It is probably every climber’s goal to get better at climbing, be it you’re doing it just for fun, as a socialization, or as a profession. Due to the nature of climbing, it encompasses literally every part of your body to work out ‒ including your mind. All in all, in order to improve yourself and be a better climber, it boils down to three main components that you need to work on.
Keep in mind that climbing is a sport, and just as any other sport, it can keep you fit if you do it diligently. But in order to really get better in it, there is no doubt that you should also improve your own fitness level. If you intend to go far into the sport, it is definitely going to be very physically demanding.
Getting in better shape could be your first steps to start with. It should also be an on-going thing, at least until a certain goal that you may have set for yourself. Unless you’re blessed with an extremely efficient metabolism, most people would have some extra kilos to shed off. Some trainers recommend running as the go-to cardio exercise to lose weight; while some may prefer this advice, it is usually regarded as a chore ‒ not to mention, rather ineffective. Most of your running sessions will probably burn you less calories than you think it did, because, heck, it felt so tiring! If you’re looking at running for weight loss and want to be as effective as possible, try HIIT. So, what if running is not your thing? There are many other ways to get that cardio going. Some climbers, wanting to stay in pace, would prefer cycling, swimming, or even plyometric exercises to running.
Your body’s physical strength is also crucial to make yourself a better climber. Although some may argue that strength is not everything ‒ most of us would have seen a gym junkie or two struggling to get up easy climbs ‒ it is worth noting that to complete most of the harder climbs eventually requires you to be strong enough for it. Every part of your body. Some experts suggest that the fastest way to improve is to focus on finger strength training ‒ particularly with finger boards and stuff. While others suggest that you should not focus too much on fingers in your first 1 to 2 years of climbing lest getting yourself injured too easily (this is particularly noteworthy since a bad injury can easily take you months, or even years, off the sport). Yet some focuses chiefly on core training. Every one has a different body and, most of the time, different training benefits people differently. There are plenty of training and exercises (that other climbers and experts has formulated) available online and you may refer to some of those below. In particular, we suggest taking a look at this article by Jonathan Siegrist, which suggests that you can improve simply by climbing; even with its limits, most climbers should be able to benefit from this.
So if you think you’re in a good shape and pretty strong yourself, what about your stamina? Does your endurance has what it takes to complete a 30-metre long route?
Getting yourself to last longer on the wall so that you can continuously pull off those strenuous and powerful moves for your project? It’s probably going to take some training. If you have finally managed to get yourself through that series of hard moves in your project, the goal is then to complete the climb. Learning how to rest and overcome the pump after the crux is also key to completing a climb.
The general idea here is have a balanced body, being fit, strong, and sustainable at that. But that’s not all you need to become better; achieving this would somewhat give yourself a third of the pillars leading to your apex.
You have probably heard from another climber, could be a stranger, could be your mentor, that you shouldn’t be pulling so much with your arms and should be using the power from your legs more. That is definitely true and just a teeny-weeny, yet fundamental, part of all the techniques you will be employing over your climbing career.
There are many techniques and moves that you will eventually be required to do, rather than simply holding on to lovely jugs (generally big holds where you can grip on easily) and standing up with your legs. As beginners progress through their easy climbs, there will be moments in which they are astounded by what has to be done to get through a move. That is where one begins analyzing the moves, where should their feet be stepping on, which hand should go to the next hold, etc.
One of the objectives of climbing, that would be agreed by most climbers, is to finish your climbs as efficiently as possible. Meaning, you should be doing only what is required, and just enough to get yourself through and up. Improving on your techniques would allow you to climb more efficiently and better. That is however not all to it, too.
Here are some ways you may try to work on techniques, and remember that there’s no shortcut to it.
You may have seen another climber doing a move quite effortlessly, yet you struggle with every ounce of your energy to make that same move, why is that so? For most climbs, each climber’s height and ape index can result in them performing very different beta. That is where each climber’s creativity kicks in. Climber A prefers just jumping off (slightly) to reach the next hand hold? Climber B, being in a shorter stature, would have to get their feet on higher footholds (a feat that would be challenging for Climber A) before reaching the next hand hold. Every climber would have a preference for their own beta, climbing more frequently and on bigger variety of routes exposes yourself to different problems that you have to overcome, at the same time it can possibly make you unlock new moves and techniques (that you didn’t know) you can actually do! Bagging more completed climbs (obviously) gives yourself more experience in climbing, and that in turn would let you improve on your own creativity, coming up with different solutions for possibly new problems.
