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Fine motor control and climbing (Read 2209 times)

jwi

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Fine motor control and climbing
November 06, 2023, 11:22:28 am
Triggered by a recent subject on uneven holds for finger strength training I would like to come back to subject that have haunted me for a long time: Why are some people so incredibly bad at climbing outdoors?

There are of course many reasons why the droves of climbers who can warm up on my indoor long term projects cannot go bolt to bolt on my outdoor warmups.

I have started to suspect that one culprit is that they lack the fine motor control required to take awkwardly shaped outdoor holds. From the perspective of the brain, the body looks something like this:



In this illustration, each bodypart has a size proportional to the number of sensory nerv endings. I have never seen a similar illustration but where bodyparts are sized proportional to the number of motor units controlling the movement of each skeletal bone, but I imagine the hands and the feet are similarly oversized.

One way we can improve by repeatedly trying a route or by climbing a lot on a singular type of rock is that we get better at adjusting the grip so that each finger pulls optimally on the holds. Indeed, veteran outdoor boulder specialists spends a lot of time thinking about and discussion the finer points of where to optimally position their fingers. The same goes to a lesser extent for the feet, where the advantages and disadvantages of placing a certain part of the shoe on one little nubbin over another is explored in length.

I hypothesise that this builds up a better motor control of the fingers and the hands over long time, and that this expertise might continue to improve over a lifetime, even as all other bodily functions start to wither and fade. I also hypothesise that bad motor control of the fine movement of the fingers and the hand is one reason some indoor specialist are so unbelievably bad at rock climbing.

As a supporting argument I have noticed that some climbers are only good at specific gyms, where they have learned how to grab all the holds this gym has in its warehouse, but are pretty useless at other gyms that use holds from other manufacturers.

Are gym rats better at outdoor styles that does not require much fine control? Like dynos from jug to jug eg.? Or on certain outdoor spots where the holds are unusually easy to grab?
« Last Edit: November 06, 2023, 11:36:15 am by jwi »

SA Chris

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#1 Re: Fine motor control and climbing
November 06, 2023, 11:39:04 am
I think the key issue is footholds. If you are reasonably good at climbing indoors you can quickly adapt and develop the feel and feedback to adapt to climbing on complex shaped holds (complex in shape, layout and texture) but it takes a bit longer to do the same with feet, and get used to recognising and using either poor, non-obvious or non-existent footholds, rather than just standing on the ideally located coloured blob. And rarely climb anything slabby where good footwork is essential.

Liamhutch89

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#2 Re: Fine motor control and climbing
November 06, 2023, 12:18:56 pm
Even something as basic as fingerboarding on a smaller edge requires more coordination, so your hypothesis is likely correct. I have one friend who can pull a colossal 30kg more force than me on a large edge attached to a Tindeq, but he can't pull off the ground on 6mm micros and I can easily do 10s+ despite weighing more. Relative to him and other friends who crush me on a fingerboard, i'm quite good at climbing on small or awkward holds.

I've always felt that I 'learn holds' quite well. I'm generally terrible at flashing boulder problems, often feeling too weak initially, but I become significantly stronger on the holds as I understand them better. For what it's worth, i'm a life long guitarist who received classical training between the ages of 6 and 16; whether this fine motor control has translated to climbing, I do not know.

jwi

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#3 Re: Fine motor control and climbing
November 06, 2023, 12:22:14 pm
There is likely some transfer, but if you'd done grappling instead it would have had even more transfer https://ijmcl.com/article-1-110-en.html

Liamhutch89

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#4 Re: Fine motor control and climbing
November 06, 2023, 12:34:27 pm
There is likely some transfer, but if you'd done grappling instead it would have had even more transfer https://ijmcl.com/article-1-110-en.html

I did a few years of jiu-jitsu, which probably isn't enough to have helped much.

abarro81

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#5 Re: Fine motor control and climbing
November 06, 2023, 12:52:21 pm
I have one friend who can pull a colossal 30kg more force than me on a large edge attached to a Tindeq, but he can't pull off the ground on 6mm micros and I can easily do 10s+ despite weighing more.

