Lately, we talked about how if you are looking to maximize your potential climbing it is important to train hard to get stronger, but that it is also important to work on improving your technique so that you get better at climbing not just stronger. To help you focus on overall improvement, here’s an article written for Training Beta by strength and conditioning coach Joshua Rucci about skill acquisition and how to effectively work towards learning new techniques.
In his article, Joshua goes into detail about how we learn skills, what tactics we can employ to provide the most effective feedback, and how we can apply these concepts to our climbing and training. Give it a read!
(cover photo courtesy of Edwin Teran)
Enter Joshua Rucci…
Skill Acquisition and Technique
I’ll admit it, I check out 8a.nu for popular routes and to see who’s sending what. Judge me if you like, but the other the day they posted a poll asking climbers which skill they most lacked in their climbing.
Here are the results…
Based on 2 000+ unique votes, Which skill do you lack the most?
31 % Finger strength
24 % Endurance
18 % Mental
15 % Flexibility
07 % Technique
05 % Other
Wow, the thing that really jumped off the page to me was that TECHNIQUE was pretty much dead last!!! (I’m not counting “Other” as it could pertain to pretty much anything) This comes on the heels of some deep thought regarding how little information there is out there in regards to technique in climbing. Climbing is arguably one of the most technical sports I can think of and on top of that, technical needs are always changing based on the type of climbing you are doing as well as the type of rock you are on. Other technical sports that come to mind are gymnastics, sprinting, and Olympic weightlifting, but the big difference here is that they are working on perfecting the same skills over and over again for their competition routines/runs/lifts.
Wait, wait, wait!!! Even while writing that last sentence, things started to become much clearer. Maybe these sports are more similar to climbing than previously thought. The key takeaway is that gymnasts, sprinters, and Olympic lifters are constantly practicing their skills in order to perfectly execute them come competition time. How should that be any different when it comes to climbing technique? The fact of the matter is that it shouldn’t be!!!
Climbing can be broken into a variety of techniques that when put together allow a climber to efficiently complete a problem or route. The big problem present in a majority of climbers is that…
- Climbers may be completely unaware of the many techniques that exist.
- Climbers are aware of specific techniques, but fail to practice them enough.
In a nutshell, it is hard to know what you don’t know! And if you do know, you may be failing to hone those skills. I believe that both problems have some pretty easy solutions and with some dedicated learning and practice, technique may well become one of your strengths.
This article will not be about the multitude of techniques and subtleties present in climbing movement as many techniques deserve much more attention and could probably warrant their own individual articles. The article will however discuss some of the science behind learning skills and provide some suggestions for productive practice and coaching.
Photo Credit: Dave Diletti; Area: Jenny Lake, Wyoming; Climb: Unknown; Climber: Joshua Rucci
Background Information on Skills and Skill Acquisition
During my time in graduate school I became very fond of motor behavior and the research conducted in the field. Motor behavior is essentially the science of learning how individuals learn skills. As a strength coach, I thought this was extremely applicable to what I am doing on a daily basis, which is teaching and refining skills in the weight room. If you think lifting weights is purely for meatheads and is not a skillful act, you can stop reading right now. Everything you do, not only in the weight room and climbing gym, but in life, is a skill that can be practiced and refined.
So with that said, just a heads up, things might get a little sciencey and thick here. The following are some excerpts from my master’s thesis along with some of my commentary that provide insight into skill acquisition and practice.
What is a skill?
The most notable thing that happens when people practice is that they demonstrate increased proficiency in performance and skill. A skill can be conceptualized as a task (e.g. throwing a baseball, kicking a ball) or it can be viewed as a level of performance proficiency that distinguishes a higher-skilled performer from a lower-skilled performer (Schmidt, 2004). While several definitions of skill have been proposed, Guthrie’s (1952) definition captures the critical elements of skill that are espoused by the majority of contemporary researchers and theorists. He proposed that “skill consists in the ability to bring out about some end result with maximum certainty and minimum outlay of energy, or of time and energy.” There are different types of skill; for example, motor skills, perceptual skills, and cognitive skills. Motor skills are those in which both the movement and the outcome of the movement are emphasized (Newell, 1991). There are three essential features of skilled movement: maximum certainty of goal achievement, minimum energy expenditure, and minimum movement time. (Rucci & Tomporowski, 2009)
We will be focused primarily on motor skills as we move forward. Of the three features, minimum energy expenditure is the one the clearly stands out in regards to climbing. This feature refers not only to physical energy but psychological energy as well. Your brain has a limited working capacity that can only attend to 5 to 7 things at one time. So if you are having to give lots of mental attention to that drop knee or flag technique, it limits the amount of other important things your brain can attend to like controlling your breathing, staying relaxed, reading upcoming sequences, etc. Technical practice therefore should be utilized and refined so that certain techniques become automatic during climbing, which frees up more of your working memory to attend to other aspects of the climb.
