Monday, June 13, 2011

The Forgotten Art of Training

I found this on Moon Climbing - I think there is a lot of truth in this.

From the 1970’s onwards legends such as Pete Livesey, Ron Fawcett and Tom Proctor showed that time dedicated to training increased performance on rock. As time has gone by the art of training has developed by leaps and bounds as those climbers who have had the imagination and desire to push back the limits of the known realised that, to do so, they would have to push back the limits of climbing related training (from which has come bouldering walls, campus, finger and system boards etc.,
Coming from a generation of climbers who, initially at least, had very few places to train and yet who achieved a great deal (Hubble, Liquid Amber, Sea of Tranquilty, Cry Freedom, Mecca, Evolution, Progress, Big Bang etc) it would seem a no-brainer that, given the sheer volume of training facilities available around the country, there would be a consistent increase in the quality of training done by British climbers and thus in the standards achieved both indoors and out. And yet, this does not seem to be the case, a repeat of Jerry Moffat’s Evolution (done 15 years ago) is still newsworthy whilst Steve McClure, by far the best British sport climber of recent times, was so pleased about repeating Ben Moon’s Hubble (done in 1991) that he dedicated  a magazine column to it! Big Bang, the country’s first 9A is unrepeated and barely attempted whilst the nearby Sea of Tranquility and Liquid Amber (both given the relatively moderate grade of 8C) have received little attention successful or otherwise.

What on earth is happening (or not happening)?!  Logically, these routes should be classic antiques by now, not respected test pieces. Has training failed to progress or are people training less than they used to? Or is it simply a case that despite all the limitations placed upon them by footwear, training facilities etc., that the previous generation was simply a lot better than the current one? Some of the answer does lie in the above. World legends like Moon and Moffat do not occur so often but other climbers, the second rankers one might say, (such as Atkinson, Gore, Leach, Myles and later, Smith), were all formidable talents and all, without exception, trained hard - very hard indeed. My point being that they stand out because they worked hard not because they were any more talented than climbers today. What does link these climbers to modern legends like Ian Vickers, Steve McClure or even the ‘old modern legend’ Steve Haston, is the thoroughness of their training in whatever form it took and the dedication and energy they applied to it in the pursuit of their goal. They share a rigorously disciplined approach that has yielded success for all of them.
In contrast to that, in my job as a coach, I see at many wall climbers frittering away their talent and energy in pointless training or idle posing-the ‘big fish in a small pond’ syndrome. In comparison, my own personal success story (first ascent of Make It Funky, my one and only 8C) came not out of my relatively small fund of natural ability or strength but from a huge commitment of time and energy; 60 days spread over 3 years actually trying the route were based on a foundation of at least 200 training days (based in blocks before the chosen ‘redpoint season’). Everything was geared towards achieving success, becoming a climbing monk is the price one has to make to achieve ones dream.

In contrast to this kind of obsessive effort I find the last few years (with the notable exception of the Steve’s and a few others such as Dan Varian or Rupert Davies) to be rather depressing in terms of the effective use of training in this country. There is a lot of talk but very little walk as most people seem to prefer to mess about on a bouldering wall and call it a training session rather than knuckle down and train. This may seem to be overly harsh but I have spent a lot of time travelling around the country and it still amazes me how much effort it takes just to get people into the training groove - people really do not seem that interested in actually training but love to deceive themselves that they are.

Having said that, things are beginning to change as a new crop of very young climbers begin to come to the fore many of whom come out of the indoor competition scene and so have had it drilled into them that quality training is necessary and can even be fun! So we see Ed Hamer nipping up Mecca in 2 days using all the strength and power of someone who has trained hard and well - clearly someone who could climb 9a and beyond if he continues to work as he has done. Hopefully other young climbers will wish to emulate such achievements and realise that the groundwork for such success is based on training, to climb the hardest routes in Britain there really is no other way!

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