18 June 2009

The Sharma scream

It’s funny how quickly and readily fashions spread through climbing. Lycra, slang terms like ‘Send it dude!’ and... 


In the eighties, when the French really were the kings of ‘French Style’ climbing, as sport climbing was then known, their ideal was to climb like a ballet dancer, with effortless panache in the movements, a totally straight face and not a sound coming from your lips. 

Now, thanks to films such as the Dosage series, the fashion tends to be to slap your way up that granite boulder like a wild animal screaming at the top of your voice.

The obvious question is, which is best (for performance, not looking cool). The answer comes in two parts. Firstly, somewhere in between is best. Secondly, where you should be on the continuum between straight faced ballet dancer and screaming bull terrier depends largely on who you are.

Chris Sharma, being the most famous (and possibly loudest) exponent of the psyche scream has made screaming while climbing a talking point, and I’m sure, more fashionable. He does it, so it must be good, right? Well, listen to Chris talking off the rock, and you’ll see he is a pretty chilled out type of guy. When asked about his screaming, he says it helps him raise the necessary level of aggression to unleash his full power on the holds. 

When I observe others taking up this deliberately aggressive climbing style, it sometimes has poor results - poor timing, overly basic movements, not much weight on the feet and inefficient use of energy on a route/problem.

What’s going on here? In a nutshell, for those who are inherently calm and make clear, calculated and efficient movement decisions in their climbing, some extra psyching up can help them get more out of their physical capability, but just on the hardest moves. In other words, in small doses.

For those who can very easily deliver a lot of focused aggression in their climbing, more psyching will yield little more power output but incur a big drop in efficiency of movement.

The great skill of climbing is to be able to switch from moment to moment between screaming to get maximum power on a very powerful, but technically basic move, and calm focus the next instant to perfectly aim for a tiny foot of handhold.

The climber that most influenced me was Fred Nicole with a quote (from memory of a magazine article) that “it’s not so much the level of strength but the timing of it” Fred went on to explain that the climber that could use is strength at the exactly correct moment would be the best.

11 June 2009

Influences - It can go either way actually

In my recent coachwise articles published in Scottish Mountaineer (and online here) I’ve talked a lot about the power of influences on your training, in terms of training choices, discipline, goal setting and level of effort.

My message here in a nutshell was that if you are surrounded by the psyched, the skilled and the hard working, you are more likely to be those things too.

Just listening to a section in Evan’s podcast about business (it’s episode 28th May if you want to download it from the Bottom Line site) reminded me not only of the strength of this effect, but also a good decision of the flip side - bad influences.

Evan’s guests were discussing positivity of attitude in general. The perspectives were generally that positivity is really good as an attribute and an influence. But problems raised were firstly that positivity must be bound by realism, and secondly that disappointments from failures can be hard to cope with sometimes.

Taking the realism thing first - This is where positivity coming from both inside yourself, and from outside sources is crucial to work within the bounds of reality. The kind of positivity that you see in talented youngsters spurred on by positive influences with a bias (friends and especially parents) often get ahead of themselves and later suffer big motivational setbacks following failures.

Positive outside influences with no bias are like gold dust. These sources tend to be encouraging by example, not just by positive reinforcement of you. They also solve the second problem of learning that it’s ok to fail, again and again, that it’s part of sporting or any success, and it’s possible to shrug it off and respond in the right way.

But talking of realism, I think it’s fair enough to say that negative influences will almost always outnumber positive for most people, in most communities. Of course the battle is to  hold the negative at arms length where possible, and soak up as much of the positive as you can. But sometimes it can actually seem like an advantage to operate in relative isolation.

I have noticed, living away from a substantial city-based climbing scene for a couple of years, and absorbing most of my media through highly customizable (web based) sources, that I have more power to reach positive (if distant) influences in my climbing, while being insulated from the many negative influences out there. I think it’s been good for my climbing.

Evan’s guests talked about a major advantage for young business people was sometimes ignorance of all the hurdles ahead. There is some truth in this.

There is much to this subject - the influences we have from other people, our ability to exercise self control, our exposure and sensitivity to feedback of different kinds as we train for our sport. All are important and affect our ability to get the most out of ourselves.

Just a thought as I listed to Evan’s (excellent) podcast while painting some doors late at night...