘Rest’ is held up as an important part of training, but what does it really mean?
Most people could afford to train harder and rest more. But rest doesn’t have to mean kicking back on the couch playing the Atari. The concepts of active rest and non-linear periodisation should be terms that are becoming more and more familiar to people. They refer alternating the way in which you stress your body within your shortest repeating cycle (i.e typically a week). Not every session needs to tax the same body part or energy system. For example we may train six out of seven days doing a mix of session types and be better rested than the person who trains only three days but repeats the same heavy session each of those days.

‘Mobility’ is another hot topic at the minute – how would you explain it?
Mobility, in a climbing performance sense, may be a term that is somewhat interchangeable with flexibility. It’s about having the freedom of movement at individual and groups of joints to be able to; open your hips and stay close to the wall, twist your chest in the direction you’re reaching while maintaining an efficient tight back step or rotate your shoulder in an overhead position so as to distribute force over greater distance and time. It’s something that may be trained with good old fashioned stretching, dynamic ‘mobility’ drills, strengthening at the required position or even cheated for a brief moment with techniques like massage, manipulation or acupuncture/dry needling.

You’re both more famous now as ninja warriors than climbers due to Australian Ninja Warrior, is there any transfer of ninja skills to climbing or is it all one way?
The most transferable skill is that of deflecting lame or off topic questions in written interviews.

Do you have an tips for boulderers going into the competition on the Saturday of the Festival?
Pour your heart into every moment you have on the rock.

As you know (because we keep bringing it up), we’ve been big fans of  your hair ever since you appeared on the cover of an old issue of Rock magazine with the most amazing hair that’s probably ever been seen at the crag. Will there be any hair care tips in the clinics for those who want to look their best in social media posts?
We’re all about the organic do! Let it do what it’ll do, focus on your bloody climbing and f&%# social media! :)