The Steep Climbing Rhythm: Set, coil, spring, repeat.

March 12, 2014
Will Gadd

Ice climbing is often seen as somehow “unique” in that its movement patterns are alien, inscrutable, and different than good technique in rock climbing. This isn’t true. For steep rock or ice climbing the rhythm is, with refinements and variations, pretty much the same:

1. Get a hold. Hang it with a straight arm, move feet under you, rest if possible. This is the “Set” stage.

2. Move the feet up so the legs are ready to drive the move. This is the “Coil” stage.

3. Drive with the legs, pull with your arm (s). This is the “Spring” stage.

Repeat to the top. There are a thousand variations, but the more I train people and watch their movement the more I see this basic “Set, coil, spring” pattern over and over and over. Check out this video of Chris Sharma. Yes, it’s not always exactly “Set, Coil, Spring,” but that sequence is the basis for most of Chris’ climbing in the video. 3:55 is the start of a good sequence.

 

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Now check out this video of some punter doing exactly the same set of moves on an ice climb in a cave… Set, coil, spring.

 

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When I coach people who want to climb harder on ice I often start with working on their rock movement patterns. Most novice rock climbers have the same errors on ice that they do on rock. Instead of the “Set, Coil, Spring” pattern described above novices tend to:

1. Grab a hold, and pull on it immediately. This is strenuous on the arm, pulls their body into the wall so it’s hard to move their feet (and near impossible to kick if ice climbing), makes it hard to weight transfer properly from one foot to the other, etc. etc.

2. Keep their feet to one side of the “fall line” from the hold. This means an awkward balance point. I can watch someone’s entire shoulder and upper torso lock up immediately on ice or on rock when they haven’t completed their weight transfer over to the “set” position.

3. Not make their feet solid, especially on ice but also on rock. Many movies blindly slap their feet on, instead of really setting them, both on rock and ice.

4. Now they’ve been hanging on a bent arm and off-balance for a while. This makes any climber squeeze the tool or stone harder, and the pump clock is ticking.

5. Instead of being in a “coiled” position ready to move with momentum up they are locked off and can’t reach very far…

6. So there is no “spring,” only a grunting, static, slow slow movement. Watch in Chris’s video how long he stays locked off during the “coil” and “spring” cycles; it’s hard to even count the time in lock off, as he’s moving through to the next “set” or “rest” position so quickly.

 

There are of course a thousand different versions of this, but this is a helpful tool for me to teach people how to move better on both rock and ice. And for me to use when I’m not figuring something out…