Climbing Technique of the 21st Century

Climbing Technique of the 21st Century

In Art of Bouldering, better climbing, BoulderCoach, Hardest Climbing Moves, Klettertraining by Udo Neumann

Due to the height of many things human beings climb on, and the potentially disastrous consequences of a fall, climbing historically hasn’t been an activity of playful, relaxed experimentation.
Even on bolted sport climbs and when bouldering on rock, getting to the point where you last fell off is often difficult what restricted practice time on hard routes. This restricts practice time on hard moves and routes and therefore slows skill acquisition for better climbing technique.

Climbing Technique from udo neumann on Vimeo.

Fast forward to the early years of the new millennium, when a new kind of dedicated bouldering gyms with seamless mats became the birth place for modern, acrobatic climbing. From those gyms, the new style of climbing emerged – first at bouldering contests, but more and more also on rock, where the solutions of many of the hardest routes and boulder problems would not have been possible without safe experimentation and practice beforehand. In this documentary, we look into the elements of modern climbing.
While climbing on Rock and man-made surfaces is the expression of climbing in contemporary movement culture, our physical capacities to climb developed first to deal with tree trunks and branches.
As our human ancestors spent 60 millions years as arboreal creatures, one of the key adaptions was what is called vertical clinging and jumping in ethnology.

Akiyo, Miho & Tomoa

Akiyo, Miho & Tomoa

The fundamental mechanical interaction between the climber’s centre of gravity and the supporting environment has spatial and temporal aspects to it.

When we climb well, movements of several limbs or body parts are combined in a manner that is well timed, smooth, and efficient.
While it is rather simple to observe, describe and learn spatial interaction, it’s a lot more difficult when it comes to the temporal features of a locomotor task like for example inter- and intralimb timing. This is why a lot of the footage in „Climbing Technique of the 21st Century“ was shot in ultra – slow motion.

You can now watch Climbing Technique of the 21st Century on Vimeo. It is the first part of our ongoing research of climbing technique, the next will be about skill acquisition for better climbing technique. Here is what the video is about:

Climbers advancing technique

While advancement in any field is always a collaborative process, these young climbers are highly influential in defining the character of modern climbing. In „Climbing Technique of the 21st Century“ it is Tomoa Narasaki and Janja Garnbret that are responsible for most of the examples of modern climbing technique.

Tomoa Narasaki, Boulder-Worldchampion 2016

Tomoa Narasaki, Boulder-Worldchampion 2016

What makes the human animal a good climber?

While climbing on Rock and man-made surfaces is the expression of climbing in contemporary movement culture, our physical capacities to climb developed first to deal with tree trunks and branches.
As our human ancestors spent 60 millions years as arboreal creatures, one of the key adaptions was what is called vertical clinging and jumping in ethnology.

Gibbon and Chris Sharma

Gibbon and Chris Sharma

Suspensory behavior

exhibited by our primate ancestors, is a form of arboreal locomotion which involves hanging or suspension of the body below the contact points. Originally, it allows larger species to distribute their weight among smaller branches rather than balancing above these weak supports. Both pitching and tipping become irrelevant, as the only risk of failure would be losing their grip.
Suspensory behavior makes brachiation possible and is essential to all kinds of climbing.
Unlike when moving on the ground, a climber’s options for hand and foot placements are not continuous. Balancing therefore becomes more difficult and climbers have to position their centre of gravity in an ideal angle to the object being climbed on.

Brachiation

or arm swinging, is a form of arboreal locomotion in which primates swing from hold to using only their arms. During brachiation, the body is alternately supported under each forelimb. Often a combination of leaping and brachiation is used.
The epitome of arboreal locomotion, it involves swinging with the arms from one handhold to another. In brachiation, two main gaits are distinguished – continuous contact brachiation and ricochetal brachiation. The different transitions form a continuum rather than distinct types.

Miho Nonaka

Miho Nonaka

Anatomy

Unlike this stick figure, the human body is vastly complex, comprised of several ‘systems’. Our locomotor system is a web-like chain covering the whole body from the feet up to the head. It is made up of the bones of the skeleton, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, joints, muscles. and the all connecting fascial tissue that supports and binds tissues and organs together. In a simplified sense we can think of our bones as managing compression, and our soft tissues as managing tension. Ideally the tensile and compressive forces balance each other out.

Mechanical Interaction

The fundamental mechanical interaction between the climber’s centre of gravity and the supporting environment has spatial and temporal aspects to it.
When we climb well, movements of several limbs or body parts are combined in a manner that is well timed, smooth, and efficient.
While it is rather simple to observe, describe and learn spatial interaction, it’s a lot more difficult when it comes to the temporal features of a locomotor task like, for example, inter- and intralimb timing. A lot of the footage for „Climbing Technique of the 21st Century“ therefore was shot in ultra slow motion.

Problem-solving, adaptive thinking and mental control

Climbing is about movement tasks and challenges that require not only good physical attributes but also problem-solving abilities, adaptive thinking and mental control through the management of risk and fear.

Managing Degrees of Freedom (DOF)

Motor control is difficult because of the large number of elements involved.
Climbers have to manage redundant muscles and joints while their muscles may span multiple joints and properties of muscle change as the muscle length itself changes. Individual muscles are innervated by multiple nerve fibers, so called motor units, and the manner in which these units are recruited is extremely complex.
All these different elements create infinite degrees of freedom by which any action can be done in a range of ways of arranging, turning, extending and combining the various muscles, joints, and limbs while climbing.
This makes mechanical models difficult to create and understand.

Collision Fraction

The principles that govern redirection of colliding objects can also be applied to the redirection of the Center of Gravity during locomotion. The angle between the Center of Gravity force and velocity vectors – as their orientations change throughout the move – determines the collision angle, which often decides if we can hold a hold or not.
Better climbers distinguish themselves with shorter contact time and better control of peak force through more sophisticated collision fraction. The more collision reduction there is, the better the motion is adjusted. The best climbers show the smoothest motions!
Energy losses due to inelastic collisions of the climber with the holds are avoided, either because the collisions occur at zero velocity, at the so called Deadpoint, or by a smooth matching of circular and parabolic trajectories at the point of contact in every joint of the body. These sophisticated transition types through all joints for collision reduction form a continuum, rather than clearly distinct types.

Visualization or mental imagery

works because when we imagine ourselves performing perfectly and climbing exactly as we want, we physiologically create neural patterns in our brain, just as if we had physically performed the action. Perspective is important. When we visualize ourselves in the first person, we see what is around us. But when we imagine ourselves in the third person, we can envision more specifically what our body is doing on the wall.