May 18, 2011

Off To Practice

It is raining for the second day in a row. I'm dreaming of lichen covered granite, digging into the crank bank, and thinking about training. One of the most important aspects of training for climbing is "practicing." That isn't the same as "doing." Here are Dr. K. Anders Ericsson's four conditions for deliberate practice:

1. Well-defined task
2. Appropriately difficult task
3. Immediate feedback
4. Opportunity for repetition & correction of errors.

Applying those guidelines, here is the "on the wall" portion of today's training session:

1. Super Slow Climbing - I climb as slow as possible for 5-10 minutes. I felt every movement. Where I'm holding unnecessary tension? Where I'm wasting movement and energy?

2. Perfect Repeats - I climb a series of problems three times each with complete rest between every repetition. The problems range from very easy to difficult (but completable in less than 3 attempts). I strive for each repetition to feel easier.

3. N's - I climb up a problem, down a problem, and up a different problem without leaving the wall. I rest completely and repeat the same circuit until failure. The up problems should be very difficult. This closely mimics a day on my current project, a short, brutal route. I should be dialed in by the 3rd set and maintain until the 8th set. Everything past the 9th set is pure training bliss.

I'm off to practice.

May 17, 2011

Technique, Intensity, & Volume

(Click in box & Press space bar to play video)

The "Technique, Intensity, & Volume" paradigm is fundamental to effective long-term improvement in climbing. Most climbers start chasing intensity and never stop. As a result most climbers do not improve past the novice stage (i.e., getting better by just doing a sport). Chasing intensity over technique creates a big engine that goes nowhere because the tires do not have traction. Primarily chasing intensity results in short, finite gains. Emphasizing technique is a slower and longer road but leads to higher peaks. Intensity is seductive in climbing because ease of measurement. Every climb has a grade, a reasonable proxy for intensity. Technique is more subtle. Just because something is less measurable does not lower its value. Do not ignore intensity, just put intensity in its proper place. Frequently as people progress from novice to advance climbers, they start chasing volume. You see this in 3+ hour sessions 4+ days a week. They are just ingraining their poor climbing movement. I consider volume the icing on the training cake. I only increase volume after my technique and intensity have started to plateau for the current cycle.

The "Technique, Intensity, & Volume" paradigm is often thwarted by climbing gyms. Indoor gyms put a premium on intensity. There is often a culture that rewards people for sending without regard for technique. It doesn't help the hardest climbs in gyms often do not require the best technique. They are usually "paste & jump" (repeat). Additionally, all climbers, including indoor setters, have a limited technique vocabulary. Indoor climbs are limited to the particular setter's vernacular. Indoor climbs do not encourage a variety of solutions. Routsetting "success" is often arbitrarily defined as forcing a move. Typical gyms, by their very nature, have many problems. Frequently it is too many for training purposes. Instead of creating an environment where you are encouraged to learn what problems can teach you, you can always find another problem that suits your own meager technique vocabulary. Rarely, do you see climbers taking time to expand or rebuild their technique on easier climbs. I see the average gym climbers as a small dog trying to jump over a high brick wall. No matter much or how hard it jumps, it just cannot get over the wall. The problem is not effort but tactics. It is standing too close! It could easy jump over the wall, if it took a couple of steps back to gain the necessary momentum.

I challenge you to try the "Technique, Intensity, & Volume" paradigm for one training cycle. It just might help you jump over your brick wall.

May 14, 2011

Allez Repost, The Fundmentals Never Change

The King-Dino has posted the complete anthology of Allez for the world to enjoy. Allez was well before my brief tenure in Santa Barbara, but it was the inspiration for this website, a forum to share my passion and knowledge of local climbing and training. I could always use a reminder about the joy of sharing and the need to revisit training fundamentals.

P.S. This has been my most productive cycle for development. I have a large publication project in preparation.