Replication Training

A quick google search suggests that this as a phrase doesn’t exist so i’m nabbing it before anyone else does. It is possibly the single most extensively used technique in my coaching repertoire.

In some ways, it is not new and is even now developing more and more alongside technology (more on this later). However for me, Replication Training isn’t just used in the same way it’s been used historically in climbing, i use it EVERYWHERE.

So what do i mean by Replication Training anyway? In this article, i’ll explain what Replication Training is before investigating it’s effects across all the facets of the TTPP Model: Technical, Tactical, Psychological and Physical. For me, this model encapsulates everything in performance sport and is a great way for me to narrow down the subject matter. However RT works differently in each aspect. Let’s start by laying out exactly what RT is.

A definition of Replication Training

Replication Training involves isolating and targeting certain aspects of a project and recreating them in an environment that allows you to work on the particular area of weaknesses.

The typical and most popular form this can take is to copy the moves of a project line on an indoor wall to allow for practice sessions that are either more local or less weather dependent and this has been done for decades. However this only looks at one aspect of the TTPP Model; it doesn’t necessarily target the Technical, Tactical or Psychological aspects of a project and focuses on the Physical challenge. So what if we could continue the theme onto the other three facets of said model?

The good news is that not only is this possible but it is also HUGELY beneficial and brings great reward. Moreover, it can actually create a situation that lends itself to greater understanding and transferable skills. Let’s say, for example, you have a climber who doesn’t know how to perform an Egyptian on a route. Trying to teach them in situ is unfeasible, assuming the project is close to their limit, as they will have too much else going on. The cognitive load is too high and concentration levels are spent trying to cling on to the wall and there’s not enough focus on the lesson/episode at hand.

So we replicate the move and create an Egyptian on a different, easier route nearby. Better still would be to replicate into a floor exercise. This way, we can spend more effort and more energy in perfecting (in this case) an Egyptian and getting it right. Then we go back to the project and see if it’s helped. This is based on the concept of noise. 

The Concept of Noise

While we’re all aware of the concept of noise when it relates to sound, in this context we are not talking of the typical definition of noise. However it is a useful parallel. So let’s use sound to illustrate the point.

Imagine we are listening to an orchestra BUT we are actually only interested in one particular instrument; for example the violin. In this example, all of the other instruments are actually noise, preventing us from concentrating on the violin alone. Everything else that is going on – regardless of how proficient it is – inhibits us from concentrating on our focus. What’s more, some of them may be major distractions that totally override our thoughts; like the drums for example. Depending on the instrument you’re trying to focus on can determine how easy it is to focus on the individual aspect in question.

The analogy works quite well for our context. Our orchestra represents an entire route, with each movement acting as each instrument. Different hold types and different movements act as different instruments, all happening at various times to come together to create the music/send. However to make sure each ingredient is functioning as well as it can, we need to remove the noise around it to allow us to concentrate on that one in turn. Then, once our violin is playing perfectly, or we’re able to do the perfect drop knee, we can put that back into context.

Replication Training In Practice

So we’re reducing the noise around one individual aspect of performance in order to work on that aspect individually and thus, improve the climber’s overall skill. Simple enough really but then how do we do this?

It all depends on how you wish to improve the climber and what skills you’re looking to work on. Looking at skills in total can be a little overwhelming and the TTPP Model helps to conveniently break performance down into four factors: Technical, Tactical, Physical and Psychological. All skills fit into one of these categories so the coach identifies the weakness they wish to work on and then replicates it for the client.

Thankfully, there are guidelines on how to replicate aspects of performance depending on the category of skill in question. So now, let’s have a closer look at each of these four categories, what they actually mean and how we invoke Replication Training in each case in turn.

Replication Training: the Physical

Definition: Is the climber strong enough to complete the route

Replica: Harder than original

Replicates: The entire route or individual crux moves

Time spent on replica: Large

How it works: This is fairly simple: create a replica of the moves on your outdoor project somewhere else (usually at a local wall or at home) in order to get stronger and increase the likelihood of success.

If i had the time, i’d search through some of the oldest examples of this from way back when as replicating a project on an indoor wall goes back to the first indoor walls… I’m sure Ben Moon and Jerry Moffatt did this among many others. However it needn’t be the entire problem that you replicate and i’ve been known to complete fingerboard sessions on the same type of holds as my projects ready for the send.

The critical point here is that you are strengthening the muscles needed to succeed and conditioning the body not to be broken by it. As you can expect here, this means it is worthwhile having a replica that is slightly harder than the project itself, although this isn’t always possible, especially when your project is the hardest problem in the world.

Two Japanese climbers, Toru Nakajima and Ryohei Kameyama, have utilised their nation’s reputation for technology to create exact replicas of the holds on Burden of Dreams 9a to be able to work it back home before the big trip. They obviously can’t make the replica harder as the climb is already as hard as it gets!

