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Can the industry do better…..

Updated: Oct 18, 2023

I remember my first encounter with a physio asking me what stretches I did at the end of a mountain day, my bewildered face probably gave it away, she could have been talking Klingon to me, so I was just honest and asked…..”stretches??”

Training in Pure Gym

For about 10 years now I feel like I’ve been permanently injured, like my ‘body’ clock has been in top gear for 30+ years and now it’s screaming for a rest and the only way it knows how to communicate that is to break! Admittedly I’ve had a dam good go in the mountains at trying to snap it myself at times, couple of instances where life’s speed bumps turned out to be more like a hump backed bridge sending me into low orbit and the landing not turning out too well, so I can only really blame myself on those few occasions, I guess I just don’t bounce very well!

The other times are often referred to by medical professionals as wear and tear, a phrase I’ve paid a small fortune to hear multiple times.

Funny how all those years ago no-one told me about how natural wear and tear would impact my body, career and life, years later. Granted it’s not rocket science the equation of accelerating your body’s use and how that is most likely going to affect your body, but I can’t remember any individual or organisation even ‘sowing the seed’ in my mind.

In those early few years I paddled, climbed, walked, scrambled anything and everywhere, attended loads of NGB type courses and I can only remember one person harking on about warm ups to prevent injury, it was my on SPSA training course, now the RCI. He was clearly ahead of a lot of folk as I remember it being pretty thorough and we had to demonstrate a good routine and awareness at assessment on the subject.

I don’t remember on any other award anyone allocating significant time on this subject and that’s including on the dark side too….watersports! I can’t really count running round your paddle and swinging it above your head as anything more than fun!

That exposure to ‘looking after your clients’ health’ was just for warm ups, not once did someone open that self care mindset early on, not once did anyone talk about how ‘sport’ would have an impact on your body over time. Not once did anyone talk about the physiology of the body, how it needs rest days, what to do on those rest days, how to fuel the body properly, why sleep is important, how to prevent injury, why working long periods of time is less than ideal, how to protect your body to have a long career and so many more factors. Not once….

I once worked for 28 days without a break, 2-3 weeks were quite common, almost expected by employers, bizarrely I loved it! I haven’t done that work load for many years as it’s quite nuts the damage you’re potentially doing to yourself, let alone being tired and making mistakes. Like a badge of honour you see posts throughout each summer from folk about how many consecutive days they’ve done, it’s bonkers, short term not in any way healthy and certainly not protecting your body for the long term. No one ever told me it was nuts, only by breaking myself have I learnt.

At times, different organisations have offered new advice or printed a leaflet, ‘sun’ protection became a PPE issue early 2000s, using jockey wheels when lifting canoe trailers became fashionable again about the same time and so on, it’s always felt like a scattergun approach. I don’t ever remember all these ‘outdoor’ organisations ever approaching it in a joined up fashion, sitting round a table, working together and advising folk on how to look after themselves in the jobs we do. One voice, educating us all about industry best practice year in, year out.

Granted some organisations are becoming better at this, but if you're not part of that organisation....

We spend a lot of time learning how to protect clients and funnily enough we’re pretty good at this, if you’re entering the industry now, who takes the time to help us to understand and learn how to protect ourselves. If you’re ‘self employed’ status then initially it looks like a minefield.

Could we do better, could there be more time dedicated on ‘syllabuses ’ broadening our knowledge base, perhaps modular, perhaps required as part of NGBs, perhaps more CPD opportunities, I'm sure there's lot of other ways too…

5-6 years ago my personal circumstances changed, I felt financially vulnerable for a few reasons so I invested further in protecting myself after spending hours researching what I needed and translating a whole new language around insurance and medical terms! I now spend a considerable amount of money each month on ‘insurances’ that protect my clients, folk who work for me, myself professionally, my short & long term health, my income, my mortgage and my kit and other things as well. If the industry wasn’t so fragmented, so protective about their little ‘corners’ and came together, imagine what collectively could be offered, rather than the thousands of us all individually Googling different insurances!

It’s not just about insurances though, a sports massage here, a few physio sessions for a tweak there, leaving the pizza & beer in Tesco and eating well (difficult this one!), using your rest days as rest days and not going climbing and many more ways to help myself. So for example I used to think the wafer thin foot beds in new boots were the norm and certainly couldn’t afford any posh insoles, roll forward 25 years and I don’t even go to my local shop for a pint of milk without my special super eye watering expensive custom made orthotics in my shoes. If you speak to a medical professional you’ll then understand why off the shelf insoles for £30 might actually be doing you more harm, but I guess if you’re speaking to a physio for example about footbeds then it’s possibly too late, the damage is done. We all walk & climb, love your feet, pimp your boots up, buy the best insoles available and know how to pamper your pinkies a little when you get home - it’ll be worth it!

As I recover from this latest and worst wear & tear injury of my career, I feel very fortunate to have spent that time years ago preparing for such a situation. It’s worked financially, also mentally my health has been relatively good throughout, without these things in place things could have been very different. I know of lot of colleagues who have had serious wear & tear injuries, plenty have had to remortgage, get loans to pay for treatment and so on, all adding to a fairly stressful time.

You own a car, you fill it up with fuel, your repair it, you service it, you might even occasionally clean it, you look after it. Why not your body…..

Can the industry do better, heaps better is my opinion, the thing is, as a 20 year old, if someone said you need to look after that buff body of yours for when you’re older and here’s how, including spending hundreds of pounds on things you have no idea how to spell, would I have listened to that advice? For one I was too busy doing other things that required my pennies, secondly I was invincible and thirdly I would have said ‘what do you know?’

But then no one ever did tell me….


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