Padding Your Quiver With Cool Tricks! #1: Eye on the Prize.
One of the first things I was taught as a young figure skater and downhill skier was "where the eyes go, the body will follow." It is a truism for any sport. If you are tearing down a single-track on your mountain bike and you see an obstacle such as a tree or rock and you stare it down, you will be rewarded with a head-on collision. Fix your gaze on the gap between, and you might just get a "get out of jail free card!" In skating, if one tried a hard jump and looked down at the ice while trying to land on that 1/8"x2" piece of blade, you'd be pretty much guaranteed a cold and slippery slide across the ice.
With sports like gymnastics, skating and rock climbing, keeping one's eye on the prize can be a bit trickier than just staring down a gap, as there are often many things happening either simultaneously or in rapid succession that require attention. In our sport for instance, particularly in dynamic movements, you may need to eye a hand-hold, but immediately thereafter sight on a key foot hold. So it often comes down to timing. And the there is the inalienable instinct to see where one might land if she thinks she may be falling!
What most people don't realize, until they have seen a photo of themselves or another, is that one's head position can totally screw up the body line and make a hold, particularly a far-way hold, seem un-grabbable. And then "reachy syndrome" creeps in and the totally debilitating negative thoughts of such things as "i'm too short/it's too reachy" or "i'm not strong enough" start to rear their ugly heads, when in reality most of the time it is just the technique that needs a little refining. Now, it is true, we can ALWAYS get stronger and occasionally (but more rarely than most think) things are just beyond the scope of reach (that will be another blog-topic! ;-)) More often a slight refinement in your work flow is all it takes to grab that elusive hold.
The body position you want is one where your hips pull in toward the rock, maximizing reach and minimizing distance from the rock. When you are looking down after initiating a move, especially a dynamic move, what will happen is your chest will necessarily curve, pushing your hips and butt back out and way from the rock. Unfortunately, it is a completely natural reaction to want to sight-in one's landing zone when flying about in the air, so it requires quite a leap of faith for most of us to relinquish this Pavlovian response!
One of the easiest ways to rectify this is to … … yes, "keep your eye on the prize!" (see photo 2: Stefka Dynos) In the next photo you can see an example of perfect body position in a big dynamic move. My friend here is a relatively new climber and very new to dynamic movement, but as she attempts this 3-points off dyno, she is showing the form of a pro! (see photo 1: Ariel has her eyes on the prize) Her gaze is fixed on the hold and her hips are up and in—not unlike a high-jumpers just before an arc over the bar. It was great to see a small woman, new to dynamic movement, totally going for and crushing the beta!
The next step after one grabs said hold, is to actually keep staring down that prize (i like to look at the top of my hand) longer than you think, until your body starts to swing back in. This helps both to bring the swing back in and to maintain a lock-off—often necessary in a big swingy move. (see photo 3: Me, keeping a watchful eye on the crux grab of the "Circus Trick") If the move was less dynamic—like a deadpoint, this tactic will still be useful to keep from swinging off. (see photo 4: Tiny Sascha reeling in an elusive crimp.) Bear in mind regardless of the terrain, looking at your LZ will round you away from the rock and increase your chances of pinging off. After you start to swing back in (and under the hold which usually, on steeper terrain, results in a better grip) start looking down for your key foot holds.
Conversely, there are times when looking down is critical for extending ones reach, but we'll address that one later ;-)