Date: April 11th, 2018
About Alex Biale
Alex Biale is a boulderer out of Boulder, Colorado who’s been climbing for about 10 years. In those 10 years, he’s done a couple of V13’s, a bunch of V12’s, and some impressive highball boulders, including Luminance V11 in Bishop. While he’s a really strong boulderer, what I wanted to talk with him about more was his ability to bounce back really well from major injuries he’s had.
For instance, last summer he broke his tibia, his ankle joint, and a metatarsal in his foot falling off of a boulder, and he’s now stronger than he’s ever been, as well as healthier and less tweaky because of the training he’s done since then.
He’s also had at least 6 finger injuries (some of them very serious), and has come out of them climbing harder than he did before the injuries.
In the interview, he describes how he trained through his climbing injuries and lays out his current training program that’s made him more muscular and more injury-proof. Hopefully we can all learn a few things from his experiences.
Alex Biale Interview Details
- How he trained through a broken foot/ankle
- How he healed from a serious finger injury in a few months
- How weight training has improved his climbing
- His weekly climbing, training, and weight lifting schedule
- Will Anglin’s life-changing advice about his climbing style
- The supplements that helped him heal
Alex Biale Links
- Instagram: @alexbiale
Training Programs for You
Do you want a well-laid-out, easy-to-follow training program that will get you stronger quickly? Here’s what we have to offer on TrainingBeta. Something for everyone…
- Personal Training Online: www.trainingbeta.com/mercedes
- For Boulderers: Bouldering Training Program for boulderers of all abilities
- For Route Climbers: Route Climbing Training Program for route climbers of all abilities
- Finger Strength : www.trainingbeta.com/fingers
- All of our training programs: Training Programs Page
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Neely Quinn: Welcome to the TrainingBeta podcast, where I talk with climbers and trainers about how we can get a little better at our favorite sport. I’m your host, Neely Quinn, and you can tell my voice is doing weird things already. I just got back from the Performance Climbing Coach Seminar in Columbia, Maryland with Steve Bechtel and a bunch of other instructors and coaches and I think I lost my voice a little bit there from not only presenting, but also from drinking a little bit too much and not sleeping enough. That’s just what happens sometimes. You get sick.
It was really fun though and I think that everybody learned a lot about how to make training program for themselves and for their athletes and their kids and all that good stuff. Hopefully they learned something from me about nutrition. There was also a dietician there named Kelly Drager and she talked on nutrition, so if you’re interested in doing one of those seminars you can go to www.performanceclimbingcoach.com and that’s Steve Bechtel’s site. He’ll put up information on the next one which I think is going to be in the fall in Minnesota, maybe. I’m not sure.
That was this past weekend for me. Now I’m back home and today I had the chance to sit down and talk to Alex Biale, who is my interviewee for this podcast episode, episode 101. I’m over the hump.
Alex is a boulderer from Boulder. Well, he lives in Boulder. I’ve never met him, actually, but I’ve heard of him and he approached me telling me that he wanted to tell his story because he’s actually been injured quite a lot of times and he’s come back from those injuries really, really strong. I was really interested to hear what he had to say about that.
Alex has done a couple V13 boulders, he’s done a bunch of V12s, and he’s also done a lot of highballs, some of which he’s injured himself on, so we’ll hear about some of his major injuries and then what’s he’s done to get back from those injuries and, like I said, being even stronger. Right now he’s recovered from a serious foot injury where he broke a bunch of stuff in his foot in August of 2017. Now, just in April of 2018, he’s already climbing stronger than he ever has and he’s feeling healthier, he says, and less tweaky.
Listen carefully to this. I think we can all learn something from this interview and we also talk a little bit of philosophy about climbing training and how to approach it at the end. I hope you enjoy this interview. I’ll talk to you on the other side.
Neely Quinn: Alright. Welcome to the show, Alex. Thank you very much for being with me today.
Alex Biale: Thanks for having me.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. So, for anybody who doesn’t know who you are, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Alex Biale: Sure, yeah. I’m Alex. I live in Boulder, Colorado. I’ve been here for six years-ish. I grew up in northern California in a town called Napa. We do the wine thing.
I’ve been climbing for the last 10 years, almost 10 years, and now I run the data and operations team for a mergers and acquisitions firm here in Boulder. When I’m not in the office I’m trying to get stronger.
Neely Quinn: Nice. I have a quick question: how do you pronounce your last name?
Alex Biale: Bee-ah-lee.
Neely Quinn: Okay. I’m assuming it’s Italian or something?
Alex Biale: Yes, it’s Italian.
Neely Quinn: So you’ve been climbing for 10 years. How old are you?
Alex Biale: 27.
Neely Quinn: 27. So you started climbing when you were 17, in California?
Alex Biale: Yeah, I wish I would have started earlier. I’m seeing all these young kids at the ABC gym now and they’re just monsters. It was actually kind of a funny story. It was an AP English class or political science class that was offering extra credit for anyone that went to this new local business that opened. It was a gymnastics and climbing gym, so we went one day after school and just stayed for hours until our skin was just torn up and I was immediately hooked.
I was climbing trees and climbing random rocks in Tahoe and Yosemite my whole life, just because I hiked around there a lot with my family, but it really wasn’t until high school when it kind of clicked.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. What was your athletic background before you found climbing?
Alex Biale: Yeah, sure. I was never very good at anything but I tried really hard in a lot of different sports. I played basketball. I wasn’t very tall so that didn’t go very well. I played soccer and while my ball-handling skills were not the greatest, I could run harder than anybody on the field so I ran a lot.
I ran kind of semi-competitively in high school but it was mainly just a thing to do on my own. I ran a few marathons that were not actual marathons, like they weren’t sanctioned by any governing body, but I would run for 27 or 28 or 29 miles. I would kind of just run in a certain direction along the highway and then turn around. I just really enjoyed that but as soon as I got into climbing I quickly realized that it’s very hard to be decent at both.
Neely Quinn: Yeah? You think that your running definitely affected your climbing?
Alex Biale: I mean, I think it helped because it just gave me a decent baseline of endurance, which is kind of ironic because I rarely sport climb and I’m primarily a boulderer, but honestly I think the biggest way that that type of running helped was just pain tolerance. Running for more than just a few miles, at least for me, sucks. It is hard and it hurts. It hurts my knees, it hurts my feet, it hurts my hips, it hurts everything but you kind of just get into this mental zone of dealing with it and you just keep going. I think that that’s something that I’ve been able to apply to the training and the climbing approaches that I do now.
