Learning Strategic Concept 3: Teach Climbers “Efficient Exploration” and “Rapid Rate of Learning”

Research > Experimental Training > Converting Research to Practice > Learning Strategic Concept 3: Teach Climbers “Efficient Exploration” and “Rapid Rate of Learning”

Better climbers don’t always run a perfect route in climbing, they also mitigate the impact of exploratory behavior when they have to do it. This involves both being efficient in the way they explore movement but also increasing their ability to learn and adapt quickly.  Perceiving and acting together is called “perception-action coupling”.[i] A climber’s individual strengths and movement skills (motor programming), when combined with the external environment, directly impact what they “perceive” as possible. Perception and the physical strength required to create new movement can be gained through “efficient exploration” while on the wall (i.e., using hands/feet, limb, varied hip orientations and visual inspection) or a rapid rate of learning from previous falls or mistakes. Suggestions:

  1. Building Uncertainty: Design practice tasks which cause the learner to have an imperfect knowledge of what is required to complete the route and challenge existing stable movement patterns.[ii] [iii] These training sessions should include uncertainty in the form of hold/grasping options and combinations, and/or the pressure of time, fatigue, and frustration on rapid learning.
  2. Chaining: Design practice tasks which involve multiple challenging moves to chain together efficiently.  Consider including practical chaining exercises whereby the climber understands different options for “technical pre-positioning” and “beta combination moves.” Pre-positioning refers to making the first move technically harder in order to set up a more efficient or effective second (often either harder or more uncertain) move. This has the potential of reducing time-under-tension for the fingers, or requires less positioning on worse holds, or both. Pre-positioning is the technical counterpart to what I call “combination moves,” or moves whereby the limb set-up or “beta” of the first move affects the effectiveness or efficiency of the second move. 
  3. Nesting & Alternatives: Engage climbers on perceiving how different configurations of multiple holds can be seen as a single, what is called “nested,” climbing opportunity. Do this by viewing their functional properties (e.g. reachability, graspability, directional property, and stand-on ability) in relation to one another. Think of each configuration as being an “alternative” approach, and then engage different alternative approaches for the same beta using exercises from Learning Strategic Concept 1.[iv]

See other practical options:

Safety note: As with all experimental training, attempt to implement these ideas at your own risk.


[i] “What current research tells us about skill acquisition in climbing,” by Orth, Button, Davids, and Seifert inin Science of Climbing and Mountaineering edited by Seifert, Wolf and Schweizer

[ii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5635808/

[iii] https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007%2F978-3-319-28265-7_28

[iv] “What current research tells us about skill acquisition in climbing,” by Orth, Button, Davids, and Seifert inin Science of Climbing and Mountaineering edited by Seifert, Wolf and Schweizer