A followup… Part 3: Efficiency

I’ve decided to write this to better clarify what I mean by efficient movement, and because I referenced efficiency in the ST posts, it’s important to reduce any confusion; as a result, here is my take on the topic of efficiency. Part of the reason for my motivation arises from a simulator session while on plastic with some friends that resulted in a discussion on efficiency in movement stemming from a problem I set whose crux was more movement specific than strength/power specific.

Aparté, Apremont Sully.

Aparté, Apremont Sully.

Efficiency, as I define it, is based on the concept of maximized core with optimal balance to facilitate least output from extremities while achieving definitive results. That said, let’s delve into the details.

First, the components relevant are balance (centering), form (technique), capacity (specific strength) and flexibility (relevant range of motion). Of these, it’s the cumulative action that will result in efficient movement, aside from good action practices, like breathing, composure, focus, willfulness and mindfulness, for lack of a better term.

I refer to balance as (the act of) centering. I do this because unless one is just hanging along the plumb line, trying to “balance” as an action can seem bizarre or ambiguous: balance in what way, on what, using what? When centering, the goal is to shift/move relative to given holds in a direction dictated by form (chosen technique) to achieve the most optimum alignment relative to the holds’ orientation. Form would be the given move choice, and the technical side is defined by this concept of form having specific vector forces. When applied to the micro (hold uniqueness) and macro (hold arrangement) specifics of the holds in question, one can ascertain position that’s optimal. The ability to initiate and carry out the move is dependent on capacity (foundational strengths) and sufficient range of motion, or flexibility. I prioritize foundational strengths in a general sense as sufficient body or core tension, with adequate shoulder and hip stability. Of course, for each move, there are specific kinesthetic details that make up core tension and shoulder and hip stability.

Let’s go back to centering: in a generalized sense, there is a place where the hips need to be, their angle and structure to legs and trunk having a predetermined idealized position based on attempting vectors relative to form that the body must attain to make the move doable with the least output; furthermore, the shoulders and hips need to be sufficiently stabilized to allow for that structure to transmit the force from the foot (feet) through to the hands. Centering is based on either 2+ or 3 points of weighted contact. In 3 point contact, we have a triangle area created by forms like Drop Knees and Stems (1 hand, 2 feet). In 2+ forms (+ refers to flagged foot pressure) we have a centerline created by the weighted foot and weighted hand/shoulder joint.

Rotation Principle of Centering:
Think of a rotisserie where a weight is attached to one side of the pole at its center. As you rotate this pole around its axis, that weight will rotate either to the top or elsewhere but wants to sit hanging at the bottom. But in this example, we want the weight on top (think slack line). Let’s assume there is an inside and an outside reference point relative to a fictional wall parallel to the pole. This means you can rotate the pole inward towards the wall or outwards away from the wall until the weight rotates past the top back towards the wall. In this context, rotation direction is from this balanced position atop the pole.

White #37, La Fissure, unknown sit at 7a??

White #37, La Fissure, unknown sit at 7a??

Now, as it gets rotated around from the underside out to the top, it will begin to reach its upper zenith of the rotation. Ideally, the “center” will be at its top point, delicately balanced. One micron past, and it will immediately generate momentum towards the inside. In a climbing context, the outside position is typically where we all start that journey to center ourselves. As we approach that idealized center, things begin to feel or appear unstable, but in fact, we are beginning to find a balance point. If we go too far, it will feel like we have lost control or are so cramped, it’s counterproductive. This loss of control stems from using force directed to moving us into the wall where such force is counterproductive at the rotations’ zenith. Nearing this zenith, one must begin reducing force in favor of equalizing force to stabilize in the balance position, hence the feeling of losing control. Some times, one may not be able to reach an idealized balanced position for lack of space. This, of course, makes it too cramped.

