Improve Your Sport Climbing (13): Tactics, Part 7 (MEDIUM-HARD)


Tactical On-Route Climbing Decisions (C) INDIVIDUAL TACTICS

My tactical solutions to sticky “emergency situations” that I described in the previous entry also largely shape my plan of attack for difficult redpoint attempts, especially getting through difficult sections that involve large, dynamic movements or series of moves.

But doesn’t this fly in the face of the whole idea of working your weaknesses to improve the most quickly at climbing?

I actually don’t really think so, so long as you’re consciously aware of your weaknesses and working to counter them when appropriate.

As I’ve delved more deeply into steeper and more powerful/dynamic climbing (always my weakness) these past few years , I’ve realized that shirking using my strengths to my advantage when trying routes that are difficult for me on this style is just a silly, self-sabotaging approach. What I mean by this is that I will use intermediates; I will rest and shake; I will take the time to set a good heel hook, toe hook, knee bar, or knee scum that takes a tiny bit of arm/shoulder power away from the next move; I will match (sometimes hand on hand, using the hand underneath as an intermediate to yard of off); I will stuff my fingers into a pocket bird-beaked or stacked to get better purchase; and so forth. In other words, I will find every way possible to take the one-arm power out of these routes, just as I always have done. This is just smart tactical planning; it’s the same reason why Kevin will do almost entirely the opposite on such routes.

Still, though, in the bigger picture, these steeper, more powerful, more dynamic routes demand from me all that I’ve historically struggled with – no matter how much tactical trickery I employ to play to my strengths, I can’t get away from doing big moves, from powerful one-arm dynamic pulls, from having to move quickly through sections (faster than I’m comfortable with), from giving it everything I have and yelling with effort. As I just observed the other day, “The steeper it gets, the worse I am at it, and the more I enjoy climbing it!” I’m out of my comfort zone and forced to climb to my weakness, no matter how much of my strength I try to draw upon.

This is a different approach than only trying routes that actually cater to my strengths and allow me to use them more effectively than the steeper, thuggier routes do, obviously. Not that I don’t ever climb routes that play into my strengths a bit more – of course not. I think a balance is good; it’s fun to feel strong and effective, too. But my point of this entry is that if you’re working on routes at or near your limit that challenge your overall weakness(es), it’s tactically intelligent to employ your strengths as much as you can to help you through. You’ll still work your weaknesses – there’s no way I can’t use power and dynamic movement and one-arm pulls on super-steep thug climbing, just like there’s almost no way to avoid using tiny crimps and little pockets in Ten Sleep Canyon.

The more appropriate time and place to force the issue – for me, to do big moves that I can make smaller, or to rest less, for example – is to do this on routes I’ve already done and know – like my warm-up or end-of-day/cool-down routes. Now that I’ve climbed these lower-than-my-limit routes in my own style, trying to push that style in a new direction can be a way to keep them fun and more challenging. So, for example, after watching Kevin do a huge move on a warm-up that looked way more graceful and less ticky-tacky than my method, I got the beta and started making myself do this every time. This helps me both physically and mentally, as it helps retrain my brain to see and consider such potential movements, instead of the more ingrained approach of grabbing every hold available. Likewise, I’ll try to not rest and push the pace on parts of routes or entire routes that I know better, to help condition my body and brain, both, to be more comfortable and efficient with a faster pace and less rest.

As for the harder routes, I’ve learned to figure out what I’d do if I were stronger and didn’t need to match (i.e. what the majority of climbers on such a route would do), and instead of feeling pleasure at my need to use this tactic to limp myself through big pulls, I always feel a humorous tweak of irritation; I accept that I will likely always do this as the moves get bigger and the pulls get harder (I doubt one-arm pulling will ever be my strong suit in climbing!). Every time this happens, though, I recognize it as a huge issue that still needs work. And I really do love it when I find that I no longer need to match to do a particular move; it’s a little victory than I can be proud of every time.

So – be aware of your strengths and strategize smartly to use them to your advantage when you’re working out the beta on hard redpoints or going for a difficult onsight. At the same time, understand that often our go-to strengths also can help us realize more fully what our weaknesses are, showing us what we could potentially work on in training to improve our overall climbing game. And, unless you only want to be good at one style of climbing, diversify your efforts and climb more routes that force you to work your weaknesses. Throw in some strength-showcases there for sure, but spend two to four times as much time climbing on terrain that exploits something you’re relatively “bad” at. That, too, is a smart tactic for overall improvement as a climber.

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!

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