So many climbers wish they were better, but they don’t actually act on it. Our culture reinforces the notion that it’s talent and some mysterious predispositions that get people up the ranks in whatever they do. We celebrate outcomes, yet we don’t celebrate the process. The work that is put in remains hidden, creating an illusion that champions are born. However, research actually proves that it’s consistency and repetition that breed success. Not everyone can be Shauna Coxsey, but everyone can be more like Shauna Coxsey by putting in the hours.
Of course, starting on the path to improvement is scary because, yes, there’s that terrible possibility there, you could fail. I wholeheartedly recommend this video explaining the concept of a ‘growth mindset’ to rid yourself of that fear (better yet, read the book).
Once you’re ready to take the risk, the six steps below might help you get going. I’m not a coach, but I can at least share with you what helped me.
1) Make the decision that you want to improve your climbing
It seems obvious, but without that first step, it’s unlikely you will achieve much.
Ask yourself what it is that you really want from climbing, because not everybody is motivated by progress. For you, it might be being outdoors in a beautiful setting, having a good time in the gym with friends, losing weight through exercise, challenging yourself on scary lines – whatever floats your boat, and that’s fine. But if you want to climb harder and better, make a conscious decision that this is what you’re going to pursue and go after it.
2) Identify your weaknesses
Not everybody has to get stronger to get better at climbing. It is possible you can climb a few grades harder just by improving your technique. I personally suck at technique, even though I might know all the principles, so I use every opportunity to learn from others.
Record yourself on a climb and compare your movement to the movement of somebody with a similar body type on the same route or problem. By doing that on my recent project, I realised that despite executing the same beta as my friend, I was moving completely differently. I was slower and moving with less confidence (rigid body, adjusting after every move). Just by trying to emulate my friend’s fluid motion I achieved instant progress!
However, it’s likely that you have more than one weakness. Fingers? Flexibility? Dynamic movement? Ask your climbing partners to tell you what they think and map the areas that need addressing.
3) Build an athlete’s body
If you’re not a pro, chances are that your general fitness is not great. (Yes, you might be the fittest in your office, but instead of comparing yourself to couch potatoes, compare yourself to Alex Puccio. Still think you’re fit?)
Train your whole body, because a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link. For me, circuit training is the most effective.
A brief outline of an example gym session is included below.
4) Make a schedule
Now that you’re committed and you know what needs improving, you need a plan. Write it down and follow it. In the training period, you will get super tired and you won’t feel stronger. It’s likely you will feel broken but as long as you train wisely, the chances of injury are low. The goal is to emerge fitter and stronger AFTER the training period.
Your schedule should likely include climbing, gym sessions, fingerboarding, campusing, active rests and total rests. Climbing should also be structured – none of that pottering around the wall! An example session is also included below.
Vary the plan, so that your body has a chance to recover between training, but don’t go easy on yourself. If you’re fingerboarding in the morning, there’s nothing stopping you from lifting in the evening!
5) Get any help you can
Training is a science. Talk to your super strong friends and ask how they train. Contact a climbing coach and work with them for some time, or better yet, all the time. (I followed a training plan by Aleks Taistra and I continually seek her advice. Whenever I can, I get a one to one coaching session.) If you have a plan tailor made for you online, you can then ask a friend to ‘coach’ you through the sessions.
Find somebody who can help you hone your technique. If you can, invest in a coaching session outdoors, or do a skill swap. There might be an 8C wizard slab climber out there who wants to learn French or guitar!
Get any help you can. I’m recently experimenting with Feldenkreis method which is designed at building greater body awareness and is used by many professional athletes.
6) Be relentless
There are so many facets to improving as a climber, it’s easy to get lost and not be consistent. That’s why you need a plan and that’s why you need to follow it religiously. It will include getting enough sleep (your need for sleep will increase as you increase you training load), eating healthily and, in general, adjusting your life to your climbing goals.
Nothing happens overnight. Be patient and you will be rewarded! And, if you’re the type of person who just loves to push yourself, the process will be a reward too!
It feels amazing to know that you’re in total control of how good a climber you are. Incredible things can be achieved with just time and motivation.
Example gym session:
WARM UP: mobilisation / resistance band exercises / raising your pulse
PART 1: 2 x 6 exercises with free weights (15 reps each) + crunches + squats + 1min of skipping
rope (1min rest)
PART 2: 4 x 6 exercises with increased resistance (10 reps) + crunches + squat jumps + skipping
(compose the circuit so that you don’t work the same groups of muscle in succession: e.g.. divide tricep intensive exercise with skipping or crunches, etc.)
COOL DOWN: energetic walk or stationary bike + stretching
Example climbing session:
WARM UP: as above
TRAVERSE: continually for 5min on easy ground
EASY BOULDERS: climb easy, 5-7 moves blocs whiteout stopping for 20 minutes – no resting!
BIG MOVES: big moves blocs for 15 minutes – no resting!
HARD BOULDERS: climb hard boulders (up to 3-5 attempts to complete) for 45 minutes. Rest up to a minute between problems and use that time to make up new ones
EASY BOULDERS: push through and climb without stopping for another 15 minutes
CONDITIONING: crunches! push ups! squat jumps! skipping! planking! 10 minutes high intensity training, no rests!
STRETCH gently for 10 minutes
The above examples work for me and are a result of the advice I got of my coach and my own tinkering. Everybody is different and will respond to different stimuli. If you can, work with a professional to achieve best results or do a thorough research yourself to create a perfect training plan. Always listen to your body. I also highly recommend consulting a physiotherapist before you start shock loading your body with an insane training schedule – no serious coach will build you a plan either without knowing you’re good to go.