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Rock climbing is hard. You are physically working hard while figuring out a puzzle. And that doesn’t even count the technical safety skills you need to practice. For a beginner, it can seem like the things you need to remember are never-ending. Like learning music, in the beginning, it seems daunting but in time you will be amazed by how much knowledge you have internalized and can just do without thinking.
When I’m working with new climbers these are some of my top tips to help them improve their climbing.
Remember to Breathe
When working hard people have a tendency to tense up and hold their breath. This is something that plagues both new and veteran climbers. When working hard the demand for oxygen increases so reflexively holding your breath will have a negative effect on your performance. Give those hard-working muscles the oxygen they need.
When climbing through a hard section, I’m always reminding myself to breathe. Consciously focus on your breathing when you are working hard to overcome the habit of holding your breath when you are exerting a lot of tension.
When you get to a spot on a climb where you can rest and shake out, focus on deep breathing with a focus on hard exhales to help oxygenate your blood for the next hard section.
Slow is Smooth and Smooth is Fast
To improve your technique and reduce your chance of injury, you should spend up to 80 percent of your climbing time doing routes or problems well within your ability. When you are climbing something slightly challenging but you know you can do, you can focus on your movement. Taking time to climb slowly and smoothly will improve your technique so when you need to move quickly you will be much more efficient. It takes time to build the coordination for a big dynamic move. It is lots of practice getting all the body parts working as a unit that allows you to progress to big movements. Practicing keeping body tension, foot pressure, and gripping the hold correctly are much easier to put together slowly at first.
Learn the rhythm of the dance
Each route, particularly in the gym, has a rhythm. You may have had to move your feet four times before you move your hands or have a series of hand bumps before you move your feet. When climbing outside it is the same only the holds aren’t as obvious and you may have more of a mix on a single climb. If you approach every climb like climbing a ladder you may end up missing the beta on how to move on a particular climb.
Bump Bump Bump
When you first start to climb we think of moving one hand or foot then the other. A bump is when you move your hand and then your next move is to bump the same hand to another hold. This can be useful when going to the farther hold would be too much in one go or isn’t useable from the angle you are at.
This is particularly useful when done dynamically and taking your hand off the hold statically would have you barndoor out. You would load up tension and then like a spring, let go of the hold and bump over to the next one catching yourself before you fall off.
This can be very useful with your feet as well. Moving your foot to an intermediate foothold and then moving that same foot again either to a higher or wider placement is often easier done in two movements rather than one big one.
Look at the toes of your shoes. If they are what wear out first on your climbing shoes then you need to work on your footwork. The big culprit is not accurately placing your foot but instead hitting the hold and dragging your food down to get your foot on the wall. One of the easiest ways to do this is trying to make no sound when placing your feet. Be quiet and accurate like a ninja.
Resting is Progressing
If you are new to climbing and have become obsessed then one of the risks you run is overtraining. Muscles recover well but tendons and ligaments take longer to heal from a load so if your fingers are always aching and sore, take this as a cue to get more rest. Adjust your training so some days are lots of moderate climbs working on technique and endurance giving the hard crimping routes a break. For new climbers, I would suggest only 1 or 2 hard sessions a week with the rest focused on technique and endurance.
Strong is the new sexy
For a new climber, progress comes easily with nothing more than climbing regularly but that eventually, that comes to an end. Sometimes in climbing the issue is that just aren’t strong enough. This is when you need to start training for climbing not just climbing. Your sessions will have to take on a specific goal. If you have only been climbing routes then start bouldering at your limit a few times a week. Start working on your pull-ups and dips. Strengthen your core with planks and hanging leg raises. If you have been climbing regularly for at least a year consider starting a hangboard program. I recommend against hangboarding if you have less than a year as your tendons may not be strong enough and you risk injury.