Balance and Technique 4: So Many Skillz

Balance and Technique class 4 of 4. We learned so many different things today!

First we talked about back flagging, which is like flagging, but behind you. Flagging is useful if you have a foot and hand from opposite sides on holds. Back flagging is useful is you have a foot and hand from the same side on holds. Basically, back flagging keeps you from swinging away from the wall like a barn door.

Next, we talked about dynamic movements. Not quite a fully let go dyno, but just springing for holds with a dynamic motion. I like to do this anyway; it feels way more fun than reaching for holds statically. We talked about the dead point, which is that point at which you cease upward motion and have yet to begin downward motion. The idea is that we should control our motion in such a way that our dead point puts us at exactly the hold we’re going for.

We practiced this a bit with one handed traversing. It was also really good practice for understanding our center of gravity and the ever important triangle.

We went over down pressure a bit, where you push down on a hold to boost yourself up. I’d actually picked this up over the last few weeks from my class partner Karen. She’s shorter than me and does this a lot. I naturally started doing it as well, and it worked great.

After that, we talked about how to get our feet high. Having our feet high gives us way more grip and stability for the next move, so learning different ways of getting our feet high is useful. Smearing, from our first class, is one way to do it. Another is to think about getting our hips higher, because that will naturally allow us to get our feet higher. One way to do this is to let go with one hand, since that lets us unsquare our hips and raise one higher than the other.

Related, we learned about the rock over, where we plant a foot high, then rock our hip directly over it with knees bent.

After that, heel hooks, followed by toe hooks.

When we finished going over skills, we talked about projecting. The idea here is you pick a route that’s hard for you, and over time you work on segments of it over and over again until you can do each segment, then put it all together for a single climb.

This is totally different from how I’ve gone about climbing. I’ve been picking routes I think I can complete, then bumping up the grade just a bit to the next one. I’ve never not completed a climb, even if some of those completions have been ugly.

This is exactly why “I’m not pushing myself hard enough”. I’ve approached choosing my climbs differently.

Noted. Try harder stuff. It’s okay to fail. That’s what ropes are for.

Before class, a few of us warmed up in the bouldering area. Ron pointed out a V4 he was working on, whose final move involved a scary finish-or-fall maneuver. We both got to the end and bailed, but later we asked our instructor to show us. After that, Ron completed it. After class, I decided I had to do it too. I couldn’t quite hang on on my first attempt, but then I got back on and completed it on my second attempt. My first V4!

Hooray for classmates. It’s fun working on problems with them.

Hooray for this class. I’ve learned a ton.

Technique FTW

Back to bouldering this morning. I made myself sequence everything before I climbed it. Worked great!

There are 3 V2s and one V2+ that I’ve been working on, and today I finally solved them all.

The first was thanks to sequencing, turning my hip, and trusting that I could stick at the very top of the wall with my legs all weird, because that weird is actually a wide backstep, which we learned about a week and a half ago.

The second was a set of slopers I and many at the gym have been working on, over and over. Someone who had done it described the final move last Wednesday, and today I resolved to complete it. I positioned myself under the last two holds and dynoed for the top. I missed by two inches. This was my first fall from that high. Turns out it’s not terrible. Tried it again and finished it.

The third was the V2+ I couldn’t figure out two weeks ago. I watched someone do it last weekend and realized I’d been trying to tuck the wrong foot where I’d gotten stuck. Tucked the other foot, got into a better position, then switched feet to complete the climb.

The fourth was a set of smaller slopers. I’d gotten stuck at the top of this problem, and today saw a couple other people get stuck in the same way. As I was contemplating the final move, Tim from my climbing class came to say hello. I told him what I was working on, and we each took a turn on the wall. Even though he didn’t finish the problem on his first attempt, I saw him do something that made me realize we should be turning our hips for the final move. Hopped back up there. Turns out it’s easy if you have the right technique.

I suppose that’s why I’m taking that class.

Flashed a bunch of new to me problems: V0, V0+, 2 V1s, and a V3.

Balance and Technique 3: Sequencing

Balance and Technique class 3 of 4. Today we spent the entire session working on sequencing, where you plan your moves for how to climb a problem or route beforehand. I’ve known that I need to get better at it, and it turns out I just needed someone to force me to do it.

