Learning to climb a rope is reinforcing a lesson I’ve been teaching myself for years: the power of building slowly on a solid foundation.
Learning to Catch
The latest addition to my fitness routine is a new circus-related class focused on training the skills needed to become a catcher on the flying trapeze.
Even though I don’t have a strong desire to actually be a catcher, I want to view the world from the catcher’s perspective: hanging upside down, locked in by my legs. And, I want to learn how to do a back flip out of the catcher’s trapeze.
For this to happen, I must master a crucial element of the process:
The rope climb.
To Catch, You Must Climb
The only way to get up into the catcher’s trapeze is by climbing a rope approximately 12 feet above the net.
Certain activities are only conditioned through doing those specific activities. Rope climbing is one of those.
Climbing the rope is hard.
It’s not just about upper body strength; the technique also requires foot agility and strength to wrap the rope around your leg and foot and hold it in place.
It’s hard to move up the rope when I’m struggling to just hold it in place with my top foot.
Those muscles are definitely underused. How often do you grab something with your feet?
Last week, I found myself easily getting frustrated. This week, I was tempted to throw in the towel. I was struggling to get traction. It felt unconquerable.
Then I decided to try an approach that I have used in building my various daily practices.
I broke it down into baby steps.
The First Step
I focused on mastering the first step. For me, this step is to make and hold the “rope sandwich” — holding the rope between my feet.
Once I can hold the rope with my feet, I can release my hand grip on the rope to move my hands up and begin the climb.
This requires hip and ankle flexibility, and foot strength. Getting the top foot in exactly the right place is essential to holding the rope in place.
So that’s my focus for now. I’m not trying to climb the rope. I’m simply conditioning this discrete skill.
I wrapped the rope around my leg and foot, stepped on it with my top foot, and held it for as long as I could.
Then I took a brief rest and did it again.
I’ll continue to work on this skill, and the flexibility and strength to support it, until I’ve developed a solid foundation. Then, I’ll add on.
Where Big Journeys Start
“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step” is an oft-repeated cliché that’s not quite accurate.
Every journey begins with learning how to stand.
You must be able to stand before you can walk.
Take a look at the big tasks or goals that feel too big for you. Break it down.
What’s the most basic step you can implement to begin to build up to the bigger skill?
What’s your equivalent of learning how to stand?
Practice that one thing for at least a week, without forcing yourself to do more.
After a week, evaluate where you are. When you feel stable in that foundation, move on.
Progress starts with taking the first step, even if it’s a baby step. And remember that before you can take the first step, you must be able to stand on firm footing. Building that foundation is also progress.
Test it out for yourself this week and share your results in the comments.