Neely Quinn: Nice. It seems like runners do have a leg up on us sometimes in endurance, but we don’t need to focus too much on running. I was just curious because it’s such a topic of conversation, ‘Does running help your climbing?’
Let’s talk about your climbing. You have, in the past 10 years, succeeded in climbing a couple V13s, a bunch of V12s, you did the classic highball Evilution Direct. Do you call it Evilution or Evolution?
Alex Biale: It’s spelled Evilution so that’s how we say it. I’m not sure if Chris Sharma was high when he named that but that’s – oh sorry, Jason Kehl. That’s how we say it.
Neely Quinn: So you’ve bouldered pretty hard and you’ve also had a bunch of injuries, and that’s a lot about what I want to talk to you about. You’ve come back so strong after those injuries.
Tell me a little bit about some climbing highlights of your life and then some of the injuries.
Alex Biale: Sure. In the larger scheme, or the larger context of climbing, I definitely don’t climb that hard. For me, I’d like to think that I’ve done a couple of things that are – I don’t know – of note? You touched on one of the highlights. It’s this highball that gets the grade of V11. It’s in the Buttermilks, California.
If you’ve ever been to that area, as you drive in along Buttermilk Road the Grandpa Peabody is the first boulder that you see. You actually see Kevin Jorgeson’s Ambrosia first and then you see Evilution Direct. They just climb the two most obvious, prominent lines on that boulder. I think just growing up, climbing there and assigning value to those types of climbs just inspired the hell out of me to get to the top of that boulder one day. It’s not the hardest thing I’ve ever done by any means but for California climbers, that specific line carries a lot of value and a lot of gravitas, almost. Being able to do that and sort of overcome that fear was a big step in my climbing.
Again, it’s not the hardest thing but you are doing relative difficult moves with your feet maybe – the way I was doing it, the highest part where I would have realistically fallen, my feet were probably close to 30 feet. I fell slightly below that more times than I would like to admit so being able to push through that, mentally, was a bit of a breakthrough.
Neely Quinn: You fell at 20+ feet?
Alex Biale: Yes. A lot.
Neely Quinn: Is this where you had some of your injuries occur?
Alex Biale: Ironically, no. I did not get injured on that climb, thank god. The climbing is pretty controlled. It’s relatively insecure up at the top, at least the way that I was doing it. You’re grabbing pretty small crystals and pretty small feet but it turns into – it goes from like a V10 overhang on decent crimps to a slabby V9. There’s really no room for throwing for holds and dramatically missing holds, so I was never taking any huge falls like that. It was more rocking up onto a foot and trying to keep the hips in and realizing that I’m not going to get there, so I kind of readjust and then drop off in a controlled way. I’ve never gotten injured on that boulder which is really surprising. [laughs]
Neely Quinn: Yeah, that’s incredible. Did you ever top rope that boulder?
Alex Biale: I did, which I’m bummed about. I usually try to do things ground-up. I don’t know why but it’s just a California thing. We just have this idea of doing things the purest way possible which is, a lot of times, the dumbest way possible. On that one, yes I did. There were a few other highballs there that I didn’t use it on that I probably should have.
I think that I’ve done classic highballs in both Colorado and California. I’m never going to be the guy that’s – and I’m never going to be the guy that does all the hard lines and does all the cool, new things, but I like to think that I’ve done more of the worthy highballs out there, regardless of the grade.
I think, objectively, the best climb I’ve ever done is this boulder problem in Area B on Mount Evans in Colorado. It’s called Sunseeker. It was put up by Nalle in, I forget the year, but it’s on the cover of the alpine bouldering guidebook and it’s just the most stunning alpine feature you can imagine. It’s this overhanging 45° wall. It’s pretty hard which is also kind of funny because it’s so far away. There’s so many things of that grade that are so close and so much easier to get to and less dangerous, but I try to make my projects at least have a little bit of value in them.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. So Sunseeker and anything else you want to mention? Or any memorable climbs that led to an injury?
Alex Biale: Man, yeah. I’ve got a few of those. There’s this highball in California in the Buttermilk area called Luminance. It’s a V9/V10. I forget which of the Dosage movies it was in. It might have been in the Progression movie.
Most people that have done that boulder had 15-20 pads, a bunch of spotters, and I think it’s because in the video when Kevin Jorgeson did it, one of his spotters was actually using a jerry-rigged anchor system to keep himself into the wall because it’s a two or three different tiered landing. As you get higher and higher off the ground the moves do get a little bit harder but the landing goes from 5 feet to 15 feet to 25 feet and it’s not flat. It’s not talus, as in the Rocky Mountain type of talus, but it’s our version.
I never had that many pads. I think when I did it we had two and I didn’t have a spotter and it was just really dumb.
Neely Quinn: That’s so crazy.
Alex Biale: I just had to get it done and on that day, I had a thing I had to get back to in the Bay Area that night. I just drove down, did it, and left. On that boulder, when I was trying it one of the days, I didn’t have a spotter in the right spot and it was a little too warm to be trying it, but I went out anyways, which is a theme for me. I shouldn’t go out and I do. I took a pretty bad fall and I actually landed on one of the corners of where the landing tiers-out and I broke a couple ribs. That wasn’t fun. I got, luckily, a pretty good crew to help carry the stuff out.
If you’ve ever had a broken rib you know that there’s nothing you can really do about it. It wasn’t puncturing any lungs or anything, it was just two broken ribs that I had to let heal up. That’s tough because I wasn’t even able to hangboard or campus board because keeping my arms above my head like that was just so painful.
That’s definitely not the worst injury that I’ve had but it was honestly the hardest to come back from, only because I couldn’t do any training while I was injured. I couldn’t really do any leg workout, I obviously couldn’t do any core, couldn’t climb, couldn’t hang on anything. It was just a debilitating injury.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, you couldn’t really – is that one of the injuries that you’d say you came back stronger from or was that another one?
Alex Biale: No. I mean, eventually yes but not immediately because I wasn’t able to do anything. I really just had to let that heal up.
I’ll give you a more recent example. This last year, 2017, in August I think – so, Lincoln Lake is a bouldering area, again on Mount Evans in Colorado. I think the actual lake sits at around 11,000 feet. It’s probably my favorite place to climb in Colorado. It’s just a lot of really good, hard boulders all in one small area.