We started with a little sequencing game in the bouldering area. Our instructor came up with a sequence of moves, and we had to memorize and reproduce it. Easier said than done! It collectively took us 12 tries to reproduce the 14 moves.

It was a great mental warmup for the next exercise. We were tasked with choosing hard-for-us top rope routes and sequencing them before getting on the wall.

In my mind I think 5.10b is a challenge, and I found an interesting looking problem so I started with that. “Too easy!” yelled our instructor from the ground as I zipped up the wall.

I’ve only ever completed one 5.10d, and it was super ugly with at least a couple rests. I did one of those next. Finished it cleanly. “Still too easy!” said our instructor afterward.

I’ve never attempted a 5.11 anything, so I moved on to a 5.11a. Finished that cleanly too.

The official instructor verdict is I’m not pushing myself hard enough. That is fascinating. I don’t hear that a lot.

It’s refreshing. And he’s right. If I’m able to complete those climbs on the first try I should be trying harder climbs. I think I just need to find the right balance of pushing myself vs. brute forcing really hard things with terrible technique.

Back to sequencing. It works! Knowing what you’re going to do ahead of time lets you move way faster. In turn, your arms feel less tired, and you’re able to execute more cleanly. I’m sold!

Balance and Technique 2: Hips and Legs

Balance and Technique class 2 of 4 taught us all about turning our body as we climb. This was a great follow on to the footwork class, since we often have to pivot and shift our feet to set up and turn our bodies.

First, hips. One basic rule: Whichever hand you’re going to reach with, that’s the hip that should be closer to or against the wall. This helps greatly with balance and reach.

Next, feet. In general: Whichever hand you’re going to reach with, that’s the foot you’ll want to have planted and weighted. Makes sense, if you imagine where the hip is from the last paragraph.

Then, legs. Beginners often complete entire climbs completely facing the wall. That’s because in order to turn sideways you need to do things like backstep. For example, if your right hip is on the wall and you’re facing left, then your left leg is extended and your right leg is bent, with its outside edge on a hold behind you. With your left hand on a hold, this pulls you into the wall and gives you stability to reach a variety of holds with your right hand.

After that, flagging. In this case, the bent leg isn’t behind you. It’s more in front, which puts your center of gravity behind you, so the straight leg is out for counterbalance. I’ve been doing this a bit on my own and find it really useful.

Along with flagging we learned the step through. This was super useful for transitioning from one hip to another in our flag-every-move exercise. Basically the straight leg steps through the space between your body and the wall to plant on the other side, allowing you to turn and get your other hip on the wall. I’ve watched videos of this, but I’d never quite understood why I’d want to do it until tonight.

Finally, we talked about how keeping our arms straight helps us save energy. I started doing this over a month ago and got great results. I’ll need to remember to keep doing it as I work on footwork and body positioning.

Our homework is to traverse with our new skills. Looks like I’ll be doing some sideways climbing this week!

Spring and Tension

I usually give my hands/forearms more than a day and a half of rest between sessions, but I wanted to practice what we learned Wednesday night at least a couple times before the next class.

Completed a V0, V0, V1, V2, V2. I also attempted two other V2’s, a V2+, and a V3, but the short rest meant my arms tired quickly.

All good, because the 2 V2 problems I completed were ones I couldn’t figure out a couple weeks ago.

One of them was the problem I had attempted over and over, falling off the wall over and over. I watched someone do it last week with a different move for the hold I couldn’t reach. I tried that move today, still couldn’t reach it, and fell off. I tried it again. With Wednesday’s class fresh in my mind, I used a foothold I would previously have considered uncomfortably close to my hands. This gave me just enough reach; I sprung for the elusive sloper, got my hand around it, and finished the problem.

The other was a problem where I couldn’t get stable/balanced enough to reach for the finish. I tried it again today, and again got stuck near the top. I sat on the ground and puzzled over it for a few minutes, then realized I could flip my hand on the last big hold and pull up. Once I did that, I had plenty of leeway to finish the problem. I have my technique book to thank for this one. I had just read a blurb last night about those holds and how to tension my body when I use them.

