21 November 2012

What to do at the crux…

...And what not to do.

Movement technique, within a given climber, is not a fixed quality. It changes depending on  the constraints the climber operates under, and how they respond to those constraints. Generally speaking, your technique is probably at it’s best when you are warming up or fully warmed up, relaxed, in familiar surroundings and feeling confident. It gets worse when we are nervous, scared, over aroused or distracted. But this post is more about how it changes during fatigue.

If you watch climbers at the crag on an onsight or redpoint effort, a common finding is that technique starts off well and errors creep in progressively as fatigue progresses. This is not consistent though. Some climbers’ technique deteriorates so markedly that their movements are completely different as the pump sets in. Foothold choice and accuracy goes down, fluid dynamic movement slows and becomes erratic, pacing becomes either rushed or hesitant. On the flip side, the best climbers can try hard, right on their limit of physical effort, with good technique maintained right to the moment of failure, even on dangerous trad routes.

This quality starts off as a simple choice not to let technique change in the fatigued state. When made over and over, it becomes a habit and eventually set in stone and resistant to the most stressful and rapidly changing situations in climbing.

Obviously, getting off the starting blocks with making that choice to keep the technical standard high right to the point of failure is easier said than done. For a start, climbers themselves don’t necessarily know what their good and bad technical habits are, or may not even be aware that they change. So it starts with an ambitious self-assessment at least. More likely a good coach will be necessary to get it right. Videoing your own climbing efforts is not just an exercise in entertainment or ego trip. It can provide a window to really understanding why you fell off (it might not just be because you weren’t strong enough).

Providing you can find out what negative changes are really going on as you get to the crux, you can make the choice to keep your technique ‘clean’ when it matters most.

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