I was trying this boulder problem called Death Trout. It was put up as V14. I think consensus now has it as V13. I was trying that with a buddy, Sam Summers, and Jeremy Fullerton. It was actually kind of a cool day. Sam had just done his first V13 so the energy and the psych was high. I was pretty convinced that I was going to do this climb but we didn’t have enough pads. We thought that there were some down there that we could use but there wasn’t.
I decided that I had the bottom wired enough that I could go for it anyways which, again, is a recurring theme with me. It was a little warmer and it was a little sunnier at the time when I actually gave it a go so when I pulled onto the wall and I did the first couple of moves, I was in a relatively compromising position. I threw for a hold and just completely dry-fired off it and my heel was actually up at my head height. It stayed on the hold because it’s such a jug so it pushed me away from the actual landing zone that I was supposed to fall on and I fell down a couple tiers and I shattered my tibia, I broke my ankle joint, and I snapped my fifth metatarsal, which is the bone on the outside of your foot. Then obviously I sprained my ankle pretty badly.
That was not a fun injury because we were pretty high up there. Luckily the hike isn’t far, it’s just very steep. If you’ve ever been there you know where the boulder is. We were at the very bottom of the lake. Sam and Jeremy just had to kind of warrior up and carry all of my stuff and get me out of there.
Once they did and I got x-rays and got everything done and I knew what had happened, I knew that this injury wasn’t going to really hold me back because it wasn’t a finger, it wasn’t a shoulder, it wasn’t a rib. It was an ankle and a foot and a leg that I could throw in a cast and do some PT. I could still hang on stuff, I could still do weights, I could still do core, and that’s exactly what I did.
I was supposed to be in a cast from August through November and then I was supposed to just start climbing in March, but the PT went really well and the healing went really well and I got the cast off at the end of October, and early November I went to the bouldering gym and I just gave it a shot. It felt okay and I just started climbing. I think the reason I was able to come back so quickly, at least in that instance, was I didn’t stop training the whole time. I was really specific with the training I was doing.
Neely Quinn: What were you doing?
Alex Biale: A lot of it was specific PT work for the actual leg but I was doing a lot of weightlifting, which is not something I see a lot of climbers doing and something that I actually see frowned upon by a lot of climbers. I was obviously hanging and doing some campus boarding, although the campus boarding was tough just because I couldn’t/I really didn’t want to fall. I was hanging, and we can talk a bit about that, but I think the thing that really got me through it was the weightlifting.
Everyone has a different weightlifting protocol and they all have their reasons and I’m sure that a lot of them work. I subscribe to this idea of 5×5’s. This Russian Olympic weightlifter came up with this idea. I forget his exact name. Well, I don’t forget it but I don’t want to mispronounce it. He’s the guy that helped invent the kettlebell. His whole idea is do five sets of five reps for any specific muscle group or specific workout that you’re trying to do. He doesn’t go to failure, he doesn’t go for sheer volume, he’s just trying to build as much strength as possible.
The whole idea is to increase your strength baseline. Not necessarily your power baseline but your strength baseline. I feel like when you’re actually climbing and when you’re actually in your climbing training season, I at least don’t devote a lot of time to weightlifting and general strength training because I just want to climb. I want to hang on small holds and I want to campus and I want to get better at that.
I really took this opportunity to highlight different strength weaknesses that I know that I have. I definitely don’t have the strongest fingers in the world but, for me, my fingers are the things that I rely on over my biceps or my shoulders or my back. I spend a lot of time working on my shoulders, my biceps, my back, and balancing everything out. If I’m going to do five sets of five for my biceps, I’m also going to do my triceps, right? Just to kind of keep everything balanced. It was more of a balancing-out and just strength building exercise than anything else.
Now, I do that every single week. I’ve seen enormous gains in my own climbing, especially if I’m in a roof where you need to keep your body close to the wall and holding your body up the whole time, where if you’re climbing on a more powerful boulder problem, I’m not just relying on the strength in my fingers or my technique. I actually have a little bit of muscle that I can throw around and rely on.
I found that it helps with power, it helps with endurance, and it just opens up the types of climbing you can try.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. I have a bunch of questions about that. You’re saying you still – actually, you were just injured in August of last year and now it’s April of 2018. Are you climbing regularly now?
Alex Biale: Oh yeah.
Neely Quinn: Do you feel like/how are you climbing compared to when you injured yourself in August?
Alex Biale: I mean, I’m totally back. The only thing that I still struggle with is hiking or running for more than two or three miles. My ankle locks up a bit but that’s to be expected. I’m not too worried about that. It’s slowly getting better with PT.
In terms of climbing and just strength and power in general, I feel stronger than I’ve ever been. I can’t say the same for my skin right now because I’ve been primarily training inside all winter and now spring, but I feel healthier than I’ve ever been. That’s a big deal for me. I don’t feel any tweaks, I don’t have any weird lingering elbow or shoulder pain or any arthritis in the fingers. I feel fine and I think the reason is because I’m actually climbing less but I’m being really specific with the climbing that I’m doing. I’m supplementing all that with more general strength training. I’m not in there doing Olympic lifts or anything like that but I’m definitely putting time in in the gym. It’s really helping.
Neely Quinn: I have a feeling that a lot of people are wondering if your body changed while you were doing all of this.
Alex Biale: Yeah.
Neely Quinn: Can you describe that?
Alex Biale: Yeah, it definitely did. It’s funny – I’m actually getting married in July and I don’t, like many climbers, own a suit. I went out and I had one made. I think I got the measurements done in October maybe and even just from October to now, the shirt that I had made just doesn’t fit because my shoulders are much bigger. I’m not saying I’m Brad Pitt from Fight Club or anything but I’ve definitely noticed more muscle mass and with that, more weight.
I’ve gained 10 pounds since August. It’s not just the muscle that I’m putting on from the training but I’ve had to really adjust my diet and my nutrition and that’s a whole other thing that I’m sure we’ll talk about. I’ve really tried to get specific with what I’m eating. I always thought that I had to keep my weight down. I mean, I’ve never counted calories or macros or kept a – I’ve never done anything like that.
