Learning a Climbing Technique – The Basic Process, Part I
Learning any new technique for any sport follows the same basic process, and learning climbing techniques is no different. The key to mastering a technical element is repetition of the element until it becomes second nature – until you no longer have to perform it consciously. At that point, you’ll be able to draw upon the technique without having to think about it anymore; it becomes a fluid part of your climbing movement repertoire that you will automatically employ when it’s the best technical choice to make on a route. Generally speaking, the more complex a technique is – the more coordination and physical strength it requires – the more repetitions it will take to achieve mastery.
But let’s say you break down a specific technique – let’s take dynos, for example – and you understand intellectually how to perform this movement, but you simply cannot seem to achieve mastery through repetition, no matter how hard you try and how much you break down the constituent parts of the movement. A likely culprit for the failure to mastery is lacking the physical strength at some point during the technical execution of the movement – but you’ll first want to make sure you aren’t missing or overlooking any component of the technical execution before you go straight to strength training. In this scenario, having a partner or trainer take a look at your motion to make sure that you’re not missing anything in terms of technical comprehension is a good first step.
Asking that person or several trusted observers to help you identify the area(s) of weakness that might be holding you back from achieving technical proficiency is a good next step. It’s worth asking more than one other person, and getting a solid consensus from a number of trusted sources, as sometimes, what looks like it might be the primary culprit in your repetitive failure on mastering a technical element might be masking another, even more important or just as important key player in helping you make progress in this area. Dynamic moves, for example, rely not only on upper-body strength and power-generating ability, but also often on explosive power generated through the legs, plus the ability to maintain core tension through both the front and back of the body, not to mention the hand/finger strength required to latch target holds; dynamic moves of course also require tremendous coordination and timing, but those can be pretty much impossible to develop should the basic strengths required to execute a dynamic move be lacking.
Regardless of the technique(s) you’re trying to master, it’s a good idea to choose one or two new techniques (or techniques that need work) to focus on in each workout, instead of trying to learn a bunch of new techniques at the same time. This can quickly get overwhelming and lead to a total devolution of your technique as a whole. So – select a one or two technical areas that need work (get recommendations from friends, coaches, and/or trainers if you can’t identify these on your own), and make these the focus of your technical training until they become second nature. Warm-ups offer the perfect terrain for you to practice employing the technique du jour consciously; climbing at a slower pace on easier terrain and making sure you employ the technique correctly as often as possible will help teach your being how and when to find and effectively use the technique in question.
As you get more comfortable with the technique, you’ll find yourself drawing upon it more and more, even on more difficult terrain. Throughout your workout or climbing day, try to stay true to your intention for the day in terms of technical effort – so if you suddenly become aware that you’re climbing with bent arms on a hard route and you meant to keep them straight as much as possible, for example, attempt to correct this as you climb by seeking those straight-armed positions.
This multipart series of blogs and articles starts here, in case you have to catch up – you’ll also find a full table of contents, complete with links, in that entry. My designation of each area as “easy,” “medium” or “hard” is purely subjective. I’ve arrived at the designations from my personal experience garnered from 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You may find some of the areas harder or easier to change. You also might not agree with me or my take on things. That’s fine – feel free to take it or leave it as you wish! Also, remember that the information I provide here is purely offered as advice and that no exercises or training program should be undertaken without receiving medical clearance from a healthcare professional.
One other caveat: As will be true for all of the entries and articles in this series, if you’ve already mastered or maxed out the topic at hand to the best of your ability level, you’ll reap far fewer benefits or none at all from my suggestions – good for you that you figured it out, but sorry I couldn’t help you out more. Happy climbing and training!