Monday, January 23, 2012

Rotation in Dynamic Moves

The entire idea of movement in climbing revolves around moving from one body position to the next. Knowing that it's more of a gradient rather than a binary concept, let's quickly look at the two main types of movement:

In more static climbing, a climber uses the holds they have to move comfortably into a body position where they are ready to change to the next hold. Examples of this might be perching weight on a good foothold before moving the hands, finding balance on one leg before stepping up to the next foothold, and locking off on one arm to move the other hand.

More dynamic climbing revolves around the climber making similar movements, but with momentum. A lockoff made dynamic might involve a lot more motion coming from the leg and hip, rather than the arm and shoulder. Especially on steep walls, and for very large moves, the ability to create and control momentum becomes crucial.

However, in these dynamic movements, the thesis I started with remains true. A dynamic movement is simply using momentum to move from one body position to the next, rather than tension. There are many applications of forced dynamic movement: most notably, larger upward movement becomes possible. Lateral movement can be added in to spice things up. Dynamic movement to poor holds can require immediate resistance ("holding the swing") rather than the constant tension offered by static resistance climbing.

Lately, I was inspired by a post on Facebook to think about how we can use body position planning to add rotation to dynamic movement. If the target holds require the climber to be in an externally rotated position, a twist is added into the dynamic movement. If the movement is also large enough to require a foot-cut, that twist becomes a full body rotation. In many cases, like Sharma's beta used here on Evilution, this is just enough rotation to get the body underneath the target hold. (Perhaps not the best beta, but we're just examining movement here.)

Moving B laterally will make rotation more or less evident.

Moving from A to B isn't a lateral movement, but requires rotation to get underneath B and grab it from a proper angle. Failure to do so would keep the climber from being able to weight the hold. The climber starts facing slightly right, but close to the wall, and ends facing straight rightward. In this case, when I say "the climber," I really mean "the climber's hips," because that's where the rotation is evident. The starting position will have the hips square to the wall, and in the finishing position they're facing nearly horizontal, with the direction of movement. Watch that video again and watch Sharma's hips to see what I mean.

It is also possible to rotate past 90 degrees. The big boy beta on Toxic Avenger (not a great angle, but you get the gist) involves a dynamic move that sends the climber from almost fully laid back facing left to facing right and almost away from the boulder.

Notably, Toxic Avenger climbs out of the opposite terrain (exiting a roof, rather than entering one) - this setup would present much less difficulty.

In this case, moving from A to B requires a much larger rotation, as the climber would start facing left. Again, the rotation is evident in the climber's hips. The starting body position will be nearly square to the wall, but the end position (before swinging the feet back on) will have the hips facing outward, in this case opposite the direction the climber moved.

That's all for now. And yes.. I do love responding to these kinds of questions on Facebook. Thanks for commenting, Aaron!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Quality Assurance

What do newspapers, websites, household goods, food, computers, cars, and virtually every other consumable product have in common that routesetting often lacks? QA.

What is QA for routesetting?
  • Good forerunning - ego at the door; objectivity; fair, concise and constructive communication. No one should be exempt from having their routes forerun.
  • A plan for improvement - if you have too many of a certain move, too much of a certain style, too many sequences being skipped by climbers, etc - how will you prevent that from happening next time?
  • All routes are equal - spend time on routes based on the attention they will receive, not the attention you want to give them. Harder routes sometimes necessitate more effort, but easier and moderate routes will receive the most traffic, abuse and criticism.
  • The primary goal of QA is to make a better product. Are your routes better this week than last week? This month than last month? Where can your process be improved?

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Ergonomics of Setting, Part 1

This is a concept I've been wanting to get to for a while. Most recently a nagging finger injury brought it to the front of my mind, as the gym I train at most frequently has a bad habit. I've covered this problem in this blog before: who cares about the V0 climbers when you climb V10? A jug is a jug is a jug, right? Unfortunately, basic physics interferes with this notion:

Force / Area = Pressure

Therefore, more Force (harder moves) or smaller Area (smaller holds / less ergonomic holds) = more pressure on the fingers. Pretty straightforward math.

Injury prevention is a subject often avoided in routesetting. Usually considered the responsibility of the climber, routesetters who consider injury avoidance are an utterly crucial asset to their gym. Ergonomic setting makes for symmetrical, strong, well-rounded climbers. Unergonomic setting makes for muscular imbalance, shared weaknesses, and injuries. Which set of climbers will be happier? Which gym's competitive teams will perform better?

