Friday, July 18, 2014

Get up for the down climb. . . everybody get up.

When it comes to bouldering, everyone is trying to get up, but once they get up, they need to GET DOWN! Too often, indoor boulder problems take you up high and leave you stranded.  The harder the problem, the harder it is to use it as a down climb, and for many folks this means dropping off.  

Why you should GET DOWN on a downclimb instead of dropping off:
  1. Avoid impacts and stress to your spine / back during normal landings.
  2. Avoid ankle, wrist and other injuries from landing poorly.
  3. Practice downclimbing technique.
  4. Train for power endurance or endurance. 
  5. Develop mental strength.
  6. Practice sequence visualization while on the wall.
These reasons can apply to everyone.  However, we older climbers especially appreciate #1 and #2,   And, we climbers who want to use bouldering gyms for training, especially appreciate #3 and #4.  Reasons #5 and #6 are especially important for sport climbers pushing for their redpoint limits.  The capacity to get your head together while on the wall is crucial for successful redpointing and if you don't practice it, it will feel stressful on the send.

The rest of this post is divided into two sections, advice for climbers, and advice for route setters / route setting managers. 

Bring that chalk bag.

Advice for climbers:  Use downclimbing to diversify your climbing sessions to increase your moves per set, especially during your warm up and cool down periods.

  1. Bigger warm ups and downs.  Increase your average moves per warm up by 2X or 3X.   If you normally warm up with six 12-14 move V0's,  combine them into 2 sets of 3 problems, down climbing the easiest.  
  2. Bring a chalk bag you can wear.  This seems obvious, but it is fashionable these days for boulderers to only bring a floor mounted chalk-pot.   That is cool and all, but it won't get you to the top of Lactic Acid Bath in August, or safely off the top of your local highball.
  3. Set your pace as an inverse of difficulty.  With your unfashionable chalk on your hip, practice using it at all the best rest stances.   My friend Margarita advises:  "If you like where you are, rest.  If you don't, move."  If you control your pace as an inverse of difficulty, you will find you have plenty of time to visualize the upcoming difficulties as you rest.
  4. Embrace the funk!  Use steady flowing music to motivate your long, smooth climbs.   I find the St. Germain station on Pandora to be near optimum for grooving on the wall for longer time periods.  Stay on the wall for two full songs in a row and you will feel it. 

Rene puts in time on the wall at the Shop.

Route setting advice:   All good bouldering gyms have the potential to help climbers GET DOWN with down climbs, but here are a few principles that can be integrated into the route setting to make it easier for climbers to train better, improve their technique, avoid injuries and needless wear and tear.    
  1. Moderation:  Down climbs should be a few grades easier than the adjacent up problems, they should have plenty of foot options, and generally should allow climbers to practice good technique.   Standard jug haul problems can be used for down climbs, or gyms can add holds to existing sections of wall, and encourage down climbs on any holds in a certain area of the wall. 
  2. Hold selection:   Side pulls, generous pinches, and positive jugs  are generally easier and safer to down climb than problems with slopers, or moves like long lock-offs or deadpoints.   Why?  Jugs, side pulls, and good pinches are less body position specific, and when down climbing you have to control your body’s momentum through a wider range of positions relative to the holds.  
  3. Campgrounds:    problem sets should integrate 'campgrounds' to help climbers improve their resting technique and to avoid crowding.   A campground is a stance that allows climbers to hangout, match, chalk, and de-pump on the wall.  It also allows climbers to wait their turn in case another climber is linking through the same section of wall.   Add campgrounds in sets of 2 such that two climbers could rest at the same time, and avoid blocking each other in their upcoming sections. 
  4. Integrated playlists:  Design sections of walls into integrated sets of problems.    Each problem is like a song, and each section of wall is like an album or playlist.   Intentionally setting the problems in linked sets make it possible to use down climbs to connect the up problems.   This is the key to using bouldering gyms to train for endurance, and one that most gyms miss.

MVWL, etc.
  1. It is helpful to think of the layout of the problems in terms of combinations of letters.  Good shapes include letters like M,V,W,L.   On overhanging walls,  L and reverse L down climbs can be used to link to whole sets of up problems, especially when the wall top includes a lip traverse.  This prevents the low traverse from interfering with the upper sections of the problems.  
  2. Set aside different sections of walls for climbers of different levels to enjoy long link-ups.   For instance, make three different regions of your gym each with an integrated playlist suitable for ARC training for climbers at low, medium, and high levels of challenge.  

Conclusion:  Finally, route setters and climbing instructors should work together to both promote and educate local climbers on how to best take advantage of the integrated problem sets and down climbs at your gym.   Without adding any extra space or holds, your gym can create valuable training resources, and in doing so, raise the overall quality of experience at your gym.  

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