25 September 2011

The limiting factor - setting

The limiting factor in your rate of improvement can sometimes be something that never changes throughout your climbing career. That’s not to say they are inescapable, just that folk simply never take the bull by the horns and change them. ‘Permanent’ limiting factors are things like only climbing a couple of times a week, avoiding overhangs, never learning how to try hard or focus, or being scared of falling.
Other limiting factors are more often important for part of your career. Things such as having an old floppy pair of rockshoes you never bothered to replace, putting on a stone over christmas, getting a new job and not climbing much for 6 months. That kind of thing. 
While giving some coaching clinics recently I met quite a few good climbers who struck me as being limited by their ability to set their own problems. I’d hazard a guess and say that most climbers who regularly boulder to train and have climbed for more than 10 years know how to go a bouldering wall and set themselves problems to fill the training session. It often seems surprising to climbers that I think it’s a critical skill to have.
But think about it, if you can’t set your own problems, you are dependent on either a bouldering wall with a steady supply of well set, numerous and regularly changed problems, or climbing with a bunch of mates who can set good problems and are willing to show you theirs all the time. That’s fine if you have that, but move house, lose a regular climbing partner who moves away, or get a lazy route setter at your local wall and all of a sudden your training drops a couple of gears to say the least. You aren’t in control of your own improvement basically. 
Even if your local wall does have excellent problems, there are some pitfalls. The biggest of these is local hero syndrome. You have the problems wired, you do them a lot and feel strong. But even though there are quite a few of them and they are on different angles, they are not varied enough. Your technique suffers. Your standard outside of the wall is not nearly as high. If you have any sway with your climbing wall management, persuade them to invite a rotation of different setters as often as possible. Some modern dedicated bouldering walls are now showing the way in this respect. Hopefully the dinosaurs will catch up. But even in boulder walls which have a steady flow of good problems, it’s a good idea to set your own of make variations on the set ones rather than just lap them all the time. This is about setting a nice ratio of hours spent climbing on moves you know well vs moves that are new to you. Too much of either extreme has consequences for technique.
If you have a wall which doesn’t have set problems, or set ones which are never changed. Setting your own problems is essential. Get into a good routine of setting the problem at the right standard for this part of the session (warm up, in a few tries, or whole session to climb the problem). Tweak moves that don’t work well. When you have the hold choice right, stick with it and refine the movement until you do it. If you can do it with others helping to choose the holds, even better. It adds variety and saves you from playing to your body size advantages (tall or short!).
All this means that when you have the inevitable sessions when noone else is around and the set problems are crap, you still can do some meaningful training and not end up bored, demotivated or just not any stronger than before.