Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Focus and Efficiency

There is one particular bouldering problem in the climbing gym that I had been working on for months to no avail.  The last move is the hardest of all, requiring pull-up strength on a slight overhang with a handhold that slopes rather than jugs, with foot placements that are small and precarious.   It is a move I can complete on it's own, but in the course of doing the entire route, the previous three moves before it also are not easy and require a lot of arm-hanging, so I was failing at the last move from sheer exhaustion each time.

One of the things that makes you tired on an overhanging route is when your feet peel off and you're left hanging by your hands.   Sometimes you have no choice but to do this to complete a route, so it is part of a good climber's repertoire.  But doing it when you don't need to is costly, because while with decent upper body strength you can pull your feet back to the rock, that takes precious energy away from later moves. Every second spent hanging from tired arms in prepartion for a lung forward also costs energy.  So much the better if you can keep your feet glued to the rock in the first place, so that you don't have to spend a second more hanging than you have to and so that you don't have to exhert massive energy to recover your foot positions after a swing.  Keeping your feet in place involves strong core muscles--the more overhanging the route, the more core you need, because you'll have to use your arms like crazy and if you depend on only them, you're completely done for.

Turns out another trick for keeping your feet from flying off the wall is just to pay attention to them.  A common beginning climber pitfall is to overgrip with the hands while failing to use the feet at all--you can get away with that when the wall isn't very hard, but you'll fail miserably at anything difficult for all the reasons I mentioned above.  I wasn't overgripping but I was focused very intesely on the sequence of moves for my hands, and every time my feet would peel, and I'd just treat that like part of how I needed to do the route, recover, and try to plow through anyway, only to tire out on the very last move. 

Then another climber approached me and said "can't you stop your feet from coming off?  Just focus on them instead of your hands."

So I did.  Even though I still looked at my hands, I brought my attention to what my feet were doing--and then it really was that easy to keep them from pulling off until I brought them in a controlled manner to the next placement. I could feel my core muscles engaging to do so.

You reach a level where climbing starts becoming about efficiency--a base level of flexibility, upper body strength, and core strength, lets you muddle through some things, but real technique involves deep understanding of movement.  I finally completed that problem from start to finish today, with a combination of focosing on my feet at the critical moment to do so, and refining that sequence of hand movements that had previously been stealing all of my attention in order to cut two moves out of it.  Both reduced the energy drain that was keeping me from finishing the problem.  Although I am still at the stage where I get stronger from regular climbing, it was nevery a matter of lack of strength, it was only a matter of technique.

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