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Learning by watching other people climb
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By Mark E Dixon
From Sprezzatura, Someday
Mar 18, 2013
Sure, I can belay

Short version- if you are trying to learn something by watching folks climb, what specifically are you looking at? I have been focusing on foot technique, precision and in particular whether they keep looking at their feet till they are placed. I asked a local trainer and he looks at their "attitude."

Long version, there's something called the Action Observation Network, a circuit in your brain that is activated in a similar fashion when you perform a movement, and when you watch the movement and when you visualize the movement. Doing any of those three properly is thought to help motor learning. I realized I never watch other folks climb, so thought I'd give it a try. It's interesting. Not everyone is as smooth as I would have guessed.


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By Woodchuck ATC
Mar 18, 2013
Rock Wars, RRG, 2008

Yes, this is what I did decades ago before there were gyms or the internet. Just went out to climbing area of interest, watched hand and footwork on slick quartzite, finally begged a belay to try it out myself one day. Lots to observe at different areas , how to use crimps, small face holds, jam cracks, etc. Best of luck observing.


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By JoeR
From Eugene, OR
Mar 18, 2013

I watch the hips for weight distribution and core, knees to know what's happening with the feet, and elbows to know more about hand/shoulder work. Whole picture together gives clues on core tension, especially taking the whole sequence into account.

Seems to help me.


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By SMR
Mar 18, 2013

I am 5'1" so watch and carefully pay attention to similar sized folks' beta and body position and how a climber moves between holds (where they generate momentum from). i usually don't watch taller climbers anymore since the beta can be too different to help me.


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By Eddie2170
From Orange County, NY
Mar 18, 2013

I guess it depends on what im doing. If im looking for how to do a route/problem then im looking for beta as far as sequencing and footwork ad well as where their weight is to figure how I would do it myself, especially with specific moves like dropknees or moves that might not be super obvious.

If im coaching I want to look at when they look as if they would fall and why as far as why their weight is in one spot versus another or how to stay more balanced. If they fall I generally ask them why and how they would do it correctly, and then use their answer or correct it as best as possible, usually it's pretty obvious why someone fell. I also want to listen to make sure they're breathing because a lot of people especially children forget to breathe during harder moves.

I think also watching climbers in a gym or outside is much more productive than watching a pro climb in a video, but watching someone climb in a video on a route/problem you're working would obviously be great, just depends on the situation.


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By Mingus
Mar 18, 2013

Mark E Dixon wrote:
Short version- if you are trying to learn something by watching folks climb, what specifically are you looking at?



Depends on the problem/move I'm watching for. I watch people a lot and in a general sense I look more at body position than anything else. Knee and hip positions especially. Sometimes I look to see just how someone is taking a particular hand or foothold or watch for less obvious sequences. For particular moves that are eluding me it usually comes down either to some subtlety of body position or most frustratingly lack of strength/power.

I have never heard of the Action Observation Network before but I'm a believer. I have learned a lot from watching people and continue to.


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By Jerad Friedrichs
From Colorado Springs
Mar 18, 2013
Daydream Nation

They are called mirror neurons


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By Garret Nuzzo-Jones
From Salt Lake City, UT
Mar 18, 2013
Cleaning up in Jenny Lake.

I always keep an eye on people when I belay them up something harder than I can normally climb (most everything). I try to see the key holds they use and where they're positioning their bodies. Doesn't always apply but it usually helps. It always confuses me when someone follows me up a climb and is completely stymied by it because they weren't checking the sequence out.


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By Jon Zucco
From Denver, CO
Mar 18, 2013
yaak crack Red Rock Canyon, NV

I've found myself bouldering more and more these days for training (dbc is just down the street from my new place). One of the most beneficial things I'm learning through not having to focus on belay and having longer rest periods, is watching strong climbers work through a hard sequence from a close/level perspective.

It seems like I'm learning a lot about the "dialing" process. By watching people attempt the same short route over and over.

Stronger climbers are much more deliberate and seem to be more aware of body position. They tend to more quickly realize and adjust/calibrate their feet and body position down to the centimeter. With each attempt, they find a better and more efficient way to negotiate each individual movement and where, precisely they put both their fingers and their feet to gain the best traction and angle. They also tend to be much more calm and stay tight only when necessary, and seem to know when it's OK to be loose in places I would be over-gripping and overly engaging my core.

It's also nice to struggle on a hard problem, only to send shortly after seeing someone else unveil the beta before my very eyes, like magic. It's been one of the best educations I've had on technique in a while. Just watching. And asking people, "how'd you do that part?"


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By Craig T
Mar 19, 2013

Mark E Dixon wrote:
Long version, there's something called the Action Observation Network, a circuit in your brain that is activated in a similar fashion when you perform a movement, and when you watch the movement and when you visualize the movement.


Is there a time limitation on this? If I watch someone on a boulder problem as I'm leaving the gym, is there still a chance that movement can be reinforced by trying it the next day? Can I accumulate a lot of untried movement through miming, and apply it several days later, or will this only work if I watch the movement, then quickly try it? Seems like if it takes me a dozen tries to "get" a move through doing, it will take longer to "get" when visualizing, and may fade quicker from my toolbox of moves.


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By Mark E Dixon
From Sprezzatura, Someday
Mar 20, 2013
Sure, I can belay

Craig T wrote:
Is there a time limitation on this? If I watch someone on a boulder problem as I'm leaving the gym, is there still a chance that movement can be reinforced by trying it the next day? Can I accumulate a lot of untried movement through miming, and apply it several days later, or will this only work if I watch the movement, then quickly try it? Seems like if it takes me a dozen tries to "get" a move through doing, it will take longer to "get" when visualizing, and may fade quicker from my toolbox of moves.


I don't think the research is at a point to answer these questions. Maybe someone who knows more can comment. Common sense would suggest combining watching and performing and visualizing close together in time would be best, but common sense doesn't always seem to apply to how the nervous system works.


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