The important point is not to make it easier and to focus on the right movements and muscles to get the body ready for the send.

Replication Training: the Technical

Definition: Is the climber moving in the best way to succeed

Replica: Substantially easier than original

Replicates: A movement principle

Time spent on replica: Short

How it works: Still replication training, i use this every single week. This is also where the concept of noise is of particular note. Any climb consists of linking several, different movements together and if the climber is weak on one of these types of movements – struggling to heel hook effectively, for example – then we’ll need to replicate this in a new environment to remove the noise of the rest of the moves.

For this, my go to is to create a floor exercise that keeps the essence of the movement i want to discuss but crucially, it removes AS MUCH NOISE AS POSSIBLE. In our heel hook example, i’ll typically get someone standing on the floor and placing a heel hook on an arete. This means their arms are not working to hold them in place, they aren’t focused on their balance or their standing foot and more attention can be placed on getting the feeling of a successful heel hook just right. Then of course, it’s right back in to context to make it work.

The more noise you can remove, the more successful this generally is BUT it does rely on successfully getting to the very essence of the move you’re working on. The bright side to this is that it is easy to practice, by selecting any move on any route and trying to copy it back on the ground.

Replication Training: the Tactical

Definition: Is the climber applying themself in the best way at the best time?

Replica: Similar to original

Replicates: A decision making principle

Time spent on replica: Various

How it works: Replicating tactical decisions is difficult and in my experience, quite rare. In essence, though, if tactics are defined as above, we’re working on the climber’s decision making skills to ensure that they make the best decisions based on the information they have at the time.

Decisions will be based on a multitude of factors; from intrinsic feedback to external factors. However what is important to remember is that it is THE CLIMBER who needs to be in charge of these decisions; maybe not now but certainly one day, assuming that eventually they are going to go climbing without you.

Even the best coaches do this; trust me, this was the topic of my Master’s Degree. A better climber will be able to decide when they are ready for the next attempt, how much of the route to try and even whether they are going to continue on the same route or move on to something else. After all, the climber always has one thing the coach does not and that is the knowledge of how they feel.

As far as replication training with tactics is concerned, the crucial part here isn’t so much the climbing itself but the part just before and after an attempt. The big question to ask (over and over in my experience) is how do you/did that feel? What they did is largely irrelevant in this case, it is more whether their decision was the right one for that time.

Replication Training: the Psychological

Definition: Is the climber actually applying themself?

Replica: Easier than original

Replicates: Certain aspects of the route

Time spent on replica: Various

How it works: As coaches, we need to be careful here as we are playing with the mind now but it’s not as bad as it might seem; nor is replication training for psychological aspects of performance as rare as you might think. The most obvious example of this, i would suspect, is simple fall practice.

Fear of falling has become a major feature of modern climbing coaching, even informally, and fall practice is often adopted in order to help deal with it. The reasoning is simple: the climber can’t perform properly as they are fearful of falling; so if we work on their ability to successfully fall without becoming apprehensive, it will allow the climber to focus on their climbing performance instead. It is, in fact, another fantastic example of removing noise in order to concentrate on honing a specific skill as part of a performance as a whole.

There are plenty of other examples of psychological replication training that take place. Fear of falling works on a bouldering wall just as much as on lead and fall practice from an easier route is equally effective. When working with climbers on their dynamic climbing, I’ve used replication training to boost commitment to moves by breaking a move down into four sections: Wave at the hold, Tap the hold, Stroke the hold, Grab the hold; all specifically designed to get the climber used to the idea of failing on that move and being able to commit fully.

Remember the definition of psychological aspects of performance given above: are they actually applying themselves and as such, these exercises will all be related to committing to moves. Just be careful to ensure you’re not reinforcing those same fears with your exercises.

The Take Home

The idea of Replication Training is vague and open to much interpretation on the part of the coach but it comes back to that initial definition:

A method of coaching to isolate and target individual and specific weaknesses in climbing

By thinking in terms of the Concept of Noise, we can filter out all the other instruments going on in order to pick the one thing we wish to work on at any one point.

Then, by determining which of the TTPP we are dealing with, we can figure out how best to replicate the area of weakness in question. Whether it’s a floor exercise or an entire training program designed to strengthen specific muscle groups, Replication Training makes things easier, harder or much the same as the area we’re replicating.

Remember, though, that Replication Training only goes so far and that once we’ve worked on our weakness, we then need to put it back in to context to judge effectiveness. Varied practice is much talked about and with any area that’s had some attention, should be implemented in order to really cement learning for the student. And of course, Replication Training focuses specifically on one area at a time; it won’t suddenly make any climber world class overnight. It’s important to remember that the coach may need to repeat the process over and over with different areas; indeed, that’s what works for me.

However, this is an effective and simple method of working specific weaknesses in isolation and creating stepping stones to a full and optimum performance.

For more information on Replication Training, it’s implementation and it’s effectiveness, please get in touch:

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