Person 1:
Most people will sufficient movement experience will begin this rotation correctly. Those that are not strong, or don’t work strength independent of balance but have stabilized shoulders with some core stength will tend to try to “sit” on the topmost position and hope they can “settle” in and find stability to initiate the move (typically this type of person is also tending towards using two footholds). Correct intent.

Person 2:
Those that are strong from strength-specific acts independent of balance will tend to stop short of the idealized balance point, or center. In doing so, they will “naturally (ironic, eh?)” try to contain their position with the strengths they’ve developed. At this point, they are not only teaching themselves to not seek an efficient position, but they are teaching their mind to always attempt to find this excessively tensioned position that favors what they feel good with (their strengths) in order to facilitate the move. The irony is that this approach induces greater strength focus.Not correct but can be successful.

Person 3:
Another person has strong stabilized shoulders, stabilized hips and good range of motion for both. This person has developed this base, shall I say organically, without resorting to muscle specific symmetrical strength building (weight lifting, especially with machines). This person will have a tendency to try and find that center, and with sufficient core tension, be able to attempt to “balance” in that position. They may not actually truly balance, but balancing, as we all know, takes time to learn. If this person does, in fact, get balanced (centered), they will be optimally capable of outputting the least energy with the most stable position. And even if they don’t, they are still predisposed to trying. Excellent.

Person 4:
Now lets think of another person who is equally adept at organic movement but who isn’t very stable in the shoulders or hips. This person will attempt to do the right thing, but because of a lack of stabilizers in the two key joints (hips and shoulders), this person will deform their shoulders and hips in an attempt to make themselves balance. They may in fact accomplish this. In doing so, they have compromised their potential strength capacity while also forcing incorrect muscle use to achieve the correct goal. This incorrect muscular use will cause overuse of stabilizers (typically rotator cuff muscles in shoulders) that will ultimately result in shortened and tight muscles that will begin to limit range of motion. As their range of motion (over time) reduces, they will then begin to resort to more strength-specific acts as they won’t be able to “find” that sweet spot or “centered” position. And poor hip control actually will induce greater shoulder deformation and upper body-centric solutions. Not healthy. Excessive emphasis on positioning.

Person 5:
This person, with limited movement experience, is someone who is very strong, trains a ton, and can do many one arms while performing finger hangs most of us only dream of. His/her shoulders are stable and hips are well controlled. This person would tend to interpret what their center is through the initiation of one (or a few) of their dominant muscles… usually their lats. This action will immediately prevent that person from “feeling” what their center is because they’ve eclipsed the awareness of lateral shifting towards their center while in favor of contracting an extremity to hold position or to move upwards. Once they initiate a lat pull action, this alone will sidetrack them away from centering. Balance will usually be perceived as a strength action, but we all know it’s not… think slack line and try to “strength it” to a true balance. If this person has previous climbing movement experience, especially before they began strength building, they may tend to move fairly well. But remember, any (non-balanced) strength training will predispose us to strength centering, or strength-based containment. Can be good but consistently never optimized.

Person 6:
This person is strong but has poor shoulder and hip stability coupled with isolated strength development coupled with limited range of motion. I recommend climbing for fun. 😉 Seriously, this person would need to evaluate to what extent they want to work on rehabilitation that might extend over a long period. They would have to allow themselves to lose certain strengths while increasing range of motion followed by relearning new movement forms.

I can continue on with various other combinations, but I hope my point is clarified.

I have worked with many people, and strength-based climbers tend to associate those strengths with their confidence. This adds a new dimension that can be even more debilitating than anything else. Even if they were told the ideal instruction and plan for improvement, their emotional makeup would tend to prevent them from comprehending the seriousness of having to let go of their strengths in order to better their movement. They would have a an emotional filter that is biased towards rationally favoring their strengths, and some will even experience this drop in performance (in order to gain awareness of how to move) as an indication of the incompetence of the teacher, or simply to question the efficacy of the advice.

Sending the sit to La fissure Évasée, 7b+. This is a very foot technical problem.

Sending the sit to La fissure Évasée, 7b+. This is a very foot technical problem.

