Recently, I’ve been thinking a bit about the way we approach climbing mentally, and I feel that the climbing community at large could be more positive about its approach, hopefully with positive results. One common theme I hear in the gym and at the crag is the notion that something “just isn’t my style,” and perhaps more adversarial, “you can only do that cause you’re tall (short, have tiny fingers, insert lame excuse here).” The beauty of these excuses is in their simplicity. Nothing is open for debate--style is quite subjective and height is an uncontrollable physical attribute. It clearly wasn’t a deficiency on the part of the climber that resulted in a fall--it was a deficiency in the route by failing to match the style or body type of the climber.
I think the positive corollary to this sentiment is to figure out what is your style, and then use this as your own unique climbing “super power.” For example, maybe you are a master of all things slopey. Perhaps you can high step with your foot next to your ear. It could be that you were blessed with superb campus strength. Or, your lock-off strength might be unparalleled. Whatever it is, we all have a strength (maybe even more than one). I want to encourage recognition of those strengths to exploit them for better climbing.
Please don’t misunderstand me; I’m not proposing that we acknowledge our strengths while being blind to our weaknesses. One sure way to improve as a climber is to focus on deficiencies and work on them until they’re no longer deficiencies. I strongly recommend this.
What I am suggesting is that in addition to improving our weaknesses, where we know we will struggle, we should eliminate making up excuses for when we struggle unexpectedly. If a route “just isn’t your style,” perhaps the right question to ask then is, “How can I use my strength(s) to find the beta that works for me?” or maybe, “Is this route exposing a weakness that I wasn’t aware of until now?”
For me personally, my “superpower” is what I affectionately refer to as “go go gadget arms”--my ape index and lanky build allow me to reach through nearly anything. My corresponding weakness lies in climbing horizontal terrain. My butt sags ridiculously on roofs, overhangs, or any time a heel hook is required. The best bet for me is not to lament my gangly frame or to attribute another’s success simply to their smaller fingers, lighter weight, or other difference. Instead, maybe the solution for me is to just skip all the intermediate bumps and reach straight for the lip of the roof. The take home point, though, is that I’ll be much better served in the long run by figuring out how I can use my unique style to do the moves instead of lamenting that the moves are easier for someone with a different set of physical characteristics.