CATS Ethics

What I am addressing here is heel hooking and matching on holds.

Climbing at CATS is not rock climbing.

A small Facebook thread is what motivated me to write this. Basically it came up that "there's a gym in Boulder that doesn't allow heel hooking". This prompted responses such as:

"WHAT?! No heel hooking?! How will you climb? Not to mention, what a bizarre restriction!" 
"That's craziness!"
"WTF? that makes no sense"

Now I will give them that there is probably a certain level of misunderstanding, as perhaps they think it is a completely enforced, defacto rule in a standard climbing gym, such as no swearing. That is not quite the way that it works in CATS. If you happen to stop in or are not terribly experienced we are certainly not going to pull you off the wall for heel hooking. However there is certainly confusion, and negativity coming from those who do understand that it is a matter of ethics here at CATS and not a true "gym rule", partially given that CATS is only part climbing gym and does not employ any full time staff exclusively for climbing purposes.

Although the end purpose of getting stronger often differs greatly, for instance Ryan Silven, Angie Payne and myself all climb in CATS to get stronger, but for different reasons. But again climbing in CATS or any gym is not rock climbing. People are not completing problems here to tick off a list, post on or brag to sponsors. You climb in the gym to train, especially at the Colorado Athletic Training School. And although almost tangential, I would like to point out that the primary usefulness of gym climbing is in training strength, not technique. If you want to be able to rock climb well, you had better climb on rock. Climbing in Movement for months is only going to prepare you so much for understanding how to move through Spanish limestone. However doing constant laps and suicides at Movement can give you the basic endurance to not be completely overwhelmed.

We try to embrace making things harder not easier and becoming stronger climbers at CATS. It should be no ones goal in the gym to claw your way up a boulder by whatever means. This makes no sense, to me at least. All gym climbing is incredibly contrived, at a gym with the hold density of CATS 99% of holds on the wall are "off" for whatever problem you are working on. It is not some quantum leap in contrivance to not allow heel hooking. We want you to become a better climber.

When you are climbing on crimps you are training finger strength, when doing long moves on bad jibs we are training core tension. When you heel hook inside what are you training? To even say you are "training" heel hooking I believe to be quite a stretch, heel hooking outdoors is completely different than heel hooking inside. Yes indoor crimps are not shaped the exact same as outdoor crimps, but your ability to hold onto a small edge is the same regardless; it is a basic strength. Heel hooking rarely come down to whatever the hell muscle in your leg is needed. Heel hooks are much more subtle, involving positioning and specific torque. This makes "training" heel hooking quite impractical and something much better learned on the specific problem you are trying outside.

The next point to make is that of priorities. If you were given the choice of training: calf raises so your legs would not pump out as easily on slab climbs or campus boarding. The obvious answer would be campusing as it builds a much wider and more useful set of strengths. In this poor example you can of course choose to do both. However when on a climb you cannot choose to do both. You can choose to train heel hooking, but when you choose to heel hook, depending on the move you are choosing to make a sacrifice in training finger strength, power, lock off, or most frequently tension. Or you can choose to not heel hook which will require more from you and make you a better climbing. Again the goal should not be to make things easier.

The last point I will make regarding these end results is in the process of climbing your projects and your personal best. Lets say you find a project you would like to do with a hard heel hook, and you have not been "training" heel hooks. It will feel hard at first, someone who has been heel hooking in the gym does it faster lets say. However it is still putting your heel on a hold. You will figure out how to place it, how to torque it, how to use it. In the second scenario lets say you want to do a hard project that does not have a heel hook in the crux. I would say if you are not strong enough to grab a small hold, isolate it off of one foot and do a long pull. It is certainly much more difficult, if not impossible to learn those strengths in any sort of realistic time period. And heel hooking does in fact impede the progression of finger strength (and others) because you are just putting your body weight on your legs and bone structure which are use to that stress.

I feel like the points to be made against matching on small holds are even more obvious and I will not go into depth. It is the same basic principle as mentioned previously. Although to clarify this in regards to matching as an intermediate (bring a  hand into match on a hold and then move with that hand again). But first I think an easy question to ask to help explain, and show the errors of matching is simply: Why?? Why would you choose to match on that hold? The only possible thing I can think of is "to help me send the problem". Well why are you trying to send this problem? We have already established this is not rock climbing, this is not in the middle of a competition with money on the line. You are trying to complete this problem in the gym to become a stronger climber. I think it is pretty clear that in simple campus board perspectives it is maybe V6(??) to go from rung 1 to rung 5, match and then go to rung 9. While it is about V15(??) to go from 1 to 5 to 9 without matching. Matching as an intermediate greatly reduces the number of muscles groups and strength required to do a move.

Do we still have fun in CATS even though we do not match and heel hook? Certainly! We are not all sitting around with stopwatches and protein shakes. I think it is universal that people enjoy progressing; being able to do more climbs, send projects and move up to harder ones. We at CATS enjoy that the most as well. Heel hooking itself is not that fun, we would rather progress and become stronger climbers.