Improve Your Sport Climbing (13): Tactics, Part 8 (MEDIUM-HARD)

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Identifying and Effectively Training Your Weaknesses (A)

Almost everyone gravitates towards climbing what they’re best at, and we tend to do the same thing when we train for climbing, too, whether we pursue a structured training program or just wing it in the gym a few times a week. However, as you well know, this isn’t the best tactical approach to improving your overall performance, just like only climbing routes (or problems) outside that cater to your strengths and don’t exploit your weaknesses isn’t the best approach for using on-the-rocks experiences to improve your overall performance.

To help you identify your own weaknesses, pay attention to the moves and types of climbs that you like and don’t like. If you studiously avoid a particular angle or style of climbing or your heart sinks when you approach a crag and see what it has to offer, that’s another good indicator of what your weakness might be. If you don’t like a particular climb or even a move/series of moves that everyone else loves, that can be a strong indicator that that climb/move(s) exposes one of your weaknesses.

I’ve also noticed with myself that sequences that I deemed “disgusting” and that felt awkward and thrutchy to me in the past have been rendered fun and fluid and cool moves once I’ve gained enough strength in the right areas – the added strength enabled me to climb them as they should be climbed, instead of feeling like every move was unpleasant. So now, when I encounter these “disgusting” types of movements or sequences, I pay attention to how others view them as well as to what it is about my body that makes this sequence or move feel not-so-awesome.

Beyond this, pay attention to why you fall, and I mean really pay attention and break it down – sometimes, what seems like the culprit might be a part of a chain reaction, as in you may feel like your core gives out when it’s your fingers or your arms that start to fail and then your core tries to compensate and then it, too, fails…and so forth. Ask your partners for feedback as well; heck, even shoot some videos with your phone and watch what happens when you fall if you want to get really nerdy about it. I do. It helps.

If I watch two videos back to back of myself failing on a sequence and then succeeding on the same sequence, it can cut out a lot of internal feedback effort by giving me the external feedback I need to process what’s happening and what needs to happen (both in the moment and in terms of greater training plans). You can’t watch yourself climb (obviously), so it’s a good double-check that can really help you out and expedite the learning process.

On to training weaknesses effectively, a topic I’ll start into today and finish in the next entry. As a general rule, the more the climbs you choose to attempt challenge your areas of weakness, the less likely you’ll be able to spend a ton of time on those weaknesses in training without risking injury or overuse. This makes sense, if you think about it. If you hammer an area that holds you back to extreme fatigue or failure during a climbing day or for multiple climbing days – like fingers, forearms, biceps, lats, core, you name it – and then you try to load up on training that same area on top of that, you’ll just be adding injury to insult, most likely. However, by just climbing to your weakness you may also not be drilling that area (or those areas) to leap up to a stronger level in the most efficient and effective way possible.

Why not?

First of all, whatever fails first in climbing on a particular route/move makes everything fail, meaning you may train one movement to fatigue/failure, but the rest of the areas of weakness that hold you back don’t get pushed nearly as hard. Added to this, if you’re carrying any fatigue when you reach the move(s) in question, you’re not training them at a true strength-gaining level of repetitions (generally three to six reps of your one-rep maximum of any given motion/resistance exercise). Climbing is so varied and intricate that it’s hard to push weaknesses forward evenly just by climbing what challenges you.

So, for (a very simplistic) example, if you have trouble with one-arm power and the route you’re trying has one really hard pull halfway up for your right arm, you may indeed fatigue your one-arm pulling power in that arm…but what about the other arm? And what about all the relatively easy reps you had to do to get to that move (as you obviously have to bend your arm repetitively on almost any climbing route to get halfway up it)? Clearly, you’re not training that motion in the strength-gaining range, so you won’t gain strength in that motion as quickly as you potentially could by breaking it out away from climbing and training it (and its buddies, your other weaknesses) in a strength-training program on its own.

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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