Charlie Kelly: On Training and Sending in Climbing

Climbing is, to borrow the cliché, about experiencing a journey and not about a destination; it sounds like a worthless thing to say, but it’s so true.

I for one am happiest when I know I am about to finish (send) something I’ve fallen on, and not after I’ve clipped the shuts and am being lowered; training and encouraging myself to get better makes me feel truly happy, even if I don’t ever see huge improvements because of a workout. These two parts of the sport, training and sending, are the examples of why approaching climbing to look for an experience (and not a reward) works best.

Nobody likes crunches, right?

It’s all about the huge abs, the strong climbing, and the subsequent female attention—am I right? I guess I used to feel this way, but this summer I’ve really grown into a training schedule that I look forward to doing. I noticed this fact when at Movement Climbing & Fitness I found myself tiring of the bouldering wall and wanting to head upstairs to work on my abdominal workout and circuit training. I think the key to looking forward to your workout is doing something that makes you feel strong. So often, climbers will do 100 crunches and not really feel any strength developing in their bodies. Try doing one “30-30-30” after every indoor climbing session. This exercise has you do 30 standard leg lifts, cross your legs 30 times, and then do 30 swimming kicks, all on your back in a leg lift position. You’ll really feel your body responding to this exercise after just a few times using it. Even if this totally doesn’t work for you, the point is that you should find some training you will enjoy doing—it’s the best way to ensure that you keep it up and that you eventually see results from it.

Nice Slopey moves on "Anorexic Gymnast."

If we’re talking about lots of hard work for lots of great payoff, we’ve gotta talk about sending; every climber—no matter if they climb 5.5 or 5.15— knows a little something about the stresses and thrills of trying to send a route that they’ve had time to work on. “Sending,” which refers to the act of completing a route or boulder problem bottom-to-top with no falls, is an aptly chosen word, hinting at what the process of finishing a route is actually like for a climber. In the onsight (the completion of a climb on one’s first attempt), where one might be overgripping the rock, perusing fiendishly and with sole focus the goal of getting to the top of one’s climb. Onsighting, in this light, might be called “efforting,” or “holding,” but not “sending.”  Finishing a climb after multiple tries is an exercise in elegant repose— in how to chill the f*&$ out. This is because when you work a boulder problem or rope climb for a long time, you no longer have to focus on how to do the moves on the climb—they are rehearsed and choreographed in your body and you simply have to relax the body in order to get to the top, to not expend more energy than is necessary for each move. Sending, therefore, I think captures the process well; when a “send” goes smoothly, the climber’s mind almost checks out, letting his body do all the “thinking,” and when the climb is finished, it’s like he is able to let it go, or send it on its way…

What does all this meaningless philosophizing mean to you? It means, ironically, that to send harder climbs, you should focus on, well, trying less. Work really hard when you’re memorizing the sequences and movement in a climb, but once you are trying to send it, put more faith in the wonders of muscle memory and just relax. If you’re striving for the top, you’re going to work too hard and you’re going to get tired too early, and you’re going to fall off. These are the ideas I am working with in my attempt to send a 13a/b with a really odd name and a distinctly anti-Charlie style, “s00p3r kr33m,” at The Flatirons in Boulder, CO. I got on the climb once last week and I learned all the moves in my first attempt, so when I go back sometime in the next two weeks, it will really just be about relaxing and doing it… or something like that.

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