Performance Paradigms

What happens when you don’t live up to your own past performance?

What happens when you get worse instead of getting better or staying the same?

I wrote earlier this year about some of the transition blues I was having after my move to Chicago. I made my goal of 20 days climbing outside this fall, but if you asked me, I would tell you that I had a mediocre season.

I’ve written before about the negative impacts grade-chasing has had on my climbing experience. In July, I was dreaming big and getting disappointed when my expectations didn’t meet reality. This fall, I expected the numbers I was climbing to stay the same, despite drastically reduced training and outdoor time, and the added stress of a move to a new city and a job.

Smith Rock, May 2012, when life was a bit simpler.

Grades are a measure of performance. One measure. The easiest measure, not the only measure, and not the best measure.

I have always had high self-expectations. My analytical self loves grades, precisely because they’re an easy measure of performance. Did I send the grade I wanted to? Am I meeting the expectation I set for myself? These questions become easy to answer when your metric is whether or not you sent a particular grade. A simple metric is attractive, but it causes you to lose sight of the incredible richness of the climbing experience.

To let grades and sending define performance as a climber is to narrow the whole spectrum of climbing experiences to a single binary measure, a black and white vision of success or failure. 

As the season wraps, I’m trying to appreciate how I’m growing as a person and as a climber as the result of my experiences, not worry about what grades I’m climbing. Since it seems (to me) to be related, I’ll close this post with this great quote by Alan Watts:

Also, when we are dancing we are not aiming to arrive at a particular place on the floor as in a journey. When we dance, the journey itself is the point, as when we play music the playing itself is the point.

Rest to Send

It’s almost Thanksgiving! As the race to finish up projects before the season ends begins, check out these tips for resting on routes and then go out and crush!

Rest When You Don’t Feel Tired

Some routes have a relatively easy section of climbing, followed by a bomber rest, followed by the ‘real’ business. These routes can be hard to rest on–you’re not tired yet, you’re anxious about the rest of the route, and it feels silly to be sitting around. I have two strategies for these sort of rests. Sometimes I’ll visualize climbing the rest of the route, reviewing beta, creating a positive vision for how the rest of the climb is going to go. Sometimes this will just make me nervous and shaky, so I’ll just focus on breathing and slowing my heart down. Do what works for you, but always take full advantage of any rest you get.

Shake the Kneebar!

Often when you’re resting, you’re recovering in your forearms at the expense of pumping out some random part of your body, like your calves. While I was working 49 in Maple, a friend of mine sent the route. When he got to the kneebar rest before the tough (for me) clip, he set the kneebar, rested, came back onto his arms, shook his calf, and stuck the kneebar right back in to rest some more. It had never occurred to me to shake anything but my arms at a rest until that day! With the shake-the-kneebar beta, I was able to get something back before the tough clip.

I met Wendy in Maple Canyon, land of the kneebars. I learned a lot about resting from this quiet crusher. Here she is cruising 49.

Be Patient

I habitually wear a watch, and I’ve started using it to time my rests. Sometimes it will feel like I’ve rested forever and I’ll look down to see that only 15 seconds have passed. At a no-hands rest, I will hang out as long as 2 or 3 minutes to make sure that I’ve completely recovered. At less-awesome rests, I still try to stay at least a minute. Note: this tip probably won’t work for crack climbers, unless you can find somewhere else to put the watch! ;)

Communicate

Let your belayer know you’ll be resting. Also make sure to communicate clearly and confidently that you are climbing when you exit the rest. You won’t take your belayer by surprise, and you can climb on with confidence, knowing that your belayer is with you.

Listen to Your Heart

Sometimes, a rest is not as good as you want it to be. It feels like you’re not getting anything back, you’re stressing out about the moves above you, and all of the sudden it feels like it would be better to just GO already. Don’t give into temptation! If a rest is only slightly decreasing or even just maintaining your pump, it’s still worth it to rest, because you can drop your heart rate back down and establish a good breathing rhythm. This will help you move better after the rest, even if it doesn’t feel like it while you’re resting.

Practice It!

Incorporate resting into your practice or training in the gym. If you do endurance training like ARCing, you are probably taking a few seconds to shake on jugs every once in a while. Challenge yourself to make good use of less-good rests. If you’re on a good jug, try smearing one or both feet. Use a higher foot than is really comfortable, or use a sideways facing jug instead of an upwards facing one. Teach yourself to relax and get something back even in slightly uncomfortable positions.
What are you trying to send this fall? Let us know in the comments and tell us how it goes!!

3 Playful Training Ideas

Can you train and have fun at the same time? One of the big tensions in my climbing experience this spring was between having fun while climbing, and training so that I could climb harder. A spontaneous game of add-on in the bouldering gym reminded me that I know tons of ways to have fun and get stronger at the same time. Here are 3 activities you can do in the gym to have fun with your climbing partners, which will also help you become a better, stronger, climber.

1. Enduro-Fest

How it works: The basic idea is to run laps on the wall until failure, competing with the other climbers for the most number of laps. Belayers make up new ‘rules’ every time you start up the wall, to keep you guessing and keep things interesting.

What you need: A top rope wall with a rope which has a couple routes of a grade you can climb confidently, all climbable from the same rope. Vertical or overhanging terrain works well, depending on your level of fitness. You also need at least one friend and a heaping does of creativity.

The rules we’ve used: climb with your eyes closed, mantle everything, sidepulls only, left foot only, left foot red right foot yellow, etc. Get creative!

A matter of timing: Climbers get 10 seconds of rest between each lap. They may chalk while climbing, but must not remain stopped for more than ten seconds. Belayers count down while climbers are resting, on the ground or on-route, to remind them to stay moving.

Why it makes you stronger: Directly competing with other people is always more motivating than training by yourself! Doing this at the end of your workout also teaches you to keep it together when you’re tired and pumped.

Why it’s fun: Friendly competition, need I say more?

A photo from flickr user surnam, from the SCS PNW 2010 comp. Click through for more climbing photos!

2. Pick My Climbs

What to do: Climb as usual, but let your climbing partners pick all your routes for you for the entirety of the training session. Pick routes that you think will challenge your partner, or a route that you think they can do but that they would never otherwise get on. If they hate slopers, give them a route within their skill level that has slopers. If they hate overhanging routes, make them do 3 moderate overhanging routes in a row.

Why it’s fun: You get to help your climbing partners get better! For me and my climbing partners, this game can tend towards a pain-fest of one-upmanship, but always in a rewarding way. I never go home with spare energy, which is the way I like it!

Why it makes you stronger: This game gets you in the habit of analyzing movement and identifying weaknesses in your climbing partners, so that you can find routes that challenge their weaknesses. It also gives your climbing partners a bombproof excuse to give you feedback on your climbing–be ready!

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