Motor skill acquisition is a process in which a performer learns to control and integrate posture, locomotion, and muscle activations that allow the individual to engage in a variety of motor behaviors that are constrained by a range of task requirements (e.g. athletic context) (Newell, 1991). As a learner acquires a skill, changes may be observed that reflect strategies that an individual uses to achieve specific movement outcomes. A learner may show a change in the spatial orientation of his or her body and body limbs as well as exhibit a change in the timing and sequencing of movements. Motor-skill acquisition follows a pattern in which learning accumulates with practice. Mathematically, the rate of change in learning due to practice follows a power function. Newell and Rosenbloom (1981) reviewed a number of studies and demonstrated a power function by plotting the logarithm of the time to perform a task against the logarithm of the trial number; it invariably yielded a straight line. The logarithmic relation between performance and practice reflects a central characteristic of motor-skill acquisition — the rate of improvement at any point during practice is directly related to the current skill level of the learner and how much improvement is left to be made. Changes in performance that accompany practice are usually much greater and more rapid at first and systematically become smaller as practice continues. (Rucci & Tomporowski, 2009)
As climbers, we are always constrained by task requirements. Each route or problem requires specific alterations to the orientation of the body and limbs as well as the timing and sequencing of those movements. Kind of a no-brainer statement, but reflect back on those occasions when a subtle hip shift over your foot or a well-timed dead point completely unlocked a sequence for you. You learned something from those experiences and are able to apply those techniques to other problems that have different task requirements (sequences), but require similar techniques. On many of those occasions, climbers tend to just stumble across those little subtleties and techniques. Wouldn’t it be great if we had a coach or an experienced climber who can articulate those techniques early on??? Heck yeah, I am a self-coached climber like many of you reading this right now and wished that I would have had some coaching early on. But that’s not the reality for most of us, especially the older population of climbers that got into the game later in life or those that started climbing before the advent of artificial walls and climbing gyms.
For all of you self-coached climbers, I highly recommend this book!
Also of note, is that gains in technical performance will begin to decline as you accumulate practice hours and improve at climbing. This brings up a couple thoughts on technical progression…
- Beginners will initially make great strides in their performance as the learning curve is relatively steep. As they progress however, that curve will begin to flatten out and improvement will come at a much slower pace.
- Intermediate climbers will still have a lot of room to improve technically and should focus a great deal of their time on practicing a variety of technical skills. It is easy to get psyched and start chasing grades as you begin to advance in your climbing, but at some point you are going to hit a plateau because the higher grades will require greater technical climbing skills.
- Advanced climbers can still benefit from technical training. Their training will be much more focused on their perceived or observed weaknesses however. The learning curve at this point will be flattening out, thus requiring much more effort for smaller gains.
Side Note/Tangent: Why do you think climbing grades are continually being pushed by younger and younger individuals? Is that pimpled-face 12 year old rock prodigy really stronger than experienced adult climbers, probably not. Part of it may be due to advances in training and recovery modalities, but in actuality, training for climbing has not really advanced all that much in comparison to training for other sports (football, basketball, etc.). I would argue that the availability of climbing gyms and coaching at an early age is what is really driving the progression. Young kids are being taught techniques their first week climbing that took me two dang years to figure out and utilize effectively. They have a coach that is using video feedback and proper movement cues to help point out the subtleties present in their movement. They are then practicing and refining those skills at a young age and building a movement repertoire throughout their climbing career which leads to more efficient climbing and thus the progression of grades.
How Do Individuals Acquire Skills?
