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Improving movement memory (any dancers out there?)
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By Mark E Dixon
From Sprezzatura, Someday
Oct 17, 2012
At the BRC

I have recently recognized that my ability to quickly and reliably develop movement memories is kind of lacking. By this, I mean the ability dancers have to quickly master a choreographed sequence, just by performing it a couple of times, not the ability to memorize each of the moves and recite them back (or sketch them on a topo) nor even the ability to visualize the sequence. Both of these things I'm relatively ok at. But the sheer physical, automatic doing, free of conscious thought, that's where I'm pathetic. There must be a progression to improve this. Wondering if anyone has any suggestions? I rarely repeat routes, am thinking this would be a good place to start. Spend a few sessions doing the same boulder problem again and again and see what happens. Tried this on a gym route today, and after 6 reps didn't notice much improvement... Maybe that's too long to start with or maybe it'll just take a lot more work. Or maybe I'm totally out to lunch here.


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By S.Stelli
From Colorado Springs, CO
Oct 17, 2012

I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times. -Bruce Lee


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By Nick Zmyewski
From Newark, Delaware
Oct 17, 2012
the frozen topout during a winter ascent

S.Stelli wrote:
I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times. -Bruce Lee


This pretty much sums it up. I think repeating routes could help, but it really boils down to doing enough climbing that you know from looking at the next holds how your balance should shift so you can flow into the next moves.


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By smithb
From Flagstaff, Az
Oct 17, 2012

I'd suggest proprioceptive/vestibular training - developing a sense of your body's position and movement in space without looking or relying on touching features. Tai chi, yoga, acroyoga, slacklining, dancing, climbing routes repeatedly, climbing with pauses at each hold, and climbing easy routes without vision are all good approaches. It is not improvement you will notice in a single session or series of sessions, but rather over the course of 3-12 months.

You may also want to consider a physical therapy evaluation (find a PT who specifically treats athletes) to isolate any muscle groups that are too tight or not contributing appropriately. (though, judging by your ticks, this is probably not the case)


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By Mark E Dixon
From Sprezzatura, Someday
Oct 18, 2012
At the BRC

Nick Zmyewski wrote:
This pretty much sums it up. I think repeating routes could help, but it really boils down to doing enough climbing that you know from looking at the next holds how your balance should shift so you can flow into the next moves.


That's not really what I mean.

I am comfortable with my specific movement skills. I can read routes just fine. I can predict how I should move.

The skill I am looking to develop is more along the lines of learning a dance routine quickly and accurately. Being able to perform a complex physical sequence without the accompanying conscious control.


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By S.Stelli
From Colorado Springs, CO
Oct 18, 2012

Dont dancers generally learn choreography from someone else? Maybe you could get with a climbing friend and have him learn two or three new problems and teach them to you, without you seeing the problems. Then after you learn the moves from your friend, go over to the problems and climb them without looking them over at all. Just an idea. Hope it gets the juices flowing. If nothing else you would get to climb with a friend in a new way.


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By reboot
From Westminster, CO
Oct 18, 2012

Mark E Dixon wrote:
I can read routes just fine. I can predict how I should move.

Well, do you have to consciously think about how you should move, or do you just move?
In the gym, many route-setters seem to have their own style/flow, and outside, so do each rock type outside, to an extent. The less familiar you are with the style of movement, the more you have to consciously think. I imagine this is the same when you are dancing (or for my case, practicing a kata): the better you are with the basic sequence/technique, the better you can concentrate on just the flow. For me in climbing, this often means just the hip placement/motion through space verses specific hand/foot placements.


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By Nick Zmyewski
From Newark, Delaware
Oct 18, 2012
the frozen topout during a winter ascent

Mark E Dixon wrote:
That's not really what I mean. I am comfortable with my specific movement skills. I can read routes just fine. I can predict how I should move. The skill I am looking to develop is more along the lines of learning a dance routine quickly and accurately. Being able to perform a complex physical sequence without the accompanying conscious control.


I think I see what you mean. Are you talking about the feeling when you're climbing a route and the whole way up everything just seems to click perfectly, and suddenly you're at the top?


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By clausti
Oct 18, 2012

S.Stelli wrote:
Dont dancers generally learn choreography from someone else? Maybe you could get with a climbing friend and have him learn two or three new problems and teach them to you, without you seeing the problems. Then after you learn the moves from your friend, go over to the problems and climb them without looking them over at all. Just an idea. Hope it gets the juices flowing. If nothing else you would get to climb with a friend in a new way.


lol. you can learn the choreo from someone else, or you can write it yourself. all routines originate from someone.

the actual answer as far as *writing* choreo goes is... spend a lot of time with the music and figure out what fits and what your body wants to do. (spend a lot of time with the route and figure out what your body wants to do.)

as far as learning choreo... get better at receiving information visually (watching someone do it) and being able to translate that into your own movement. (get better at receiving information visually [watching someone else do it] and be able to translate that into your own movement.)

and lots of repetition. pause in each move to examine your balance points. (pause in each move to examine your balance points.) be relaxed. (be relaxed.) don't use more energy than you need to. (don't use more energy than you need to.) be confident, but not entitled. (be confident but not entitled.)

and learn to emotionally connect with your audience. the best way to project authentically is to let yourself feel the emotions you're trying to convey. better dance routines will put your body and your face in positions that evoke those emotions in your brain nearly automatically. (climbing isn't about performance. disregard this last bit.)


