A Practical Visualization Technique for Rock Climbing

I recently interviewed Peter Beal, a very strong climber from Boulder, Colorado who is also the creator of http://www.mountainsandwater.com/.

This is part of an interview series where I’m trying to uncover some common mind-sets and techniques that master climbers use that enables them to climb at a very high level. Peter has recently turned his full attention to bouldering and sent some difficult new problems that he thinks are in the V12 range. During our interview, he shared with me a technique that he uses that helps him make visualization practical and leads to fast progress on boulder problems.

While working a problem, Peter will capture video footage of him working the problem. He then edits and splices the footage together to create a powerful visual image of him sending the problem. No, the intent is not to try and fool anyone into thinking that he sent the problem, but rather for use in visualization. He will watch the video several times while working the problem, which he feels helps him to make faster progress.

I thought this was a really interesting use of video technology which has become very accessible to virtually anyone with a phone or video camera. These recording devices have become prolific, cheap, and can record with very high HD quaity. I decided to try this technique on a boulder problem that is probably in the V7 range that is in my basement bouldering gym. Check out the video at the link below.


I have read many places that our sense of sight is one of the most powerful senses when it comes to stimulating our brain. I have heard that about one third of our brain is stimulated by visual input. I recall watching a documentary about the brain several years ago where this was demonstrated powerfully. It showed a woman uttering a word, but it was really hard to tell what she was saying. It sort of sounded like “fub”, but it was very hard to discern. The narrator then instructed the viewer to close their eyes and try to hear what the woman was saying. The result was totally amazing. When I shut my eyes, I clearly heard the word “cup”, clear as a bell. It turns out that in the video the woman was uttering the word “dub”, while the audio was of her saying “cup.” The narrator went on to explain that our eyes were over-riding our sense of hearing, making it very hard for us to hear the word “cup.”

So, it seems logical that actually seeing something would be much more powerful than imagining something, when it comes to practicing visualization. If you want to try making a video to use in visualization, you will need some basic hardware and software and access to the internet. Below are some tips to help you get started.

Video Camera: You will need a video camera, which most of us now have in our phones. An alternative to a phone, is to buy a video camera. Cameras come in a wide variety of capabilities. You can get an HD recorder with basic capabilities for well under $100. Kodak makes some cameras which are very good and inexpensive. Since I like to make videos, I have invested in a more capable camera, a Canon HF R20. It has optical zoom and a microphone input, which makes it really versatile for making training videos. If you want to make video with good quality sound, I suggest a camera with a microphone input. If you want to get really slick and use a wireless microphone, I suggest the audio-technica Pro 88W/T model. This is what I use.

Tri-pod: One of the easiest ways to drastically improve the quality of your videos is to use a tri-pod. I don’t know about you, but I hate shakey videos. There are basically two sorts of tri-pods you can consider. One is a rigid type and the other has flexible legs that can wind around poles in addition to standing. You can get both types in just about any store that sells video cameras. Both come with a universal threaded head that attaches to most cameras. The advantage of the rigid type is that they can be adjusted to a wide variety of heights, typically ranging from 18 inches to four feet in height. The advantage of the flexible type is that they are small and fit in a pack, and they can be hung from trees and other objects. They also tend to be cheaper at less than $20 compared to the rigid types, which tend to cost more than $30.

If you are recording on your phone, there are adapters that will hold a phone and mate to the standard tri-pod threaded head. Here is one that looks useful and is affordable. http://www.amazon.com/Adjustable-Tripod-camera-Holder-Cellphone/dp/B0042J6VUS

Editing Software: OK, so you have a way to capture video footage, now what? Well, you could just watch the raw video on the recording device, but this has the disadvantage of making you squint to watch it, and makes it really hard to share. It is often very hard or impossible to edit video on the recording devices too, which makes creating the visual of you doing the problem very difficult, if not impossible. You will need to import the video files to a computer and use some video editing software to create the video.

Video comes in all sorts of file formats, and a good overview of them can be found at http://www.libtiff.org/video-formats.html. In all likelihood, you will transfer the video files to your computer’s hard drive using a USB port on your computer. Depending on your camera and computer, this could be as simple as copy and paste, or there may be some software GUI that’s required to get the data off of the camera. You should see the manual for your camera to figure out how to do this.

Once the files are on your computer, you will need to load them into a video editing application program. Just as with cameras, there is a wide range of video editing software available out there. You can get some program for free, while some can be quite pricey. When I started creating videos, I used Windows Moviemaker to edit my videos. It came for free on my computer and it worked pretty well for basic video editing. Basic editing is all that you will need for the purpose of making these visualization videos. Probably the biggest consideration is to understand what file formats your camera uses, as you want your editing software to be capable of reading that format directly. Here is a list of the top 5 free video editing software programs. http://www.desktop-video-guide.com/top-5-free-video-editing-software-review.html

One of the most time consuming parts of working with video is converting video data from one format to another. Minimizing these conversions should be a goal. The most common formats are MPG, MP4 and AVI. I have had cameras that produce MPG and MP4 formats, which are handled by most editing software. I currently tend to work in AVI format for short videos, since it has the least compression and will survive future editing better than other formats.  AVI files can be large for videos of 15 minutes or more, so I often use a free application called Handbrake. It can take large AVI files and can compress them by more than a factor of ten, with good image quality, which is very handy when uploading video files to YouTube. It takes a lot less time to upload a smaller file.

Here is what I do. My camera records HD videos in MPG file format. I use PowerDirector+ to splice and edit the videos, which I save into AVI format. My PC has a graphics card which is pretty powerful, since I make some videos that are an hour long. I use Handbrake to convert to web optimized MP4 format for big files, then I upload to my free YouTube account, which allows me to share my videos with my friends. You can upload AVI files directly to YouTube if you want. You can try it and see how long it takes with your internet connection.

Computer Hardware: For short videos of just a few minutes, which bouldering videos should be, you can get away with a basic modern laptop or desktop PC with 2Gb of ram and a dual core processor for editing without editing time being too burdensome.

Music: Once you have spliced and edited the video footage, you will want to add music. Any good video editing software will allow you to play music along with the video. The biggest challenge with music is copyrights. Most commercial music is protected by copyright, and use for anything beyond listening is forbidden and protected by law. If you plan on using copyrighted music with your videos, you can probably get away with creating these videos if you plan on keeping the video files only on your hard drive and not sharing them. I’m not a lawyer, but I think this is even legal. As soon as you want to share your video with someone, especially on the internet, you have to be very careful. What I suggest is using a source of music that is totally free. The only catch is that you have to acknowledge the artist in your video. Here is the link where you can find tons of background tracks from Kevin MacCleod. http://incompetech.com/m/c/royalty-free/ You can use it, just give Kevin credit. I usually add some text at the end of my videos which says “music by Kevin MacCleod.”

I hope that this information will help you get started if you want to use video for visualization, or if you just want to try your hand at making videos. If you have any questions, please ask in the comment section of this post.

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