Another important aspect to having great arsenal of techniques and analyze when to use which technique, is going to be your judgement. If you know that your next move is going to be a big deadpoint move, your judgement gets instigated and calculates (either precisely or… imprecisely) how much power you need, how high should you step or smear, where should your hand land on the hold, etc. Great judgement makes precise moves, precise moves saves you energy, and having sufficient energy left goes a long way. It is no doubt this ability comes purely from experience. Surely you may watch videos or read advice on doing big moves, it is still only your own practices that hone your judgement.
Having exceptional techniques, knowing how, what, and when to use, coupled with an accurate gauge of your body movements form up the second pillar to becoming the better you as a climber.
Have you ever hesitated doing a move even though it doesn’t seem too difficult, or too big a move? It might just be your own confidence (or lack thereof) hindering and holding you back. It could possibly also be a combined force from your rationality that’s always telling you, “What if you fall off this move? You might get scraped bad, or worse, fracture a bone or two!” That itself is probably enough to hold you back until you regain your confidence.
Some might be afraid of the falling sensation itself, and hence lowering their confidence to make any sketchy moves. Like many other things in life, you need a certain amount of confidence to get yourself to do them. You can probably start off by really trusting your belayer, stick with those few belayers that you know whom will not belittle their role of a belayer. If falling is your huge mental barrier, try taking small steps to “condition” yourself to that sensation. A form of cognitive behaviour therapy, the exposure therapy, is what many therapists utilize to help people overcome phobias. The therapy works in the form of a systematic exposure of fear-triggering events or objects starting with very small amounts. If this has helped countless patients overcome anxiety and phobias, it can definitely help you overcome the fear of falling ‒ during climbs.
One of the Big Five personality traits, which is also an important factor that determines how well you are as a climber, is conscientiousness. It can be described as your self-discipline, tendency to act dutifully, and aim for achievement. Put it in climbing terms, it would be a rough gauge of how much you wish to perform better, how much effort you would put in to achieve that, and how disciplined are you to maintain your training regime and focus on achieving your goals.
A gelled component between conscientiousness and confidence would be how much you believe in yourself that you can perform a certain task ‒ especially so if you’re female. There are scientific studies that shown that men, though they too doubt themselves, do not dwell over their self-doubt as much as women do, and they are less likely to affect their performance. It is also found that women are more susceptible to be affected by stereotype threat, and that may really result in poorer performance. This article by Charlotte Austin notes that even the way women receives praise makes an impact on their ability to improve. So, even the way you think of yourself is going to impact how good as a climber you are going to be.
The last part of the psychological component is your rationality. As mentioned briefly earlier, it’s going to be your very own “devil’s advocate”, constantly reminding you of the consequences and questioning you if it is all worth it. If you have ever come across such situations, where you’ve been questioning yourself if you can do a certain move or complete a certain route, and whether it is worth trying, it’s all your rationality’s work. If you’re very close to completing that project in mind, and you know that any risks involved are negligible or under control, and you know that this achievement would be a milestone for you, you might very well just spend every conscious effort trying to complete it.
Psychological barriers can be the toughest hurdles for one to overcome, because “it’s all in the mind.” Overcoming them is like battling yourself; it may not be easy, it’ll entail audacity, but it can certainly be done. That generally sums up the third pillar to be a better climber.
Reaching Your Apex
How should you work towards your apex? First, climb more, especially with friends. Even better if you think your friends are better at climbing than you are. Next, get their honest critiques on your climbing, the more critiques from different friends the better. Try generalizing them and get an overview of yourself. Do you agree with them? Plan on what you can do to improve. Was it your technique that needs refinement? Or was it simply a matter of strength? Constantly work on them and check with your friends again.
Yet again, remember that there are no real shortcuts. Set goals and strive to meet them. Most importantly, remember to have fun and enjoy the process of it. Never let it become a chore.
Every one is unique. Everybody has a different apex for themselves, but how far away are you from yours?