Book Review: Make or Break by Dave MacLeod

Dave MacLeod is shaping up to be my climber crush this year. His blog is great and he climbs hard icy stuff in Scotland while making cool movies without all the glitz and glamour of Hollywood Honnold. Someone turned me onto this book a couple of months ago so I ordered a copy through his shop. Take note that you’re paying 29 of the Queen’s dollars plus a $10 flat rate shipping fee so if you’re from outside of the UK you’re going to be paying a fair bit for this book. I wish I had taken advantage of the flat shipping to also get his other book, ‘9 out of 10 Climbers Make the Same Mistakes,’ but oh well. Is it worth the close to $70 Canadian that it cost? Luckily our local climbing association makes purchases of climbing books to house in our local library so I didn’t have to eat the cost myself.

I’ve had my share of typical climbing injuries over the last five years (blown tendon or pulley, many ankle sprains, sore shoulders, mild golfer’s elbow, etc.) so I was interested to see if I could learn anything to make sure this doesn’t happen again. Luckily I’m not injured right now so I read Make or Break with the aim of learning how to prevent further injuries as opposed to recovering from them. The book does a great job of both talking about prevention and rehab so is useful for climbers in either camp. Talking about injuries and climbing reminds me of a saying I’d hear during my old motorcycle days: there are two kinds of riders, those that have had an accident and those that will have an accident, so I think a book about injuries is valuable even for those who are so far injury free.

The format of the book loosely follows a ‘one chapter per body part’ approach, with MacLeod giving a quick overview of the mechanics going on inside the area, moving into the correct movement pattern, and finishing with prevention and/or rehab exercises the reader can do to improve their movement in that area. MacLeod has a degree in kineseology and it shows in his writing. To be honest, I found the material almost too dense at times, but with repeated readings and associated Google’ing I was able to raise my level of understanding about how all of the key movement patterns work.

On top of a number of chapters on prevention, dealing with injury and the understanding pain, MacLeod has included one chapter each on the shoulder, elbow, wrist, fingers and lower body.

What I liked

  • Equal balance of prevention and rehab
  • Easy to perform exercises to increase mobility
  • I know more about correct movement patterns than I did before
  • Only one very small section where he talked about his own injuries – this is a reference book, not a therapy session
  • Interesting take on how poor technique causes injuries and other observations on how innocuous practices like informal climbing or pullup competitions with your bros can lead to unexpected injuries
  • The concept that injuries don’t just happen and are instead the culmination of years of incorrect movement patterns and inadequate recovery

What I disliked

  • The book was very text-heavy and could have benefited from more diagrams for those of us starting at a zero level of understanding of anatomy and movement
  • I found it hard to be interested in areas that I haven’t injured yet (knees, wrists). This isn’t a criticism of the book so much, just my interest in it
  • Almost feels like a textbook. I don’t mind this but other readers might

This book is for you if

  • You have some level of interest in sports science and correct movement patterns
  • You’re old enough to have injured yourself to the point where you can predict the weather based on pain in your knee/shoulder/elbow/etc and you know that youthful recovery modalities like crushing a few extra beer and taking some ibuprofen won’t cut it anymore
  • You’re willing to put the 10-15 minutes in a day, or at least four or five times a week, that it takes to work on keeping yourself more or less injury free. It seems silly to point that out but rehab/prevention exercises are boring as hell and reading this book is a waste of time if you don’t think you’re going to follow through

Overall I really enjoyed it and would like to have it handy as a reference. I briefly considered buying a copy for my physiotherapist but thought it might be insulting.

I give ‘Make or Break: Don’t Let Climbing Injuries Dictate Your Success’ four popped A5 pulleys out of five. Pick it up from Dave’s shop here or through Amazon.


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