The “10-4 Rule” – A Guideline for Projecting (and Steady Improvement)

The author sending his mini-project, Eye of Mordor (5.13a), Meadow River Gorge.

The author sending his mini-project, Eye of Mordor (5.13a), Meadow River Gorge.

In a recent podcast interview with Neely at TrainingBeta, one topic she asked my opinion on was the amount of time (and number of redpoint attempts) a person should invest into a project route before taking a break. It’s a common question I get asked, and my answer (with a few caveats) is that it’s best not to get bogged down by long-haul projects.

My projecting guideline for weekend warriors is what I call the “10-4 Rule”—that’s ten redpoint attempts over four days. Personally, I halve these amounts and, thus, limit myself to a total of about five attempts over two days.

Here’s the reasoning behind my “10-4 Rule.”

1. Climbing is a skill sport first and foremost. Therefore, climbing a high volume of terrain is the fastest way to learn new skills, improve economy of movement, and dial in your mental game. Conversely, climbing the same 50 or 100 feet of rock, over and over, climbing day after climbing day, will actually stunt your technical growth. (Imagine a basketball player who only practiced, say, foul shots—long term, he’ll excel at making that one shot, but he’ll be a poor player from other locations and distances on the court.) The cliffs of the world present us with an infinite playing field, and so to dominate at climbing you must climb and “practice” widely.

2. Confidence and a positive mindset is critical for improving your climbing performance, yet failing on a route repeatedly over many days is a real confidence and good-mood killer. Building confidence comes from sending; therefore, selecting cool routes that you can onsight, flash, or send in a few goes is the pathway to multiplying confidence and having a heck of a lot of fun!

3. A couple of research projects have hinted that gains in efficiency via repeated attempts on the same climb begins to level off between three and ten attempts. Elite climbers often refine sequences to the point of high efficiency in just a few attempts, whereas non-elite climbers may need many more attempts before gains in efficiency become negligible. The bottom line: if you’ve dialed in the sequence and become about as efficient as you can be (~10 attempts) and you still can’t send the route, then you likely need to get stronger in order to bag the redpoint. A few weeks of targeted training (what’s your limiting constrain on the project?) might be all that’s needed to send the rig!!

When should you break the 10-4 Rule? Here are five good reasons to give your proj more time and attempts. 1. The route is extremely complex or the crux is a low-probability dynamic move. 2. You’re near the end of a roadtrip and the redpoint feels imminent given a few more goes. 3. Your project is at a local crag—close enough so that you can do your targeted physical training on the route! 4. On your 9th go (or whatever) you discover a game-changing rest (knee bar, hand jam, etc.) or an easier way to navigate the crux. 5. If you’re a pro climber with almost unlimited opportunity to climb outside.

Interestingly, German rock star Alex Megos has made quick ascents his MO–with just a few exceptions, Alex sends routes in just a few goes and eschews long-term projecting. Years of employing this quick-send approach to cragging (similar to my 10-4 Rule) has helped turn Alex into one of the world’s best climbers!

Let me leave you with a crag climbing guideline that you might call the 80-20 rule. Spend 80 percent of your outdoor climbing time on routes that you can onsight, flash, or second-go, and limit hard projecting (routes taking 3+ attempts) to 20 percent or less. This way, you’ll get the high volume of sends you need to build skills and confidence, and you’ll more often than not leave the crag with that indescribable climber’s high!

Copyright 2015 Eric J. Horst. All Rights Reserved.

Importance of Preclimb Rituals

Angry Birds (5.13c), Red River Gorge, KY.

Angry Birds (5.13c), Red River Gorge, KY.

A tall, steep sport route can be daunting, intimidating, and sometimes even a little scary. It should not be surprising, then, that your thoughts and emotions in the minutes leading up to a climb will strongly influence how you perform on the route–it might even predetermine the outcome.

Rushed preparations and scattered, fearful thoughts usually give birth to a shaky performance, whereas a calculated, well-know preparation process and targeted, confident thinking will help set the stage for a solid, if not exceptional, performance. This exemplifies the power of preclimb rituals.

There are two parts to an effective preclimb ritual: proceeding through a preparatory checklist and the triggering of emotional anchors.

Preparatory Checklist
Like a pilot’s preflight checklist, a climber’s preclimb preparations should consist of every single activity, big or small, that is necessary to ensure a safe, successful journey. For example, my typical ritual begins with getting a proper warm-up and engaging in some mild stretching. I then begin to suss out the major aspects of the climb, such as the path, gear requirements, a rest positions. Next, I take a closer look and attempt to identify key holds and as much of the sequence as possible. Following this, I perform a few minutes of mental rehearsal and associated visualization, as I try to feel the moves and pre-program in the ascent. Upon gaining a sense of confident about the route, I put on my shoes and tie into the rope. I complete my preclimb ritual by taking a few slow, deep breaths, extending my posture (standing tall with shoulders back), and cracking a smile in anticipation of the great fun that awaits me. This entire ritual typically takes between ten to fifteen minutes, although it could take more or less depending on the length and complexity of the climb, and it leaves me in an ideal state to make my best effort.

Develop your own unique rituals based on what makes you feel most prepared and psyched for a route. Think back to some of your best past performances to gain some clues as to what to include. What did you think and do in preparing for that climb? What did you eat or drink, how did you warm up, and how long did you rest between climbs? Awareness of all the factors—big and small—that led up to your best performances is a key to being able to reproduce similar results in the future. Experiment with different rituals and analyze what seems to work best. Upon developing a ritual that works, stick to it and use it before every climb!

Emotional Anchors
Have you ever experienced the relaxed pleasure that washes over you when you hear an old song that instantly connects you to some great past event? This experience exemplifies the power of anchors at transporting past emotions into the present. Your brain associates the song with the emotional state of a distinct period earlier in your life; upon hearing that tune, these emotions are relived in the present. Knowledge of this process empowers you to recall the positive emotions of a previous ascent to aid your performance in the present.

If you’ve been climbing awhile, you should have a few great ascents that you can leverage in this way. If not, then tap into some other great life event where you felt exceedingly confident, positive, and successful. Either way, your goal now is to relive this event by creating a brief mental movie that brings as many senses as possible into play. Most people find that bright, crisp visualization is the most effective way to trigger past emotions; however, listening to a particular song can be powerful anchor, too. Experiment a little in order to discover what works best for you. Be creative and overlook no details in reliving the past event, and you’ll learn to consistently release powerful emotions that yield great performances.

Final Thoughts & Actions Before Climbing
The final, and most important, part of a preclimb ritual is to double-check your knot and confirm that your belayer is attentive and ready. Having made this final safety check you can now engage the rock with complete focus—as you leave your worries and concerns on the ground—and enjoy the process of climbing the route. As in going through your preclimb ritual one step at a time, you must attack the route one move at a time…and let the outcome unfold organically. Do all of the above, and you put your self in the best position for a successful, enjoyable ascent!

Copyright 2015 Eric J. Hörst. All rights reserved.