I don't think this explains the OP's question - worth bearing in mind that jwi is probably think of steep climbs on good holds on rock as well as things with small holds (correct me if I'm wrong!). I will probably never hang the 6mms but would like to think that I climb pretty ok on rock compared to indoors, even if the "style" (angle and hold size) is similar e.g. steep on good holds. I also a not entirely convinced about Chris's answer - plenty of modern indoor 7A boulders require standing on worse, more subtle, footholds than climbing 9a in a roof (though they are more obvious for onsighting).

jwi - are the people you're thinking about good only on "board style" indoor stuff (e.g. moon board, kilter board)? I find it interesting that some climbers seem to transfer well to rock (often those who were good at comps) but others really struggle (often those who like flicking on a board on good holds but struggle with more static climbing - do you see the same?)
« Last Edit: November 06, 2023, 01:05:46 pm by abarro81 »

Liamhutch89

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#6 Re: Fine motor control and climbing
November 06, 2023, 01:24:24 pm
I will probably never hang the 6mms but would like to think that I climb pretty ok

This seems incredible to me given your climbing performance but it does refute most of what I said!

petejh

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#7 Re: Fine motor control and climbing
November 06, 2023, 01:24:35 pm
Quote
Why are some people so incredibly bad at climbing outdoors?

There are of course many reasons why the droves of climbers who can warm up on my indoor long term projects cannot go bolt to bolt on my outdoor warmups.

Not focused on the fine motor control part, but more widely my instinct is there's a psychological element to underperforming outside. Where emotions brought on by all the little micro inconveniences you get outside, that you don't get 'inside', impacts on the physical execution.  Zero proof obviously. It probably helps not to have emotions.

abarro81

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#8 Re: Fine motor control and climbing
November 06, 2023, 01:30:34 pm
It may be that our 6mms are particularly bad (someone told me the errors on them are actually quite big, though I can't remember who), but they seem unfathomably small to me! I don't like small holds nowadays though.

Paul B

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#9 Re: Fine motor control and climbing
November 06, 2023, 01:44:39 pm
I also a not entirely convinced about Chris's answer - plenty of modern indoor 7A boulders require standing on worse, more subtle, footholds than climbing 9a in a roof (though they are more obvious for onsighting).

But these aren't the same climbers (to me at least). The person who can easily smash 7A indoors yet finds they're staring blanky at the start of La Boucherie aren't the same climbers attempting 9a stamfests with relatively 'good' feet.

I don't think it's a fine motor control issue or micro-inconveniences (that's details), IMO it's more fundamental and due to it being so very different; what is a hold in a sea of limestone where nothing is a flat edge (and the hold might be quite unpleasant)? What is a foothold on a seemingly blank grit slab where you can choose to stand anywhere and perhaps what matters more is body position? Both are far far less obvious than whatever poor fluorescent dual texture foothold some psychopath setter has put beneath a change in angle high up on a slab to provide entertainment for the bored reception staff.

I don't really find it surprising that 'gym rats' find basic climbing outside more straightforward; that's what they effectively train on all the time (this definitely applied to myself).

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#10 Re: Fine motor control and climbing
November 06, 2023, 02:19:59 pm
Following with interest.

Quote
I find it interesting that some climbers seem to transfer well to rock (often those who were good at comps) but others really struggle (often those who like flicking on a board on good holds but struggle with more static climbing - do you see the same?)

Bit confused, I would not typify these indoor climbers as struggling with more static climbing. And comp style is really dynamic?

Haven't given the OP enough thought yet, but one observation I'd make is that indoor climbing is entirely on chickenheads - holds external to the main surface - whereas holds on rock are generally the opposite. To me footwork always seems incredibly basic indoors, you can climb most stuff in trainers unless it requires a hard edge or heelhook. I'd agree slopers or smears tend to be more luck/ strength indoors whereas outdoors is all nuance.

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#11 Re: Fine motor control and climbing
November 06, 2023, 02:24:27 pm
Neuro isn't my area of expertise, but I am aware that the homunculus (the fun chap JWI posted) can vary between individuals. Interrestingly, for those who have limb-loss, that mapping to their brain diminishes and is replaced by nearby areas (loss a foot, your mental mapping for it slowly disappears, but this is what leads to phantom limb syndrome and people experiencing their foot feeling like it shrinks). In those who don't have sight etc., other motor mappings grow and become "more sensitive". It isn't unreasonable to expect a larger mapping for people who have put a lot of time into specialising in specific patterns (so pulling on smaller holds would theoretically increase your mapping for your fingers). For something like phantom limb, the process of their 'limb shrinking' occurs over years/decades, and that's a permanent loss. Whilst very different, I don't think time outside/inside could attribute to any major changes in these motor mappings.

