The Secret to Developing Excellent (and Efficient) Technique

One of the key principles for effective skill development and motor learning is that you must strive to achieve near-perfection of specific skills and techniques, and not be satisfied to just “get by” at them. This is an immensely powerful concept, that’s unknown or ignored by many climbers who simply want to send, even if it’s with sloppy technique and a large dosage of “thrash.”

Let’s consider the common approach of calling an ascent “successful”—and moving on to the next climb—at the point you send a route without falling. In doing this redpoint ascent, you probably struggled and fought through the hardest moves, and thus climbed the route with less than perfect technique and economy. So while you indeed succeeded in the sending the route (good job!), you may have also succeeded in reinforcing the bad habit of climbing with lackluster technique (let’s work on that).

This is a vital distinction that you may want to write down and turn into a personal mantra: Becoming an outstanding climber comes only by way of a constant resolve to master techniques and long complex sequences to the point of near-perfection.

A good analog of this process is the way an Olympic gymnast practices a routine repeatedly with the goal of achieving true mastery of all its elements. In climbing, this approach might seem superfluous, especially since no one is scoring the quality of your ascent. However, taking the time to practice techniques—and entire climbs for that matter—to the point of near-perfection is one of the best investments you can make in your future ability. Commit to regularly practicing in this way and I guarantee that you will depart on a new trajectory toward climbing excellence.

If you still aren’t convinced as to the effectiveness of this practice strategy, let me tell you about the legendary boulderer John Gill, who in 1959 climbed V9 (that’s 5.13c/d) when the rest of the climbing world was struggling to climb 5.10! It was Gill’s modus operandi to practice many boulder problems to the point of perfection, even after he had successfully ascended a problem. His goal was to perfect movement (not just get by at it) and to achieve heightened state of kinesthetic awareness (proprioception) and experience. The upshot of his efforts is that in addition to being the strongest climber of his era, John Gill was also likely the mostly technically advanced and proficient.

The take-home idea here: Make it a regular practice to climb a boulder problem or route a couple more times after the initial ascent. While you certainly do not need to do this with every climb, it’s a powerful practice strategy to employ on routes that possess new types of moves or long, complex sequences that you could surely climb more efficiently with practice. After sending a route your first time return to “practice climb” it a few more times (same or different day), but without the pressure of needing to successfully send the route. Treat this as nothing more than practice—narrow your focus on improving quality of movement and pay no mind if you happen to fall off in the process. Set the goal to tighten up crux sequences by climbing with more precision, speed, and economy. Make a game out of elevating the quality of your ascent with every practice run, and know that with every lap you are becoming a more technically sound climber.

Copyright 2018 Eric J. Hörst. All rights reserved.