20 July 2010

Basic technique - saving energy on trad

I’ve not posted on basic technique for a while, so here is something that my own summer of trad has been reminding me of recently. In trad climbing, the actual climbing bout is not just a little bit longer than sport or bouldering, it’s WAY longer. 20, 30 60 minutes instead of seconds up to a few minutes on many sport climbs.
The implications of this are very important. Most of us train for trad on short steep sport routes in climbing walls - this is fine - we need the endurance for the crux sprints even during long routes. But the movement is very different on trad.
The amount of time searching for handholds, footholds or gear, or resting takes up the vast majority of the total climbing time. Actually making moves is quite fleeting between long periods on the same holds. If you’ve ever edited a piece of video of a climber doing a long trad route you’ll readily appreciate this!
Let’s go through the pictures (BTW these are from our Triple 5 trip to St Kilda - nice route eh?):

A rare moment of actually making a move. Note bent arms, trunk close to the wall and shoulders pulled back in tension. On a climbing wall route, you move almost continously by comparison and your body tends to adopt this sort of position a lot - like maybe 60% plus of the time.
So what? You get into the habit of staying in this position. If you can’t find the hold or need to clip gear, you just freeze in this position and sort it out before continuing seconds later. Because the climbing bout is short, it doesn’t matter too much. In fact, the moves are probably hard enough that it’s actually more efficient not to set up a full resting position, just to go back to ‘progress’ mode a few seconds later. Next photo >>

In trad, not only will you have to make these stops between moves many times more than on a short climbing wall route, but they might be of much longer duration. So the climbing style has to change. You can always tell a very experienced trad climber when the adopt the position in the picture 2 almost immediately when they have to stop on a pitch. The hips are in, back arched and leaning back on straight arms. The maximum amount of weight is on the feet, but you can lean back a bit to scan the rock ahead more effectively. Next picture >>

The other common position in trad is when searching for footholds. In this case, the shoulders are in, drooping from straight arms and the bum is out to give a clear view of the  footholds.
If you haven’t been tradding for a while, you often have to remind yourself to take these resting positions immediately by conscious reminder and accentuating them, so you fall back into the habit. If you haven’t developed the technique at all, long steep trad pitches will feel a lot harder than they should. But even a delay of a few seconds in assuming these positions will really add up as you might use them 100s of times in a single long pitch.