Climbing takes place against gravity, so the upward movement of mass and weight is a major aspect of the whole matter. Even at the most simplistic level, this is affected by 3 factors:
①The force of gravity
②The weight of the climber
③The power output of the climber
#1 we cant do much about, but #2 & #3 we can drastically affect with another 3 factors:
①reducing the weight of the climber: minimizing body weight without affecting necessary mass for storing fuel & strength
②increasing the output capacity of the climber: optimizing endurance, functional strength, fuel efficiency, agility & stress threshold
③reducing the weight of the climbers add-ons: stripping unnecessary weight in equipment, designs & requirements.
In a scene obsessed with trinketry and exploited by marketing departments that target this, many climbers approach to the push against gravity focusses massively towards #3. Incredibly, tho the millions of images promoting climbing equipment feature athletic people behind the sophisticated gear, the human element is ignored in favor of the shiny, colourful equipment. Likewise, despite the detailed volumes written over the decades of carefully developed methodology for optimizing a climbers functional capacity, it is ignored in preference to the slick bullet point promises, numbers and blurbs churned out by the advertising wings of manufacturing corporations.
On the (vertical) ground, it is rare to see a climber fail their objectives due to wearing a jacket 50gms too heavy or having a pack 2 seasons old. At the sharpest end of the sport this may matter, when all other factors have been exhausted and things are seen in the light of very tweaked algorithms, but when most climbers fail their objectives its more often because they don’t have the condition for it – and no amount of the latest gear will make up for that – another thing the climbers at the top of the game frequently reveal but which is again ignored by the gear-hungry masses.
A climbers functional-weight to functional-output ratio cannot traded, it must be cultivated. No corporation can provide it for you, you have to choose the process, not just the end product. You have to be there for all the phases between conception and result, you cant just show up at the end and claim it, and you cant blame anyone else if it doesn’t work how you intend it to. You have to go it alone, let it get ugly, take the risks.
(Actually, the equipment design process isn’t that dissimilar, taking a long and detailed series of dedicated elements to bring a design to fruition with true innovation being the result of hard work done and risks taken – I often wonder how peoples attitudes to their condition would shift if they had to design their own equipment as well…).
Optimizing your ‘Function Quotient’ begins with your perspective: what does climbing mean to you and how far will you go to fulfill that? How hard are you willing to push against gravity?
If it means defining yourself tribally and having something to do on the weekends then a bling-heavy perspective will allow lots of margin that an undeveloped functional capacity can happily fail within. Realistically, how demanding will things ever get an hour from the car? You don’t need a survival strategy to swim between the flags.
But, if your attitude demands more than the outward display of climberness and what you want gets further of the grid, the more gravity there is to push against so the more your condition takes precedence. Skiing in 30km to try an unclimbed icefall warrants a different degree of commitment to a well-known route you can see from the road – in more ways than one there’s more gravity in the equation. To be who you think you want to be demands putting a different sort of effort in.
It makes sense to optimize your capacity for climbing by increasing your physical ability to climb (the fusion of technique & organic applied strength). An efficient & strong climber harnesses more of the benefits of stripped down or sophisticated equipment, as well as all the potential of an optimal weight-to-strength ratio. The unconditioned climber’s demands on their gear differ from those of the well-conditioned climber in that the formers brings them towards baseline whereas the latters takes them from baseline upwards – actual progress against gravity is made rather than simply progress against the self. Put another way, the optimally trained climber can expect to see more benefit from the same add-ons the overweight climber struggles with because hes already reached zero.
Don’t underestimate the demands of climbing condition:
The ill conditioned climber breathes less efficiently, sweats heavier, stays in the high output zone longer, takes longer to cover ground, requires more fuel for the same output, has a more haphazard performance curve, demands more oxygen, metabolizes fuel less efficiently, tires faster, recovers slower, has reduced reaction potential, covers their strength and endurance needs less effectively and just generally takes on gravity less successfully, which wouldn’t matter if this was macramé – but its not.
Optimizing your functional output against the laws of gravity is primitive stuff and brings with it a primitive honesty – who the hell are you? what are you doing? how are you trying to do it? – and when the fundamental indicator of whether what youre doing is working or not is as simple as ‘does it make me perform better against gravity?’* theres not a lot to second-guess around.
And of all the things you could be doing to increase your potential against gravity, which of them do you chose? And why? If your actual condition and ability isn’t your primary choice, why not? Have you found something better?
Optimizing condition is a streamlined process where reducing body mass and increasing function evolutionarily goes hand in hand, with excess weight and volume being stripped by the same process that increases applied strength, endurance and range of function. Its not hard to tell the useful methods from the others, and even after decades of passing trends the same original formula of hard work, focused intent and intelligent process still stands – after all, weve pushed against gravity for a really long time.
*and other forces of nature, more on that coming soon.