7 May 2013

Old school drills - foot off bouldering

I guess foot off bouldering was what folk did before campus boarding got so popular. It’s now pretty out of fashion as a strength training tool - campusing is cooler. But is it better?

In some ways it might be (since noones ever tested it properly, noone can tell you either way). It’s more basic which might mean you end up pulling harder. It’s on nice skin friendly rungs which might mean you get more high quality sets done. However, it’s main problem is probably that such a large proportion of climbers doing regular campusing lose all the gains and more by getting injured on it.

Although it’s currently uncool, foot off bouldering might be at least as effective for gaining strength since it’s varied, could be a little safer if you do it right and might be slightly less bad for your technique that campusing. The irony is of course that although foot off bouldering is out of fashion, some indoor boulderers footwork repertoire is so bad that their normal climbing isn’t that far off being foot off anyway.

Now, This post isn’t actually about getting stronger, I just wanted to get the above paragraph out of the way. It’s actually about technique. Foot off bouldering can be a useful technique drill for those who are seriously unaccustomed to movement on steep rock.

There still exists a cadre of climbers who do not like to move dynamically. There are different reasons why they got this way. Some are scared to fall off, so won’t slap for anything. Some are used to balancy, slabby trad climbing, or were brought up on outdoor vertical cliffs such as granite walls. Some simply haven’t done enough of the steeper stuff.

Without a coach, these climbers might never break their static habit on overhanging terrain. It’s just too engrained. Even if they try, they’ll still initiate the move by pulling up and locking off, rather than dropping down to leave room to accelerate. They’ll hesitate, hang on for too long, get pumped and come down. All of this reinforces the feeling that steep climbing is beyond them.

If there is no coach to break this habit down bit by bit, a drill is needed to force it. Moving statically is all but impossible with the feet off, so long as the holds are the correct size. Foot off bouldering on steep bouldering walls (45 degrees is good but anything between around 35 -horizontal will work) can forcefully break the habit of trying to find a static way, and start to build understanding of the balance required to move dynamically on steep ground.

This balance is hard to describe without showing you. But here is an example. When you start move dynamically on a 45 degree overhanging wall to a distant hand hold, your upper body feels like it is falling backwards. It feels unnatural. Your subconscious naturally wants to hang your ass down, making your trunk more vertical. But this takes weight off the feet. However, if you pull the ass in and try to reach the hold without the ‘falling backwards’ feeling, you have to stay too low to be able to reach the hold. If you watch relative novices climbing steep ground in climbing walls, you see this movement confusion happening constantly.

In a sense, bouldering foot off, breaks part of this unnatural feeling. It forces familiarity with dynamic motion between every hold. It no longer ‘feels wrong’. Second, it gets you used to the feeling of jumping backwards across the overhang, and help you realise that balance is restored when you grab the next hold.

Once you have mastered this, you can deal with the fact that keeping your feet on means your body stays more horizontal and the falling backwards feeling is even more pronounced. Steep climbing is a learned skill which is counter intuitive. For novices, it’s ok that it feels wrong at first, even if you are an expert climber on vertical terrain. Once you become expert, the feeling of staying more horizontal as you make the move that felt so wrong gradually becomes the part that feels right; it means you will have body tension to keep your feet on when you get the next hold.

A few carefully chosen foot off problems towards the end of your session might be all that is necessary. If jugs are all that you can move on, that’s fine. But as soon as you can, move onto good holds but slightly smaller than jugs. It’s probably better to do small moves on smaller holds than bigger moves on buckets. If you are climbing on set problems at the wall, you might need to tweak them by adding the odd different coloured hold because some moves just wont work foot off.

Rules of thumb:

- If you do this so much that it becomes your party piece, you are doing too much and doing more will become detraining.
- The idea is to move dynamically, but with control. Try to learn how to accelerate in the preparation for the move, make a controlled lunge for the next hold, and decelerate using both the arms and your swinging legs to absorb the swing.
- Violent thrashy moves are a fine way to get injured and throw away all your gains.
- Start small. It doesn’t matter if this is a single move to a hold 2 inches above. Progress from here.


travis shatka said...

Hi Dave, I'm coaching a youth team and intend to use this information. "Foot off bouldering," are you simply talking about campussing BP's or dynamic move feet cutting resetting the feet and repeating?

travis shatka said...

Are you referring to campussing BP's or feet cutting as a result of dynamic movement? Or both?