8 TOP TIPS TO IMPROVE YOUR CLIMBING
Training tips for rock climbers are becoming increasingly sophisticated and effective, and whether you are leading at F8c+ or are a complete beginner, a bit of routine and direction to your training can be an excellent way to improve your technique, strength and gain a psychological edge.
So we picked some useful climbing training tips to help you move through the grades with confidence. But please note; climbing is a sport that involves a number of inherent risks, so you need to take responsibility for your own safety.
1. GET USED TO FALLING
When you’re leading you need to be completely focused on the climb. You only have so much space in your head and if you are thinking about falling then you’re not thinking about your grip, body position, foot placement or any other number of important things. Ironically, a fear of falling can actually increase your chances of doing so.
Getting over this natural barrier does take dedication but the solution is actually incredibly simple; all it takes is a little practice.
Practicing falling is all about desensitisation. Start indoors on a piece of wall with a slight overhang, as this will help you fall into space. From a safe height, but still below the highest point of your rope, take a few gentle falls on lead. Repeat the process; each time climbing a bit higher until eventually you’re taking falls from above the quickdraw. Every time you are at the wall you need to drill this into your session.
2. CASUAL CLIMBING VERSUS 80% BOULDERING
Although climbing is often all about leading, this doesn’t mean all you should do is route climb. Bouldering is a more efficient way to improve strength as it is often made up of the hardest moves you will find on any sport route. Therefore try to make bouldering around 80% of your training.
Bouldering forces you to climb with maximum effort and will lead to faster gains than route climbing alone. So if you’re climbing four times a week, do three sessions of bouldering and one route climbing. If you only climb once a week focus on bouldering for a few weeks then route climb for the last week in the month.
3. GET SPECIFIC
Too many people climb with no particular aim or goal in mind. They turn up to the same wall once a week, do the same ten routes they have done for the last six weeks and wonder why they don’t improve.
Split your training into phases of between one and three months and decide whether you want to focus on strength or stamina. If it’s strength, your training should be high intensity and low volume, pick one or two boulder problems to focus on that are at your limit and spend the session just working these.
If you are focusing on stamina then do the opposite, low intensity high volume. Choose thirty problems you can easily do, give yourself one minute to do each problem and at the end of thirty minutes have five minutes rest then repeat this three-four times.
4. NOT ALL CLIMBING TRAINING INVOLVES CLIMBING
Finish every session by doing some other exercises like push ups, pull ups and core exercises. Antagonist training (working the opposite muscles) helps with injury prevention, whilst moves like chin ups will make you stronger.
The problem with just climbing is every move you do is slightly different so it’s very difficult to isolate one muscle group. Repeating a move like a chin up focuses on that group and will have far greater affect.
5. FINGERBOARDS, HANG BOARDS AND CAMPUS BOARDS
For some these training tools are a valuable and effective means of improving finger strength. But for the majority, they should be treated with extreme caution. When used incorrectly, campus boards in particular can cause injury to elbows and pulleys; leading to further problems later on. As a general rule climbers under the age of 21 should try to stay clear as well as anyone who has done less than four years of regular climbing. Tendons are easily damaged and the dangers of this type of training far outweigh the gains.
If however, you are an experienced, regular climber and are looking to supplement your training, it is possible to make improvements with these methods. The keyword here is supplement. Generally speaking however, the best way to improve finger strength is simply by climbing. The more you train, the more you understand that climbing is as much about technique and experience as it is about strength.
6. WARM UP AND WARM DOWN
So many people don’t do any sort of warm up and even fewer people stretch after. Your warm up should have three phases; firstly something to get the blood pumping, like jogging on the spot. Then dynamic moves like arm circles, shoulder rolls and leg swings; which stretch and warm up the joints. The final phase is easy climbing. For this it’s all about really easy climbs, just moving on the wall.
You should finish each session with fifteen minutes of antagonist exercise and stretching. This decreases the chance of injury and reduces muscle soreness.
7. GET LESSONS WHENEVER YOU CAN
Most modern climbing centres will have qualified coaches and even if you have been climbing for a very long time, it may still be beneficial to iron out any bad habits with the help of a trained professional.
A coach may spot a mistake in your technique or give you a fresh approach to your training, but the important thing here is to make sure your coach can actually do what they are telling you to do. If you’re looking to break F7a make sure the person giving you advice can actually climb at this level or above.
8. BE POSITIVE. NO EXCUSES
“That route wasn’t my style”, “I’m too short”, “I’m too tall”, “there’s a lot of gravity here today”, these are all excuses I’ve heard before. But one thing that is always better than an excuse, is a change of mind-set. Stop focusing on the negative. Instead of thinking “I fell off the route so I failed”; think of this as a positive learning experience, instead saying; “I did not fail. I am climbing harder than my body can deal with and this is the only way I’m going to improve”.
The truth is that in order to truly improve, all you have to do is apply some dedication. First look at your life and decide on a realistic amount of sessions for the week. If you have full time job, marriage, children, other hobbies and social life are you really going to be able to train twice a day? Perhaps not. Instead, decide what you can reasonably achieve with the time you have and then just turn up.
Feeling under the weather but you still went to work? Just turn up. Had a stressful week? Just turn up. If your climbing partner bails, just turn up. There will be other people there or even just go bouldering.
You can’t improve if you’re not there. JUST TURN UP.
Si Lincoln is a member of Cotswold Outdoor staff, and dedicated climber. Currently leading at 8a as well as recently sending a Font 7a+ bouldering problem, Si is a regular member of the Cotswold Outdoor Competition team. Placed in the top 10 in the Southern Indoor Bouldering League (SIBL) as well as competing in the BlokFest series across various walls in the south of the country, Si spends his free time climbing in Swanage or Portland, specialises in single pitch sport routes and is already looking at projecting his first 8b.