26 May 2012
Over the winter I got more involved in bouldering again and thought a lot about what’s changing among boulderers. There are a lot of great new indoor bouldering facilities all over the place and the identity of bouldering as a sport gets stronger all the time. It really struck me climbing at TCA how the way climbers move on these walls has changed fast. I guess it’s because in this type of centre there is a lot of opportunity to watch and be influenced by others climbing on the same problems.
Naturally enough, the changes I’m thinking of are generally positive on the whole. But there are some negatives to watch out for depending on your training goals. It’s hard to describe these subtle changes properly without demonstrating it as I would when coaching, but generally there are a lot of ‘front on’ moves, a lot of cutting loose, many moves with the foot on one foothold for part or all of the move and probably a lower ratio of foot:hand movements than outdoors.
It’s very hard to consistently set indoor boulder problems that have footwork that is outdoor like. The blobbyness of bolt on holds and limitations of panels is one thing. The bigger problem is of course that it’s just hard to match the creativity of real rock!
So folk training ultimately for outdoor rock but relying heavily on indoor centres (especially when it’s one centre in particular) end up getting really good at the techniques for indoor bouldering, but still fail to get their outdoor grade to match or exceed their indoor grade.
It’s important to understand what is going on clearly. The climber can move really well. In other words you could say they have excellent technique. They read the moves well and execute them with precision and few errors. And yet technique is the reason for failure to reach their outdoor potential.
It’s not that there is bad technique, just not enough techniques being learned through the training diet. A simple point when you say it out loud, but often missed.
What to do about it depends on your resources. If you can climb more outdoors, do it. If you really can’t (are you sure it can’t and not just less convenient?) then at least an awareness of the problem will help you stay focused on finding a better sequence rather than just blaming weakness all the time. You are training yourself to spot better sequences, by trying to do just that, all the time. A good mindset is that you are never just trying to do the move, but always trying to find the easiest possible way to do it.
There are social influences too. If your ‘beast’ training partner does the move one way, and you just can’t, don’t be put off straight away. Keep experimenting to see if there is a tweak in the foot sequence, or a way to take the holds that removes the need for power usage.