Pilates Adventures – Rock Climbing
Find out how Pilates has helped Jack on his climbing adventures:
I grew up rock climbing at Smith Rocks in Bend Oregon. The ‘crag’ was just down the road from where I lived and fortunate for me, Smith Rock was just coming into its own as a world class climbing destination. I was lucky enough to be in the mix during that time and to have mentors who were ushering in the hardest climbs in North America and even the world. The rock climb “To Bolt Or Not To Be” set by my friend Alan Watts would be the hardest climb in the world for many many years and be the first climb at that grade in North America.
Ok- fast forward a whole bunch of years- After moving from Oregon and landing in NYC where I would pursue photography I happened to meet a Pilates teacher many of you know- Alisa Wyatt. Yes, as you can imagine, It wasn’t long before I found myself on my back doing the Hundred. At that time I went to all of Alisa’s mat classes- about 4 or 5 times per week. I also continued my climbing all over Central Park and Riverside Park as well as indoor climbing walls like Chelsea Piers.
When I was asked to talk about how Pilates has helped my rock climbing I knew exactly how it helped me and the answer may surprise you. Read on! Core strength is vital for climbing- this will be obvious. As you climb harder levels the angle usually goes from vertical to overhanging. Many many times you are doing routes so steep that your feet kick away and are simply dangling in the air. Constant effort is required to keep your body position in the place where it is most efficient and all that effort relies on core strength – it’s vital. This is an easy one and we can all agree that core strength will help with just about any sport.
However- and not so obvious – the real aha! moment came to me while I was doing the Series of Five. Single Leg Stretch to be exact. The cue Alisa was giving the class was to extend the leg ‘out’ with absolute precision- to land on the exact same spot each and every time. Not to just extend willy nilly. Not to just think about the leg being pulled in. She was asking us to use the mind- to really focus on where that foot will land in space. Think about that for a moment. I was trying to land my big toe through each quick in-and-out on the same postage stamp size spot in space at the same time pulling in the other leg, at the same time lifting my head. Throughout each exercise in the Pilates system it’s the same – trying to control the movement with the mind, precision, focus, attention, concentration. Ahhhh- so here is where it really really helps with climbing. You see – for any given climb you have only so many minutes, so much energy before the body fails, and then you fall. The forearms get ‘pumped’, the fingers give, the arms give, and the only way to keep climbing longer – to finish the route if you will- is to climb with absolute precision, efficiency, focus, and most importantly: PERFECT footwork. And It all comes down to foot ‘placement’. Why does that matter? Imagine you are climbing at your limit – you look down and spot your next foothold up by your right knee. Your fingers are starting to go, your forearms are getting pumped, you are 60 feet in the air. These are fractions of a second and you need to move your foot up to that foothold and when you do you need to ‘set it’ on your very first try. It needs to land and be perfect. The ankle can’t be too low or high, the angle needs to be correct for the weight shift, the front edge of your shoe needs to be in the right spot. Control. Control Control. Move it into position and go go go. No pause. no fiddling. Just like Alisa cued me on that Single Leg Stretch so many years ago 🙂
This is what I love about the method- the exactness, body control, precision and mind aspect that Joseph Pilates asks of us each time we do an exercise. And this is how It translates directly to rock climbing in real life.
Happy Single Leg Stretches!! Jack