Saturday, July 31, 2010


If there is one thing every boulderer ultimately wants, it is more power. Power in the most basic physical sense, is the ability to apply force quickly. Obviously power helps in so many ways, whether pulling hard to generate force for a long dyno, or rapidly latching a bad hold, or pressing into a mantel. However power can also be misapplied easily. Climbing is such a technique-oriented sport, that almost regardless of the move or position, it generally pays to be very attentive to how power is used.

If you are misusing a foothold for instance, you may be creating a situation that no amount of power can resolve. In fact by overapplying it, you may be running the risk of serious injury as you load tendons or muscles unprepared for the impact. A good foot placement can drop the weight your fingers must bear by half or more. A very small edge can support a substantial proportion of your body weight, even on a steep wall, especially if your core muscles are properly brought into play.

It should always be remembered that in most positions in climbing, you are dealing with loads on your arms and fingers well below body weight. It may feel otherwise sometimes but the truth is that climbing is not gymnastics. Therefore, it is always helpful to use strength only as needed and concentrate on the accurate and efficient application of the force you can already muster. Alexander Huber once famously said, as he was getting ready to free the Salathe Wall on El Capitan, "It's OK, I have power to waste." He was kidding of course. Few climbers have demonstrated the powers of analysis, concentration, and preparation as he has over along and illustrious climbing career. However, the truth is that much of the time we are all doing just that, wasting power. We waste it learning the moves, overcoming fear, dealing with frustration, and imitating our friends.

Being aware of what you are doing and feeling is the best way to overcome the temptation to burn up power. Sure sometimes, to make a hard problem happen, you want to step on the gas. And in actual training, careful overload is the key to building strength. But in the course of actually doing a problem, most find they wind up using far less power than they thought necessary. "The problem felt easy," is a common refrain, the reason being that the climber thoroughly understood what the problem required. Some might assert that power is power but I tend to agree with Francis Bacon who famously wrote, "Knowledge is power."


  1. Nice article, I like it.

    I don't think Huber was kidding though. I think he was referring to the fact that its ok if his crack technique isn't totally perfect, because his Salathe project is .13b, and he has enough power to climb 14c-15a.

  2. I was kidding. Alexander Huber technically did have tons of power to waste. He typically didn't have to waste it because he was so systematic in his preparation.