21 December 2011

Training the ability to try

If you see people in action during training (it’s easiest to observe in a traditional weights/cardio gym), it’s not hard to notice that theres a massive difference between the majority who are having a ‘light’ session to say the least, and the much smaller proportion who are really working their bodies hard.
As an aside, If you do see those people in the gym who look like they aren’t trying - don’t scoff inwardly (or outwardly!) at them - not everyone goes to the gym to work hard. Some people exercise to relax and wind down. And remember you don’t see what other workouts they get up to. You might be surprised!
Sometimes folk don’t have the right peer group to influence them to learn to try really hard, sometimes, they just haven’t found the right motivation, or more likely they just don’t realise how hard they could be trying. This is not something that applies to some and not others. Everyone has room to really grit their teeth and work themselves harder.
It’s true in many cases that the best athletes are the ones who are trying hardest. It’s not always the case for various reasons and it’s too simplistic and misleading to view athletic success purely as a product of effort. However, that doesn’t change the point that if you can find ways to try harder, you’ll go further.
I talked a lot about how to do that in my book, but one thought for your training sessions over the Christmas period; Before you go for your session, or have your next attempt on the problem, or circuit, or route, imagine what it would feel like if you were to try harder than you’ve ever tried before. Think about how your fingers would feel crushing down on that little hold. Think about how you’d grab the next hold and start pulling lightning fast and concentrate on keeping pulling with maximum force right through the move until your feet swing back in. Think about how sore your skin and arms will feel on that last circuit and how you’ll detach yourself from it and keep right on slapping. Think about the mindset of those climbers who inspire you by their amazing feats of climbing. What do you think goes through their mind when they train? They are people on a mission! They have learned to love their training and they feel satisfaction that every last grain of hard effort takes them closer to the routes they are on the mission to climb. So what's your mission?
Now repeat through the whole of next year!

3 December 2011

Technique learning - noticing things

When coaching climbers I’m constantly trying to encourage them to set up a routine both in themselves and as a group of peers climbing together of recording the details of their climbing movement and tactics and discussing the feedback and experimenting with different ways of doing everything.
Examples of this might be: how does the move change if you lunge a bit harder, or pull more with the right toe, or use that other foothold instead? The criteria for for success on a move isn’t just if you can climb it or not. It’s whether you found the most efficient way. So even if you flashed the problem at the boulder wall, do it again and find out if the move was easier if you used that other foothold or sequence.
If you climb with others and you have a good routine of passing movement feedback and ideas back and forth between you on the climbs you try - that’s great. But it’s only the first level. The next level is to be able to do this by yourself.
You don’t have an observant friend to say “You threw your left hip inwards more that time and that looked closer to the move”. So you have to notice it yourself while you are actually climbing, and that’s not easy until you train yourself to do it.
The easiest way to learn is when bouldering, trying a problem that is taking you a few tries to complete. When you are working the moves, don’t give all of your mental focus to delivery of power. Instead, keep a little part of your concentration reserved for noticing how your body and limbs feel as you move through the sequence. Look for things that feel ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, where wrong means it’s more likely to make you fall off. If your right foot is very stretched or is about to slip, what options do you have to solve that problem? 
Once you are close to success and you feel it might happen next try, you can switch to full on redpoint mode and focus completely on just getting the next hold and completing the problem.
Note: The above is moderately advanced. Many less experienced climbers wouldn't even be able to tell you which hands when on which holds immediately after trying the climb, never mind recording the amount and direction of force at each limb and the path of the body during a move. If that’s you, practice noticing just the hand sequence you used, even if it’s just for the first few moves. It’s an essential skill for more advanced climbing and it takes time to learn. There are lots of ways to help you memorise it. But deliberately looking at the wall and each hold and then taking a mental snapshot of how the hold feels in your left or right hand works well.

Leading confidence - a worthy enemy

Recently I’ve been coaching a lot of sport climbing and spent lots of time trying to get climbers to recognise that leading confidence is placing a huge barrier in the way of improving almost any aspect of their climbing.
What I’ve noticed is that climbers with leading confidence issues are desperate to avoid tackling it despite appearing quite highly motivated to make changes in most other areas of their climbing skills. Taking the first step in attacking leading confidence just feels so painful and scary. It’s more comfortable to convince yourself (and try unsuccessfully to convince me!) that it’s unattainable due to past bad experiences with leading or that it’s not actually an important weakness.
Next time you lead a route, notice what thoughts are running in your mind during the climbing. If most of the time is spent thinking “I’m scared, try to calm down… I can’t get to the next bolt, the last one is too far away, I don’t want to go any higher… what will happen if I fall” then very little progress can happen in your climbing. Fear is paralysing your ability to focus on the rock and the moves, and therefore your ability to learn.
In fact, your climbing standard might be doomed only to go down. Every time you toprope, you reinforce the feeling that toproping is normal, leading is abnormal. And when you do lead and take a fall, you have never learned to fall cleanly and your scrape down the rock rather than leaning back and letting the rope take you will wipe away even more of your confidence. A downward spiral basically, of climbing feeling progressively more scary and unpleasant until you eventually feel you just aren't enjoying doing it at all.
Improvements in confidence come in small increments, from forcing yourself to lead more and more and not ignoring learning how to fall nicely onto the rope. But what I’m realising is that many folk stall before even getting onto the road to improvement because they have yet to actually see it for the huge problem it is.
Leading confidence is not a small detail of climbing. For many climbers, it’s the biggest challenge climbing will ever throw at you. Beat it, and many more skills will unfold beyond and become attainable. Respect it as a worthy enemy and give it effort and energy accordingly.
Footnote: Leading is not essential in sport climbing. I often say to climbers that if they never want to lead and always toprope routes others have lead that’s totally fine. Climbing can be whatever you want it to be. I’m sure there are plenty of folk that do just that and probably get on very well because they can get on with actually enjoying their climbing. However, although I’ve said this to many climbers I’ve never actually met any who have decided to reject leading. In fact, often I’ve noticed that just by recognising that leading is an option (not an imposed rule) and it’s their choice, they choose to attack leading and if they follow the right steps (part 3 of the book) progress is almost guaranteed. 
A jump from being too scared to lead hardly at all to leading consistently can be achievable within a few sessions for some, just because the shift in attitude from leading as an unpleasant rule to a worthy challenge is so powerful. That’s what happened to me also - at 16 and too scared to lead. My attitude changed and I jumped from Severe to E2 in a week.