I’m sure you’ve heard of the 10 000 hour rule, it states, in basic terms, that to become a master of something you need to put in around 10 000 hours of practice.
For everyone in our fast paced lifestyles, that’s a big commitment. Imagine there was a shortcut, imagine you only needed 7 000 hours? Practice makes perfect, so the more you practice the better you get. 10 000 hours of practice will get you pretty close to perfect, the only problem is that 10 000 hours of grinding! So how do you work around this problem in your busy life? It all comes down to perfecting your art of practice to become perfect! .
Let’s break it down and look at a real life example. Jim goes to the gym, he wants to get better at sticking hard moves because he keeps falling at the crux when he’s onsighting and almost never gets pumped. He chooses some boulders close to his limit and throws himself at them. Each one takes at least ten tries and as soon as he sends it he moves on to the next. This is great if Jim is doing this with a physical training goal, but not so much for improving his skill. The goal isn’t to have 10 000 hours of practice under the belt, the goal is to master the skill in the quickest possible time.
The idea of perfect practice implies that the more we execute a task as close to perfectly as possible, the closer we get to being able to do it perfectly every time. Focused practice with intention is the solution to breaking the 10 000 hour beta. Jim isn’t hoping to fall a lot when he’s outside but he’s only had one “perfect” ascent and nine “not perfect ascents” during his practice session. He did get to the top of each boulder before moving on but he didn’t take the time to master them. Jim spent a lot of time practising, but not a lot of time perfecting.
How do we apply the beta of focused practice to our everyday training and climbing routine, you may be wondering? It all starts with intention, figure out why you’re there and then break it down.
It goes a little something like this, Jim wants to get better at doing hard moves. So with that intention he should spend as much time as possible doing hard moves and as little time as possible falling off hard moves. If Jim sent each boulder 5 times after figuring it out, he would have a bigger improvement in his skill level at the end of his session. You can learn a lot by falling off hard moves and I’m not saying you shouldn’t do that, just think about why you’re doing what you’re doing.
If his goal was to improve his footwork, spending time nailing it on slightly easier footholds with a bit of back and forth between challenging and doable footholds is the way to go. Think about it in the simple terms that doing harder moves is for learning and the easier moves are for mastering. As Jim progresses, the harder moves will become his standard moves and he’ll need new harder moves to keep developing his skill in these drills.
I know, I know, it’s easy to get to the gym and throw down as hard as you can for as long as you can and go home wrecked, steering with your elbows because your hands can’t grip the steering wheel after a mammoth add-on session. It’s much harder to chill and spend time doing drills and working on growing your mental game. You just always have to keep in mind that the climbing trinity of physical ability, technical proficiency and mental capability needs to be well rounded for you to achieve a good level of performance; and the unfortunate reality is, the things we don’t like spending time on, are often the things holding us back.
So here is a tip for ya, a good way to work on these skills is to put some time in while you’re warming up and cooling down. Make sure you do these at an appropriate level, not too hard that you’re pushing to do everything well and not too easy that you don’t have to concentrate. Doing drills like quiet feet, down climbing, watching your feet onto the holds or practicing specific moves like flagging, twisting hips or drop knees during your warm up gets way more benefit out of a climb than just being a bit warmer afterwards. Cool down climbs are perfect to practice on because you’re tired from your session and you really have to focus to practice with intention, which is perfect for learning to maintain good technique and form when you’re tired.
There are a few other ways you can increase how quickly you’ll improve as a climber but focused and deliberate practice is an awesome starting point. Aiming to master skills and techniques is an easy way to improve without depleting your energy with physically intense sessions.
Extend that deliberate focus and attention to your mental and physical climbing training and get ready to improve faster than ever. All while still crushing your busy schedule outside of climbing and with enough time left to have a beer with your maats and watch the sunset!