Most motor-skill acquisition theories have embraced a stage conceptualization of learning. Fitts (1964) and Fitts and Posner (1967) proposed a three stage process of motor learning that incorporated a cognitive stage, an associative stage, and an autonomous stage. During the cognitive stage of skill acquisition, the biggest challenge of the learner is to understand what is to be performed, while the biggest challenge for teachers is conveying to the learner what is to be done. During this stage, performance gains are usually quite large; however, these performance gains become smaller and smaller as a function of the number of trials.
The associative stage begins once the learner selects a movement strategy and actually performs the task, and based on feedback begins to modify how the movement is performed. This stage is of particular interest to researchers because feedback plays a crucial role in altering the movement pattern. In the associative stage, attention is allotted to improving the efficiency and timing of the movement.
The autonomous phase appears after extensive training and it is characterized by motor movements being performed automatically and requiring less attentional capacity to complete the skill. Automatic processes do not require attention and they do not use up short-term memory capacity; further, once initiated automatic processes are not easily modifiable (Schneider & Shiffrin, 1977). Schneider and Shiffrin’s findings have implications for motor skill acquisition: they demonstrate that cognitive load affects rate of skill acquisition, and that once learned, automatic movements are difficult to modify. (Rucci & Tomporowski, 2009)
Excerpt from Applying Educational Psychology in Coaching Athletes by Jeffery J. Huber.
During the cognitive stage of learning, it is important that skills are coached properly and in a manner that the learner/student can understand. Each student is unique however, and a good coach will be able to adapt to the student and provide the salient information verbally, visually, or combinations of both to best convey the technique. The associative stage is the where a great deal of research has been conducted, because the role of feedback and its various forms really come into play. We will discuss feedback in more detail as we move through more of the research on that topic.
Finally, the autonomous phase is where we hope all of our technical training will take us in which we are performing technical skills without much or any attention, leaving our working memory free to attend to other factors. The research has shown that these automatic skills are indeed hard to change once acquired however. This should perk up your ears, because unlike many of those aforementioned pimple-faced prodigies, a great deal of climbers have not been coached and may have engrained bad habits that are difficult to recognize and change. We have all heard that “practice makes perfect,” but if you are practicing poor technique, you are perfecting the wrong way to do things, which then becomes a habit that is hard to change. Instead we should we be seeking out “perfect practice” by means of a coach or other external feedback (video analysis) or acquiring knowledge about climbing technique (books, blogs, etc.).
Adams hypothesized that human motor-skill learning was not simply a behavior driven by neuromotor programs in response to a stimulus, but rather that motor behavior included a variety of cognitive processes as well as the development of strategies that can be used to complete a given motor task. A central component of Adams’ (1971) theory of motor control was the manner in which feedback and error detection influences learning. Adams (1971) believed that learners possess a reference of correctness that specifies a desired outcome of the movement and a feedback mechanism that detects error between the learner’s desired movement and the actual movement produced. Considerable research findings suggest that Adams’ views hold true for movements that are relatively slow. Relatively slow movements provide the learner an opportunity to evaluate his or her performance as it is ongoing and to detect the error between the desired movement and the actual movement by way of a feedback mechanism. This type of processing has been termed closed-loop processing (Schmidt & Lee, 2005). Adams posited that movements produce internal feedback, which creates a perceptual trace of the movement that is laid down in the central nervous system. The more accurate the movement, the more useful the perceptual trace will be on subsequent trials. The feedback mechanism compares the feedback produced by the movement to the accumulated perceptual trace and detects any errors between the actual and expected feedback. (Rucci & Tomporowski, 2009)
In execution of slower movements, we anticipate what the movement will feel like and what the desired outcome will be. For example, looking at a sequence on the wall, we can anticipate what movements we will have to make in order to be successful. And in the case of slower movements we are able to make adjustments during the execution of the movement based on the visual and physical feedback our brain is receiving. The more times that we execute a movement successfully and with good technique, the stronger our perceptual trace becomes, which leads to greater efficiency and execution when this specific movement is encountered again. This theory works well for slower movements in which we can evaluate the movement while we are actually performing it, but there are many situations present in climbing where the movement is much more ballistic and we are unable to evaluate the movement until after we have performed it. These ballistic, rapid types of movements are termed open-loop movements.
