The Well- Rounded Climber


In Fe­bru­ary 2016, I snatched the rest jug on Am­brosia, a 50foot V11 X high­ball on Grandpa Pe­abody at Cal­i­for­nia’s But­ter­milks. With 20 feet of air below, I col­lected my­self, know­ing that I’d climbed the phys­i­cally hard­est sec­tion but that both tech­ni­cal and men­tal chal­lenges re­mained. To fin­ish the climb, I needed to re­cruit three dif­fer­ent but com­ple­men­tary skill sets: phys­i­cal strength, tech­ni­cal move­ment, and men­tal aware­ness. I needed to be a well-rounded climber in or­der to reach the top safely. Here’s how to do so in your own climb­ing:

Up Your Strength

Be­ing strong from head to toe is a key part of climb­ing well—in our full-body sport, there’s way more to strength than be­ing able to do a lot of pull-ups, in­clud­ing ad­dress­ing any ar­eas of weak­ness. Let’s look at the dif­fer­ent com­po­nents of cul­ti­vat­ing strength.

Fin­gers: The fin­gers are your pri­mary con­nec­tion to the rock. To in­crease your abil­ity to hold on, start hang­board­ing, work­ing dif­fer­ent grip po­si­tions, and limit boul­der­ing—moves you can barely do.

Core: A strong core will help you stay tight to the wall, cre­at­ing a line of strength that keeps your hips into the wall and min­i­mizes up­per-body re­cruit­ment. I sug­gest dead­lift­ing (great for core and legs) and sus­pended core work­outs us­ing TRX straps or a pullup bar. Fo­cus­ing on over­hang­ing ter­rain and roof climb­ing will in­crease core strength as well.

Legs: Strong legs will help you launch on hard dynos and keep steady on slabs. To build the nec­es­sary mus­cles, do box jumps, dead­lifts, and weighted calf raises. Search for slab climbs with poor footholds and prac­tice dyno­ing, push­ing hard off your legs.

R & R: Fi­nally, you need to com­mit just as much to re­build­ing your body as to break­ing it down. A few point­ers:

Al­ways per­form fin­ger and cam­pus ex­er­cises fresh, at the be­gin­ning of your ses­sion, for max power and to re­duce in­jury.

For limit boul­der­ing and hard phys­i­cal ex­er­cises like dead­lift­ing, rest the day be­fore. How­ever, you can train power-en­durance your sec­ond or third day on.

Lis­ten to your body to find the best climb­ing-to-rest-day ra­tio. Some peo­ple can climb three to four days in a row, while oth­ers go day on, day off or two days on, one day off. You want to be flex­i­ble, fig­ur­ing out what feels good for your body, what works best with your sched­ule, and what you’re most likely to com­mit to.

Get Tech­ni­cal

Tech­ni­cal move­ment—the abil­ity to move in­tu­itively and well—re­quires sig­nif­i­cant prac­tice. Build­ing technique takes a con­cen­trated ef­fort over weeks, months, and years, but will pay off in the long run. A solid tech­ni­cal base re­sults in ef­fi­cient climb­ing that saves you en­ergy dur­ing your train­ing ses­sions and send burns.

In­ten­tional Prac­tice: Of­ten­times, clim­bers fo­cus solely on per­for­mance, but it’s just as im­por­tant to fo­cus on prac­tice. Be in­ten­tional and think about how you can im­prove your skills. Dur­ing your warmup and just af­ter, get on climbs below your limit. Pick a sin­gle technique like smear­ing, stem­ming, drop-knee­ing, gas­ton­ing, etc. and re­peat it as many times as pos­si­ble. This en­grains the move­ment and will al­low you to re­call it on the fly. In­stead of fo­cus­ing solely on reach­ing the top, make im­prov­ing the move­ment your goal.

New Ter­rain: The best way to im­prove is to climb on as many types of holds and ter­rain as pos­si­ble, both out­doors and in. Climb on dif­fer­ent parts of the gym’s walls, travel to dif­fer­ent gyms, and check out new boul­der­ing and climb­ing ar­eas to di­ver­sify your li­brary of moves. If you can’t travel, make sure to try new moves on the wall. Add as much va­ri­ety to your climb­ing as pos­si­ble.

Style Va­ri­ety: Hav­ing a li­brary of dif­fer­ent abil­i­ties al­lows you to prob­lem-solve more eas­ily and quickly. Try the same climb in dif­fer­ent styles: If you’re good at jump­ing, climb a prob­lem stat­i­cally; if you’re a static climber, try jump­ing. Work your weak­nesses to im­prove your technique. When get­ting on a new prob­lem, try it with-

out beta first. This will teach you your own style and help you build con­fi­dence. Fi­nally, spend time watch­ing strong clim­bers in videos, at the gym, and at the boul­ders to in­crease your aware­ness of how to move well.

Work Your Mind

Men­tal aware­ness is the abil­ity to know when to rest, when to try hard, when to climb in dif­fer­ent styles, and how to al­ter­nately el­e­vate and calm the mind for max­i­mum per­for­mance.

Breathe: While climb­ing, take mea­sured breaths, in­hal­ing through your nose and ex­hal­ing through your mouth through eas­ier sec­tions and tak­ing sharper, shorter breathes on the harder sec­tions, push­ing your breath au­di­bly out from your chest. This al­lows you to ap­ply phys­i­cal cues to var­i­ous sec­tions, al­low­ing you to con­serve en­ergy or rev it up as needed.

Reg­u­late your emo­tions: When anx­i­ety, neg­a­tiv­ity, and fear arise, ask your­self why they’re present: What ex­actly am I scared of? and

What is the worst that can hap­pen here? Once you have your an­swers and thus some un­der­stand­ing of the root cause of your fear, you can shift your mind­set. For ex­am­ple, a fall on your pro­ject isn’t a fail­ure if you learn from it. Head up in­stead with a “Let’s see what hap­pens” or “Let’s see what I fig­ure out” at­ti­tude and you’ll quickly see just how po­tent your thoughts are in reg­u­lat­ing your level of arousal.

Visu­al­ize: Be­fore get­ting on the climb, imag­ine watch­ing a video of your­self on the route, and then add a phys­i­cal el­e­ment by pan­tomim­ing us­ing the full length of your body. Close your eyes and prac­tice your breath­ing as you ex­ag­ger­ate the move­ments, throw­ing your arms and legs out, hit­ting each hold, and fo­cus­ing on where your fin­gers will land.

NINA WIL­LIAMS, a pro climber and climb­ing coach based out of Boul­der, Colorado, pushes her­self and her clients to be­come well- rounded clim­bers. When she’s not climb­ing or coach­ing, she’s hang­ing out with her pet hedge­hog, Frankie.

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