8 August 2006

For young climbers - case study

After three years of learning to boulder, mainly on my own, I got good at being pretty damn tenacious, and learned that the process of climbing stuff was actually the fun bit of climbing rather than the tick.

I've been asking lots of young climbers what they would ask a coach if they had one and all of them asked me what I did when I started! So I'll briefly tell you what aspects of my start in climbing resulted in my best efforts since then.

One of the main blessings I had was to do a lot of bouldering on my own. I got really used to visualising moves in my head rather than just watching a mate try the same problem. Of course, you can learn climbing faster by watching good climbers, but learning to visualise moves in your head, and getting used to putting in a lot of effort into trial and error are very useful skills. Basically I developed a habit of looking at many different ways of doing a move I am struggling with, and being very open minded about the options. My attitude is that there is a way, it's just a matter of finding it. And finding it just means applying your mind more and being more patient and tenacious. It works!

Being able to climb hard on your own comes in very handy later on when you find your partners dry up for a while through circumstances. You have to be able to keep training or find other ways to keep your momentum up. Because I started on my own it just comes naturally to me now.

Training wise, once I started I worked fairly hard, but not hard enough. I used to climb indoors Monday, Wednesday and Friday and then outdoors at weekends. Indoors I'd warm up, do hard bouldering for and hour and a half, then ridiculously intense weights sessions for 2-2.5 hours, then back up to the wall for mileage problems for another hour, then sometimes a 30 min run to finish. I had a big tree in my back garden and I cut lots of holds in the bark. I used to run outside and climb my problems on it every ten minutes, every day! I did that for three winters when I was 16, 17 and 18 and my standard went from Font 6b to 7c. After that I went through a massive phase of getting injured fingers all the time, which I put down to poor diet, poor technique and choosing the wrong routes to try at the wrong time. Poor footwork and body awareness is probably the cause of most pulley injuries, along with poor warm-up or tiredness.

Injury got me into trad climbing and my climbing level took a massive leap because the volume of routes I was doing jumped and my technique got the chance to catch up with my tenacity and finger strength. Losing a stone and a half probably helped too! Those changes took my level to F8b, Font 8a and E8 headpoint/E6 onsight.

The main things that got me beyond that level were just tightening everything up - improving my lifestyle (more sleep and better diet), gradually building up to training 6 days a week, more variety in my climbing, sharpening up all my tactics and especially working diligently on the fingerboard to increase that finger strength foundation.

If I was 16 again I'd do little differently, my tenacity and being able to solve problems for myself and use my head are the foundation for everything else. If I'd had a home board like Malcolm, I reckon I could have got Malcolm type strength if I'd started while that growth hormone was still floating about. I definitely would have slept and eaten better, and got into trad earlier as well; more moves= more engrams =better movement. If I hadn't had those three first winters of pretty gruelling training, I don't think I would have believed I could climb hard grades. The feeling of coming outside again and pulling easily on holds that were impossible 5 months ago was such a revelation. I couldn't get enough of that feeling.


Anonymous said...

Really enjoyed reading this. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Cheers for the tips. I'm 17 so i'll test out some of this healthy eating and let you know how i get on.

Cheers again.

PS, any chance of a guide to getting over grade barriers? Im fed up - I could fall off a V diff if it was graded E3. Thanks.

Dave MacLeod said...

Will do! coming up.