For open-loop movements, a motor plan needs to be structured in advance and executed without regard to the effects that they may have on the environment, which does not allow for feedback during the movement. Schmidt developed an important theory of motor learning that addressed directly how discrete motor movements are acquired and controlled. He proposed a schema theory that hypothesized that there are two states of memory: recall memory and recognition memory. Recall memory is responsible for movement production and recognition memory is responsible for evaluation of movement. Recall memory does not play a role in slow positioning movements. For slow movements, the recall state simply controls movements in small bursts with the movement terminating when the movement-produced feedback matches the reference of correctness. Schmidt proposed the idea of a generalized motor program; a structured plan of movement that is composed of invariant features and variant features. Invariant features are comprised of the components that remain the same in regards to the general movement being executed (overhand throw) and variant features are the parameters of the program that can be altered such as time and time and force (soft overhand throw versus hard overhand throw). Individuals do not learn specific movements; rather they construct a generalized motor program by exploring the rules of action (schema) and learning ways in which movements relate to outcomes. (Rucci & Tomporowski, 2009)
Closed-loop processing model with feedback incorporated. Feedback from the senses can be evaluated while the movement is taking place and can be adjusted mid-movement.
Open-loop processing model. Feedback will only occur after the movement has run its course.
This is the good stuff!!! This is where many climbing books start when they begin to discuss technique. For ballistic, rapid types of movement, we have to pre-program what we are going to do in order to execute the desired movement. Once that movement is initiated, we are unable to evaluate that movement until it is executed regardless of the outcome.
For example, climbers have a generalized motor program for executing a dynamic movement (dyno). The invariant features of the dyno are the aspects which do not change from dyno to dyno (push hard with your legs, wait till the last second to release the hold, stay close to the wall, etc.) and the variant features are those that can be altered (how much force is needed from the legs and arms, timing and coordination of limbs). After execution of the dyno we can begin to analyze the movement and make decisions about its effectiveness and efficiency based on a 4 different types of information.
A general motor program depends on four types of information that are stored in short-term memory: 1) information about the initial conditions before the movement (variances in limb position or object size/weight), 2) parameters assigned to the general motor program (force, time), 3) augmented feedback about the movement (KR), and 4) sensory feedback (how the movement felt, looked, sounded) (Schmidt & Lee, 2005). These sources of information are interrelated and represent recall and recognition schemas. Learning occurs through the development of the recall schema as the number of trials of the given task accumulate. After each adjustment of parameters, various sources of information are discarded from working memory; thus, all that remains is the movement rule, which represents the recall schema. The recognition schema forms in much the same way as the recall schema. The recognition schema is developed on the basis of information concerning the relationship between the initial conditions, the environmental outcomes, and the sensory consequences. Before a movement takes place, an individual can use a learned recognition schema to predict the sensory consequences that will occur if the correct movement outcome takes place. These expected sensory consequences are the basis for which to evaluate movement. Thus, augmented feedback plays a central role in schema development. (Rucci & Tomporowski, 2009)
Photo Credit: Talbot Carter; Area: Rumbling Bald, NC; Climb: Pit BBQ V6; Climber: Jonathan Carter
Applying This Knowledge of Skill Acquisition to Your Climbing
Let us look at a different type of movement to dig a little deeper. Arguably one of the more difficult skills to perfect in climbing is a well-executed deadpoint. This movement requires proper initial body positioning, an exact amount of force and momentum, and the right amount of balance between force and precision.
After attempts on a particularly hard deadpoint, it is vital to your success to stop and evaluate these four different types of information.
- What was my initial set-up like?
- Are my arms bent too much not allowing me to generate the appropriate amount of force to reach the hold?
- Am I using the right feet? Is there lower or higher feet that I can be using?
- How are my hips positioned in relation to the wall?
- How am I gripping the holds that I am moving off of? Am I crimping or open-handed? Is there a better part of the hold that I am missing?
- What parameters (force and timing) am I programming prior to executing the movement?
- How hard did I push with my feet?
- How hard did I pull with my arms?
- How did I coordinate the pushing of my feet and the pulling of my arms?
- How did I move my hips during execution of the movement?
- When did I release the hold in conjunction with the rest of my body movements?
- What trajectory did my hand and arm take to reach the hold?
- What where the results of my movement? We have not talked yet about knowledge of results (KR) versus knowledge of performance (KP), but for this point we are looking at the results of our movement (KR).