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By clausti
Oct 18, 2012

smithb wrote:
I'd suggest proprioceptive/vestibular training - developing a sense of your body's position and movement in space without looking or relying on touching features. Tai chi, yoga, acroyoga, slacklining, dancing, climbing routes repeatedly, climbing with pauses at each hold, and climbing easy routes without vision are all good approaches. It is not improvement you will notice in a single session or series of sessions, but rather over the course of 3-12 months. You may also want to consider a physical therapy evaluation (find a PT who specifically treats athletes) to isolate any muscle groups that are too tight or not contributing appropriately. (though, judging by your ticks, this is probably not the case)


durp.

true story, I'd been stuck at the same best redpoint (.12a) for a number of years, and then about two years ago, I got fairly hardcore in to solo and partnered jazz (aka swing dancing). I learned to control my body as a dancer, and started having much more consistent success at RPing, despite, honestly, climbing less often. this spring I sent my first .13a.

this fall I've choreo'd my first solo routine, and I'm performing for a couple hundred people first weekend of November. Wish me luck! :D


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By Finn the Human
From The Land of Ooo
Oct 18, 2012
Mathematical!

clausti wrote:
...lots of repetition.


This seems like the best advice so far. I'm hardly an expert on the subject (nowhere near, in fact) but I would suggest getting on some harder stuff. If you aren't feeling the flow, get on something that is going to spit you off over and over. That way your body will *have* to memorize the movements in order for you to be successful. Theoretically.

I have to admit, this isn't something I've ever really thought about. I'd be curious to hear about your results after working to improve for a little while. Good luck!


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By Niccole
From Denver, CO
Oct 18, 2012
A day in the creek

I'm a dancer...and I agree with the other posts. Go with someone else, watch them, and repeat your route a lot. As a dancer you don't automatically get to that spot until you have danced frequently and then because all movement becomes repetitive it becomes easier to see the sequence and get it right the first time. As a dancer, when I don't dance for a long while, this ability to master the movement goes away, but comes back quickly once I start dancing again. And the thing with rock climbing, it is kind of like choreography to me. Something i have to try and figure out the best style multiple times. When I choreograph I spend a lot of time repeating or trying out things before my perfect movement comes into play. So if you are just doing a route, trying to on-sight I would compare that more to actually choreographing than just being a dancer and playing out the already well thought out moves. Hope that makes sense.


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By Mark E Dixon
From Sprezzatura, Someday
Oct 18, 2012
At the BRC

Thanks for all the great comments!

I'm not entirely sure that what I'm talking about makes any sense...but I got to thinking about it after I blew a couple of redpoint attempts by putting my foot in the wrong place or moving my hand too soon, even though I knew the route really well, could describe every move perfectly and even visualize the entire thing, and knew immediately I had screwed up. I got to thinking about dance steps for some reason and it occurred to me that some people can just go through a routine once and 'have it' but for me, it's more like "Now what was that first step again" - this said immediately after learning the second step! There's some genetics involved, but I sense there's a learnable skill too.

It's kind of like the flow state the Nick mentions, but not really the same. I can get flow on an onsight, (not often enough unfortunately) but I'm thinking of rehearsed (ie redpoint) moves.

And it's not a matter fo choosing the right sequence (choreography) it's a matter of reliably and consistently performing the desired sequence. And ideally not taking a million burns to get it hard wired.


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By S.Stelli
From Colorado Springs, CO
Oct 18, 2012

This is a good thread and a very good question from Mark.

As a person who appears to redpoint more than a full number grade harder than me im hoping to glean some useful info from you!

So Mark what do you do when you are rehearsing a redpoint? You do the moves in the air while on the ground... close your eyes and mentally rehearse... visualization etc?

