Why climb at all?
Through 10 years of personal climbing development and watching others, I have experienced the utter joy brought to people through all aspects of climbing. It is not just a sport but a way of life for many, and that same spark also appears in complete beginners, who light up when they achieve a mentally taxing, physically tiring and technical challenge for the first time.
I believe climbing is one of the most exciting, rewarding and prominent sports for overall personal development. This is due to its unique complexity and equal split of psychological, physical and technical components.
Psychological, physical and technical aspects of climbing are all equally important and should (if you wish to improve at climbing), be treated as equals in a training programme or during climbing sessions. This is a fact that is dramatically overlooked in the climbing world, as strength appears to be the overriding force! My coaching is therefore based around an understanding of these areas and their individual influences upon each client.
One’s climbing performance should be analysed to see which area of the pie chart contains the greatest weaknesses. It is often the case that some climbers believe they are not strong enough and that this is the primary reason they are not achieving their climbing goals. It is very rare that this is the case – technique and/or mental aspects are often the culprit.
Without that niggle in the back of your mind telling you that you can’t do it, or without the fear of committing to that daunting move above the clip, you could almost certainly climb grades harder than you believe. Being able to do a front leaver or one arm pull up is never going to get you over these mental barriers, thus your weak link will always hold you back.
Technique is so important in climbing and finding the most efficient way to achieve a move should be the primary goal. Not only does it look more elegant and skilful, by utilising good technique you’re less at risk of getting injured and it means you can climb harder for longer! This is where my ‘I’d rather Be Climbing’ theory comes into play. Since I have developed the mental and technical aspects of my climbing, I have been able to climb for longer (and more consistently), I have suffered fewer injuries and can do more consecutive moves before I’m spent. I don’t know about you guys, but I would always rather be climbing than hanging on a training board!
Some people love training, and the campus board or finger board is their best friend. Don’t get me wrong, proper strength and endurance training is important, but primarily for those very top-end climbers who have developed sufficient technical and mental skills through years of climbing on a variety of rock types and terrain. If you are relatively inexperienced and your training is focused on a system board, you are limiting yourself to just one third of the pie chart. I’m not saying we shouldn’t train for strength, as it is still a third of the pie, but it must be seen as a supplement to climbing; technical and mental training must also be attended to. Keep in mind that training to get stronger when you lack technique and mental strength, is as useful as a tennis player training to hit his serve harder and faster when he can’t yet hit a successful back hand.
‘You are only as strong as your weakest link!’
Your physical makeup will determine whether you are naturally more technical in ability or strength-based. Flexibility, self-awareness, slow/fast-twitch muscle fibres and weight etc., all play a part. For example, some incredibly successful female climbers might struggle to do a pull up, but owing to exceptional flexibility, balance and coordination, their technique has enabled them to achieve routes that some ‘muscle men’ wouldn’t dream of trying!
Now, you may be thinking, I’ve seen your one-armer challenge blog … how come you have just set yourself a strength based challenge then Be?! Let me explain! This challenge is just a bit of fun, but it did initially stem from an analysis of my performance, which highlighted static lock-off strength as a weakness of mine. I set myself the one-armer challenge as I knew this ambitious goal would force me to develop solid lock-off strength and commitment in order to achieve it. I spend barely 10 minutes after each session (in which I enjoy climbing for hours, tackling projects at my limit, naturally working strength, technique and mental aspects throughout) working one-armers through controlled lock offs and eccentric lower offs. This does, however, have to be supplemented with a good half an hour of antagonistic training to prevent elbow injuries. Even if you’re not training hard, antagonistic exercises should form part of everyone’s climbing sessions in order to prevent injury and even out your push/pull muscles (see my blog for more on the one-armer challenge).
When we climb we get the overall picture, a slice of each section of the pie. We get stronger, we become more technical and we increase our mental capacity. This happens because, in every new move we try, our brains are unlocking the puzzle the route setter or natural rock formation has created, thus developing movement patterns and muscle memory that we can call upon for future moves, whether it be trying and achieving a route we didn’t think we could do, or committing to a scary move above our clip. So the bottom line is that the best way to train for climbing is to climb. This has been said so many times and I hope that this theory continues to be shared.
This all sounds very simple … all I have to do is climb … yes, but you have to try, really hard! You must be pushing your limits in all three portions of the pie chart, because if you’re not setting your goals high enough in any one of these areas, that area will continue to be your weakness. To get better at climbing you have to really want it because it is hard, it is complicated, it is frustrating, and intricate in so many ways that still amaze and excite me. Every day I climb and coach and I continue to learn something new.
This is where the benefits of having a coach come in to play, having someone who can see your weaknesses, see where you’re not trying hard enough and motivate you to reach your full potential.
I have developed training programmes and climbing drills for all ability levels. The same theory can be applied (and works) for complete beginners to top climbers. I use the same drills on the youth team I coach, which consists of some of the greatest young talent in the country, as I use on beginner climbers. The principle is the same, how hard I push them and the goals I set them is the difference. This means that ‘Be Climbing’ training and fitness courses are not just for climbers. I strongly believe climbing is one of the most effective ways of increasing overall muscle tone and fitness whilst having fun and increasing self-belief and confidence. So if you’re not a fan of the gym and running bores you, then maybe climbing is the physical, mental and social activity for you 🙂
If you want to find out how Be Climbing coaching can help fix your weakest link call me on: 07846089922, email: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit: www.beclimbing.co.uk