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Chockstone Forum - General Discussion

General Climbing Discussion

Topic Date User
Technique Improvement 3-Mar-2004 At 10:04:11 AM CJ

You hit it on the head with your first comment... more time on rock! While this may sound like an old climbing cliche, with some qualification, it's actually true. There's not much to be gained lying on the couch thinking about how good or otherwise your technique may be, the path to improvement in this area is ongoing reinforcement of the specific movements or techniques in climbing (Phew!), ie: time on rock!
Technique in climbing is something that can be viewed broadly and encompasses aspects of movement, flexibility, efficiency, gear placing skills, route finding and many other skills besides. But given that climbing is principally a movement based activity, basic improvements in this area should lead to improved technique.
Time on rock, days climbing, hours spent bouldering, sessions in the gym all contribute to our "experience" of climbing. At a more basic level we learn how to move on rock - climb, in other words. This experience and learning forms motor patterns which grow and expand as greater experience is gained. For want of a better analogy the motor patterns are files for all manner of skills and tasks stored in the brain. As we gain experience over a number of years these files expand and become more numerous. Hence, a climber with 10 years experience should have better technique (in many areas) than a climber with 1 year experience due to greater learning or motor pattern development having taken place.
By the way, those familiar with Performance RC will recognise a motor pattern as being inter-changeable with the term "engram".
So how does this impact a change in climbing technique? Experiencing more, doing more and replicating climbing more will enable greater numbers of motor patterns to develop and become more expansive. From this we become more familiar or automated in our climbing abilities. Thus allowing us to concentrate our energies to either the physical demands or perhaps the route finding / sequence demands. This partly explains why its so much harder to onsight something than it is to red-point a climb we have been working over a number of occasions. With onsighting we rely on our experience of past climbs, (pull out the motor pattern files), to get through unfamiliar territiory, verses the red-point where constant replication of specific moves automates and rationalises the moves and the climb until it becomes easier. Also notice how much better we climb at our home crags than at new and or unfamiliar areas or on unfamiliar rock types.
Climbing regularly on different types of rock, at different angles, in different styles with different charactersitics helps to expand our climbing horizons but also assists at a more basic level to enhance motor pattern development. By expanding your repertoire of climbing a wider base is created on which you can further enhance other climbing abilities ie: consolidate a particular grade or push further up the grade scale. With this the cycle repeats itself... however it does take time. Much of the literature in skill aquisition and motor learning comes up with a magic figure of 500 hours. This represents the time taken to make a change in technique from a learning stage to full automation... so for want of a better phrase... "It won't happen overnight, but it will happen"
So the take home message in all of this... climb regularly, climb often, seek out and learn from all those experiences that climbing has to offer and with time you will become a better climber.

Chris Yeomans
Sports Physiologist
NSW Institute of Sport

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