Now, of all these persons, each of them attempts to interpret what to do for a given move by choosing a set of holds and a body position that will reflect their biases. They will all move their bodies somewhere in an attempt to find that “sweet spot.” But some might first ask: what foot hold choice is best or what is good beta? But I ask: what move are you trying to perform? The human body has very real limits at how it can move, and these limits define a set number of basic moves. From these basics, a few extra moves exist that I call compound moves: combination moves of 2 of the basics. Whatever move one tries, one needs to know what vectors define that move because every move type has specific vectors that must be attempted in order to make the move work. And when one attempts to center correctly, the move becomes efficient, but only in context with that choice, not necessarily the best choice for that part of the climb.

With this information, one can reassess the foot choices based on move options to better choose what might work optimally for that move (assuming hand sequence is set). This mental exercise can become muddled and biased based on our emotional and physical framework, our lack of understanding of what to do, and our bias towards certain strengths we enjoy having (let’s be honest). Regardless of this mental process, the options are limited and the capacity to perform them is independent of what we can do.

Even if we are told what to do, we may simply not be able to perform it correctly. We may do the move another way, and say: this suits me better. Fair enough. Is it efficient? Probably not, but it’s still relative to the here and now (Can it be more efficient, probably so). Is it successful, yes. In bouldering, this is a common occurrence. In route climbing, the tendency is to minimize stress and avoid that forever present “pump.” In doing so, we lose the ability to realize that strength is in fact an efficient asset, and we end up trying to stand on EVERYTHING. This forces us to manipulate our body into positions that aren’t optimal while we “feel” we are being optimal with our actions. Route climbers are often underpowered and develop tension counter-productive to efficient movement. Structural integrity like that used in System Training is usually NOT something arrived at naturally by route climbers (exceptions exist), unless they have stabilized shoulders and hips with good range of motion and control over that motion position. It actually takes strength building to move well in turnout, or what I call a high step move (for lack of a better term), and one cannot realistically build strength to perform such a move unless their core and foundational assets are already stabilized, AND they have’t compromised their range of motion.

Efficiency is also about choosing the right move relative to one’s body type, but we always must have stabilized shoulders and hips, full range of motion of both and full control at all positions (idealized goal). And yes, capacity to pull, but it must be subservient to movement and technique. The holds won’t give us any slack, as nature surely won’t. We must make ourselves fit the situation (why chipping is lame and self-serving and stupid and dumb and unnecessary and where such control desires are better applied to setting in a gym). We must accept defeat knowing there is a better way.

Adults learn to climb according to previous movement paradigms based on past skills. Women tend to climb with more centering as they tend to be less strength oriented. But without adequate shoulder and hip stabilization, little will be learned that is beneficial. As poor engrams develop, so will strength follow to support such engrams. With un-stabilized shoulders, muscle deficiencies develop that WILL become chronic. Trust me. I know this personally.

This is a lot to read, sorry. Despite that, there are a fair number of points that I didn’t elaborate on that should be done. I’ve also not even touched on what movement fundamentals are, their vectors, and the muscular assets necessary for each move type: furthermore, I’m not dealing with slow twitch and fast twitch muscle actions in context with movement. As you can see, there is much more. I hope this will begin to help you understand what climbing is or can be.

Why we love ticks... the chalk kind. Indestructible, 7a+, 95.2

Why we love ticks… the chalk kind. Indestructible, 7a+, 95.2

Here’s another topic some might find interesting: why do some climbers have hamstring issues from heel hooking? I’ll give you a hint: upper body- versus lower body-centric movement.


~ by r. mulligan on 2014/09/30.

One Response to “A followup… Part 3: Efficiency”

  1. These posts have been incredibly informative. I love nerding out on the intricacies and subtleness of climbing movement. If only I had started thinking about this stuff earlier instead of focusing on hangboarding! (although that helped a good bit too hehehe) Hope to see more stuff like this in the future. Thanks!

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