Fundamentals of Technique 3

Move with Perfect Economy

The technical paramount is to climb with perfect economy. Make these two words–perfect economy–your mantra every time you touch the rock.

Perfect economy means discovering the way to do each move, and an entire route for that matter, with minimal energy expenditure. If you have a cat, you can observe economic movement firsthand. Most of the time a cat moves in a slow, quiet, deliberate way; however, sometimes a situation demands a powerful, dynamic leap to maintain perfect economy. This cat-like movement should be your technical model for efficient climbing: Smooth, quiet, leg-driven movements, but with an unhesitating shift to an arm-pulling, dynamic movement when it is required to maintain perfect economy. Here are three attributes of economic movement that you should aspire to acquire. Next month will look at two more keys to economic movement.

Quiet Feet
Quiet foot movements are one of the hallmarks of a climber with great technique. Conversely, feet that regularly pop off of footholds or skid on the wall surface are typical of an individual possessing lackluster footwork and poor economy.

For many climbers, noisy footwork is just the way they climb-it’s a habit that developed over a long period of time, and it is a flaw in their technique that will prevent them from ever reaching their true potential. Your goal, of course, is to learn to climb with good foot technique from the start. This means concentrating on each foot placement, holding the foot steady and firm to the hold, and standing up on the foot with confidence as you proceed smoothly to the next hand or foot hold.

Rhythm and Momentum
Like any dance, climbing should have a natural rhythm that utilizes momentum and inertia. Climbing in a ladder-like motion yields the rhythm “step, reach, step, reach.” However, a better rhythm for effective movement is often “step, step, reach, reach” since it allow the legs to direct and drive the movement. There are obviously many other rhythms such as “step, reach, step, step, reach, reach” and “step, step, reach, step, reach, reach.” Consider that every unique sequence possesses a best rhythm of movement, and you’ll eventually learn to intuit this on the fly. As a beginner climber, however, it takes a conscious effort to avoid leading with the hands in a strenuous and inefficient “reach, reach, step, step” rhythm. Strive to tap into the rhythm of each route, and climb accordingly.

Similarly, you want to utilize momentum in a way that helps propel successive moves. This is especially important on difficult climbs with large spacing between holds. Think of how you would move hand-over-hand across monkey bars at a playground-each movement blends with the next in a perfect continuity of motion. This style of smooth, continuous motion is critical when climbing through crux sequences. Interestingly, many folks do just the opposite as they engage the crux sequence with measure and caution. In doing so, they not only lose upward movement, but they also have the inertia of stillness to overcome. Hopefully you can avoid this tendency by consciously directing a steady rhythm that maintains forward momentum through the most difficult parts of a climb.

Pace is another aspect of climbing economy that becomes increasingly important as a route gains in steepness and difficulty. While an easy climb with large holds allows you to ascend at a leisurely pace, a crux sequence or overhanging terrain will demand that you kick into high gear and surmount the difficulty in short order. When climbing near your limit, it must be your intention to move as briskly as possible without any drop-off in technique (skidding feet, botching sequences, and such). Reduce the pace at the first sign that your technique is suffering. It helps to identify obvious rest positions ahead of time, and then make it a goal to move from one to the next as fast as possible. Ultimately, knowing just the right pace on a given route is a sense you will develop with experience. Practice climbing at different speeds and on different types of routes, and you’ll quickly foster the subtle skill of proper pace.

Copyright 2007 Eric J. Hörst. All rights reserved.