The BMC's FUNdamentals of Climbing workshops form part of the new Assistant Climbing Coach Award from Mountain Training. Aspiring coach and writer Katy Dartford, joins in the fun to see what they're all about.
I’m moving carefully, feeling around with my heightened senses guiding me. I can’t see what’s going on as I’m wearing a pair of goggles covered in gaffer tape…. This isn’t some kind of strange climbing initiation ritual but an exercise in using the best possible technique. We play some more games to practice weight shifting properly – like climbing one handed and standing on a wobble board to feel how balancing on one leg is actually easier.
I’m on a BMC’s FUNdamentals
course at the Westway. Although aimed at coaching children, I thought the back to basics approach wouldn’t be a bad thing for my own personal development and I’m thinking of applying to do the Coaching Award Scheme
from Mountain Training, which the FUNdamentals form part of the training pathway for.
The “blind” climbing is just one of the games you can play with climbers of all ages to make them aware of the ABC’s of Agility, Balance and Coordination. Activities like these can be used effectively by coaches to develop these three cornerstones of movement in climbers.
“Most of us have learnt to climb from our mates,” says our trainer, Ian Dunn, team GB’s climbing manager. “You grab a hold and pull on it; but in other sports you get some coaching first. Climbing has never been like this, studies into how to train for it are relatively new.”
Starting the morning in the classroom we look at the “10 years or 10,000 hours rule.” This means slightly more than three hours of deliberate practice daily for ten years – “deliberate” being the key here. It’s no good just going along with your mates, having a chat and a cup of tea with a bit of climbing in between. This is important as it means if the relevant motor skills are not developed by the age of 12 (the FUNdamentals years) the child will not reach their ‘genetic ceiling.’ However, a careful planned routine can help all of us achieve some realistic goals.
We play more games to get warmed up properly for a climbing session, such as cat and mouse, tag, Simon Says and look at how beginners climb, “There are really two decisions to make,” says Ian “rocking over or twisting.” We then play a game which you can do with children to find resting positions; chimneys, hooks, knee bars, bridges and drop knee and practice clipping quick draws with a game of “quick draw cowboy.”
The next day, on FUNdamentals 2 we continue to build on these basics by looking at how we use footholds and handholds. Beginners tend to slap their feet and don’t look where they place them, so we play some games to practice this; silent feet, putting tape on wall and trying to kick it precisely, then placing a few corks along a traverse and climbing it without knocking them over, a good way of practicing foot swapping. We then head to the cave to practice skills for climbing on vertical and slightly overhanging rock- focusing keeping the centre of gravity close by twisting, flagging, Egyptians, and using straight arms. After lunch we take a look at hand holds, naming all the types we can see. We then make up our own problems, labelling the names of the holds we use – a good exercise for a climbing session with children.
FUNdamentals 3 is all about the principles of training. Starting in the classroom again we consider the differences between a boulderer, sport climber and alpinist and how this affects the way they need to train, ie power, versus power endurance or endurance. “Being a climber is like being a heptathlete,” says Ian, “you need to train everything. The principles of training are to do more than you would normally do. But it’s also important to take appropriate rest.”
We then look at measuring the level of pump we get from a climb – from 1 to 5, and how we should train all these levels, but initially (the training phase) mostly endurance. Ian uses a 12 week programme which can be applied to whatever grade you climb at. Here you spend 8 weeks in the base training stage (mostly L2/L3 pump), working on endurance, then 4 weeks (mostly L4/5 pump) in the “performance/competition” phase.
A typical “training phase” session actually didn’t look that different to how I would normally spend my time at a wall; warm up, do a several routes I can easily onsight and then a few harder ones. But it’s useful to structure it a bit more and to try to redpoint routes at your grade limit. We have a go at a few exercises to train endurance, such as 4x4’s (climbing up an easy lead 4 times consecutively with no rest in between.) or a boulder problem 1-2 grades below your onsight level and repeating them 4 times, with 30 seconds rest in between.
The good news is that, according to Ian, “it’s not about talent, but whether you have the ‘training gene’….”the kids who are successful train the hardest and love the pain of being boxed…” I’m certainly trying to love it!
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