Climbing is a test of physical strength, technical mastery and headgames, and right now everyone is stuck with some form of physical training, but does this have to be the way?
In this article we are going to delve in to a few methods that may help with technique but most importantly our mental control. We cant replicate being on a heady route and if you don't have a home wall we can't teach ourselves to commit to the unknown, it's also shown that practicing technique can increase confidence in movement and the same with physical strength. So training strength may help when we return to the crag, but how can we optimise this. To begin with I'm going to discuss technique. OK, I drone on about specificity all the time, something we may have lost but we can drill complex movement, the more movements we learn the more our brain adapts. The more our brain has to adapt the better it gets, the science of this is called Neuroplasticity.
So if we spend our time learning we will become better climbers, now for that specificity, learn physical skills. In short play, dance, juggle most importantly make physical mistakes by adding new movements.
To do this with exercises, add variation and complexity. Sequences like the Turkish get up would be great example of this.
And then change and alternate the movements often to keep the brain adapting, this is to increase your physical literacy and help breath confidence in your body as well as help you return to moving on rock or resin. So that is technique, now lets talk proprioception, the awareness of the position and movement of the body.
As a coach this is my golden ticket to useful feedback, knowing that when someone steps off the wall they can remember the position and movements by remembering them non-visually, more than seeing the holds but feeling the position. When we are scared we can blank out or over focus on the the problem, not the solution. More often than not the solution can be found in adjusting our body position or changing the focus from hands to feet or shoulders to core and so on.
When a martial artist fights, he should be aware of the ground under his feet and the force moving through his body and his moves around his opponents, as break dancer throws out some moves he has to be aware of where other people are and the limitation of his space. I feel climbing has an extra level of this, our goal is to "be like water"(to quote Bruce Lee). That is to say we have to move through the positions that the rock requires of us not the ones we feel safest doing, and then to build confidence in this. If you could close your eyes in the moment and feel the resistance in your body and then adjust this could lead you towards the next holds and further. The exception to this would be a powerful move, but if it feels right then be like water build some tension and then flow over the obstacle. If you want to see evidence of the above analogy watch the IFSC lead comps where people head into the unknown just doing the moves that feel right.
So how do we practice this, I've always like a yoga drill where you lie on the floor and close your eyes taking slow and steady breaths.
Make a fist and tense your arm now relax the arm as much as possible let all the tension release, move to your upper arm tense again and release becoming aware of your limbs. Do this throughout your whole body returning to anywhere that feels tense.
Now do something physical feeling the pressure on your feet and toes move your feet around feeling the change, again move up the body feeling the tension and force move through your joints. If we start by feeling large areas and then zone in on the smaller zones becoming more aware. Joshua Waitzkin calls this making smaller circles, check out this podcast to learn a little more. Use this while performing any activity to dial in the feedback and self awareness. One activity I love for this is slacklining. start slow by standing one one leg for 30 seconds before trying to move across it.
And lastly, appropriate practice/arousal levels, just practicing movement on a wall in our comfort zone is a good start, but for head game at some point we need to progress it to be more similar to the real thing harder climbs would help, leading or bouldering be a little better and practice outdoors on rock even better.
One aspect, difficulty is common in progress but a missed aspect is appropriate arousal levels. If you compete in needs to feel like a competition, if you're out on trad you need the similar pacing and exposure. If you can get in to your arena of performance amazing if you can't and you're currently at home or out of a comp season there is a few things we can do. Be specific, a trad climb is rarely speedy, so when we get nervous our heart races beyond "normal for the environment", on a hard endurance sport route that you have wired you may need to move faster.
Whatever your discipline your pacing is likely to change throughout the climb,this is why I've always built a change of pace in to my routes and had feed back that they can be scary. So how to chess box, (a sport that encompasses this in it entirety), a round of Adrenalin pumped fighting followed by calm logic requiring chess.
To truly master this bizarre sport you'd need to go from relaxed and logical to pumped up, fast, powerful and physically coordinated.
That to me is like so many routes, especially grit stone roofs with slabs below and above.
So how can we do this, we need to toy with raising our heart rate and lowering it, alternating levels of activity, music, food and meditation if you want.
If you workout, amp up some music at the start when you need energy shout be loud, move fast, then attempt to bring it down to relaxed as quickly as possible the above proprioception technique is good for this, run through.
Alternate between fast reps and slow thoughtful reps feel the position of your body in the room, feel the points of tension.
Run fast and then slow it down feel the rise of tension and anxiety and and try to bring it back.
Play with doing it the other way round also, try to make your workouts ebb and flow between sets.
Focus on climbing specific points of contact feel you feel and hands on the holds.
add detail, think about texture conditions and how moving a joint affects the rest of your body.
A lot of this will sound like meditation, yoga or my favourite analogy, a martial art like Tai Chi, which is an great analogy talk about in the above podcast.
So come back to climbing;
A better learner A more self aware climber
Having better control of our emotional state.