I just try to eat good food, good whole food that I can trust, that I can pronounce. I try to not eat packaged foods and I try to eat proportions that are not too big, not too small. I’m trying to not get too full but ever since I got injured and I started putting in time in the weight room I realized the recovery was really tough because a week for me is:
Monday is usually a climbing rest day and I’ll do some of the bigger muscles. I’ll either do legs or chest or back or deadlifts or something like that. Then I’ll do a rowing workout where I go for max heart rate.
Tuesday is a bouldering power day.
Wednesday is a climbing rest day but I’m doing whatever big muscle groups I didn’t do on Monday.
Thursday is another bouldering day.
Friday I take a full rest day and then Saturday and Sunday I’m usually outside, so I’m doing something every single day except for Friday. That’s a total cheat day. I just do whatever my body needs on that day. If I’m going to sit in a hot tub all night, that’s what I’m going to do.
Neely Quinn: But you said that you weren’t climbing outside recently, so what do you do on the weekends now?
Alex Biale: Yeah, now I’m just in the gym for hours. Right now it’s not just climbing. It’s climbing, it’s usually 10 minutes of a rotator cuff band warm-up just because, for me at least, that’s a hard thing to warm up climbing so I do some basic exercises with bands to kind of get the shoulders moving. I do a 20-30 minute bouldering warm-up and then I do an hour to an hour and a half of hard projecting then an hour of more volume bouldering, where I try to do 4-5 boulders of every grade below the max grade that I’m trying. Then I do 30 minutes of either hangboarding, campus boarding, or a calisthenics workout. I try to end it with some sort of core or just general movement routine to kind of loosen everything up.
Neely Quinn: That is a lot. How many hours are you in there for?
Alex Biale: Well, on the weekend three at the lowest and five at the most. I work for a – it’s not really a startup but it feels like a startup so I work Monday-Friday, regularish hours so 40-50 hours a week, and on the weekend I do have responsibilities at home and with my fiance and just life in general. I make the time to get stronger.
I feel like so many of us are right in our prime right now and I have every resource available to me. I can buy the right food, I can buy the right supplements, I can spend the hours putting in the work and I have all this climbing accessible to me right now. I feel like if I don’t capitalize on all this right now, in 10-20 years I’m just going to regret it so I’m really just trying to capitalize on this opportunity.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, I mean obviously. I’m assuming you’re doing your weight training or bouldering in the evenings during the week? Like, after work?
Alex Biale: Yeah, right, exactly.
Neely Quinn: How long are those sessions?
Alex Biale: If I get to the gym – if I’m doing just a weight training day I’m usually doing it with a partner, which I found kind of holds me accountable. I don’t really need other people to get motivated. I actually like climbing and training alone a lot. I really enjoy that but if I’ve had a really hard day at the office and I know that there’s a good bottle of wine at home, sometimes it’s hard for me to put my ass in the gym. If I know that there’s someone else there that I have to be accountable to I’ll make that happen.
Those days are usually an hour to two hours. If I was alone I could probably do it in half an hour to an hour. If I’m climbing and doing the weight training it’s usually three hours. I don’t really spend a lot of time at home.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, apparently not. How does your fiance feel about that?
Alex Biale: She tells me she loves it because I’m not at the house all of the time. She likes to keep the place clean and I do, too, but I don’t spend a lot of time doing that.
Neely Quinn: Right. Got it. So it works out for you.
Alex Biale: Oh yeah.
Neely Quinn: So you’re doing 5×5’s, you said. Five sets, five reps, and how many – you’re kind of doing the typical weight training thing where you’re doing certain parts of your body one day and then certain parts another day.
Alex Biale: Right. My thinking there is that if I try to do everything in one day then I can’t train the next day because everything is worked, whereas if I do biceps and triceps on one day then I can do shoulders and chests the very next day. I can always be moving and I can always be training.
I think that, at least for my body – I can speak to myself and a few friends that have also experienced this, but – when I’m climbing a lot or when I’m training a lot, it’s almost like I don’t need to warm-up as much or I don’t need to warm-up at all. I do, obviously, because I’ve learned my lesson but I feel like I can just go into the gym, do a few climbs, and I’m immediately ready to go. Your body just develops this – I don’t know what it is. I can just handle the weight and I can handle the movement so much more because I’m just used to it, whereas if I’m taking 2, 3, 4 days off a week, sometimes when I get back in the gym I feel really, really achy. If I know that I’m only climbing two, maybe three days a week I’m going to go as hard as I can for those days, which means it’s so much harder to recover.
The beautiful thing about how I’m doing it, at least for me, is I never have to go to failure. The recovery time is hard but if you do it right, it’s manageable. Like I said, I’m doing more than I’ve ever done in terms of all-encompassing training and I feel healthier than I ever have.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, that’s pretty crazy. When you first got injured, you broke all that stuff and sprained everything, you were probably/I’m assuming you had surgery, or no?
Alex Biale: I did not.
Neely Quinn: Okay, that’s good.
Alex Biale: It was an option but all the tendons and everything were still attached, which was amazing. The way it was going to work was in October, when I got the cast taken off, they were going to reassess everything and do some tests and decide if I needed it. I didn’t. I definitely shouldn’t have started climbing as soon as I did but I wasn’t climbing hard. I was just moving around.
Neely Quinn: I guess my question with that is: how soon after did you start lifting and doing all of the other stuff and hanging? How intense was it right from the beginning?
Alex Biale: I mean, every injury is different for everybody. Everyone’s body handles impact and injuries differently so this is just me. This injury was particularly hard emotionally to get over because at that point, I really felt like I was as strong as I ever had been and I was so close to doing a couple things that were hard, at least hard for me. It probably took maybe five days of just self-loathing on the couch, eating Cheetos, drinking Whiskey, watching Netflix, like, ‘I hate climbing. Why does this keep happening to me?’
After a few days and maybe the next weekend or so – it’s funny. I actually bought a hangboard from Tension Climbing, from my buddy Will, put it up at the house, went on Amazon and I bought some different free weights and kettlebells. The reason is it was my right foot so I couldn’t drive, which was probably the hardest part because I couldn’t get to the gym. Katie has her life and I didn’t want to ask her to drive me around anymore so I invested a decent amount of money into just making a little home gym in my living room, which Katie did not enjoy so much, but it was nice because I was able to train immediately, right?
