The Heart of an Athlete (Installment #4)
Mark Lamendola, Rock Climbing
Thanks so much for your time, Mark!
It is so great we had the opportunity to pick your brain and now share your wisdom and powerful insights with others! You are a great inspiration and motivator, thank you again. :)
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Place of Birth?
Type of Athlete and/or Sport?
I’ve been a martial artist for almost 45 years and have black belts in 5 different styles. I got into gym climbing about 20 years ago and got serious about it just over 5 years ago. As I began to tackle the more difficult climbing problems, the physical demands meant I had to choose between the two due to the core fatigue that became constant. So climbing, 90% and martial arts 10% now.
How did your rock climbing journey begin?
It’s not actually rock climbing. I climb on plastic, in local climbing gyms. Back in 2000 a friend who was an experienced rock and gym climber invited me to try the outdoor cement climbing structures in Marysville, WA. He brought all the gear, including climbing shoes. It was a blast! After that, I became a casual climber (and not a very good one) at the nearest climbing gym (30 miles away) in my area. But then other gyms opened closer to me. In 2015, I formed a group so I could have regular partners. When I got serious about climbing, I bought books, took an online course, and had private tutoring.
Athlete Q & A
What do you think are your most favorite athletic accomplishments/moments?
In climbing, that’s probably my flash (successfully climb on the first attempt with no advice) lead climb (bring the rope up with you, clip as you go) of “The Arch” at Ibex–I have that on video https://youtu.be/s4G0ssyJ3hc;) and I was just shy of 62 when I did it. This starts on a steep overhang and ends on a “roof” (the climbing surface is totally overhead).
In martial arts, it might be the time two men began violently assaulting a woman on a bus. I didn’t particularly approve of that. I knocked out one assailant with a punch and then immediately knocked out the other with a kick. It’s not on video, sorry.
What has climbing taught you about yourself and life?
In climbing, you fail most of the time. You have to be comfortable with reaching past your limits and comfortable with failing. Climbers don’t judge other climbers, we encourage each other. We often climb vicariously, meaning we are fully into another person’s climb and get a thrill when they “send” the problem (complete the climb) or just do a really good job before falling off. You might think all that failing makes a climber feel insecure, but it’s just the opposite. A way to avoid failing is to have easy goals. When the goals are hard, you need your courage to push through.
What's your secret to never missing a workout in 45 years and keeping up the consistency and motivation to do so?
I was not a star athlete in high school, not by a longshot. In 1977, I started training in the weight room almost every day after school and sometimes on weekends. On one of those occasions, Larry Block–our basketball team’s MVP–popped in and said what I was doing was inspiring. He asked me to promise to keep it up. I said I would. Larry has since passed away, but I will continue to keep that promise even though I don’t think he had a long-term meaning in mind.
Once I got past the first couple of years of never missing, not missing became a “thing” with me and I never let anything else get in the way. Even when I worked “Seven 12s” in my 20s, I shoehorned in those workouts. I can see and feel the benefits, which also is motivating.
Another factor stems from the fact I was born with low gamma globulin. I was frequently sick in my first few years of life. My dad had to get a second job to pay for the medical bills, despite having insurance. The doctors said there was no cure for the low gamma globulin and thus I would always be sick. But they were wrong. The sickness proved to be a matter of food choices. I was maybe 7 when I realized processed sugar is poison; eventually, I would ban all highly processed foods from entering my body. My mom asked me what kind of birthday cake I wanted for my 9th birthday and I said no cake because it’s junk food. I was last sick in 1971. A clean and varied diet is a big part of why I am lean and strong today. I’ve always divided my food intake across 5 or 6 meals per day, as far back as I can remember. This is a standard practice among many kinds of athletes and particularly among bodybuilders.
As for the gamma globulin problem, there was a cure for that also. I got it in my 50s. The doctor who cured me is none other than (drumroll, please), Dr. Rick Cohen. He also cured me of my sun hypersensitivity. I used to burn with less than 10 minutes of sun. I thought the solution was smearing toxic chemicals (sunblock) on my skin and avoiding the sun. One day a few months into following Dr. Cohen’s advice, I lost track of time outside and spent almost 2 hours in direct sunlight and partial shade with no sunscreen. I didn’t burn. Now instead of skin peeling off due to 10 minutes of exposure, I get a nice tan each summer. I threw away all the sunscreen I used to have.
What’s your perfect training recovery routine?
I have a split routine. I train 6 days per week, a different muscle group in each session. Each of those days gives me a big boost in the adaptive response. Each workout supports every other workout. “Legs” on Monday gives me a huge testosterone boost coming into Back/biceps on Tuesday. Back/biceps on Tuesday gives me a massive blood flow boost that helps flush the waste from the Monday workout. This process is the basis for training of professional football players and many other types of athletes. So I am always recovering. One muscle group recovers while another is being trained, etc. So I don’t have a separate routine for recovery, it’s baked into the program.
How long did it take for you to achieve such a high level of skill and ability? What helped you the most become your best?
It took me longer than it takes most climbers. One factor is I “climbed” for many years and developed every bad habit possible before deciding to learn how to climb. Another factor is I started to learn climbing at a late age, where I was typically the oldest climber present in the gym. Leaving my ego at the door is probably what has helped me the most. Climbing is very social, and there’s a certain vibe you must be tuned into. The single best resource for climbing better is often the climber next to you.
