The proliferation of climbing gyms has rapidly changed the climbing sport scene. Now, people who otherwise would be too scared to try rock climbing are flocking to gyms. As a result, the sport is growing at an exponential rate. People are progressing from easy 5.7 grade climbs to more difficult 5.10+ climbs at an unprecedented speed. Gyms make climbing a spectator sport where people go to see and be seen. There are simple things that you can do to improve your climbing ability, at any level. In this article, I will discuss tips for climbing better through movement, technique, mentality, and training.
The abundance of strong climbers can be daunting to the beginner. It is important not to become discouraged by comparing your climbing level to those who have been climbing longer. Remember not to put yourself down. For example, don’t tell yourself that you are a slow climber. Instead, say that you are climbing slowly. See the difference? You have the potential to learn from your mistakes and, in time, become an amazing climber. Learning and development is the journey, and you must accept that you will improve over time. Instead, try to learn from the other climbers by watching their movement. Where are their feet when they climb? How do they shift their body weight? Do they look relaxed or strained? Are their movements deliberate?
Let’s talk about the mental state of climbing. This is often overlooked by people when they are learning to climb. You must not try to rush through a route too quickly. Remember to relax. The best climbers do not try to defeat their route. Instead, they observe the climb, and work with it. Their body flows effortlessly through the moves, and they appear relaxed. Your goal should be to climb as smoothly as possible, not to merely finish the climb. Above all else, you must remember to breathe. Breathing relaxes you and provides vital oxygen to the body. It also helps disperse lactic acid build up in your muscles. Many beginners hold their breath while climbing. This almost always results in them becoming stressed and exhausted.
Observe the climb before you begin. Picture yourself successfully progressing through each of the moves. Have a positive attitude, and tell yourself that you can succeed. Take a few deep breaths before you begin the climb. When you are on the wall, let your mind go blank. It is easier to get into the zone of climbing when you are not thinking about failure, or who is watching you. One of the wonderful aspects of climbing is the freedom that you can feel on the wall. You are leaving your problems behind on the ground. While you climb, focus on your movement. While climbing, focus on the present. Don’t worry about the moves to come. Instead, focus on the next two moves. Climbers often speak of their 8-foot bubble of awareness. They don’t think about how high they are. They are conscious only of the task at hand.
When you fall off of a route, do not get discouraged. Through falling, you will learn how to climb better. Also, holding your muscles until they cannot grip anymore is the best way to gain muscle endurance. Consider your falls a stepping stone to success and better ability. Even the best climbers have “high gravity days”.
Climb at your level. Although it is fun to attempt climbs that are difficult for you, it is best to climb mostly within your level. Know what you can climb and focus instead on your movement. When you are climbing outside of your ability, you will make more desperate moves and you will not be working on technique. Do not over-reach or use too much energy. Make every move deliberate. Work on shifting your weight.
Remember to always warm up on easier climbs before attempting harder ones. Warming up is better for your body, and it will allow you to climb stronger longer. I can climb 5.11s in the gym, but I always start with 5.8s and 5.9s. I once made the mistake of climbing a 5.12+ without warming up after taking 2 weeks off of climbing. My arms pumped out extremely fast, and I could not climb at any level for the rest of the night.
Accept that you will be sore after climbing. People who climb a lot are often sore after climbing hard. Also, you must take breaks from climbing. Climbing hard everyday increases your risk of injury. I have heard many horror stories of people of climbed hard too many days in a row, and ended up hurting their hands. Rehabilitation can take months, and it is not worth the risk. Besides, your muscles rebuild and grow during the time that you are resting. When you come back to climbing, you will feel stronger and more capable.
Remember to keep your balance while climbing. This is vital to your success. Notice how it feels to shift your weight from your hands to your feet. Instead of relying on your hands to pull yourself up from hold to hold, use your feet. Good climbing is achieved mostly through your footwork. Instead of straining yourself to reach the next hold, notice how shifting your feet even just a few inches can give you the extra height you need. Even when you do not have a better foot hold, you can “smear” your climbing shoe on the wall itself. This is achieved by pushing your foot against the wall and pressing down and stepping up. You will be surprised by how well your shoe can stick to the wall.
Take breaks while you climb. You will find yourself at rest spots on a route that feel more secure. Get comfortable, shake out your hands, and breathe. You can even sit in your harness if you like. Clap your hands to increase blood circulation.
Remember to use your skeletal system when you climb. Instead of flexing your arms needlessly, you can lean back and extend your arms out straight. Your skeleton can handle your weight without pumping out your arms. This is a secret that many climbers do not know. Try it out next time you are climbing.
I suggest both bouldering and top roping every time you go to the gym, even if you prefer one style. Bouldering with give you practice with weight shifting and power moves, and tall wall roped climbing will give you vital endurance. It is important to train in all parts of climbing.
Finally, once you are feeling confidant about climbing, you can teach others what you now know. By teaching, you are solidifying what you understand about the mental and physical aspects of climbing. It’s fun to climb with others, so find yourself some climbing partners, and get to it. With a little persistence, you will become a better climber.
For more information of climbing tips and techniques, feel free to email me via my websites.