I was looking up all kinds of different training protocols that different people do and it was a lot of trial and error. It was a lot of debate with friends that do Olympic lifting and do climbing training and just trying to steal little bits of wisdom from everybody. Realistically, within a week I was training pretty seriously.
Neely Quinn: I wanted to go back a little bit to the weight because I’m sure a lot of people are like, ‘Ten pounds?’ Do you ever do routes? Do you know if that has affected your route climbing?
Alex Biale: Yeah, [laughs] I don’t do routes. I have endurance and usually the only time I ever put time into routes is when I am coming back from an injury. This time, ironically, I didn’t. I’ve done like one kind of hard thing in the Movement gray wall, if you know what that is. It’s just this big overhanging wall in one of the local gyms. I did a 5.14a – it was probably a 13d – maybe a year ago, coming off of an injury, and then I just stopped doing that.
This last weekend or maybe two weekends ago I went sport climbing again. I do it usually once or twice a year. I went with Katie and we were doing a lot of vertical stuff, which I actually really enjoy, at least the way Movement sets. It’s pretty technical and the harder stuff, which I enjoy, reminds me a lot of the California climbing.
What I wanted to do was go on the overhanging wall, which is not very tall but it’s pretty steep, and try one of the harder things. I was able to flash a 13a/b. I don’t know which one it was. I know that’s not hard in the grand scheme of climbing but for my own climbing, I was like, ‘Okay, cool. I feel good about that.’ I’m not actively training sport climbing and I’ve gained 10 pounds and I was able to get my body up that thing, so I’m sure that if I went to Yosemite and were climbing on really technical multi-pitch stuff I might feel the weight, but I also don’t think so.
I just feel so much more sturdy. I don’t know if that makes sense but I feel like so many climbers that I know that are training really hard and are really pushing it are pretty light. They’re actually very light. If you didn’t know anything about climbing and you looked at them you wouldn’t know that they were this top-tier athlete. I see them walking around and they’re getting into and out of the cars and they have all these joint problems. They have all these, their knees or their shoulders or their fingers or their backs – they just have all these tweaks. I feel like it’s because all of their strain is going on their tendons and their fingers and their joints whereas with me, or people that put a little bit of time into some weightlifting, you can capitalize on some of the muscle you have.
I’m not going to go do Jade. I’m not going to do Jade anyways, but Jade is the type of problem that, if it were a grade that I could climb, I would probably have a harder time on because it’s just really small holds, really delicate movement. Okay, fine. I’ve gained this weight and I can’t do that boulder, but there are so many other boulders that I can do. I don’t know.
Neely Quinn: That’s a really interesting way to look at it.
Alex Biale: Yeah. I mean, my hangboarding has gone through the roof just in the last couple of months. Actually, I listened to the Kyra Condie podcast that you had a couple weeks ago. I forget exactly when, and I know her, not very well, but I know her-ish and I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to give that a shot.’
For anybody that hasn’t listened to it her whole idea was to move away from the two-hand hangs because of all the weight you have to lug around, and just move to a one-hand hang because you need less weight. I thought that was a really cool idea. It’s also a very hard idea to implement if you can’t hang by one hand. [laughs]
I gave it a shot. I’ve never been able to hang on just a single pad with one hand. I’ve just never been able to do that and I’m 10 pounds heavier than I was. On my first try I was able to do it for four seconds, which isn’t a lot but four seconds, and on my second try I was able to do it with a 15-pound kettlebell for three seconds. I was like, ‘Okay. I’m objectively stronger in just my hanging ability than I was when I weighed 10 pounds less.’ I don’t know.
Neely Quinn: Why would you say, “I’m not going to do Jade because the crimps are really small,” if your fingers are so much stronger?
Alex Biale: Jade is really hard.
Neely Quinn: Right, but anything that has little crimps, it seems like if your fingers are stronger.
Alex Biale: Yeah, that’s just such an anomale to me. Okay, I’m not going to do Jade but maybe I’ll go and do Top Notch, which is a crimpy boulder just a grade lower. I just don’t climb V14. I would love to and I’m going to continue trying but I just don’t think I can do that right now.
Neely Quinn: Question: how much do you weigh? Do you mind me asking you?
Alex Biale: No, around 140, 142 if I eat Chipotle for lunch maybe.
Neely Quinn: How tall are you?
Alex Biale: I’d like to think I’m 5’10” but I’m 5’9”.
Neely Quinn: [laughs] So you’re 5’9”. I mean, you’re still very light relative to…
Alex Biale: Right. I’m not this massive bodybuilder, which is crazy because one of my training partners – his name is Ian – we couldn’t be more different in our climbing styles, in our body types, in the types of climbs we like to climb on. I mean, he’s – I’m going to butcher this – 6’, he might be 5’11”, and he’s like 170 pounds and just climbs really thuggy boulder problems. That dude lifts more than anybody I know and he is so strong and he climbs on all the small holds that I’m climbing on which, to me, makes absolutely no sense. This dude weighs 30 pounds more than me, he’s so much taller, he can’t fit in these scrunchy boxes, but he’s still able to hang on it.
I don’t know. I’m definitely not in the field so I can’t speak scientifically to it but I don’t think that there’s a direct correlation to only looking at your weight and your climbing ability. I just don’t. I’m sure that it will negatively impact certain areas of your climbing but it’s going to also positively impact so many other areas. Obviously I’m not just talking about weight, just Taco Bell weight, I’m talking about training weight, like actual strength training.
Neely Quinn: Right. Yeah. I really appreciate this point of view. I think as climbers we have this belief that we have to be super light and it’s something that I talk about in my nutrition presentations, and that Tom Randall and Ollie Torr have done actual studies on, like how BMI isn’t that correlated. A low BMI isn’t that correlated with climbing hard so I’m super happy to hear your story about this because it’s probably inspiring people to gain some functional strength and muscle weight to have what you’re talking about, which is fewer injuries and feeling great.
Alex Biale: You know, I think, again, everybody’s different. I know that when I weighed less I had less muscle and I felt way more tweaky, right? And, my endurance was less. I just feel sturdy and I feel healthy and I’m hanging on smaller stuff with more weight than I was before and that’s the only data point that I need.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. You have also had other injuries. I’m reading something that you wrote for me and basically it was like your big foot injury, a bunch of ankle sprains as well, and then you said, “In early 2017 I popped my A2 pulley training,” and you said that you’ve done this six times in the last 10 years. Let’s talk about that. What have you done with pulley injuries and how have you come back stronger?
