22 September 2010

Thoughts from technique classes

Some themes that commonly emerge when coaching movement technique with climbers. Thanks to Rick Marland for the pics from Big Rock at the weekend.

The nature of climbing walls - look at the layout of the holds on modern climbing walls. In the main, setters tend to space the holds fairly evenly leading to the sort of position I’m in here, with limbs all at different levels. This makes quite pleasant continuous movement. But keep in mind that a lot of rock types have more patterned arrangements of holds; holds together in breaks with long reaches between and sometimes on good handholds but miniscule dinks for feet or vice versa. If you are training for this, watch out that your regular diet of climbing contains at least some movement like this.
Note also the three finger ‘pocket’ grip on the left hand. Climbers in their early twenties or younger don’t use it much, relying on the crimp much more. They haven’t had the pulley injuries yet - but they will! When we go to the campus board they can’t even hang on it openhanded. Older climbers use openhanded much more through necessity - too many pulley injuries. The serendipitous discovery is that once you get over the initial weakness, openhanded is a much stronger and less tiring grip on more than 50% of holds.

I’m pointing at the left foot in this picture. It needs to be pressed hard against the wall to complete the preparation to move the right hand. Although it doesn’t have a foothold to go to, it’s doing one of the most important jobs of all the limbs here. By pressing directly into (not downwards) the wall, it holds the upper body upright, preventing it falling outwards as the right hand reaches. 
Beginners miss this, experienced climbers do it intuitively but rarely with enough force or often enough and often the foot is systematically placed in the wrong spot. In my classes I show how the flagging foot should be placed various different types of move.

About to pull in hard with the left foot to get in position for the hand move. Climbers are generally too passive with the lower body. It’s natural to focus your aggression on the tiny handholds, because pulling really hard with our fingers is not a natural activity. It grabs our attention. Pulling hard with the feet in rock climbing is a learned skill. You have to force yourself to do at first.

Comparing rockshoes. The move in the second picture was impossible for some because they couldn’t get any weight on the foot on a small foothold. The reason was purely that the shoes were poorly fitting or worn out so the sole had no stiffness left. It’s easy in your normal climbing to convince yourself that this isn’t happening or it’s importance is small. But when we all try the same move and all the chaps who are not as strong can to the move easily it is an illuminating experience and climbers start talking about choosing a good pair of new shoes.


paulb said...

Interesting post. Though holds may often be evenly spaced on indoor routes, sometimes the postions are actually not well balanced (as in the pic) since you're tempted to use the holds exclusively as foot holds, while on outdoor routes there are sometimes lots of possibilites for friction foot holds.

Although as soon as climbing gets difficult on outdoor routes (esp. on cruxy routes), the moves sometimes get unusual, with 'unorthodox' body positions. One way to add an element of the natural to your indoor training, is to mark holds 1-12 (and a couple of others as 'constant' if you like). Then roll dice after each attempt and erase holds. You'll find some surprising fun results. Beware tweaky moves!

Christopher said...

Regarding the notion of an "open-handed" grip position:

I believe that the idea of an "open-handed" grip position can be somewhat misleading, and that it actually applies differently to each individual finger and how many of them are being used. In order to back up this statement, I first loosely define the common notion of an "open-handed" grip position as being one where the PIP joints of the fingers are maintained in as straight a position as possible. This could be viewed in opposition to the notion of “crimping”, where the PIP joints remain noticeably flexed. Now considering the first case, when climbing on only one finger, it's possible to flex only the DIP joint while keeping the PIP joint relatively straight. However, when climbing on two adjacent fingers in the most "open-handed" manner possible, the longer finger must slightly flex its PIP joint in order to match the length of the shorter finger whose PIP joint is kept as straight as possible. Similarly, when climbing on three adjacent fingers in the most "open-handed" manner possible, the longest of the three fingers must flex its PIP joint substantially to match the length of the shortest of the three fingers, whose PIP joint is kept as straight as possible. Meanwhile, the second-longest finger must also flex its PIP joint to some degree (though less than the longest of the three fingers) for the same reason. Ultimately, when climbing with all four fingers in the most "open-handed" manner possible, the longest finger must flex its PIP joint the most, followed by the second-longest and third-longest fingers; all to match the length of the shortest finger, whose PIP joint is once again kept as straight as possible while still being allowed on the hold. I follows that every "open-handed" grip position (depending only on how many fingers are used) requires a varying level of PIP joint flexion (AKA “crimping”) for each finger being used. Taking this observation into consideration, it seems logical that common pulley injuries (such as those in the second annular pulley) sustained from too much crimping would occur most in the longest finger, and progressively less in the second-longest, third-longest, and shortest fingers (which is verified by most climbers' experience with the issue). Interestingly enough, most rehabilitation protocols for common pulley injuries in climbers often vaguely claim that climbing "open-handed" can be done without pain or stress to the affected pulley. However, if we apply this to the most common case where the longest finger (usually the middle finger) is the one that's injured, we see that even climbing in the most "open-handed" manner possible will result either in roughly 45° PIP joint flexion in the middle finger with all four fingers being used, anywhere from 30°-45° PIP joint flexion with three fingers (depending on which three-finger team is used), anywhere from 10°-30° PIP joint flexion with two fingers (depending on which two-finger team with the middle is used), using the two-finger team with the pinky and ring fingers (uncomfortable and unlikely due to the usual length disparity between the two that causes roughly 45° PIP joint flexion in the ring finger), or using only one finger at any given time (obviously dangerous for sustained periods of time given the tremendous forces demanded in climbing). The only obvious exceptions to this observation are large, full-palm slopers with enough surface area to allow all four fingers to be as “open” as possible. That being said, I think the climbing community would be better off understanding that “open-handed” grip positions are fairly ambiguous in their definition, as they rely primarily on each finger and not the “hand” as a whole.

Any thoughts?

Dave MacLeod said...

An openhanded grip sometimes involves the PIP joint of the middle finger, sometimes not. It depends on individuals finger length. But the degree of flexion is often only partial with 4 fingers and very slight with three fingers.

I doubt that the pullies are working hard at these angles because the angle change is not high enough, but noone has tested this to my knowledge.

On two finger pockets the PIP joints of both fingers are generally not flexed at all by applying a slight twist of the wrist and/or selecting the appropriate pair of fingers for the pocket angle. i.e. if it slopes down in the direction of the thumb, index and middle is often best.

You are right to suggest that if this flexing of the middle finger PIP joint in openhanded grip was stressing the pullies preferentially, we would see a high proportion of injuries occuring in that finger. However, the research shows that the ring finger is actually far more commonly injured.

Christopher said...

good to know! I had just never heard this issue discussed among climbers before, and was interested to bounce a theory off some others. thanks for the feedback!

gian said...

i'm very interested about the flagging foot bit, and particularly about introducing that concept to beginners...

in your experience :
a)when are they ready for it?
b)what's the best setting to show them this technique (i mean, what wall angle, how hard should the moves be compared to their current limits, etc)

thank you!

gian said...

ehm, "introducing beginners to that concept" of course...