Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Battle of the Sexes: Climbing Technique Round

*Disclaimer* The following post contains vast generalizations for the purpose of thought provoking self-analysis. These comments pertain to broad typicalities of novice climbers. Give it some thought and find your own truth.  Also, posting this may decrease my chances of getting a date. 

Climbing is a romantic sport. It involves teamwork, encouragement, communication, intense physical exertion, grunting, and a lot of looking at your partner's backside. Who could ask for a better date?

Then why so much fighting? Men always seem to be shouting for their female climbing partners to "Just go for it!" The female partners try the monstrous move in vain and eventually find their own damn way up the wall. Then they swap belays and the women urge the men to use their feet which the men promptly ignore and usually make the route way harder than it needed to be.

Men and women have different styles of climbing due mainly to two factors: center of gravity and upper body strength. These factors matter because they determine which parts of a climber's body lead and which parts follow. This matters because leading with your top or bottom half greatly changes your balance and energy exertion on the wall.

Men have a higher center of gravity, and relatively greater upper body strength. The high center of gravity leads the male climber to lead with the chest and follow with the feet. The upper body strength tends to focus the male climber's attention on the handholds and less on the footholds.  This means that men often pull themselves into moves, lock off, and fix their balance by finding feet after the fact. While bold and daring, this tactic uses a lot of energy and often leaves men scrambling to correct with their feet, or more likely, giving up on good feet all together.  Just watching this style makes me tired!

Women generally have a lower center of gravity and relatively weaker upper body strength. The low center of gravity means that women tend to lead with their lower half and follow with their upper half. The less powerful upper body strength causes women to trust their footholds more than their handholds.  This means that women are more likely to push themselves as far as they can with their legs and then scramble to find hands that will allow them to balance on their feet. This method requires less pulling energy but also tends to throw women off balance as they find themselves stuck in the middle of a move instead of confidently resting in between the moves. This style looks to be unconfident and tenuous at best.

Who is right? Should men climb more like women? Or should women climb more like men?

As with all relationships between men and women, the answer lies in compromise.  Women and men both could stand to take a lesson from each other in terms of movement and balance. Men have the upper body thing down pat, so they should focus on finding feet to remain in balance throughout the move instead of finding balance as an afterthought.  Women should learn to dial back on the legs and not always push into the next move before they are balanced and ready. Hanging straight from your arms, instead of pushing your legs to full extension, will help you find your optimal resting posture and make you feel more confident on the wall in the long run.

My hope is that we all can learn to get along, or at least spray meaningful, gender-thoughtful beta at our opposite-sex climbing partners.  Regardless, a little bit compromise can go a long way in smoothing over not only the differences in our climbing, but also in our day to day relationships.

"Be excellent to each other."
-Bill S. Preston Esq. 1989

Climb Smart MN is a grassroots approach to climbing education based on community and charitable giving. For information on donation based climbing lessons visit ClimbSmartMN and follow us on Facebook. With over ten years of climbing instruction, coaching, and guiding experience,  Chris Hesselbein strives to better the climbing community through personalized technique and safety education.

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