Im not a dancer so I cant equate that way, but like shuminw I do practice kata in my style of martial arts. One of the practices I do to engrain a newly learned kata is to seperate the hands and feet throughout the kata. Meaning I do the entire kata with just my feet moving. Then I do the entire kata with just my hands.... this practice helps to learn each seperate task more thoroughly, with less repetition needed


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By shotwell
Oct 18, 2012

Mark E Dixon wrote:
Thanks for all the great comments! I'm not entirely sure that what I'm talking about makes any sense...but I got to thinking about it after I blew a couple of redpoint attempts by putting my foot in the wrong place or moving my hand too soon, even though I knew the route really well, could describe every move perfectly and even visualize the entire thing, and knew immediately I had screwed up. I got to thinking about dance steps for some reason and it occurred to me that some people can just go through a routine once and 'have it' but for me, it's more like "Now what was that first step again" - this said immediately after learning the second step! There's some genetics involved, but I sense there's a learnable skill too. It's kind of like the flow state the Nick mentions, but not really the same. I can get flow on an onsight, (not often enough unfortunately) but I'm thinking of rehearsed (ie redpoint) moves. And it's not a matter fo choosing the right sequence (choreography) it's a matter of reliably and consistently performing the desired sequence. And ideally not taking a million burns to get it hard wired.


Do you find yourself making mistakes in your crux sequences or in easier parts of the route?

If you're making mistakes in easier sections that are just costing you energy, you might try getting into the mental state you would use for onsighting. Relax the focus, let yourself become abstracted, and let your body climb. You're probably tight and worried, causing you to over think your movements.

If you're screwing up your cruxes, you probably need more focus, not less. Review your sequence at the last possible moment (the last rest ideally,) and confidently commit to your sequence. You'll have to trust yourself, and remind yourself that you already have the best possible sequence built. You may need to work on just remembering to focus if you're climbing cruxes in a state of abstraction.

It will take some time and practice to be able to adjust your mental game, and there isn't really a clear path. You'll just need to play around with different mental attitudes while climbing and stick with what works.


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By clausti
Oct 18, 2012

Niccole wrote:
ISo if you are just doing a route, trying to on-sight I would compare that more to actually choreographing than just being a dancer and playing out the already well thought out moves. Hope that makes sense.



Yeah. I'd compare onsighting to improvisational dancing and projecting to writing choreo for yourself. Flashing, after learning the beta from someone else, I'd compare to learning an existing routine.

This is fun.


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By Mark E Dixon
From Sprezzatura, Someday
Oct 18, 2012
At the BRC

S.Stelli wrote:
So Mark what do you do when you are rehearsing a redpoint? ... close your eyes and mentally rehearse... visualization etc?


This is exactly what I do. Would probably help if I rehearsed the movement sensations in addition to the visual cues, but this is hard for me. Probably a lack of body awareness, which would be an avenue for improvement.


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By S.Stelli
From Colorado Springs, CO
Oct 18, 2012

Mark E Dixon wrote:
This is exactly what I do. Would probably help if I rehearsed the movement sensations in addition to the visual cues, but this is hard for me. Probably a lack of body awareness, which would be an avenue for improvement.


Sounds like you've already found a few things to work on!
Also - if you are blowing redpoint attempts because of wrong feet, maybe focus on your footwork only for a few burns, and vice versa if your hand placements are wrong. Seperate the tasks like I mentioned above.

Guiding your focus to the spots you are aware of needing attention may be just the ticket. OR maybe like shotwell has stated, the lack of focus/abstraction might help too...

I think as I move on to harder redpoint attempts I'll be trying all of these ideas... so thanks again to the MP community!


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By Rajiv Ayyangar
From Portland, ME
Oct 19, 2012
Cut! Sadly my flash attempt met with dismal pump-failure two bolts later.

A few suggestions:

To increase conscious recall, which usually doesn't feel like the unconscious, flowing state you describe, try having someone explain the beta of a route/problem to you, then try to flash it. Or play add-on (where you take turns adding single holds and climbing the new problem from the start). It's a good memory game, and also you get repetition and refinement. In order to keep completing longer add-on problems while fighting fatigue, it forces you to climb the first part better.

To refine movement on a project, try taking a video of your attempt, then watching it, ideally right after you come down, while the kinesthetic memory is fresh. This has a similar impact as watching yourself dancing in a mirror - it's visual feedback, though unavoidably delayed. You can even get free apps that will allow you to view two attempts as a split-screen or overlay, for micro-refinement.

Repeating routes is a great way to work on the process of refining beta. Doing laps on a hard problem can force you to climb more efficiently as you tire.

Another thing to keep in mind, sometimes the best way to get fast and smooth is to focus on being accurate first. Focus on doing each move accurately and well, and with repetition you will increase speed naturally by minimizing movements. If you try to consciously push the pace, it's possible to end up executing bad, sloppy beta faster, which is an efficiency drain, not gain.

To improve foot speed and accuracy, try wearing ankle-weights (low weight - maybe 3-5 lbs per foot). It forces you to place your feet deliberately and climb statically. (I think I read this in an article by Justen Sjong). I've found that ankle weights, combined with focusing on static climbing and silent feet, produced significant gains in foot accuracy, which is a prerequisite for speed.