Alex Biale: Totally. I think that anybody that’s ever injured a pulley knows that there’s so many different degrees. I’ve injured it so far as it’s a slight strain and I need to give it a couple weeks of no climbing and then I’m going to come back, but I’ve also completely torn – well, not completely – but I think the worst tendon and pulley injury I’ve had was I pulled a sliver, like half of the tendon off of my A2 pulley and it was coiled up in my forearm. It actually still is. I was offered surgery for that but every climbing hand specialist I talked to that did all these ultrasounds on it said, “You still have a good part of your tendon intact and it’s pretty strong. Your pulley will heal over time. If you don’t want to go in and do this invasive surgery you don’t have to. We can do some specific PT and we can do some specific tendon strength training to get it back to where it was. If you change your climbing style you might never need surgery.” That was in April of 2017 so just a few months before I shattered my foot.
Neely Quinn: God, you had a rough year last year.
Alex Biale: Yeah, it sucked, which is kind of ironic because maybe a few months after that I climbed Sunseeker, which is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.
Neely Quinn: A few months after the pulley injury?
Alex Biale: The pulley. I think it was two things: one, it was the specific type of PT that I was doing, which we can talk about, and the other part was some really sound advice that I got from my buddy Will Anglin, who you’ve had on here. He runs the Tension Climbing scene.
To talk about the PT first, again, I’m sure everyone has their own opinion on what works for them and what doesn’t. I can only speak to what’s worked for me. I work with a climbing specialist here in Boulder. Her name is Lisa Erickson. She works out of LifeSport Chiropractic. A lot of what we did to get me back was – I’ll try to explain this.
Her whole methodology is around relieving pressure on whatever the injury point is. I had a injury in my finger and in my forearm. I couldn’t really bend that finger. I mean, I could bend the finger but it really hurt. I couldn’t weight it at all. A lot of that was because my forearm and where the tendon attached to the muscle in my forearm was so tight because it had just been injured. It’s essentially your body playing defense.
We used dry needling and acupuncture and all kinds of different massages to loosen up my forearm, the muscle and the tendon, and that took about a month just to loosen it up enough to where we could start to work on the finger. Then it’s a lot of dry needling and, I don’t know the technical term for it but, I think the technical term is just scraping. You get this relatively dull and smoothed-out metal sheet that you just rub along the scar tissue to break up scar tissue. The whole idea is that you don’t want scar tissue and inflammation to continue to build.
We got all of that down to the point to where we could start to strengthen it up. Strengthening it up started with just being able to pick up my laptop without any pain in my tendon. If you’ve ever injured a tendon or pulley you know that that’s actually a hard thing to do. Then you kind of move on to the grip tools, like the different grip masters and whatnot, and slowly hangboarding. That made such a big difference.
The one thing that I’ll add to that is this was the first year that I really started to play around with supplements. Not so much performance supplements but more just longevity and health-based supplements. I’m not saying everyone should go out and take a bunch of creatine but I think we should find ways for people to not rely on taking so much ibuprofen to fight inflammation. That is, for me at least, one of the biggest components when you first get injured. How do you fight inflammation without flooding your body with 500 milligrams of ibuprofen a day?
One of the ways I did it was getting a specific brand of turmeric supplements, which is just a really natural way to get anti-inflammatories in your body. You really can’t take too much. I was taking a lot. I was really taking some with a coffee in the morning, some at lunch, some at night, and I really think that that helped.
Neely Quinn: You were taking turmeric or curcumin?
Alex Biale: Turmeric. I played around with curcumin a bit. I didn’t find it as effective. I did two weeks with one and two weeks with another. I found turmeric to be a lot more helpful but I’ve also had friends that don’t find turmeric as helpful and they use curcumin, so I don’t know the science behind that.
Neely Quinn: Okay.
Alex Biale: That’s my experience. Then, once I was able to eventually get back into light training, just hanging on stuff without weight, moving around the gym, not really pushing it, I really held myself accountable to every night after training – I don’t know if it’s the Armaid brand or the Rubbit brand, but I use essentially a tool to massage my own arm. I think most of the listeners to this podcast probably know what that is. That made a really big difference.
Then just obviously staying really hydrated. If you’re dehydrated and you’re not drinking enough water or getting enough electrolytes, your tendons are going to have a higher likelihood of being injured. I was really aware of everything I was putting into my body and everything I was doing to it for probably the month or two afterwards.
Once I knew that I was ready to start training again I actually didn’t know where to start. At that point I had been climbing for nine-ish years so you think I’d know how to train but I’d also been injured, like you said, six times with different degrees of pulley injuries so from my perspective I was like, ‘I really don’t know what I’m doing. Yeah, I’ve been climbing for awhile and maybe I know how to use my feet but I really actually don’t know how to train properly because I keep getting injured. I’m really tired of this.’
I called up my buddy Will and asked him if we could just do a climbing session together. Not necessarily a training-specific session but just to get together and climb. He built this new training facility here in Denver and I went over there. I just wanted to see if he noticed anything about my climbing that was causing these issues. After an hour, maybe two hours, of just moving around on his board he sat me down and he was like, ‘Dude, you need to stop crimping. You really need to stop relying on the crimp strength.’
All of you guys know that if you’re going to hang on an edge or a smaller hold, the crimp position is obviously the position that feels the best. You feel the strongest in that position.
Neely Quinn: You mean the full crimp?
Alex Biale: Yeah, thumb over the index, fully closed hand. The other piece of advice to kind of get away from using the crimp was this idea of using rules to hold yourself accountable to not putting yourself in compromising positions in climbing. It’s funny because after we trained that day, or two days later or whatever or maybe a week later, he wrote an article on this called, ‘Rules.’ It’s up on their site now. You guys should give it a read because it’s amazing. I’ll paraphrase it and also add in a few things that I just try to do.
The idea is that you want to use some rules to control your training environment to prevent injury, increase strength, increase your power, and some basic principles of it are: this idea of don’t crimp the sloper. If there’s a sloper, grab it open-hand. Just because there’s a little divet on it and you can crimp it, don’t crimp it. Hold yourself accountable to grabbing holds the way they were intended to be grabbed. If there’s a pinch, and it’s a really wide pinch, and you know that if you just don’t use your thumb you’re going to have an easier time getting up it, put your thumb around the damn hold and hold onto it.
