Weekly trip to the wall this Tuesday, usual build up of excitement during the day but I was planning a slightly different session. Until now I’ve been focussing, as I assume most beginners do, on improving my grades. This has worked well for me and I’m really pleased to have completed a couple of 6’s after only a few months of climbing and only one session (or less) each week during that time.
My outlook changed over the course of the last few days when I started reading a book called “Performance Rock Climbing” by Dale Goddard and Udo Neumann. It’s an American publication from 1993 so is a little dated and some of the terminology and grading is different but that doesn’t detract from it’s
content at all. Rather than being a “Learn to Climb” type of book, they spend no time explaining knots or ethics or choosing kit, it is squarely aimed at improving ability. I’m only a short way into this at present but even the first couple of chapters have been a great help.
Some years ago when I was having regular golf lessons, my teaching pro constantly talked about “muscle memory.” I understood his meaning but never really understood (or cared) how this could work. Within a few pages though, all became clear. Without going into detail here, it is based on the creation of something called “motor engrams.” The theory being that repetition of a move allows the brain to store a little file somewhere which it opens each time the same move is attempted, instructing the muscles to expand or contract in the same way as they had to previously. It then goes on to explain that by continually doing routes that are of a lower grade, the more staightforward moves become easier. This allow a more energy efficient way of climbing and reduces stress levels when working on more difficult moves in the future.
Ok enough of the “science bit,” the book is worth a look if you want to know more. Taking all of this on board however, I decided that I would try a different approach to this weeks climbing. Some fairly simple bouldering problems to warm up and then a shift onto the top ropes. This was, in some way, also prompted by about 20 people from a well know sports based university, turning up with checklists. Their mission appeared to be to complete all of the problems on the bouldering wall, so things got a little crowded!
We decided to concentrate on 4’s and low 5’s and my aim was to focus on technique with every move, to try and build up those “engrams.” I thought the night was going to be a washout after the first route. A bit of pain from a knackered knee at the crux move forced my back the deck to recover. On my second attempt I struggled to concentrate on the moves and things just wouldn’t “click!” I gave up and spent a few minutes giving myself a damn good talking to, while I belayed Si on the same route which he made look easy! We moved to another section and started again. It seemed that my “telling off” had done some good. I was off and running, or rather climbing, and feeling great! Using my new focus and concentrating on how I performed each individual move, I found I was climbing much more smoothly and confidently.
The rest of the session was fantastic, I enjoyed every route and only failed on a long overhang by a bad case of “forearm pump!” We stayed on grades no higher than 5+ but I really feel that I got much more from the session than I would have done if I had struggled up a 6b just to say I’d done it.
The effect of this new approach continued into the next morning too. I found that I was aching much less than normal, despite doing a good number of routes. I can only assume that this down to a much more efficient technique?
In summary, if the first few chapters of this book can help me this much, I’m really looking forward to reading the rest!