Move of the Month 5: Initiating Movement (Improve Your Climbing Series)

MI1By request, this month’s move involves how to start climbing moves, or movement initiation. I’ll keep the discussion fairly basic, meaning that there will almost certainly be climbing moves that will not fit the general guidelines I give here.

This is an area of climbing that, with time and work, should become subconscious for the majority, if not all, climbing moves during their actual execution. What this means is that eventually, you will likely not be “thinking” the movements while they’re happening, but rather, moving too quickly and fluidly to accompany the movements with verbal commands from your brain.

But, like all novel skills involving complex movements of the body, it can be helpful to try to break down into words and concepts what you want to ultimately happen without the need for these words and concepts to direct your physical actions – much like how you once learned how to tie your shoes, but now can do it without thinking through each step.

To do this, you’ll start by drawing awareness to specific areas of the body involved in this process, working to comprehend how to most effectively engage each area involved for the desired outcome. Next, you’ll slowly execute the movements (or parts of the movements) with attention to specific aspects of the whole. Finally, you’ll start to piece together all of the areas involved in climbing movement initiation into an integrated whole, allowing you to transition from move to move with coordination, strength, balance, agility, flexibility, and proprioception.

As you go through this process, you’ll also improve your ability to read routes, both from the ground and while on the climb. Repetitive exposure to similar situations will help to build your route-reading skills. As you learn to quickly assess the terrain in front of you, you will more and more often respond in kind with a fitting solution and less hesitation or verbal thought.

Step 1: Focus on your feet. This goes back to the topic of “Eyes on Your Feet,”  which I covered in Move of the Month 1. Too often, beginner climbers become overly focused on their hands and arms, neglecting conscious placement of their feet. Here, though, we’re concerned not only just with looking and placing your feet on footholds but also, choosing the footholds that will help you most effectively initiate movement to the next target handhold. Knowing which foot placements to choose for the most efficient and effective movement to the next handhold takes repetition (i.e. learning to “read the route” while you’re climbing it), as does knowing which way to orient your foot (i.e. edge of big toe, outside edge of little toe – the backstep! , straight on, heel hook, toe hook, smear, front point, etc.). Oftentimes beginners tend to try to step on holds with the balls of their feet to maximize surface area – but this makes you lose leverage, mobility, strength, and power. Probably the most commonly used efficient foot position comfortable for beginners to start working with is to use the edge of the big toe, close to the tip of the toe.

Step 2: Try to consciously think about initiating most, if not all, climbing movements from your feet and legs, rather than your arms. This is counterintuitive for many beginner climbers. Most climbing movements will be made more efficiently if you think about starting your motion toward the next handhold from your feet, driving yourself toward the hold you’re headed to by pressing with your feet and your (bigger, stronger) legs, engaging the core muscles to stabilize and extend your upward motion, and allowing that motion to carry on through your shoulders and your arms.

In reality, all of the above happens almost simultaneously, as the well-trained climber moves the body as a whole rather than in parts, engaging all of the muscles needed for each movement, but ideally using only the exact amount of effort from each muscle group for successful completion of movement. This is actually why we can develop better coordination for any move or set of moves via repetition, even in a single session of attempts – because our bodies learn quickly how to stop using muscles or parts of muscles not needed for the motion, delivering more efficient execution each time we try – until we get too tired.

Using the upper body as little as possible and the lower body as much as possible to drive climbing movements is a good rule of thumb – because it’s almost always fatigue in the fingers, forearms, and/or upper body that causes physical (though not necessarily technical/tactical) failure on any given climb. (I’ll talk in more detail about what your arms/hands should be doing most of the time while you climb in the next couple Move of the Month entries). Learning to execute every climbing move without overusing any part of your body (i.e. overgripping, overpowering, not using your feet/legs when you could or as much as you could to drive the movement, etc.) – even when you’re trying hard – is a key to smooth, efficient and effective climbing movements.

