29 April 2007
[Update 2/11/2009] Since this book really is still the best book on improving at climbing on the market right now, and so many of you read the review, I thought it would be a good idea to get some copies in for my webshop! It's here.
The Self Coached climber is the latest in what is now a long list of books on improving your climbing performance on the market. In fact, for the inexperienced eye, it is for the first time getting tricky to decide which is the best buy. So where does Hague and Hunter’s new book fit into the available literature, apart from bringing us up to date with recent knowledge? In my opinion, this book blows away the previous publications, and sets a new standard in self help training books in rock climbing.
To start with, lets look at the scope of the book. For the first time, the authors lay out in detail the importance of establishing balance on the rock, what balance actually means in a rock climbing situation and provide superb descriptive and illustrative examples of balance in action on the rock. Establishing balance underlies all successful movement on rock and any climber will benefit from this tutorial in how different body and limb positions affect your ability to move and the forces on the holds. Beyond that, there is a comprehensive run through the main movements in climbing, with supportive graphics to help you see what is going on in each movement. Right through, the writing and illustration is faultless and shows groundbreaking effort in communicating these ideas in a clear manner, an obvious testament to the author’s decades of experience in coaching climbers. The following chapters take us through the fundamentals of all types of training for climbing, including mental training and putting all the elements of training together, in a far more practical way than other books have managed to do.
The content is detailed and thorough which might occasionally be a little heavy going for beginners. This trade off between detailed information for advanced experts and accessible writing for beginners and the ‘not-so serious’ climber will always be a tricky balance to strike with this type of book. I think they have pulled it off by structuring the book well into shorter essays and enough graphics to do the job without actually referring too much to the text. The real killer though is the accompanying DVD. When I first hit play I was expecting something pretty cheesy and not exactly captivating, but it really surprised me with well organised concise exercises and superb animations which surpass anything before it including Neil Gresham’s DVD instruction on climbing technique (although this is more comprehensive). The chapter of the film covering redpoint tactics is superb too, bringing the lists of tactics alive by following two climbers on the rocky road to linking a route right at their limit over several days. This could have been even better with some additional commentary at the end, but still leaves you more educated about the critical importance of tactics than before.
This is a substantial publication and the price reflects it, but I’d say it’s worth every penny and more for the quality and scope of the information inside and the way it is presented. There’s no doubt that a keen beginner climber picking this book up will feel a touch overwhelmed by some of the chapters. But this is a reference book; keep this in mind. Beginners will get a huge amount by reading over and over the sections on balance, initiating moves and watching the associated sections in the DVD. This is the same kind of content that any climbing coach will have you do again and again, because its so critical to build further layers of ability on top. After the initial read, what you need from a book like this is for it to be easy to pick up and flick back to a section that’s on you mind at a given moment, such as getting home from a frustrating training session, or getting close to a hard route and needing an extra edge. The authors obviously had this in mind when laying out the book and deciding on graphics – its not a chore to use or difficult to relocate particular notes within the book quickly and easily.
So do I have anything bad to say about the book? Not really, all of its content is spot on. I would have liked to see a chapter on common climbing injuries since their prevalence is so high these days among climbers, and perhaps a little more on onsight and redpoint tactics in both the book and DVD. So it’s not 100% perfect. But this is already a massive publication and really puts the rest to shame. Even today with more and more climbing coaches around, the vast majority of people coach themselves in climbing, and make crucial decisions about sourcing information with very little to go on. For these climbers, this book should be the most used looking book on their shelf.
If you would like a copy, you can get it from the webshop here.