I would probably lean into other cognitive theories, perhaps even something as relatively basic as pattern recognition. Enough time spent outside allows you to be more cognisant of what may constitute a good hold (for feet or hands) and understand that you can use these to your advantage. Understanding that a ripple in gritstone constitutes a good hold takes experience and recognition abilities that aren't trained in indoor settings the same. Similar difference between a slopey rail outside (where there may only be one good place/position), and indoors the good bits are blocked/dual-tex/uniform so that they encourage a different style of pattern recognition.

Off the above idea, one would expect that give an indoor climber a clearly-defined outdoor problem (e.g. Toby Segar on Rainbow Rocket) and they can perform very well indeed. Provide a technical, unobvious piece of rock and it's going to different, as they lack an ability to identify the rock patterns that indicate good holds/positions.

Of course there's way more nuance to something like this. Pain tolerance is a factor outside that is actively avoided in most indoor environments.

Also caveat that there's probably a better set of theories out there that better account for mind-muscle activations. For neuro, perhaps neuronal activation for practiced movements? Not sure!

jwi

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#12 Re: Fine motor control and climbing
November 06, 2023, 02:32:15 pm
jwi is probably think of steep climbs on good holds on rock as well as things with small holds (correct me if I'm wrong!). I will probably never hang the 6mms but would like to think that I climb pretty ok on rock compared to indoors, even if the "style" (angle and hold size) is similar e.g. steep on good holds. I also a not entirely convinced about Chris's answer - plenty of modern indoor 7A boulders require standing on worse, more subtle, footholds than climbing 9a in a roof (though they are more obvious for onsighting).

You are quite right, I'm thinking about general outdoor performance. And some absolute monsters indoors are struggling on every angle outdoor.

I'm pretty sure that you could hang 6mm edges with some training. Like all skills it is highly trainable and I would not be surprised if even seasoned climbers improved 30-50% on thin edges in a few months if they never trained on them. I did thin edge training for a few weeks at the end of the warm up and improved drastically.


jwi - are the people you're thinking about good only on "board style" indoor stuff (e.g. moon board, kilter board)? I find it interesting that some climbers seem to transfer well to rock (often those who were good at comps) but others really struggle (often those who like flicking on a board on good holds but struggle with more static climbing - do you see the same?)

Nah, the examples I have clearest in my head were climbing in the same bouldering gym as me that set quite a lot of "modern style" indoor bouldering (Romain Cabessut regularly set some of the harder ciruits), but also some more crimpy "old-school" stuff. Some of these guys were doing problems that world-cup semifinalist found challenging.... and could not redpoint 6c in a day at the crag.

But I guess that for board-specialist the transfer to outdoors is even harder. None of the gyms I've been to the last ten years have had boards really so I have not been able to observe the effect directly, but I have noticed that the grades on the moon-board e.g. are completely whack, which I attribute to specific strength on the 15-18 or so holds that the specialists actually use on the board at their given difficulty range.

abarro81

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#13 Re: Fine motor control and climbing
November 06, 2023, 02:37:00 pm
JB - I suspect you're confused because my observation is confused and not really thought through. I guess I just notice that you get plenty of people good at "board style" who suck outdoors, whereas comp climbers often transfer to rock admirably (e.g. Sachi "I don't know if its 9a+ or not because I only climbed about two other routes on rock in my life" Amma). Comp climbers seem to be good at fast climbing and slow climbing, whereas board beasts don't always... But maybe I'm just saying that strong people who suck at climbing suck at climbing outside, and strong people who are good at climbing quickly get good at climbing outside. I guess what's interesting is if there are people who are good indoors (not just strong, but good too) who suck outside. It sounds like there are these folks from jwi's observations... which is definitely the most interesting bit

jwi

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#14 Re: Fine motor control and climbing
November 06, 2023, 02:49:22 pm
I guess that a lot of examples of comp-climbers onsighting 8x on their first day outdoors etc... mostly have done an enormous amount of moves on every commercial available hold, as well as every handmade wooden crimp in every garage in town. The example I know well (Matilda) certainly already had touched more indoor holds, at an age when motor learning happens fast, than almost anyone else in town before she ever ventured outdoors.
« Last Edit: November 06, 2023, 03:08:24 pm by jwi »