Step 3: (More Advanced): Once you have the basics down of how to efficiently and effectively choose the right footholds to initiate coordinated climbing movements that involve moving your body as a whole rather than in parts, you can start to work on refining your timing (moving more quickly and efficiently from move to move) by adding momentum into your climbing. Momentum involves not needing to statically control every climbing move you make, instead drawing upon the energy created by your body in motion to carry you into the next move and the next move, without a pause or break between movements (except when needed/warranted). Think about how you would most efficiently swing across monkey bars for a visual of momentum in action – the backward, then forward swing of your legs helps propel your upper body forward with less strength than you’d need to move from bar to bar with your legs hanging straight down and not engaged in the movement. This same concept applies in climbing – you can take advantage of the
momentum generated from move to move, or from swinging down and away from your target hold, and then harness it to propel you through moves that you don’t have the raw, static strength to do without the help of momentum backing you up.

Up Next Week: Climbing & Training Myths & Misconceptions 2: Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness Myths (IYC Series)

This multipart series of 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. This information and advice is based on my 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You 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!

Climbing & Training Helpful Hints and Suggestions (1): Lactate Threshold Training (C)

Training your body to recover on the rock is a key part of effective HIIT training.

Training your body to recover on the rock is a key part of effective HIIT training.

Lactate Threshold Improvement Tactic 2: High-intensity interval training (HIIT) outside. This is very similar to the indoor training paradigm outlined in last week’s entry, but instead, you’ll use your outdoor project or projects as the training ground rather than an indoor climbing wall. Once you have the beta worked out, at least enough to start trying to put sections of the climb together, you can start employing a HIIT approach to your project(s) outside – keeping an open mind that you might need to rework beta sometimes, too. Note that you can also work on HIIT on still-challenging routes that you have already sent by pushing the pace and decreasing the resting intervals, so long as this presents an actual challenge for you and pushes you into a place where you feel you are fighting to maintain technical/tactical control, struggling to recover, and pushing the pump away.

Step 1: Overlapping sections. Breaking the route up into sections between rests just like you did inside can be an effective way to train HIIT on the route. Work to climb to a given point where you’ll get a shake on redpoint, and then allow yourself to take there rather than trying to shake out on the hold right away. But, if you have a particular place where you “always fall” (a crux for you), do NOT train the fall (i.e. don’t make that a standard take-‘n’-shake place) – what I mean is that you should not just get back on from where you fell and continue, but rather, you should lower down a few moves prior to the fall point and attempt to climb into and through the move(s) in question (assuming you can do them!), and on to your designated shake point.

If I hang at the shake point, I usually try to get back on and start there with a few shakes to simulate that I’ll be moving out of this place from a rest, and then carry on to the next shake-out spot (again, if I fall, lowering down and trying to climb through rather than training the fall). You’ll never get to rest right before the place you fall while you’re climbing the route (unless it’s right after a real rest), so you don’t want to train your body to be recovered when you go into the move – once you’re able to hit the move consistently from a hang right before it, which this training regimen assumes you can, you will not want to keep repeatedly ingraining the rested execution of the move.

Step 2: Linkage of sections with shakes. After you’re able to do the route with the designated take-‘n’-shakes, you can start to link longer sections with the shake outs taken on the actual route rather than taking hangs at each shake. You’ll still stick with the falling and lowering part approach to cruxes, and you should take care to reduce all hang-time on the rope during this portion of your HIIT training on the project – so you won’t lower down a few moves and hang until you’re totally de-pumped and then attack the moves into the crux and the crux again. You’ll rest while you’re lowering, and then immediately get back on and tackle the moves and the crux, and then continue.

Step 3: Send the route and find a new project! Start the process over again. I actually usually have a few projects going, indoors or outside, so that I’m never too specific in training on only one angle/set of holds/movements/length of sequences or route, etc.

Lactate Threshold Improvement Tactic 3: Consider undertaking a program of climbing-specific resistance (weight) training. Resistance training has been shown to help improve lactate threshold. But this is the topic for a different series of articles entirely, so I’ll leave it at that for now.

