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Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Know Thyself

Until we see what we are, we cannot take steps to become what we should be.
Charlotte P. Gilman

If you want to get somewhere you've never been before (Basingstoke for example) then it's handy to have a map. But that map is worthless if you don't know where you're starting from. If you know where you are then the map becomes very useful and can (if you read it correctly, and it's an accurate map) lead you to exactly where you want to go.*

Improving at climbing is a lot like trying to get to Basingstoke. It's all very well and good reading various articles in magazines and on the net about training but if you don't know where you are it's very hard to take effective steps to get somewhere new. So before embarking on a new cycle of training utilising the latest research on micro and macro cycles and such like take a moment (or indeed several moments) to assess where you actually are in terms of your climbing. I know you've read this “self assesment” stuff before, but that's because it's true.

How you do this appraisal of your own climbing is quite important. That's not to say there is a “right” way to do it and all other options lead to failure and disappointment, but it's helpful to keep in mind why you are doing the review. The idea is to give a reasonably accurate picture of where your climbing is and (very importantly) where your weaknesses lie. Some people will construct tables scoring different aspects of their climbing out of 5 (or 10), some people (like me) will have a slightly less structured (but no less accurate) view of their climbing. It really doesn't matter the exact approach you take as long as you can draw effective conclusions from your results.

I will however give two top tips for assessing your climbing:

1) Avoid overly general statements

“I'm good at slabs” is too general. People have said to me “you really like slabs don't you?” several times over the years, the implication being that I am good at slab climbing based on me having climbed some tricky slab routes. It's a fair comment but in terms of assessing my climbing almost meaningless because when I reply “yes I do...” there is an unsaid series of caveats rolling through my head “...as long as they don't involve bridging, or really reachy moves or very small sharp holds or anything involving frog legs or...”. To the extent that saying I like slabs is not saying very much. Rather than “I'm good at slabs” the thinking should be a bit more specific:

I'm good at smearing on slabs

I'm good at high-steps

I'm good at balancing on slabs

I'm bad at bridging

Etc etc

2) Don't get bogged down in minutiae

This is the opposite end of the scale, if you know you can hang on for 5 seconds on a 15mm flat edge on a 40º board and 3 seconds on a 10mm flat edge on a 40º board and 7 seconds on a 15mm edge on a 30º board and etc etc etc etc, then you know a lot but (dare I suggest) you may be over-analysing? Whilst you need enough data to assess your current climbing weaknesses and strength too much data will muddy the waters, perhaps all the above would be better said as “pretty good on crimps on steep ground”?

Anyway as so often in life the ideal is to aim for the middle ground where you have enough information to make an assessment but not so much that you need a supercomputer to analyse the results. The scoring system seems like a good starting point to me so maybe try that first. Once you have some information you can start to address your weaknesses and imbalances in your climbing, and that's where progress is made.

*Having a coach is a bit like having a GPS in that the coach can work out where you are then give you directions to Basingstoke from there. Although obviously the more involved you are in the process and the better you understand your climbing the sooner you'll get there. Also, in common with a GPS, you need to tell your coach you want to go to Basingstoke. Otherwise he might direct you to Swindon, and nobody wants that do they?

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