Healthy, happy climbers rely on routesetters to subtly suggest good climbing habits. This is applicable at any and all grade - from the first-timer complaining about how tight climbing shoes are to the mutant warming up on your hard problems to the 55 year old that throws down on his lunch break.

A jug is not always a jug. What do we know about new climbers?

  • They move quickly and inaccurately ("thrutching")
  • They weight holds before grabbing them properly
  • They are not as good at positioning their body to keep their weight on their feet
  • They do not optimize their hand/arm positioning
  • They are not experienced enough to recognize when a move or sequence may be dangerous
With these factors in mind, let's go back to our math equation.

Let's say a new climber comes into a climbing gym and climbs two VB-rated problems. The problems involve the exact same movement on the same terrain. On one problem, the setters carefully picked each hold to be rounded. On the other, any hold from the "jug" pile is used as the next hold.

Red areas represent surface area of contact with the hold, Area. Assuming the same movement off of each hold, Force remains constant. Note that with the hold on the left, advanced climbers will automatically lean back, straighten their arms, and put more of their hands' contact area on the hold. Beginners will lock the hold in to their chest, endangering their fingers.

"But RC," you say, staring poignantly at your boxes of flat, sharply incut jugs laying in the corner. "If we only set with the comfortable jugs, what do we do with all these things?"

Our job is never easy, and this is one part of it. There are times that unrounded jugs are acceptable. In a steep enough roof, the pressure = force / area argument is largely nullified. Let's rotate the previous example image 90 degrees, as if the holds were in a roof:

More incut holds are a bit friendlier on steep walls.

As you can see from this picture, the goal is to maintain the hold's sharpest point at a 90 degree or more angle away from the climber's plumb line of hand positioning. In other words, when making the move, you want as much surface area of your hand touching the jug as possible. Any time a hold is contacting across one segment/phalange of the fingers is a danger zone for connective tissue. (I am in no way suggesting here that you should intentionally set with sharp holds in a roof - just illustrating the ergonomic difference between profile and incut.)

A good basic rule of thumb is: for vert or gently overhanging, a jug is a hold with a deep profile and a slight incut. For steeper walls, a jug is a hold with a deep incut. It will still be more comfortable if it also has some depth, so that the contact area is a bit more rounded.

Explaining profile vs incut. While it might be slightly harder to make a move from the hold on the right, beginners' fingers will thank you.

If you simply don't have enough comfortable holds, then you get to work extra hard at finding the ideal position for the hold to not be tweaky. This is a fine art.

Some holds, of course, have sufficient incut and profile depth to be usable anywhere with no issue. Most gyms reserve these size of holds for steeper walls anyway, where beginners need the largest possible grip surface and depth possible. These type of "mega jugs" are irreplaceable for a commercial gym - beginners can use them just to hang on, intermediate climbers can make hard moves off of them as they learn how to negotiate large moves on steep terrain without destroying their fingers, and advanced climbers can use them to practice dynos, recovery / power endurance, and campusing. New holds these days are much more comfortable, ergonomic and (in most cases) intelligently designed than they used to be. If your gym has a budget, ergonomic jugs should be a significant part of it.

Let's quickly cover our knowledge of new climbers again:

  • They move quickly and inaccurately, so beginner jugs should be mostly grabbable surface, with no extraneous sharp parts
  • They weight holds before grabbing them properly, so holds should be fairly uniform
  • They are not as good at positioning their body to keep their weight on their feet, so holds should be directly above footholds, especially if they're sharp/incut - never expect beginners to smear.
  • They do not optimize hand/arm positioning, so pulling sideways or outwards on holds should be just as safe as pulling down (probably not as functional or "good" of a hold - but safe!)
  • They are not experienced enough to recognize when a move or sequence may be dangerous, so don't put them in a dangerous situation.

To summarize: You can't change the amount of force a climber will put on a hold, but you can change the surface area that force will be distributed around. Good routesetting should be fun, but it should also be safe.

In this post I mostly covered the ergonomics of holds, specifically jugs. In the next two parts of this topic, I'll go into a bit more depth on the ergonomics of directionality and movement. Until then, happy setting!

An Easily Avoidable Trap

"Feet outside suck. People need to learn how to smear better."

"Outside, the holds are not always comfortable."

"Well, Problem X at our local crag has this huge move in it that no girl can do. This move is just like that one."

Yep. Sometimes, outdoor climbing is unfair, sharp, and miserable.

It also rains outside, but I don't see anyone trying to patent a climbing gym weather system.

The bonus of indoor climbing is that the variables are controllable. Using outdoor conditions as an excuse for bad routesetting is an easily avoidable trap.