Breathing Through The Roof At Woodwell

Yesterday was a much needed rest day after my most intense training session so far. A peaceful hour on a long slackline was a great way to relax, keeping my arms and shoulders active without pushing them hard. Today I was still a little sore, but the weather was dry and I felt ready for another session. Time on rock and in nature is what I really enjoy, so I headed out to a steep bouldering venue near Lancaster…

Close to the village of Silverdale, Woodwell offers fine limestone bouldering in a beautiful woodland setting. I headed for Tom’s Buttress, knowing I would find steep and powerful moves of the type I am training for on Le Toit du Cul de Chien. There is a dynamic eliminate to a problem called Nothing To Say that weighs in at Font 7a. This was probably a little too ambitious for me today but an alternative finishing hold, about 6 inches lower and 1 foot to the left, gave a reach of about the same length and direction as the move that is shutting me down on ‘Le Toit’. It’s probably around Font 6b but the grade isn’t important. The great thing about it is its similarity to the move I am trying to make in Fontainebleau – handholds on the lip of an overhang, poor footholds well underneath a horizontal roof and a big reach up and across with the right hand. I tested out the end point of the move from a standing start at first. With my right hand on the finishing hold, my left hand was below my shoulder, about level with my bicep, and my right foot could no longer reach its starting foothold. This was exactly what I was looking for.

I sat on the mat for the first time, reached up for the good starting holds, placed my feet on the foot holds underneath the roof and brought my centre off the ground. Just like the big move on ‘Le Toit’, it seemed a long way and I really felt most unconfident in my ability to do it. I made a half-hearted attempt and my right hand travelled about half way to the hold before I fell back onto the mat.

Lesson 1 – Relax, tune in and explore possibilities.

I took a moment to sit on the mat, breathe and take in my surroundings. Birds were singing and the rich smell of wild garlic filled my nostrils. I stood up, placed my hands on the rock and breathed slowly, feeling the rock’s texture and seeing its complexity of fine detail. When I put myself in the end point of the move for the second time, it felt like a very comfortable place to be. I just needed to generate the power and momentum to get me there. If I couldn’t reach the hold yet, how far could I reach? Half way between my previous effort and the finishing hold there was a small, round hole in the rock. Could I touch it on my next attempt? Yes.

Lesson 2 – When the move seems so big that it can’t be done, build confidence in achievable steps.

Next up was a small, sloping hold, about half way between the small, round hole and the finishing hold. Could I reach that? Yes. By now I was almost there. I resolved to give it my best shot on my next attempt. In the habit I have become accustomed to when climbing on less steep rock, where my feet still have good contact with the footholds and my legs can really push and support my centre, I began the move on the inhale and kept breathing in towards the finishing hold. I got very close, the furthest yet but I still needed a little more.

Lesson 3 – When the primary means of power and support are the arms and hands, breathe OUT through the move.

I decided to give the alternative breathing approach a go and make the move on the exhale. I flowed smoothly upwards and my right hand hit the finishing hold easily. It felt great! Since learning that breathing in helps with reach and maintaining body tension when supported by my legs and feet, I have often wondered if it applies in all climbing moves. My recent exploration into steeper, more powerful climbing seems to have the answer. It appears that moving on the inhale works best when the feet are the primary source of support in the end point of the move, and on the exhale when the hands are the primary source of support.

The increased tension and rigidity in your body that is achieved by breathing IN is really useful when you need to move into and hold a position where your body’s structure is supported by at least one of your feet. On the other hand, that same tension and rigidity can stifle your body’s flow through the move as it travels towards its end point. Breathing OUT on some moves, especially the really dynamic ones, where the feet leave the footholds and the arms need to keep pulling all the way to the end, seems to free your body up to move more fluidly towards its goal.

I’m beginning to wonder more about the combination of inhaling AND exhaling through moves, depending on the factors involved. If anyone wants to try it out for a few weeks, I would be really interested to hear what you find.

Once I had repeated the move a four times, with a good stretch to keep my shoulders open in between each attempt, I used a less positive starting hold with my right hand, to put more emphasis onto the strong pull required from my left arm on ‘Le Toit’. The move went smoothly for four more attempts and I switched my right hand hold again. This time to a poor gaston, similar to the right hand hold on ‘Le Toit”. Again, the move went smoothly four times and I was really pleased with the session, finishing with a couple of sets of press ups to failure before driving home.

Tom's Buttress at Woodwell

Tom’s Buttress at Woodwell

Posted: May 29th, 2014 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | No Comments »

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