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#15 Re: Fine motor control and climbing
November 06, 2023, 03:25:32 pm
There is likely some transfer, but if you'd done grappling instead it would have had even more transfer https://ijmcl.com/article-1-110-en.html

Sample size of 1: I did years of grappling before starting climbing and I have rubbish finger strength and not convinced I learn moves that quickly...for me grappling was a lot more about sensing/creating changes of momentum and using your own bodyweight to amplify your strength/power in a given movement. Don't know how well it crosses over to climbing?

My 2p is that the familiarity with the outdoor environment, identification of footholds, use of inset holds vs chickenheads etc all factor in to making some indoor climbers worse than others.

Personally I mainly climb indoors but see myself as an outdoor climber and consider indoor to be 'training' for outdoor. I've redpointed 3 grades harder outdoors than indoors and even flashed a grade harder.

Part of that is trying harder due to ascribing more value to outdoors, part of it is that indoors I think often boils down to raw physical attributes (finger strength, endurance), whereas outdoors you can weasel your way up routes with technique and good tactics if you put the time in.

I guess if you see indoor climbing as your 'thing' and outdoor climbing as a sideshow then maybe you have the reverse attitude.

Fultonius

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#16 Re: Fine motor control and climbing
November 06, 2023, 05:47:59 pm
I've no idea if my anecdotes will add to this or confuse things further but this is UKB so WYAHAAY, here we go.

On Saturday at the Propstore (oh, forgot that on my PowerClub Entry - woops). There was a petite female doing some hangs on the BK2K with another small but strong lad. She was doing 1arm hangs on the middle lower slot with -5kg. The guy encouraged her to try bodyweight, which she flashed (ha...flashing a hang, what a concept) and then went on to pretty casually clock up around 5seconds on it. From the conversation it sounded like she'd barely done any fingerboard training, and when I joked that she's basically just flashed the8A benchmark hang, she said the hardest thing she'd done outside was 5+  :o

We were climbing similar problems downstairs, so top end 6s and lower 7s. I know from lattice data that smaller people need more finger strength for the same grade but still.... impressive natural abilities!

The second is just more of amusing comparison with Liam:


I've always felt that I 'learn holds' quite well. I'm generally terrible at flashing boulder problems, often feeling too weak initially, but I become significantly stronger on the holds as I understand them better. For what it's worth, i'm a life long guitarist who received classical training between the ages of 6 and 16; whether this fine motor control has translated to climbing, I do not know.

I wonder if for you it might be more that you've trained hard a projected loads, so maybe your quick reading technique has lagged the other improvements?

I'm on a 12 year bouldering plateau...  Yet I basically flash within a "+" of my max font grade indoors, and about 1 font grade outdoors. The gap on sport outdoors is a bit wider, but not that wide. (7b/7c+ or soft 8a for a big siege)). It's rare that I fail on routes through pure finger strength. If I read the sequence right, I can usually make the moves if I don't get pumped off somewhere.

Whether it's pure "motor control" or some other balance of force application and coordination through the whole body I don't know, but it is interesting how some people can struggle so badly when they've got such obvious base ability.








Paul B

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#17 Re: Fine motor control and climbing
November 06, 2023, 06:01:00 pm
We were climbing similar problems downstairs, so top end 6s and lower 7s. I know from lattice data that smaller people need more finger strength for the same grade but still.... impressive natural abilities!

I think Dave MacLeod warned about this kind of stuff very early on when these benchmarks came out. I think the takeaway was that initially with a large sample this might be a way of identifying a 'benchmark' (or proxy?) achievement needed at the given grade but as these were then used, and seen as a training goal to achieve that grade, that things would rapidly become skewed. The fact that someone was good at hanging anything on a fingerboard previously wasn't necessarily gained by hanging on fingerboards, whereas now, that's how it's being achieved?

