Climbing, when you look at it objectively, and more specifically climbing movement, is ridiculously complex. There are a multitude of forces being applied in countless directions, changing constantly.
What’s more, and what differentiates climbing from other gymnastic activities, is the medium being used to move is constantly changing too. If you think of, say, a pommel horse or a football pitch, the horse or the field are uniform; the part that you are in contact with is uniform and predictable. With climbing, this isn’t the case. The holds you’re reaching for next are most likely totally different from the ones you’ve just left. Put simply, for any climber learning something new, there’s a lot to think about.
As coaches, this creates a new challenge: how do you teach people new techniques effectively? This can often be incredibly difficult, especially when working a project at the limit of the climber’s ability.
There is, of course, the useful method of demonstration but this does hinge on the coach being able to perform the technique in good style and as is often cited, you don’t need to be able to do it to be able to coach it. And, of course, this may not necessarily be the best way for your student to learn.
The VAK model
The VAK model is an old model that now seems to be being adapted and added to but for us, as climbing coaches, it still represents the three most likely methods of being able to convey information to a student. It is a simple acronym as follows:
- Visual. Someone who learns by seeing something done.
- Audial. Someone who learns by being told how to do something.
- Kinaesthetic. Someone who learns by doing something.
Now, you could analyse your student and establish, over time, what their preferred learning method is (not a bad thing to do with long term students) but most likely, you’ll be trying to hit each learning style in one fell swoop. You’ll talk to your student, demo what you’re trying to do (where possible) or perhaps show them a video and then get them to try it.
The problem with trying something on the wall is that it can be tricky to implement the aspect you’re trying to convey when your climber is finding it hard to hang on. It is still a useful model and something that we will always try and use to aid learning but it is possible to reinforce this with some simple floor exercises.
What are floor exercises?
As usual, this term could have multiple meanings so to clarify, i will define specifically what i mean in this context.
Floor exercises: simplifying complicated climbing movements into movements that can be performed standing on the floor.
So you take a climbing movement, boil it down to it’s key components and then come up with a floor exercise that demonstrates the idea that you want to convey. Pretty straight forward?
Let’s take an example that i often use: a floor exercise to demonstrate good dyno technique. Firstly, let’s look at a dyno in action. The first 30 seconds of this video is myself in Magic Wood, Switzerland:
It’s steep and the untrained eye may be drawn to focusing their attention on my hands and my torso but actually, the power comes almost totally from my legs. So how do we convey this into a floor exercise?
- Stand on the floor, feet shoulder width apart.
- Touch your toes.
- Jump as high as you can.
Break it down enough and this is, in essence, a dyno! Watch a beginner and it is something that is often missing; they try and generate a lot of the upward power by pulling with the arms.
If you wanted to elaborate on this, you could easily incorporate a small upward movement between stage 1 and stage 2 to generate some “spring” and some momentum or you could experiment with introducing some sideways movement, like moving weight onto one foot more than the other before jumping.
And that is, in essence, the premise behind floor exercises: simplifying movement and turning it into something you can practice standing on the floor.
Incorporating the Wall… But Still On The Floor
The next stage is to get people using their hands but we still want them standing on the floor. As soon as we step off the floor, we introduce more complexity that complicates the basic principles we are trying to teach.
Thankfully the vast majority of climbs tend to start at floor level so you’ve got an abundance of places to demonstrate and teach. The crucial thing here though is to keep it simple.
For this part of our teaching, colours of holds and individual routes are largely irrelevant – you’re much more interested in finding holds that fit for the movement you’re trying to show.
Often this will involve thinking on your feet and quickly looking around for suitable holds and you can sometimes struggle if you can’t quickly see what you’re looking for. In this respect, knowledge of the wall pays dividends (an excuse to get some climbing sessions in before you go coaching!) and if you know your student has a weakness that you’re going to want to look at before the session starts, do a bit of scouting before they arrive to find the right holds.
Getting Off the Floor
Yes, i know we’re talking about floor exercises but eventually you’re going to need to put this into practice. Ideally, once you’ve run through using the floor alone and then incorporating the wall at floor level, your climber should be able to implement the techniques into their project but not always. Sometimes the movement is too hard for your climber to comprehend or the project taking too much concentration and it’s at this point you’ll need to try and introduce the same ideas but somewhere slightly easier.
Again, individual routes matter not at this point; the goal is simply to replicate the project but with slightly easier moves. With the pressure off, it’s possible to refine technique before reintroducing this improvement into the project.
For example, if your climber is struggling with a toe hook to keep their weight on a steep wall, it is sometimes possible to move to an easier-angled wall and replicate the move. This reduces both the physical and mental stresses to allow the coach to work specifically with the climber on that toe hook and get it just right. Then we’ll head back to the project and see if the technique has improved.
Are Floor Exercises Really That Useful?
I use this method of teaching principles of climbing almost every session, on aspects from weight transfer, drop knees, dynos, HOT holds, almost anything can be boiled down to become simple enough to be demonstrated stood on the floor.
As a climbing coach, part of your job is to be able to boil this movement down to it’s basic principles to be able to teach effectively but this isn’t that easy. When practiced, floor exercises can be a fundamental and fantastic tool for your repertoire.
What About For the Self Coached Climber?
If you’re effectively coaching yourself, you can still use floor exercises to decipher sequences and movements, although the analysis needed is higher. The other problem is that the propensity for error is also much higher but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth a try.
It is a very old technique to reproduce a climb to be able to practice the moves in a nicer and more suitable enviroment but this is normally done by having similarly difficult or even harder moves to those on the project. It is usually a way of building fitness and strength in the required muscles to be able to complete the project.
Floor exercises are easier than the moves they replicate. They are a way of mastering the movement in a simple environment. For an experienced and thoughtful climber, this could offer that small insight into how best to move and thus could tip the scales on your efforts in the direction of success.