- Did I undershoot the hold?
- Did I overshoot the hold?
- Did I miss the hold to the right or left?
- Did I hit the hold, but couldn’t latch it?
- How did the movement feel?
- I felt off-balance in my set-up, execution, and/or finish (latching the hold).
- I latched the hold, but my downward momentum peeled me off the wall.
- I latched the hold, but was unable to keep tension and came off.
- My movement felt uncoordinated.
- I was unable to push hard with my legs and be precise with my hand.
These lists could certainly be a lot more exhaustive, but hopefully you are getting the point that there is a lot to attend to after the performance of a movement. I always refer back to the writing of Dave MacLeod in his book; Nine out of Ten Climbers Make the Same Mistake, where he talks about blaming strength LAST and to take time after every burn to evaluate the performance of your movement. Of course there will be moves that may be beyond your physical limits; for the most part however, more attention and reflection on the technical aspects of the movement may be the key to unlocking a move or sequence of moves.
A must read for any climber, MacLeod has great insight into everything climbing!
Your perception and internal physical feedback is a rich source of information, USE IT! Take time after each attempt to run through this quick checklist to uncover what may be holding you back from completing a movement or making a movement more efficient.
- What can I change about my set-up for the movement?
- What can I do differently during the execution of the movement?
- What were the results of the movement I chose?
- How did the movement feel?
External Feedback and Knowledge of Performance
Beyond just our internal feedback, there is a rich source of information that can be provided by an outside observer, partner, and/or coach. This feedback will be more centered on providing knowledge about your performance (KP). Again let’s dive into the science and then make some suggestions for application into your training regimen.
Feedback is information about behavioral actions that can be provided to an individual before the action, during the action, and after the action (Schmidt & Lee, 2005). Feedback comes in two forms — inherent (or intrinsic) feedback and augmented (or extrinsic) feedback. Inherent feedback is available to the learner through multiple sensory channels and provides a basis for evaluating movement. Closed-loop movements allow the learner to use feedback to detect error in movement performance during and following action; whereas, open-loop movements require that the action be completed before the inherent feedback can be processed and used to modify subsequent actions. Adams and Bray (1970) suggest that for inherent feedback to be useful there must be a reference of correctness that must work in conjunction with inherent feedback for error detection to take place. Depending on the nature of the movement however, individuals may be unable to self-regulate or become aware of the reference of correctness, which leads to a need for an external source of information to aid in error detection. (Rucci & Tomporowski, 2009)
Inherent/internal/intrinsic feedback is indeed quite a valuable source of information. However, it is hard to know what you don’t know!!! If you are unaware of a certain technique that would help you in a certain circumstance, you will not be able to use it to your advantage. Also, you may think and feel like you are throwing a wicked deep drop knee on some steep terrain, but in reality your drop knee could be even more exaggerated to allow you to complete the move. Without the help of an outside source (partner, coach, video) you may be completely unaware of this fact and continue to struggle on the move. Thus the need for feedback from an external source presents itself.
As opposed to inherent feedback, augmented feedback comes from an external source. Augmented feedback can be provided in a variety of forms: visual feedback from a live model, video replay, or verbal feedback. Augmented feedback can be presented in two forms, knowledge of results (KR) and knowledge of performance (KP). Knowledge of results is post-movement feedback that pertains to the outcome of a movement in terms of an environmental goal (Schmidt & Lee, 2005). Knowledge of Performance (KP) is feedback directed toward the movement pattern of the learner rather than the outcome of the movement. Typically, this form of feedback is directed toward correcting errors present in a specific motor pattern (Schmidt & Lee, 2005). (Rucci & Tomporowski, 2009)
Knowledge of performance (KP) is what we really need in our technical training as knowledge of results (KR) is pretty easy to realize, you made the move or you didn’t. KR does help us make some adjustments however, and should not be overlooked. With many of the movements that are present in climbing and the fact that no two moves are exactly the same, feedback from some external source is necessary to…
- Introduce new techniques if not yet acquired.
- Refine techniques.
- Appropriately apply techniques in a variety of situations.
- Give additional feedback on how you are actually moving versus how you think you are moving.
Alright, we’ve established that external feedback is important, now what is the best type of external feedback to use?