What are your secret weapons to improve grip strength for climbing, and also overall strength?
Grip strength, contrary to common perception, often isn’t a factor in climbing at the grades where most people climb. For some types of problems, especially on the harder grades, it is. I spend a lot of time on those harder grades now, so grip strength is often a factor for me. But I don’t do anything directly to develop it. I’m genetically blessed with an insanely powerful grip (it comes from my dad’s side).
Several times, I have arrested a fall by thrusting my hand out and pinching a tiny grip on my way down. The first time I did this was not in a climbing gym, and it was decades ago. I fell through improperly secured scaffolding above the dome of a 220 ft oil cracking tower, and somehow my left hand managed to snag a stub of 1” pipe used for a thermocouple well. Some tense moments hanging there while a coworker experimented with ways to lower one leg enough for me to grab his ankle with my right hand. He finally hoisted us both up and saved me. I’ve had easier male bonding experiences….
Climbing depends more on technique and balance than on raw power or grip. Core strength is essential also, since power originates in the hips. Just as in golfing or martial arts or tennis. I have enough power, grip, and core strength to climb at a far higher level, I just don’t have the rest of what is required
Training for any athlete must involve full range of motion inside a program that’s just as hard on the posterior muscles as on the muscles you can see. The two most common mistakes I have seen are partial reps and neglect of the back and hamstrings.
What’s your big secret?
For me, consistency is the big "secret". People will say they don't have time to prepare meals or train. And often they treat rest as optional. But if you see diet, training, and rest as commitments just as important as showing up at work then the question of time becomes moot. Those occupy blocks in your calendar, and everything else flows around them. I don't miss meals and don't miss workouts. I have the same shutdown time every night regardless of how much there is to do, because I don’t miss sleep either.
I have long recovery times for muscle groups. Take calves, for example. I train them hard every other Monday (the other Monday, hamstrings are hit hard instead). Why such a two-week rest period? The training is brutal; for example I use 335 lbs on a seated calf raise as part of that workout plus climbing hits my calves (less intensely).
I differentiate between “exercising” and “training”. Training means you push past the red line to force your body to initiate the adaptive response. You push or exceed its limits for time under tension, metabolic stress, and cellular damage. But you have to do this without damaging ligaments, tendons, and other structures; that is where strict form and tight discipline come into play.
Favorite place to go climbing?
We have five climbing gyms in the Kansas City area. Whichever one I am at on a particular weekend, THAT is my favorite place to climb. I also have a climbing wall in my backyard. I built it before Covid-19 and at the time could not find any help or videos online for how to build one. I built mine on a stainless steel gimbal so it is fully adjustable.
Reach deeper into your bucket of try. – William Shao
The best thing you’ve bought in the past year to help improve your health, fitness, and/or performance?
My program is holistic, so I can’t single anything out from the past year. Going back further in time, getting the Vitamin D assessment may have been my single best purchase. Dr. Cohen just could not get it through my head that I needed more D3. After the test, I was more amenable to reason and that’s a very good thing because the benefits of the resulting changes have been astounding. Testing can help you spot gross errors, not just fine tune things. I also used a testosterone test to check a theory I had about something I was trying, and it proved I should stop trying that.
Your biggest idea for a better life (in 1 or 2 sentences)?
Focus on what matters, taking the long-term view. That means leaving out things that detract from your goals, stress you out, waste time, or cause unnecessary problems.
Where can our readers follow you on social media? (If any)?
I have a YouTube channel for climbing videos. My climbing buddy Shawn created a Tiny URL to use instead of that long string YouTube provides: www.tinyurl.com/climbingsigchannel
Do you also do coaching? If so, tell us a bit more about that and what you’ve learned from coaching.
I coach climbing only informally and only for free. I’m not a certified climbing instructor. I get free coaching, too.
I used to teach martial arts, and not for free. A student with no prior experience trained under me for 6 months and then took second place in the Dallas Citywide Open Style Tournament. He came to me saying he wanted to compete in that tournament. There wasn’t much time to prepare, so we focused on doing a few techniques well and one extremely well. There are some life lessons in that, for sure.
Any videos of you climbing?
In this climbing video https://www.youtube.com/shorts/jYvKJ9mKyyE made 10 days prior to my 62nd birthday, you can see muscle in motion. Check this out at 25 seconds: https://youtu.be/3W806Zp0VWc – taken a month past my 62nd birthday. Here is arguably my most impressive climb ever: https://youtu.be/s4G0ssyJ3hc; only 3 weeks short of my turning 62.
Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCCyb67uKOxW_TsG6BVPbBIQ
Any last words of wisdom?
I think it is wise to ensure you never let your “mobility muscles” atrophy. Once you have to use a cane and then a walker, that nursing home bed is not far off. Just walking isn’t enough. You need to push hard enough to trigger the adaptive response. Give your body a reason to keep muscle. It doesn’t have to be weights or martial arts or climbing. But it does need to be challenging and you need to be dedicated to consistency. Work those glutes! Do those deep squats!
A few years back, an 87 year old climber completed a fairly gnarly rock climb and it was very exciting news for the climbing community. Will I be making gnarly climbs in 15 years? Yes, if I stick with my program. And you can bet I will be doing exactly that.
Are you an athlete? Have an awesome story or accomplishment? Interested in just sharing your wisdom with the world?
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