Lots of climbers can’t afford the time/cost/energy investment of structured training. And lots of climbers make plenty of progress without those things. This doesn’t mean those things aren’t useful. But in many cases, progress is made not because of the structured training, but because of the focus that structured training requires to pursue effectively.
A simple plan followed well beats a complex plan followed haphazardly every time.
For the next 12 months, at the start of each month, I will offer a couple notions or practices that anyone can implement in their climbing for the month.
First I will cover this month’s practice, and some explanation of the philosophy is further down.
- Start and end each climbing session with 15-20 breaths
- Make eye contact with each hand and foothold until fully established
1. Start and end each climbing session with 15-20 deliberate breaths
Sit somewhere comfortable, without your phone, and breathe. This is a basic mindfulness practice.
At the beginning of the session, this serves as a useful buffer between your normal life and the climbing session. Whether you just came from your desk at work, did a 2 hour drive and a 45 minute hike, or rolled straight up to a roadside crag, this is an effective strategy.
At the end of the session, this breathing is a buffer to help process whatever climbing you did, as well as prepare for whatever is next: the hike or drive out, or just bringing the arousal level down for dinner and bed.
This should only take a few minutes total. And you have to breathe anyway – might as well make it useful.
2. Make eye contact with each hand and foothold until fully established
It’s normal to take your eyes off a hold as soon as possible, to turn the gaze to the next move and minimize your time on the wall.
Where this becomes problematic is when we continue to make adjustments to a hand or foothold after looking away from it. This may result in trying to do two things at once, such as wiggling a foot on the foothold while we’re starting to move our hand to the next handhold. Messing with a foot placement after looking away from it is a recipe for slipping off the foot outside, where foot placements are often very precise.
This practice is not about not adjusting the holds. Generally speaking, getting the holds right is very important. The goal of the practice is to keep eye contact with each placement until you have it right.
In some cases, especially with complex handholds, adjustment may be a purely tactile process and not driven by the gaze. In this case, just make sure you are finished adjusting the hold before continuing to the next movement.
At first, deliberate eye contact may slow down your climbing or interrupt your flow somewhat. With a little bit of practice, it should become natural, and you can get back up to your normal climbing speed.
The KISS philosophy
I’ve noticed that most of the progress people make in climbing – especially the “quantum leap” type progress – happens at the edges of a training program itself. Doing boulder repeats, spending lots of time on the sharp end, and keeping a regimen of strength training may all help chip away at long-term progress. But those quick jumps forward are made by focusing our attention on specific elements while we continue pursuing the sport in general. As legendary coach and climber Tom Randall said on the Nugget, “focus tends to produce excellence.”
This focus could be on a discipline of climbing or even a specific project. But it can also be keeping our attention tuned to whatever aspect of our climbing we are trying to improve right now. The thrust behind KISS training is to pick a few things and work on them for an entire month. (Traditionally KISS stands for “Keep it simple, stupid” which I find a bit denigrating, thus the slight change.)
This isn’t really a “training plan” but these are things that virtually anyone at any level can improve at. After all, the simplest things are often the hardest.
Simply combine these two things with whatever else you’re doing this month. Climbing inside or outside, on boulders or ropes, placing gear, even getting in the mountains… these tips should still apply.
Let me know if you try these, and check back in on May 1 for more.