Up Next Week: Move of the Month 5: Initiating Movement (Improve Your Climbing Series)

This multipart series of 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. This information and advice is based on my 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You 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!

Climbing & Training Helpful Hints and Suggestions (1): Lactate Threshold Training (B)

Include moves that make you uncomfortable when you encounter them on a route after a bunch of other moves -- like dynos are for me.

Include moves that make you uncomfortable when you encounter them on a route after a bunch of other moves — like dynos are for me.

Lactate Threshold Improvement Tactic 1: High-intensity interval training (HIIT) in the gym. In HIIT, you train your body to climb hard at a relatively quick pace without losing your ability to maintain solid technical and tactical maneuvering (i.e. maintaining control while pushing at your limit). If you have route goals outside (and you know the routes or can obtain information about them), this can help you structure these workouts more specifically (recall the SAID principle of training – specific adaptations to imposed demands) to your advantage.

Step 1: Create several boulder problems or routes inside that have roughly the same amount and types of moves you have to perform between rests/shakes on the route(s) you wish to redpoint. If you don’t have any projects in mind, then try to create problems (or routes made up of several “problems,” as so many routes are outside) ranging from 10 to 30+ moves, focusing on the types of moves or sequences of movements that you routinely struggle with. One way to do this is to create problems with themes, such as dynamic movement, slopers, small holds, lots of one-foot-only on moves, etc. You want these problems to be challenging, but not ridiculous. For known projects, you may start with moves that are slightly easier than the moves that challenge you outside. You can also start with slightly harder sequences or moves than those you encounter on the route(s) – so long as you can do them inside without falling at least one time per session.

Your aim is to be able to climb several of these problems per session cleanly, with no shaking out or resting as you climb them (anywhere from 4 to 20 laps total per session, depending on the intensity/difficulty/length of each problem), taking timed rests in between the problems. I usually start with 5 minutes and work down from there. As you improve at sending each problem multiple times, you’ll want to start decreasing the rest times between efforts, which will eventually lead to you to Step 2.

Step 2: Linkage with shakes on the wall. Once you’re able to handily send all the sections of your redpoint route project recreated indoors (or your imaginary route project made up of several long boulder problems created to target all of the areas of your climbing that need the most work), you’ll ideally want to start trying to sew it together without rests off the wall. So you’ll climb the first part of the route (the first boulder problem) to a rest – preferably one that mimics the rest you’ll get outside – and shake out there until you feel ready to move into part two, and so forth, until you send.

Step 3: Take it to the project outside (see next week’s entry for details). Or, if the moves were slightly easier to start with, now you’ll incorporate harder moves into your HIIT training routine, perhaps ending up sending a route that is even harder than your outdoor project.

Note that it’s important to not fall into a “too-specific” training rut here – you want specificity, but not to the point that you forgo all other types of climbing-related movements that challenge you because of training for a single project (unless that’s all that’s really important to you right now and you don’t care if you lose some ability in other areas). The simple solution to this is to have more than one mix of problems you can try (i.e. more than one full boulder-problem route that you’ll eventually link), or even more simply, to change the order of problems (if it’s not a specific route you’re training for) from session to session.

Also note that this is high-intensity training, meaning that quality and intensity of the sessions count for more than volume/frequency. If you’re training at a hard enough level to elicit training gains, you should aim to do this type of training two or three times a week, tops. If you have other training elements in your training program right now (such as power-focused bouldering/training or weight/strength/resistance training, for example), once or twice a week will likely be more effective and efficient in helping you see quicker gains while avoiding overtraining or “plateau-area” training, in which you can’t truly push hard because you’re never recovered enough to truly push hard.

Up Next Week: Climbing & Training Helpful Hints and Suggestions (1): Lactate Threshold Training (C)

This multipart series of 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. This information and advice is based on my 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You 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!

Climber. Writer. Aspiring Yogi. Climbing Coach/Trainer. Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT-200). ACTION Certified Personal Trainer (CPT). Avid Lifelong Learner.

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