KP is often presented in the form of verbal feedback or video feedback. Further, both verbal and video feedback can be used to provide kinematic feedback to the learner. Kinematic measures deal primarily with pure motion without regard to the forces that produce them and include information concerning position, time, velocity, and patterns of coordination (Schmidt & Lee, 2005). An advantage of kinematic feedback is that it can be used to direct the learner’s attention toward specific aspects of the movement pattern that might otherwise not be perceived.
Mononen et al. (2003) suggest that real world movements that are defined in terms of multiple degrees of freedom may benefit more from KP than from KR. Much of the research conducted on feedback, particularly KR has been conducted using tasks that consist of a single degree of freedom in which the KR can specify all pertinent information about the positioning and timing of the movement (Newell, Quinn, & Carlton, 1987). In the case of multiple degree of freedom movements, Newell and Walter (1981) have hypothesized that kinematic information may be of more importance to learning than KR. If true, this finding would have implications for human performance applications in the athletic arena. There has been longstanding interest in instructional factors that are the most beneficial and efficient for improving skilled performance. Elucidating the effects of feedback, particularly kinematic KP, may lead to advances in instructional methods used by coaches to train and prepare athletes for competition. (Rucci & Tomporowski, 2009)
Climbing is certainly an activity that involves multiple degrees of freedom; in fact, it may be one of the best examples I can think of. The amount of precise body and limb positioning, timing and coordination of opposing forces and velocities as well as the overall coordination of all these factors makes climbing an activity that can be significantly improved through the use of feedback about one’s performance.
Photo Credit: Jonathan Carter; Area: Sand Rock, AL; Climb: Rave 12a; Climber: Joshua Rucci
Traditionally in sports, feedback has been administered verbally from the coach to the athlete. Some things may get lost in translation however based on the level of the learner as well as the coach. A coach may use a certain coaching cue to try and correct faulty movement patterns that may be too complex and/or too much information at one time. If the athlete is unable to understand the coaching cue, then the movement will not change. Depending on the level of the learner, there may be a vocabulary disconnect or the learner is simply unable to visualize the corrections they are given. Further, it is not enough to just know what you are doing wrong; you need further information detailing how to fix the problem.
When giving feedback either as a climbing partner, friend in the gym, or a coach; make sure to keep these things in mind…
- Make sure that you are in sync with the vocabulary you are using. Not everyone uses the same climbing terminology, so ensure that you are on the same page when describing movements and different types of holds.
- Coach to the level of the climber. Beginners will benefit greatly from simple instructions and drills. Trying to go into the nuances of every single technique may be overwhelming and will go over their head. On the flip side, an advanced climber that is in-tune with their body and has a solid technical base should be able to handle more in-depth feedback.
- Do not overload the climber with 10 different things that they need to focus on. Our working memory is limited and can only attend 5-7 things at one time. Pick 1 to 3 things that you think are the most important, and give feedback as well as strategies to improve those skills.
- Do not over coach or consistently spray beta. It may be necessary at first with beginners to continually remind them of technique or provide feedback after every attempt or practice round. But as a climber moves into the associative stage, it is not necessary to give feedback after every attempt and may actually be detrimental to their learning. If a climber is provided feedback after every single attempt, they will begin to rely on this external form of feedback and fail to utilize their intrinsic feedback sources.
***These are some of the basics in regards to giving feedback. In motor behavior there is a large breadth of research dealing with the most effective means of administering feedback including timing, frequency, content, and methods. If you are climbing coach, I would urge you to brush up on some of these concepts as they will bring awareness to your coaching style and help you to make adjustments where needed.
Intrinsic and augmented sources of feedback. Follow this link to learn more about different methods of providing augmented feedback.
Visual Feedback & Modeling
There are other forms of external feedback that can be used in conjunction with verbal feedback, which include modeling and visual/video feedback. Modeling is just what it sounds like, modeling what the athlete is doing wrong and then showing them what the proper movement should look like.
This should sound very familiar as a great deal of climbing feedback falls into this category. Asking other climbers to show you a sequence can be very helpful. You are able to see the sequence but also the orientation of their body as well as the different techniques they are using. Happens all the time at the base of routes and problems as well; to the outside world it looks like some funky dance or abstract art, but really it is just one climber modeling a tricky crux sequence.
