Originally published April 2017
By Will Anglin
Nobody wants to follow rules. I get it. I hate rules.
But you know what I like even more than I like hating rules? Getting better at climbing.
And you know what can help you get better at climbing? RULES!
We all know that person at the gym who always finds some grotesque way through the intended sequence of a boulder problem. The person who will heel hook a jib over their head to avoid a dyno. The person who crimps the foothold to get around having to grab a sloper.
I know these people all too well. I was one of these people for years (and still am sometimes). I thought I was being smart. I thought I was exposing flaws in the routes. I crimped footholds to bypass pinches and slopers. And every time I snuck my way through a move that was supposed to be a dyno, I thought I had won. I was “that guy”.
In reality I was only cheating myself. Because of my stubbornness, I missed out on years of learning opportunities. It has taken even more time to go back and develop facets of my climbing that I could have been working on from the beginning.
Here’s the deal. You may disagree, and that's fine: If you're training, “sending” isn’t always the point. The only thing that matters is that you LEARN. Training and performance are two different things. If you're trying to perform all the time, you aren't going to realize your potential. If you're not trying to realize your potential, then don't bother reading the rest of this.
For me, the practice of climbing is not necessarily to climb a specific grade or to top out a particular objective. It is more about a dedication to mastery. Climbing is just one of many things a person can pursue mastery in. Every “rule” from here on out is an external framework meant to highlight certain aspects of climbing movement or psychology in an effort to enhance training and practice in the pursuit of mastery. You can impose it on yourself. No one can force you into it. Sure you could climb something with a higher grade without following some of these rules, but that isn't the point.
Mastery over success.
Here are THE RULES:
RULE #1: Climb on the holds. Whether you like them or not. You may be able to grab the foothold and pull past that bad sloper, but that’s because you’re in a gym. The footholds are big because a lot of the time, they have to be. It is a flaw that is inherent in the way we attach plastic globs to plywood walls. Stop cheating yourself. Learn how to move around that sloper. You know you should.
RULE #2: Learn to do moves in as many styles as possible. If you can do the dyno statically, then do it, but also learn the dyno. If you can dyno past the foot tension move, then do it, but also learn the foot tension move.
RULE #3: Stop crimping all the damn time. Yes, the full crimp is a very strong way to grab many holds. It is also very stressful on all the delicate structures in your fingers. Do you have constantly recurring finger tweaks and injuries? Pay attention to your dang hands! You’re probably overusing a particular grip type. If I had a nickel for every time I saw someone crimp a sloper or a pinch in the gym, I would have plenty of money to pay for the ER visit from when I got hit in the face with that block of wood. By all means, crimp the crimps, that’s what they’re for, but other than that...stop it. Develop your ability to use and apply many different grip types.
RULE #4: Pick an impossible project/move/position. Now pretend it is possible for at least a few years. Keep trying it periodically. Try it like you know you can do it. Whether you do it or not, you’ll learn.
RULE #5: Take something away. This doesn’t have to be all-the-time thing, but it can help you focus on very specific aspects of your climbing. Here are a few of my favorite things to take away:
- Ever try to climb a pinch boulder without using your thumbs? Well it’s freaking hard, but you’ll learn a lot about opposition, tension, and power.
- Heel Hooks
- If you’re good at heel hooking, then stop it! You’ll learn so many other ways to use your feet that I’m not going to even bother trying to make a list.
- Matching is the worst. It is easy to match holds in the gym. Everything is a giant protruding glob of plastic. Sure, if it is a hold that is meant to be matched, then match it, but otherwise...stop it. Not matching might be the most no-brainer way to gain power and learn the skills necessary to move powerfully.
RULE #6: Stop complaining. You’re too short. You’re too tall. Your hands aren’t big enough for that pinch. Your fingers are too big for that crimp. Stop it. Take a look around. We all have our own unique attributes and proportions that come with different advantages and disadvantages. We can all see that you can’t span the move that the 6ft tall guy doesn’t even have to think about. We can all see that you can only fit 3 fingers on the hold that the 10 year old can shake out on. We get it. Now figure it out...or quit. Quitting is always an option, but it is the process of “figuring it out” that is valuable, whether you send or not.
RULE #7: SEND. When it is performance time, when you’re on your project or in a competition trying to send, all these rules go out the window (except Rule #6, no one ever wants to hear you complain). It is time to apply everything you have learned in your training and practice. Crimp the %&@# out of that hold. Heel-hook the boulder into oblivion. Use your newfound foot tension to keep your feet on through the dyno if it helps...CRUSH!
Like I said at the beginning… you don’t have to do any of this. But if you want to get better at climbing and you’re not totally sure where to start, now you know.