Pss-AT and Kihap: Thoughts on #tryhard sounds

10623799_10153113659509402_7585605666943891986_oI would totes be "unnh"-ing. Photo cred to Mackenzie Taylor Photography

What is your favorite grunt?

Mine is “Tss-AH!” You know the one.

I don’t know why, but I love it. Unfortunately my own exclamations completely lack the Tss-AH cool factor, ranging in sound from the cry of a child stubbing her toe to that of a wounded rhino. In fact, I have been working to rarefy the Sarah Anne Crag Roar. Still, I consider myself pretty pro-grunt.

Some totally non-scientific speculation on grunting, based soley on my own experiences

I’m not sure when I first grunted. It was probably last spring, and I was probably leading, and I was probably really freakin’ scared.

I have found that I am most inclined to grunt — or shout, or squeak — when I have to “just go for it” on lead. Basically, if a dynamic move requires me to take an arm and a leg off a face simultaneously, and I am more than 10 feet off the ground, there is at least a 50 percent chance that my belayer will hear my voice. It is probably higher than that, to be honest. I know, I know, I’m working on it.

But until I conquer The Fear, there is something about that moment of “AHH!” that clears my mind for just a moment. For the duration of the grunt, I am able to forget my internal terror and make the move. I don’t know why this works, but I’m glad it does!

Then there is the more obvious impetus for The Grunt: the try hards. Last night, I was working something on the S wall, the most overhanging section of our gym. I never climb over there. Well, now I do, because I’ve decided to get good at roofs. Anyway, this problem consists of 12 biggish moves between big holds that start on a steep roof and end on a face. As it rises up the wall, it winds from right to left and then back.

After spending two sessions working the thing in halves and losing steam midway on every send attempt, I decided to give it one more go. This time, I did the first sequence as fast as possible, but I still felt gassed at move number six, the biggest and most dynamic of the climb. There was nothing I could change about my hands or feet to make the move go, but I desperately wanted it to. The result of my physical and mental exertion? I grunted. Loudly. And stuck the move! Then I let out another “AHH!,” then another, then this horrible strangled shout, then a desperate squeak. I fell two moves from the end, but it was my best burn of the week by five moves, and the only thing I changed was that #gruntbeta.

Sometimes I worry about being too loud — last night, for instance, I came down super red and was all mumbly like, “Sorry, sorry, that was embarrassing, yeah, sorry.” I was hyperaware of onlookers because after I started vocalizing on the wall I suddenly had twice as many cheerleaders. But their verbal encouragement definitely contributed to my mental stamina, so no regrets? And honestly, nobody seemed to mind my noises. Obviously we should not be rude in the level and frequency of our cries, but in my (albeit limited) experience, silent rock warriors and impassioned grunters alike are pretty accepting of the occasional tss-AHH, pss-AT, and tiny toe-stub squeak.

Sometimes I think grunting may be a waste of physical energy, but the mental benefits might be worth the tradeoff, at least at this point in my climbing progress. I really believe that when I’m scared out of my mind or am starting to doubt my body, a good old-fashioned “HNNH!” keeps me moving. Still, I've been working to transition to a rapid exhale, which is quieter and probably kinder on my lungs.

10838126_10153047772134402_6841461741148755232_o Breeeeathe. Photo cred to Mackenzie Taylor Photography

I know some climbers are down on The Grunt. It’s sometimes portrayed as something guys do to impress girls (gag), or as something you have to be “strong” to get away with. Still, I think for many of us it honestly feels like the difference between sending and not. It may be totally mental, but there it is. As for strength, well, one man’s V11 is another man’s V5.

Grunting also seems akin to swearing, and (occasional) swearing has been proved by SCIENCE to increase pain tolerance! Climbers can always use more of that.

In fact, in Taekwondo there is even a special term for the force that leads practitioners to shout during their practice: kihap. Evan told me about it just now, and I found a little info on the Taekwondo Wiki:

The word ki ( 기 ) more closely translates as spiritual energy. It is similar to the Chinese term chi (also spelled qi). The word hap ( 합 ) translates as to gather and focus (or to synthesize, or to sum in total). So kihap means to gather and focus one's spirtual [sic] energy. The "shout" is considered to be the result of this focusing, not the cause.

Neat! Taekwondo blogger Ørjan Nilsen explains in more detail how kihap contributes to "maximum power generation," something pretty relevant to climbing:

The shout is not the Kihap rather it is a consequence of Kihap. You should abruptly focus your abdomen and core muscles forcing the breath out to generate maximum power (this is of course linked with the other factors of power, body weight, hips etc). The sound is a consequence of Kihap and it comes automaticly. The Kihap shout should be loud and short as it is a method to generate maximum power.


So as long as we're not AHH-ing to excess — that is, detracting from other climbers’ experiences, driving animals from their homes, or drowning the sound of our belayer’s voice in a full-on whale song — we can prolly keep on gruntin’ on.

Where are you on the Ondra spectrum? What's your favorite (or most hated) try hard sound? Leave your thoughts in the comments!