Having not climbed anything harder than 5+ outside (whilst one-arming BM slots) simply screams to me that someone doesn't climb outside.

jwi

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#18 Re: Fine motor control and climbing
November 06, 2023, 06:21:30 pm
Obviously, what people can achieve on a fingerboard has little bearing on what they can climb. It is called climbing, not hanging.

Strength in climbing is measured on individual moves.

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#19 Re: Fine motor control and climbing
November 06, 2023, 06:28:58 pm
I've been climbing for about 4 years total and of that about 3 years outside. During that time I've hit a relative plateau around the 7A/7A+ region (which I'm confident I'll push through). My only experience is bouldering so I'll talk about it in that context


I think "outdoors" is rather too broad and vague. Indoors I think most problems in most walls are pretty direct and clear in terms of what to do. That means that beta and sequence comes quickly. Indoors you get clearly shown feet too, and moves are generally not set to make committing to them hard. There are exceptions but broadly this is the case.

Outside things go from not very clear to extremely unclear. The feet are not obvious, neither is the sequence, which might require commitment to actually execute. Some problems are much more direct than others and tend to be "easier" for the grade, that is to say, more obvious, but many are not. Especially on grit, font sandstone etc. I think that the difficulty of indoor to out largely comes from this.

I also think generally holds are worse I.e smaller outdoors. So you tend to have to get used to those bad holds, unclear and committing moves, and non-obvious feet. Those skills are hard to refine on plastic.

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#20 Re: Fine motor control and climbing
November 06, 2023, 06:38:01 pm
From talking to lattice people it seems that some people are just freakishly strong from the get go and the strength tests like that girl one arming a fingerboard at BW aren’t useful metrics for them… likewise for flexible but weak(er) climbers like Hazel Findlay or Maddy Cope, Lattice flexibility tests aren’t as good metrics for ability on rock as your average in flexible male

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#21 Re: Fine motor control and climbing
November 06, 2023, 06:38:49 pm
I find it interesting that some climbers seem to transfer well to rock (often those who were good at comps) but others really struggle (


People who are good at quickly seeing and executing patterns of movement indoors also able to apply that facility outdoors. Makes sense.

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#22 Re: Fine motor control and climbing
November 06, 2023, 07:26:40 pm
Maybe the question isnt ‘why are some people so bad at outdoor climbing?’ instead it could be ‘what aspects of outdoor climbing are hard to replicate indoors?’ People who master those things perform well on rock and also explains why some people climb better outside

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#23 Re: Fine motor control and climbing
November 06, 2023, 07:58:50 pm
Quote
Why are some people so incredibly bad at climbing outdoors?

There are of course many reasons why the droves of climbers who can warm up on my indoor long term projects cannot go bolt to bolt on my outdoor warmups.

Not focused on the fine motor control part, but more widely my instinct is there's a psychological element to underperforming outside. Where emotions brought on by all the little micro inconveniences you get outside, that you don't get 'inside', impacts on the physical execution.  Zero proof obviously. It probably helps not to have emotions.

I'm with Pete on this one. Rather than thinking about how to engage fingers or fine motor skills or whatever so as to replicate indoor performance outside, I think we should think much more holistically about "engagement," even if we do need to be able to hold the holds. How does being outside engage my motivation, my excitement, my intellect, my emotions (it's impossible to be without emotions), my anxiety? How am I engaged with the environment around me? How does it make me feel? How do I engage the weather? The people around me? With what do I come prepared when I step up to engage the route or problem?

petejh

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#24 Re: Fine motor control and climbing
November 06, 2023, 10:08:07 pm
Maybe the question isnt ‘why are some people so bad at outdoor climbing?’ instead it could be ‘what aspects of outdoor climbing are hard to replicate indoors?’ People who master those things perform well on rock and also explains why some people climb better outside

The sun being a bit too hot, or the wind a bit too chilly. Weather forecasts and judging conditions. Staying warm/cool between goes. Warming up again before goes. The bolts not being closely spaced, or bolts not placed in the best places for clipping. Run outs. Sharp rock. Tides. Walk-ins. What food to bring. Dealing with seepage on holds. Waiting for a turn on the route between other parties. Exposure. Unfamiliar rock type. Dusty/dirty holds. Loose rock. Polished holds. Cracks.

 

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