Sharma showing Ondra how to Whip and Nae Nae!
Simply viewing a climber model a sequence or movement may be enough feedback to unlock the sequence for yourself, but also talking with the climber about what they are focusing on and what sensations they are feeling will reap the most benefits. Appropriate questions may sound something like these…
- Where is your weight distributed when you are getting set-up for that crux move?
- Where is the majority of your focus during that move? Are you thinking about pushing with your feet or more about what is going on with your hands?
- How much tension do you feel when you latch that hold?
- Does that move feel off balance to you and how are you controlling that barn-door?
Another very powerful source of information is video feedback. Video feedback is a great way to see for yourself what your climbing looks like in order to spot flaws and/or weaknesses. If you have a coach or partner that gives good verbal feedback, adding video feedback on top of that is the next logical step. With technology, whipping out a smart phone or pressing record on your GoPro has made this step much easier. There are a couple of things to keep in mind however when using video feedback or watching videos to gather some intel on your projects.
- Video feedback alone may not be all that helpful. If you don’t know what to pay attention to while viewing your performance or the performance of others, you may be able to pick up on the sequence, but not necessarily the subtleties of the movement.
- When analyzing your own performance, it is helpful to have a coach or an attentive climbing partner analyze the video with you. They will be able to direct your attention to important aspects of the climb that you may be missing as well as to provide feedback on how to improve/adjust your technique.
- When analyzing performance of others (stealing beta from vimeo/youtube) it would be ideal to watch the video with someone who has worked or sent the climb. They will be able to provide more information about how the moves feel, movement subtleties, and where they are directing their attention throughout the climb.
- This is the most ideal situation, but isn’t really all that feasible in most cases. When you can’t watch the video with someone who has experience on the given route/problem, here are some things to attend to while “researching” the climb.
- Get the sequence or alternate sequences dialed first.
- Watch the climber’s hips and lower body to pick up on how they are initiating each movement and what their lower half is doing during the execution of the movement. (Drop-knee, flag, hips square, subtle weight shifts, etc.)
- Watch the climber’s hands to pick up on how they are grasping each hold.
- Look at where the climber’s body is in relation to the holds as they are setting up for each move. As well as how their body is moving in space as they are executing each move.
- Look for how the climber is creating momentum in their climbing. Are they using their hips, arms, head, or a combination of each to execute certain movements?
- Try to figure out where the climber is directing a bulk of their attention. Climbers will usually instinctively look where they are directing their attention. They may be focused on their hands because the holds require a very specific way in which to use them or they are just particularly bad holds. They may focus on their feet more because the foot holds may be poor and/or require precision as in a tricky heel or toe hook.
- This is the most ideal situation, but isn’t really all that feasible in most cases. When you can’t watch the video with someone who has experience on the given route/problem, here are some things to attend to while “researching” the climb.
Hopefully this information has provided you some insight into how much really goes into acquiring skills and how to better pay attention and give conscious thought to your climbing. Also, for all of you coaches out there, there is so much research and information regarding how to administer feedback and how to set-up training sessions to facilitate learning that was beyond the scope of this article. I hope that this information has motivated you to dig a little deeper into the research pertaining to feedback and coaching in general.
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About Joshua Rucci:
Joshua Rucci is a collegiate Strength and Conditioning Coach in the Southeastern Conference. He has always
been passionate about helping athletes get better and reach their potential. Upon arriving to the southeast, Joshua quickly realized that his days of team sports were over and that he belonged in the woods mountain biking and climbing. Joshua entered the climbing game later in life at the ripe old age of 24 and for the past 9 years has been training to transform his body from a 200lb college lacrosse player to a 155lb rock climber.
Joshua’s progression has been slow and steady up to 5.13 sport and double digit boulders with limited interruption from injury or major setbacks. Amidst having to work long hours as a coach, Joshua has effectively been able to manage his time to accommodate training, getting to the crag, work, and a new addition to the family!
Joshua is passionate about strength and conditioning as well as climbing and through his blog entries he is hoping to bring the two worlds together to help climbers utilize the science and practical training that he employs with his athletes.
Joshua’s certifications include NSCA CSCS, NASM PES, SFG Level 2, FMS Level 1, and he completed his undergraduate degree at BGSU in exercise science and completed his graduate work at UGA in