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Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Ticking harder routes - "letting go"

Following on from the previous post on just attempting harder routes than you've previously tried and the size of holds on real-rock routes, I thought I'd continue this theme of motivation and how to improve at climbing for people of all levels. I'm using the excuse of the 8a last week I was on purely as it's a good reference point for comparison, but this should all transfer to any grades that you're improving towards.

Following on from last week, I'm referencing the concept of relaxing on routes. And in a timely manner, Dave MacLeod talked about this on his Online Coaching blog last week so it's perfectly apt that it proves I'm not making this up :)

"It’s a worthy concern - constantly bouldering teaches you how to to deliver maximum force and tension from start to finish. It’s often very easy to tell that a climber mainly boulders, just by looking at them climb for a few moves. For someone very experienced who is still climbing a lot of routes for a large part of the year, it’s not such a problem. But if a large proportion of your yearly climbing is on a boulder wall and you are ultimately training for routes, it’s still worth putting a harness on and clipping a rope on a real route whenever you can so you don’t lose the ability to climb with minimal force on the steady parts of routes. In the boulder wall, circuits are still ‘the business’ but make sure and mix them up often and include some you don’t have dialled, so you remember how to use your brain while pumped and make it up as you go along if you mess your feet up or forget where the next hold is."

Having a lot of experience on routes (A lot more than bouldering), meant that I didn't struggle as much with this while in Spain, but it still took a couple of days climbing to adapt to the economy of movement required for route climbing.

"Letting Go"
One of the most important aspects of route climbing, sport or trad, hard or easy is that you just can't pull at 100% all the time over 10's of meters of rock. Your arms/body will power out and you'll be off before you know it. The nature of staying within capacity is that you need to stay below a threshold somewhere around 70-80%% of your maximum. Below that your body is able to naturally recover and, for simplistic terms, get blood moving through the arms. (I'm being very very simplistic here, for more information, I recommend doing some research on Aerobic and Anaerobic training - or just buying one of the climbing training books I've mentioned before).
Strange as it sounds but you need to learn to 'let go' on holds, use the "minimal force" that Dave talks about above. A natural tendency for all (especially those coming from bouldering*) is to grab a hold and grip it with as much intensity as possible. In bouldering it makes sense, you don't want to slip off, but for routes, all that leads to is the magic 'pumped' senstation we all know and love/hate.
But ideally what you need to learn is to relax on the hold enough that you're solid on the hold and comfortable, that you can get your effort level below that threshold where you can start to recover. This is obviously something to practice, the easiest being to just go and climb routes, concentrate on learning to shake out on holds that you imagine yourself recovering on. At the bouldering wall, a good way of simulating it is to go and climb multiple problems back to back - it'll force you to think about energy conservation as you can't just sit around on the mats immediately after completing a problem!

Essentially, you need to 'train' the body to be efficient. Especially before the route season, consider spending some time learning to 'let go'........ Ideally, you'll do this by tying in with a rope and actually climbing routes (by far the easiest method

This isn't to say that you won't be giving 100% at times on routes either, but it's learning to only use that 100% effort when it's really required. Hope that makes sense!

*I actually suffer from the opposite syndrome to this 'letting go' issue - I've spent so much time doing routes that learning to pull at maximum intensity is quite hard (anyone who has watched me bouldering in the past couple of months will have noticed I'm taking time to adapt to bouldering :)
Again, it's the same concept - go and spend time bouldering more to get the body to adapt to the idea of pulling with everything it's got. As route climbers, it's especially important that you do this to improve your overall strength and power.....