Yay for new techniques!

Balance and Technique 1: Footwork

Balance and Technique class 1 of 4 was tonight. So excites!

Today’s class was all about footwork. We started by discussing what parts of the shoe to use on footholds: the inside edge by the toe, the outside edge by the toe, the tip of the toe, and the heel.

Climbing shoes have edges! Just like skates!

Our instructor made it a point to say that we are never to plant the middle of our shoe on a hold. That reminded me of my little slip a few days ago. That’s exactly what I’d done. I had even known when I planted my foot that I should have replanted it, but laziness won… followed by gravity.

Next, we talked about using our legs more than our arms. Specifically, we talked about pushing with our legs instead of pulling with our arms. I’ve known this principle for a while and tried to follow it, but placing our feet accurately on a hold and properly shifting our center of gravity onto it makes it so much easier to trust and push off that foot. My arms weren’t even tired after two climbs in a row.

After that, we worked on switching feet on the same hold using three different techniques: sharing a hold, hopping one foot out from under the other, and peel-and-pasting from side to side on a hang. We practiced switching feet while climbing; it really helped adjust our body position and gave us more possibilities on the wall.

After switching, we learned about smearing. You can literally walk up the wall with no footholds. We practiced this on a climb as well, and I was able to comfortably smear my way up to footholds only a foot or two below my hands. Smearing is fun and magical and I lufs it.

We also learned about footwork for traversing, as well as when to hang on and swing our feet, but didn’t get to practice it. It’s a little advanced for where we are, but it was good to know about it.

At the end, we were assigned homework, part of which was to climb up a 5.2-5.4 route without using handholds. My partner and I wanted to try it right away, so we tied in and look-ma-no-hands climbed our way up a 5.3. It was excellent practice for feeling our balance point and learning to shift and rotate with just our feet.

Totally looking forward to next week!

Slip

Today’s bouldering completions: V0, V1, V2, V2, V3, V2+, V2, V1, V1

Didn’t finish a V2 whose final move, from what I could tell, was an all or nothing reach. I’m pretty sure there’s another move in there but I couldn’t find it up close and couldn’t visualize it from the bottom.

Had my first unexpected slip off a hang. It wasn’t bad at all. There was no panic, just a free fall recognition that my foot slipped because I had planted it poorly. Got up and tried again. Completed the V3.

That one was hard on my fingertips. They felt all throbby after.

I signed up for a balance and technique class that starts on Wednesday. I can’t wait!

V3

Went to Mission Cliffs for some bouldering with Sam this morning. I hadn’t been here since April. On that visit, I maxed out on V1s.

Today, I started with 7 consecutive completions: V0, V0, V1, V2, V2, V0, V3. My first V3! Then I bounced around with a mix of sometimes-successful attempts, finishing a V2, V1, V1, and V2 as my arms tired.

I’m able to climb longer now. Previously, 10 attempts/problems would have been my max.

I’m also better able to grip (slightly) more difficult holds, and to trust that grip.

Played a bit on the slackline on my way out. It reminded me that I want one. Ooh, and someone is selling exactly what I want on Craigslist…

Post-Visualize

Hit the V2s in the other room today. Warmed up with a V0, V0+, V1, V1+, completed 5 new-to-me V2s, and finished with the V2 I climbed a week ago.

Either the route setters in this room graded their problems a lot easier than the ones I tried on Wednesday, or I’m missing some crucial elementary skill for the V2s I couldn’t do.

Still terrible at visualizing some routes. I stared at one of them for a while, couldn’t figure out how I was going to make it, and tried it anyway. It wasn’t even hard. I seem to have no concept of my body position and reach when looking at a problem. Maybe I should try visualizing after I do a route, to calibrate.

Not That Scary

Hit the bouldering wall this morning. Warmed up with a couple V0s, a couple V1s, then moved on to V2s.

There were 5 V2 problems in today’s room. I completed one right off the bat, another after 3 attempts, and couldn’t finish later moves of the other three.

Today’s progress wasn’t so much that I was working on V2 problems, it was that I was willing to try one of those problems over and over, go for a hold I couldn’t reach over and over, and fall off the wall over and over.

It’s not that scary.