The whole idea behind that is you’re only limiting yourself. If you say, “Oh, slopers are my anti-style,” then train on slopers, right? Stop crimping slopers in the gym just because you want to get to the top of it. I think that that leads to this idea that, and I doubt everyone shares this viewpoint but, my opinion is that if you’re in the gym you’re there for training. Training is not about performance. I think training and performance are two very different things, right?
You and I were talking about this before the podcast was live. If I’m in the gym and I’ve topped out every boulder in the gym, I’m going to be real disappointed in that training session because it means that I didn’t push myself hard enough and I didn’t attack my weaknesses. If I know that there’s – let’s just say that I know that I can climb all of these V10s in the gym but there’s this V8 that’s slopey and it’s up this arete and it has this really long move and I’m not good at being long so I just avoid that. Is climbing all those V10s really more valuable than honing in on that one weakness? In my opinion, no. Yeah, you might feel better and look cooler because you topped out all these boulders but you’re neglecting a very clear weakness you have.
My whole mindset when I go into the gym is: what do I need to work on? Let’s go work on that. I mean, last night I was in the gym and besides the warm-up, I didn’t top out anything. I actually didn’t even do the one move I’d really hoped to try to do that day. I had done a lot of other moves and I had done a lot of other links on things but there was one move that I really wanted to try to get dialed and I couldn’t do it once. It was a great training session because I learned so much about not just that one move but about weaknesses that I have.
I now know – I mean, I’ve always known but this was a very clear example – of me not being able to hold body tension when my body is fully stretched out. There are a lot of people that are really, really good at that. I don’t prefer to climb that way. I prefer to be bunchy with high feet and engage my shoulders a lot more so that’s something I’m trying to work on. Why would I go into the gym and only climb on bunchy boulders with shouldery moves? It’s going to help me progress in my strength already but when I go outside and I’m confronted with a stretched out move, I’m probably going to just complain about it and say, “Oh, it’s my anti-style. I can’t do it.”
That is one of my biggest pet peeves about training in general and that’s another one of Will’s rules, it’s another one of my rules, and it’s just this idea of stop complaining. I think we, as climbers – it’s such a weird phenomenon in this sport. It’s this idea of an anti-style. I hate that so much. I hate when people say and I’ve been guilty of it, but I hate when people say, “Oh, I can’t do that move because it’s too shouldery. I can’t do that move because I can’t reach it. Well you can do this move easier because you can get bunchy.”
It’s like, we all are different bodies. A couple of my main training partners, we couldn’t be more different in terms of body type but we all try to climb on all of the same climbs because we know that if I’m going to climb on Ian’s boulder today he’s probably going to do it and he’s probably going to look really good doing it. I’m probably not because I can’t climb stretched out on big slopey holds. That doesn’t mean that I need to call that out during the session. I feel like it gives yourself, it gives your own mind, this excuse of, ‘Oh, well, this is reachy so I can’t do it. If I don’t do it it’s okay.’ That’s just a wrong mindset if you’re trying to get stronger.
The prerequisite to everything that I’m saying is the assumption that everybody wants to get stronger, everybody wants to improve their skill set. I know that that’s not the case. I know that a lot of people just want to go in the gym and have a good time and be social and meet new people and hike outside. I think that’s great. This is not for those people. The whole goal of using these rules and this type of training is to just objectively get stronger. To me that’s just the whole point.
A couple of the other types of rules are this idea of – how do it say it? Like, not letting comfort get in your way. I think that this is not something that I’ve ever had to confront until I moved to Boulder and I started climbing at a more commercial gym like Movement. I love climbing there and I’ve climbed there ever since I’ve moved here and I’m going to continue climbing there for as long as I’m here.
If you’ve ever climbed there, the holds are pretty comfortable. I mean, even if they’re bad and they’re hard, they’re pretty comfortable. The moves are moves that people usually enjoy. They’re fun, flashy, hard training moves, which is great, but if you’ve ever climbed outside and you’ve really explored around you know that there’s never been just a perfect 45° wall with perfect flat or incut edges up it with really nice feet the whole way that has a really nice little drop off. That just doesn’t exist.
There’s always going to be a really sharp hold. There’s always going to be a really far foot or a really high foot or there’s going to be one hold that’s really uncomfortable to grab or that puts your shoulder in an awkward spot. I think that so many people today use that as an excuse for not wanting to try things or not wanting to perfect things. They say, “Oh, this is too sharp,” or “Oh, well that foot’s too high,” or this is too that or that’s too that. It’s like – I don’t want to get too meta here, but it’s not the rock’s job to adjust to what you can do on that day.
Let’s just use Jade because it’s the example we used earlier. I would love to do that boulder problem, don’t get me wrong. I’ve tried it, I’m going to continue trying it, who knows? I don’t want to climb a version of Jade that fits my body. I want to climb the version of Jade that Daniel Woods did back in whenever he did it. 2010? I want to do that climb in that way on those holds. Yeah, it’s a little uncomfortable. I like high feet and there’s a very high foot on that. That right hand is so sharp and it’s probably going to split my tip. That just means I should go out and I should train my skin.
I think people hold themselves back because they only want to climb on things that fit them or that are comfortable. Again, that’s fine. I just think that if you’re really just obsessed with trying to progress, that’s just getting in your own way. I don’t know why we, as a community, let this idea of an anti-style be an excuse for not improving. I just don’t understand that. So much of the reason why I love climbing is because I want to be a master of this sport. I want to be a master of movement in this context. You know what I mean? It’s not that I want to do all the double digits in the gym so that everyone knows that I can do that. It’s not that I want to look a certain way. I want to know that I’m a master of all movement, not just movement on crimps on a 45. I want to go to Font and be able to climb V10. Who knows? That might never happen but that’s the goal. I want to be able to climb at a certain level at anywhere in the world and on any type of problem, to know that, ‘Okay. I’m decent at this sport, at this type of movement.
Yeah, sure, I excel in this little area. If you look at any hard thing I’ve ever done – I forget who called me out on it but someone called me out on it recently. They were like: ‘The only two hard climbs that you’ve ever done are essentially the exact same. They’re power endurance, shouldery boulders and that’s it.’
That’s okay, right? If you’re outside it is about performance and it’s not about training. Crimp the foot, crimp the sloper, skip the crux if you can. If you’re outside just do whatever you have to do to get up the damn thing. I have zero problem with that. I’m all about coming up with new ways of doing things for sure. But if you’re in the gym and you’re training, why cheat yourself?
