by Ken Klein, NASM, PCC
This past August we were winding down the Climb Strong training camp in Lander, WY and Steve Bechtel said something that really stuck with me. A participant asked about assessments and Steve replied that if we piled all of our physical assessment numbers together we probably wouldn’t be able to pick out Jonathan Siegrist’s from the pack. However, if we all wrote down our climbing history and created a second pile, it wouldn’t even be a question and Jonathan’s would stick out like a sore thumb.
Literally 24 hours after I returned home from the training camp to Fort Collins,CO, I ran into a local climber who already climbs at a very high level. He was really interested in getting an assessment done, as if his weighted pull up or 20mm edge hang was the main factor in holding him back.
With the climbing and training world changing on a daily basis we should be cautious about how much value we place on physical assessments and keep applying focus on what really matters, performance. Wayne Gretzky said “the game is about having the puck, the game is about scoring goals, it’s not about push ups or how high you can jump off the ice.” Our game is rock climbing and it’s not about your max 20 mm edge hang or how heavy you can lift something off the floor, it’s about clipping the chains on routes and topping out boulders.
“Poor build, skinny, lacks mobility and the ability to avoid the rush, lacks great physical stature and strength, one of the slowest QBs in the combine.” These are all comments made about Tom Brady in the 2000 NFL combine. Imagine if the scouts solely went off Tom’s combine numbers and never gave him a chance. Brady’s 40 yard dash time that year was 5.28, the second slowest of any quarterback and the average time of all athletes was 4.87. Next time you are bored pull up a video of Brady running his 40 or the pictures they took of him at the combine. He doesn’t necessarily look like he’s about to go on to be one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history. We now have data suggesting if you can hang X amount off a 20 mm edge then chances are you climb X grade. But why are we not looking more at the climber that can’t hang X amount but still climbs X?
There is a fascinating documentary that I think everyone should watch, especially parents with kids in sports called In Search of Greatness. In it, Sir Ken Robinson says, “If stats come to dominate your judgement then you’re not showing any judgment at all.” What if we start looking at and measuring things a little differently? Don’t get me wrong, I’m a believer in stats but a few years ago I started to look at a few different ones. In the same documentary I referenced above, David Epstien goes on to say “it’s making something important because we can measure it, it’s not measuring it because it’s important.”
So, is measuring your 20mm edge hang important? I think it is, but more so to assess the effectiveness of your training and not your overall performance. Why? Because season after season I see climbers trying to up what they can hang from their waist and season after season they are still climbing the same grades. They are attaching 100+lbs to their bodies and dangling from the hangboard and then they go out to Penny Pincher at Rotary Park and still can’t climb on those small crimps. Or worse yet is the climber who trains specifically for the assessment just so the numbers look better after they retest. We have to constantly be asking ourselves what the end goal is.
Let me reiterate that testing things like max pull ups and 20 mm edge hang have their place when it comes to assessing your training. As the saying goes, what gets measured gets managed. But back to clipping chains and topping boulders out.
When it comes to performance we need to start looking at a few different measurements. There are several things we can look at here but in my experience it comes down to three different things. One of which is objective, route/boulder pyramids and two subjective matters, how often you make the most of your day and your attitude at the gym or crag. Not quite as sexy as your max weighted pull up or hooking up a strain gauge to test finger strength but I would bet that if you start placing a ton of emphasis on these three things, in six months you won’t really care about your pull up numbers.
At the beginning of each year I start to think about what routes and boulders I would like to get done or at least try. From this list I create a pyramid with a goal grade at the top and work down from there. With each passing year I get closer and closer to sending the very top tier but what is more important is filling in the lower tiers and filling them in faster than the previous year. I would argue that your 20 mm edge data doesn’t carry much weight if 3 years ago it was taking you three sessions to send V8 but now you are getting them done in 1 session. I get rather obsessive with my pyramids and where they really shine is at the end of the day when you could easily cash it in and throw back a beer with your crew but instead you climb the two 11d routes that are staring you in the face because you have really bought into the idea of filling in the bottom tier on your pyramid. Do this year after and year and soon 11d won’t even register on your pyramid.
Making the most of your day
I used to work with a friend of mine named Dan Yager. This was several years ago and we both had all the time in the world to pretty much do whatever we wanted. A few years passed and Dan went from having a clock in, clock out job to running a very successful business AND had two kids. He went from having all the free time in the world to being able to just get out on Tuesday mornings. Not all day Tuesday. Tuesday mornings! One would think his days of sending and sending a lot were gone. Quite the opposite happened. Why? Because every last second he was out there he was focused and trying hard. He never took a single redpoint burn for granted and simply made the most out of each morning he got out.
Do you perform the same at your home crag as you do on a road trip or are you able to get things done faster on trips? When we are projecting at our home crags we have a tendency to not care as much on each attempt because we can simply come back in two days, or next week or even the next day. On road trips however we may not even have the chance to go back to the same wall on that trip, if ever and so we tend to dig deep and get it done. I’m quite certain that 2020 has taught us that the future is never as certain as we once thought, so start trying just as hard at home as you do on the road. Start tracking if you make the most of your climbing days. If you feel you are not, change it and change it now. A simple tracking system in your climbing journal will do the trick. Keep it basic and a simple number system will do, 1-3 with 3 being you absolutely got the most out of your day. Tally up your score at the end of each month and then compare those numbers with what you sent and I’d be shocked if there isn’t a strong correlation between making the most of your day and sends.
A shitty attitude. We all know it when we see it and we definitely know it when we have it ourselves, but chances are less than 5% of climbers out there track it or really care to talk about it. Our attitude can make or break a day at the crag. You don’t have to fake it but the fact that we are outside being able to enjoy something we really love should be reason enough to have a positive attitude. I’m not talking about walking around all day with a huge smile on your face. I’m talking about not saying you suck after you try a route you can’t complete. Or hanging your head if you didn’t flash something you thought you “should.” Or not whining all day because the conditions were supposed to be good but you showed up and they actually were not ideal. Or getting frustrated because your once quiet crag is now packed with people you don’t know.
Jocko Willink, who is a retired Navy Seal, has a really great way of combating negative thoughts by simply saying the word GOOD after it. Can’t complete a route, GOOD! Look at it as an opportunity to improve and come back later. Not so great conditions, GOOD. Try the route anyways and when you find it in good conditions it will feel easy. Crag is packed, GOOD. Take some time to actually talk to others and stop being so self involved. Watch others climb and you may just learn something about the route or new techniques. Thoughts become things. Start tracking what you tell yourself, what you say out loud and how positive your attitude is and watch things change immediately.
Things are getting more and more complicated. Every day I pull up Instagram only to see more emphasis placed on the wrong things. If your goal is to become a better rock climber and to consistently up the level at which you climb, seriously ask yourself what numbers matter most. Is it how much you can hang from your waist or is it the number of 12c you sent this year vs. last? Is it painfully working so you can do 3 pull ups with 50lbs or is it making every last second you go climbing count? At the end of the day ask yourself if you would rather have Siegrist’s physical assessment numbers or his tick list?
Now go watch In Search of Greatness.
Give your project one more try next time.
Say GOOD when things aren’t ideal.
Start thinking about what you want to do next year, get it down on paper and then go get after it!