13 October 2008

How do I get better?! (in one email)

Averaging out at once every day, I get a very similar email, which goes roughly like this (with minor variations):

“Hi Dave, I’m a really keen climber. I’ve been climbing for (x) years and can do (x) on sport/ trad and I’m bouldering about (x). I go to the wall/crag (x) times a week and out climbing at weekends. I really want to keep improving but I seem to have hit a bit of a plateau and don’t feel I’m getting better as fast as I could. Is there anything I should be thinking about doing now to break into the next level? Thanks in advance.”

Sometimes it adds a couple of lines about what the climber habitually does to train and asks “where am I going wrong?”

It’s great to get these emails and know there are so many keen climbers out there feeling the same way as I do. I know that for every person who sends this type of email to someone they feel might have an answer for them, there are many times more people who feel like sending it but don’t for one reason or another. So I thought I should really share publicly the answer I write back, which is broadly the same each time as you’ll see why:

“Hi, Thanks for the email and good to hear you are psyched to get better at climbing. It’s not really possible for me to identify the areas you should focus on with your training without having much more information about your climbing and training habits. And even then the answers would be a lot more than I could fit into one email.

Basically you have two choices to break out of your plateau, Right now you don’t have the information to analyse your own climbing and identify the areas to work on or change. You could either shortcut the process of learning this information by hiring a coach to make a thorough assessment of your climbing and make the decisions for you, or you could learn to do it yourself. 

Learning this information is really the hard part of getting to be a better climber, doing the training is the easy part! It takes many years to learn everything you need to know to design your own program very well. It took me 6 years of full time study and many more years of soaking up every piece of information I could. I’d totally recommend doing this because you can adapt your training practice as you progress or your goals change. 

The worst situation for your improvement is to fall between two stools and take neither path. You’ll inevitably make lots of mistakes, focus on the wrong things and end up losing a lot of time not improving nearly as fast as you could given your available resources. Choose which path you want to take and go for it! Good luck.”

The first message in this is really worth re-iterating - For one climber, a mix of poor footwork, over-reliance on strength training bringing down technique, lack of variety in angle or hold type, or missed opportunity to supplement climbing training at home could be among a longer list of things needing changing. For the next climber, it might be a totally different set of problems. 

Most climbers carry around an incomplete picture of what to value and work on to get better at climbing. So they only follow the things in their picture. A good coach might fill in the rest for you very quickly. This is the shortcut. If it suits your circumstances and goals, take the shortcut! If you want to be a lifelong follower of climbing, take the hard road and learn the rest of the picture yourself, in the long run this will be a shortcut for you.

For those who take the self-coaching path, you are already ‘on it’ by reading this blog. Good one! Keep in mind that actually doing the training is the easy part. Your constant challenge is to be doing the right training at any given moment. So for every hour of training, it would really get you further if you did at least the same in learning about training (reading, watching, thinking, analysing). 

Make sure you are getting information from every channel available - things like: this blog, many other writers on this subject online, reading books on training and not just ones specific to climbing, motivation, watching good climbers, asking good climbers what they do. (Hint: Lots of very specific questions in a row will get much more than one general question like ‘How do I get better?’).

Which path are you on? Don’t fall between two stools.

PS: I am not sure if that final figure of speech is a British thing or not, but for anyone who hasn’t heard it before, please note it refers to stool as in the chair.

20 comments:

phentermine said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
elias said...

good set of articles dave!!! your wisdom will make us stronger in every way !!! thanks!

Magnus said...

Hi Dave
Great blog, and great inspiration. A good post about the different ways to approach training. Would be very nice with some tips about good training books to read.

Rock Climbing said...

Dave thanks for the information I hear that a lot from other climbers. How do I get better? and they always are just looking for the quick fix. Thanks for really breaking it down.

borti natta said...

"To fall between two stools" is a figure of speech in Norwegian too: "Aa falle mellom to stoler". The word stol/stool origins from Norse.

andrewg said...

Hi Dave,

Thanks for this useful post. You've encouraged me to continue along the path I'm just starting on of learning a lot about training, and trying to train more intelligently.

I've started my reading with Horst's "Training for Climbing" and "Conditioning for Climbing" as well as Hunter & Hague's "The Self-Coached Climber". I've got a lot from these books, but I'm aware it's a limited perspective. Could you recommend some other texts on climbing training. Ideally, something well referenced so I can find out more myself.

I'm still climbing at a comparatively "beginner" level - French 6b, bouldering peaking at V2. My goal is to climb 7a this year.

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