23 May 2010

The middle way of rock movement

Cubby throws in another drop knee, Glen Etive

A session with Mr Cuthbertson got me thinking of changes in movement fashions in climbing since I started. Where Cubby dotted his feet around miniscule smears on blankness, I tended to swing and heelhook. Cubby was obviously leading world trad climbing in the early 80’s, often on routes that were hard because they were completely suicidal. When he got into sport climbing at it’s birth at venues like Malham in the mid eighties, the fashion was for precision. Climbing like a gymnasitc performance, with effortless grace. I have this idea that even grimacing and grunting was not really ‘in’.
Fast forward, and watch a modern climbing film like Progression. Quite a difference - Ondra is racing up the rock before you can blink. The American boulderers are leaping with feet off and one hand as you reach the for the remote control to turn down all the yelling.
The popularity of bouldering and the influence of famous climbers has tended to make climbers move faster and more aggressively, with less foot moves per hand move. What does this mean? It adds efficiency because you get through the moves quicker and more momentum is used and more aggression is good for realising the maximum force you can produce. But it loses efficiency by getting less weight on your feet throughout the whole move or sequence and adding a lot of swings into disadvantageous positions that must be countered with muscle power.
You might have guessed the punchline already - somewhere in between is best. Race up the rock or leap wildy for holds if your technique is quick enough or you have shoulders like Daniel Woods. But if you are more average in your build, background and climbing ability, someone like Fred Nicole or the female climbers in the world cup competitions would be better movement role models.
One other thing… One positive trend in modern rock climbing is that crimping everything is much less in fashion than it used to be. Thats definitely a good thing for all out tendons.

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