Recently, I finished the book Alone on the Wall by Alex Honnold and David Roberts. I paired that with a screening of Free Solo, an epic documentary depicting Honnold’s free solo climb of El Capitan in the Yosemite Valley of California. I would consider myself to be a sporadic-at-best recreational climber, so watching the feats of arguably the best climber to ever live is both terrifying and awe-inspiring. Today, I want to share with you some of the reasons why Honnold’s feats are so incredible and what we can learn from him.
First, let’s address the fact that many of you reading this may not have ever heard of Alex Honnold. Yet he’s conquered some of the toughest climbs, with and without gear, in the world: the Fitz Roy traverse in Patagonia; El Sendero Luminoso in Mexico; Moonlight Buttress in Zion National Park, UT; El Capitan, Half Dome, Mt. Watkins, Astroman and the Rostrum in Yosemite, CA; and many, many others. No idea what these are? Google them. You will be astounded at what this guy has done.
The physical requirements that these climbs demand are hard to wrap your head around - stamina, muscular endurance, flexibility, breath control, balance, coordination, accuracy. The psychological requirements are even more impressive. If you want a sweaty palm experience, check out this National Geographic video of Alex free soloing Freerider on Yosemite’s El Capitan. And then remember that he is climbing without a rope. Inevitably, your heart rate might start to elevate, your palms will start to get clammy and you’ll feel a rush of adrenaline (if you want to experience that feeling for a solid 45 minutes, watch Free Solo, the full-length documentary of the same climb).
We sit here and say it’s crazy, that he does what he does. That he’s willing to risk his life for these climbs. But as he says in his book & any interview where he’s inevitably asked why he takes on the climbing challenges he does, he makes a point to differentiate between consequence and risk. The risk, he says, is something only the climber can really know. This is based on self-confidence his or her ability, climbing experience and the quality of the route. The consequences, however, are what we see - the height of the climb, the length of the fall, the verticality of the pitch and the small fact that the climber would most likely die if they fell. He is also quick to point out that the risks that he is willing to take are generally proportional to his ability level, that he now sees climbs that used to terrify him as potential warm-up climbs. As we get better at something, the risk of that thing decreases.
So why does Alex declare that risk on climbs like The Nose of El Capitan is relatively low? It’s because he’s sure of himself - he’s practiced and rehearsed these climbs over and over until they’re almost automatic (rehearsals are done on a rope wearing a harness). This type of skill is akin to a skilled pianist playing an entire Beethoven sonata from memory - the moves are practiced, broken down into their individual components and drilled until the sequence required to perform is instinctive. Like your hands just know where to be when. We can see this on almost any skill. A few weeks ago, we talked about expertise and how expertise comes through years and years of deliberate practice. That’s what Alex Honnold has done and what allows him to complete these seemingly death-defying climbs - he has practiced over and over and over again to execute precisely and efficiently on the rock.
So why does this matter to you? First, it’s just pretty cool to see an expert work at his craft, no matter how sweaty it makes your palms. But on a practical note, we can learn a lot from Alex’s view of risk and consequences. Next time you have a challenge laid before you, consider both the risk - the level of which is dependent on you - and the consequences or the things outside of your control. If the risk, or your confidence in your own abilities and understanding of the challenge ahead, is less than the consequences, the outcome if you miscalculate your abilities, then go for it! This is a different layer of self-confidence and requires an awareness and intuition of self. For us, it directly relates to intentional training. If you are finding that you don’t want to do a particular movement in class, it’s likely because your self-perceived ability for that skill are lower than what is required to successfully complete the skill. However, remember that in our gym environment, the consequences are relatively low. :) Also keep in mind that sometimes, our perceptions of self aren’t entirely accurate - ask a coach what they think your capable. Sometimes it’s a lot more than you think, or they can at least come up with a way to approach the challenge that reduces the risk.
Strength - Snatch Complex: Snatch deadlift + snatch pull + snatch @ RPE 7
Athletes will have 20 minutes to build to and complete multiple sets of today's complex. The focus is for athletes is to work on sets while remaining technically sound. DO NOT MAX OUT!
METCON - EMOM 12 minutes:
MINUTE 1 - 0:40 seconds banded strict tempo pull ups**
MINUTE 2 - 0:40 seconds Russian KB swings @ heavy
MINUTE 3 - 0:40 seconds max burpees
**Athletes should use a band that will allow them to keep an even tempo and work continuously for 0:40 seconds. Athletes should attempt to keep a 1 second ascent + 3 second descend.