As a general note, conscious recall and execution is different from muscle-memory-level refinement. They are both worth working on, and in my experience projecting is the art of transforming the former into the latter. Adam Ondra commented recently on how flashing can be more difficult than onsighting, because while onsighting you just move on instinct, but when flashing, your mind knows what to do but your body doesn't. What you're asking is a difficult question, even at the high end.


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By Aerili
From Salt Lake City, UT
Oct 19, 2012
Get down from there! <br /> <br />May 2013 <br />Photo by Duc

Mark E Dixon wrote:
I have recently recognized that my ability to quickly and reliably develop movement memories is kind of lacking. By this, I mean the ability dancers have to quickly master a choreographed sequence, just by performing it a couple of times, not the ability to memorize each of the moves and recite them back (or sketch them on a topo) nor even the ability to visualize the sequence.

I was a longtime ballet and modern dancer and I remember the panic of auditions (and even small group class-time performance, especially when it was adagio with lots of turns thrown in).

First of all, don't believe that all dancers "master" a sequence immediately. I don't remember it ever being that simple unless the choreography was easy or a good style for me. Secondly, from a ballet perspective, mastering the choreography actually is about memorizing each of the moves individually and linking them together; all movements in ballet are codified and many times a teacher wouldn't even demonstrate the sequence but merely tell you what you had to do verbally. (Hence, why panic could ensue!) This scenario was essentially the same in tap (of which I was barely mediocre).

My memories of doing modern and contemporary choreography (less structured, not codified) is that you still break down the choreography into blocks based on how many 4- or 8-counts of music you are into. So, still memorizing individual blocks of movements.

What you're asking here is specifically a topic which spans both motor learning and sport psychology (as I see it). Actually, your motor learning sounds okay from what you say (you know the skill), so it sounds like a mental thing to me.

If your motor memory was deficient, you wouldn't be able to have the individual skills down.

Are you getting paralysis by analysis when you're climbing?


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By Mark E Dixon
From Sprezzatura, Someday
Oct 22, 2012
At the BRC

Aerili wrote:
Are you getting paralysis by analysis when you're climbing?


I don't think so. If anything, I tend to under-analyze and just go for it.

I'm hoping to get time to post a summary of the responses to this thread, and come up with some kind of plan to improve. Seems like low hanging fruit for me.


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By Rajiv Ayyangar
From Portland, ME
Nov 26, 2012
Cut! Sadly my flash attempt met with dismal pump-failure two bolts later.

Mark - what's the longest you've spent working a route, and how far along in the progression towards "flow" did you feel?


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By Mark E Dixon
From Sprezzatura, Someday
Nov 26, 2012
At the BRC

Rajiv Ayyangar wrote:
Mark - what's the longest you've spent working a route, and how far along in the progression towards "flow" did you feel?


Quick answer- worked routes a lot maybe 10 years ago, just started climbing outdoors again about a year ago, haven't worked anything more than maybe 5 burns over 2 days recently.
Never felt anywhere near "flow".


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By Mort
Nov 27, 2012

A few additional comments from someone who has taught cognitive psychology and dabbled in sports psych:

1) Visualization / rehearsal SHOULD include imagining the muscle movements, body movements, and changes in balance and pressure. Just visualizing the holds is selling yourself short. Someone mentioned waiving your arms around in the air. Yes, this can be effective, but it can also be effective just to imagine what it feels like to lock off that hold. I visualize clips, rests, and even chalking.

2) Most "automatic" movements (implicit memory) start as conscious / explicit memory. Try writing the beta move-by-move and then rehearse them as described in #1. An additional benefit to writing it out is that the process will expose all the gaps.

3) Implicit memory / automaticity often works because what just happened primes memory for what should come next. In other words, sequences flow into one another. As an example, how hard would it be to write the lyrics of your favorite song from 10 years ago compared to singing along when you hear it. Therefore, the suggestion to practice all the hand moves and all the foot moves separately makes little sense to me. If it works for that author, great.

4) Repetition! Try rehearsing it in your head 5 times a day for a week and see what happens when you come back to your project!

Finally, you started this thread with the example of repeating a boulder problem several times in one session. You may not see great gains this way if you are just getting more and more tired. But it should feel easier when you come back to it.


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By Rajiv Ayyangar
From Portland, ME
Nov 27, 2012
Cut! Sadly my flash attempt met with dismal pump-failure two bolts later.

Mort wrote:
4) Repetition! Try rehearsing it in your head 5 times a day for a week and see what happens when you come back to your project!


I've had success with splicing together a film of myself climbing the route in sections, then watching it to visualize the whole sequence.


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By IronMan
Nov 27, 2012

Do each move over and over again, until you feel linked to it. Until you can do it in your mind. Then, do it some more. Repetition is the key.


Also, watching other people do the same move can help also.


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