Neely Quinn: Got it. You seem to be very passionate about this topic, training your weaknesses not training your strengths, and training your weaknesses a good amount. I think you’re right. I think a lot of us do that because it’s human to want to be good at something and feel success. What you’re asking people to do is not have as much success as we want when we go into the gym.
Alex Biale: Right.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, I think it’s totally fair and it makes me think about my own training and climbing style, so…
Alex Biale: I think it’s funny. I’ve had this conversation so many times with so many different people. It’s not a popular opinion. I mean, most people that I talk to about this – I’ve talked with everybody that climbs from V3 up to V14 about this. Most people have an overwhelming response of: you’re being really elitist, you’re being really unrealistic, and not everyone wants to go into the gym and just masochistically try moves that they’re bad at. That’s totally fair and I understand.
Neely Quinn: I think it is the definition of elitism. It’s like you want to be an elite rock climber and this is how you have to do that. You made it really clear. This isn’t for people who are just fine climbing at the level that they’re at and they just want to go and have fun. That’s a totally different mindset.
Alex Biale: Oh, totally. That’s different. That’s completely different. Again, I don’t climb that hard so there are other ways of going about this that I’m sure work a lot better but this is the experience that I’ve had and it’s really been working. All of a sudden now – it’s funny. I looked at my list of things that I’d like to start trying and hopefully doing this year and they were slopey, compression climbs. I was like, ‘Huh. Weird how all of a sudden, in a year…’ Who knows? Maybe I’ll go out there and I’ll just get completely shut down but I don’t think I will. I think it’s just because it really took a year of putting a little bit more attention on things that I’m pretty bad at.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, and getting super injured and making yourself a stronger, more well-rounded climber.
Alex Biale: Right.
Neely Quinn: But, it’s been a really good philosophical conversation. I did want to ask you one other question before letting you get back to work, which is: just like some basic ideas of your diet. You seem to take it pretty seriously and put some thought into it. Can you just tell me the kinds of foods that you eat on a regular basis? Not the kinds but the actual foods.
Alex Biale: Yeah, sure. This is kind of constantly changing because I’m experimenting with it quite a bit. I don’t have any allergies. I’m not vegan. I’m not really anything. I will eat anything and it’s not going to negatively impact my body, which is great. I try to eat mostly vegetables, lean meats, I eat a lot of eggs, a lot of brown rice, lot of nuts, avocado, and just if it’s green I’m going to eat it.
I really just try to eat whole foods, like real, actual foods. It’s tough at the office because there’s a lot of just snacks that are great but I try to pack just a really big bag of nuts that I’ll eat as my little in-between-meal snack throughout the day.
I’m not fully on that ketosis kick at all. I don’t subscribe to that wholeheartedly but I err on the side of letting my body burn its own fat for fuel. I don’t subscribe to it perfectly. I mean, on Fridays when I’m not training and when I’m not climbing I’m cheating, hard. I generally try to eat more along those lines. It’s not perfect and I think it’s funny, actually.
This last week I was really, really rundown and really overtrained. I thought I was sick but I was just overtrained so I just took a few days off and I just stopped. Katie, my fiance, her feedback to me was: you’ve been training so hard and you haven’t really taken the rest that you’re supposed to be taking, but you’re also eating too lean. Her feedback or notes on it were that I’m essentially not eating enough. Maybe that’s true. I’m not counting calories or counting anything so I don’t know but over the last week or so I’ve been trying to just force myself to eat more and I do think it’s been helping.
I don’t know. I don’t have a perfect system dialed but I’m constantly experimenting with what positively or negatively impacts the energy and the recovery. I’m not really looking at weight. I’m just looking at how much energy I have and how quickly I can recover.
Neely Quinn: It might be interesting to log your diet and see what is going on. I just want to point out that it’s really important for climbers, when you’re training as hard as you are, to get enough carbs. It sounds like if you’re going towards keto then maybe you were feeling kind of crappy because you weren’t getting enough carbs.
Alex Biale: That’s exactly right. The moment she pointed out, we ordered a big Cosmo’s pizza and it felt amazing. I’m probably going to start eating a lot more carbs. I don’t know. I’m definitely not the right guy to model your diet after. I do know it’s important and I’m just trying to figure out what the right thing is for me.
Neely Quinn: I like to hear what people’s philosophies are and what they try to do. I think other people appreciate it, too.
Thank you very much for all of this. This has been very interesting for me to listen to you and it’s actually really inspirational, too, for me and for a lot of other people who have had injuries, to just see that you can pretty quickly bounce back. I mean, within months, so good job on that first of all.
Alex Biale: Well, thanks. I also think I’ve been fortunate enough to not have to get surgery, right? I think that for those people out there that would have to get surgery, obviously you’re going to be adding a few months to any timeline that I outlined. But yeah, I’ve been very lucky. I’m just trying to capitalize.
Neely Quinn: Well, I appreciate your time and I think everybody else does, too, so thank you.
Alex Biale: Cool. You’re welcome.
Neely Quinn: Alright, I hope you enjoyed that interview with Alex Biale. You can find him on Instagram @alexbiale and I think that what he was saying was totally legit and really inspiring and motivating, like I said in the interview.
It’s hard for us to do things that we’re uncomfortable with and that stretch our abilities and that we don’t really want to do. It seems like that’s a really common theme among all the climbers and trainers that I’ve interviewed who are really good at what they do, is they make themselves train their weaknesses and I think that’s all he was saying.
It would be really cool to hear from you about your thoughts on this episode. You can always right comments on the episode pages themselves or you’re welcome to join our Facebook group where there’s some really, really great conversations happening about climbing training and the podcast and things like that. You can find that at www.trainingbeta.com/community and it will bring you straight over to Facebook and you can ask to be a part of the group there.
Other than that, if you’re looking for a training program and you don’t know how to make yourself one, we have ready-made training programs for you, whether you’re a boulderer or a route climber and you just want some structure to go into the gym with. If you go to www.trainingbeta.com, in the menu you’ll find ‘Training Programs’ and in there you’ll find a ton of options that are affordable and you just start using them as soon as you get them.
We appreciate your support. I really appreciate you listening all the way to the end and I’ll talk to you next week.