Udo Neumann workshop take-homes

Cross-Body Training and Physical Literacy

Apr 28, 2020 5:03:00 PM / by Naomi Hatto

This kind of links to the previous non-dominant hand usage blog post - found here - but I’ve been wondering for a while, after going to a workshop run by Udo Neumann (one of the climbing world's most highly respected and sought after Biomechanics, Skill Acquisition, & Motor Control Experts - if you’ve not heard of him you should have a look at his stuff here) a few years ago. Udo Neumann talked quite a lot about practising movements that challenge your brain, like for example using your left hand on the right side of your body and vice versa or coordinating the movement of your right arm and left leg or vice versa. 


In climbing there are a couple of different reasons as to why not being good at this might hinder you...whilst crossing a hand or foot to the opposite side of your body is sometimes just not the right thing to do and sometimes it is actually the most efficient thing to do but can feel too weird - and cognitively, if not practised, it’s actually pretty tricky. According to a quick google for ‘cross-body coordination’ the main benefit of this type of coordination is in promoting the right and left hemispheres of the brain to work together - I’m no brain surgeon and have no idea if this is factually accurate however since the workshop I attended with Udo Neumann I have noticed a fair reluctance in climbing with things like crossovers, particularly big ones on poorer holds - truly thinking about it; how often do you awkwardly match to avoid a crossover? Or is that just me because I started climbing as a kid with tiny fingers that allowed me to match on virtually anything and continued to do so with determination into adulthood..?!?


But in all honesty, sideways dynos - something that truly melts my brain, starting with feet crossed and hands either matching or crossed is often the most effective way to reach the destination hold but is, for me anyway, not the intuitive way to want to attempt the dyno. I certainly had a lightbulb moment a couple of years ago - there was a dyno I just couldn’t do - but watching someone else waltz the dyno and then struggle with the top section (which I had found relatively straightforward) it transpired that crossing my feet that was the crucial bit of beta which unlocked the problem for me. I have no idea if this is something that can be improved at home. I already do a fair bit of skipping for example and cross-skipping forwards and backwards is not something I struggle with after hours of fun at primary school all those years ago. Yet sideways movement in a climbing context still really throws me - maybe I just haven’t spent enough time running sideways yet…


What about training as well - can we include cross-body work in our training? Bicycle sit-ups are one thing I can think of, what also about l-overs? If you find those easy, how about hanging l-overs?


Another exercise that Udo Neumann talked about and showed us - which if I don’t practise is another brain-melter for me - was straight armed campussing. Lots of swinging and the use of the correct amount of momentum will allow you to campus most things without really having to bend your arms - think monkey bars at the playground but this time with a wall in front of you and going up not along...


My final take home from the workshop I attended was that it’s cool, and great for physical literacy to try and do funky stuff - I’m not great at initiating these sorts of games at the wall, Oliver is probably your go-to for that but trying to run up a slab with your arms crossed or only using specific footholds in a specific order are fun with much falling off. Or - something that I’d love to try one day but don’t want to pull down any ceilings or wreck any punch bags is climbing round a punch bag - it looks like there are tonnes of ways for it to not succeed and is a good physical problem solving kind of game...I’m sure there are other options if you don’t have a punch bag. Climbing around your kitchen table, lengthways if you’re feeling brave or a traverse of the table? Can you bat hang from one of the doors in your house? What about climbing the stairs without touching the stairs? I’m sure that there are an endless supply of games that can be played to incorporate either problem solving of a physical nature or cross-body movement...maybe just try to not land on your head...or pull anything off the walls..!


Here I just wanted to introduce you to some of the inspiration I took from a 2 hour workshop with Udo Neuman - watching some of the warm-ups he has the German youth team doing make me wonder how I could improve my own physical literacy and what that would do for my climbing...I see loads of people desperately building home training boards (all over facebook - obviously) and wonder if actually the way to improve is to learn how to do a cartwheel (left and right handed of course) or juggling - spend your time out in the sunshine and come back to climbing maybe marginally less good at pulling on plastic but a more resilient human, who knows, this might make you more able to continue moving well into your 90s!


If you’ve found this even vaguely interesting Udo is currently writing a short series of 3 articles for UKC, the first 2 can be found here.

Tags: COVID-19

Naomi Hatto

Written by Naomi Hatto