Climbing slabs is difficult for both bouldering and rock climbing. However, there are many things you can do to improve your slab climbing ability.
In addition to what you can do on the rock while you are climbing a slab, this list also includes ways that you can train and improve your slab climbing off the wall as well.
1. Relax Your Muscles
Slab climbing requires a lot of tension but this doesn’t mean that your muscles should be tense. When you are balancing movements on a slab, you may think that you need to tighten your muscles to keep them in place.
Professional balance for climbing trainers such as Pablo Scorza recommends that you relax your muscles when you are trying to balance. This will make it easier for you to maintain balance and energy throughout the climb.
If you tighten your muscles, they will not be able to compensate as well for any movement in the body. In fact, if your muscles are tight, they are more likely to overcompensate if you move slightly to the left or the right, and thus, the overcompensation will be just as bad as the original movement.
2. Palm Press With The Opposite Hand
A palm press will create tension and balance in your upper body when there aren’t any edges for your hands to use.
There are many times in slab climbing where you don’t have an edge for your hand to grip.
In these situations, with the hand that isn’t moving upward, you can point your fingers downward and press down on your palm while moving the other hand to make it easier to make the move and maintain balance.
3. Keep Your Heels Low
The lower your heels are on the rock, the more rubber on the bottom of your shoe is on the rock, thus, the more friction there is. This additional friction can be extremely helpful when there aren’t any footholds and smearing is the option.
To understand what I mean by this, consider how athletes often stretch their calves by doing a pose similar to the downward dog in yoga. The closer you can get your heel to the floor while doing that movement, the better the stretch.
In the case of climbing, the closer you can get your heel to the wall (down) the more rubber you have on the wall and the more friction you will have. Which will further prevent you from slipping.
4. Create Balance Before Making The Next Move
A lot of times climbers will attempt to get through a slab as quickly as possible and sometimes that means making moves one after the other as quickly as possible.
The problem with this is that many times your body doesn’t have time to create full balance and the next movement can be caotic or require more body strength to maintain stability.
A better way to get up the slab is to actually create balance in your body before you make the next move.
This will improve your stability and minimize the energy and muscles required for the following moves.
5. Move Your Hips Out So You Can See Where To Place Your Feet Next
Unlike overhangs, moving your hips out can be beneficial. If the slab forces your body to be in a forward position, such as a plank position, then moving your hips away from the wall can make it so that you can see your feet better and also get your heels lower for more stability in your smear.
Being able to see where your feet are going will not only improve your foot placement, it will also increase the confidence of your foot placement and increase your trust to put your entire weight on that foot.
Plus, as mentioned in the tip above (see Keep Your Heels Low), it will make it easier for you to get your heels closer to the wall, which improves the friction you have on the wall and decreases your chance of slipping.
6. Get Your Hips As Close To The Wall
If the wall is more up-right and closer to 90 degrees, then the only way you can keep your center of gravity against the wall is if you keep your hips as close to the wall as possible.
For more up-right slabs, your hips being off the wall will likely pull you off the wall causing more stress on your hands and less balance and stability.
For those situations, try and get your hips as close to the wall as possible to allow for as much weight on your feet as possible.
7. Strengthen Your Calves
If you notice that you have a difficult time with slab climbing, consider strengthening your calves. Your calves will be engaged the entire time you are climbing on a slab so the stronger they are, the better they are at helping you stay balanced and have the energy to make the next move.
In addition, your calves are the biggest muscle that moves your heel from being low to lifting up your body so calve strength can make this movement easier.
There are many calve strengthening exercises but one of the easiest and most common is called a clave raise. Using either your body weight or by holding dumbells in each hand, stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, then in one movement, engage your calves to lift your heels and go onto your toes. Then lower your heel back down to the ground. Repeat this movement for the desired reps.
8. Put As Much Weight On Your Feet As Possible
In most cases, your hands should only be used for balance and shouldn’t be used to pull your body up the route when it comes to slab climbing.
The best thing about slab climbing is how much easier it is to place your weight on your feet, which in turn, engages one of the biggest muscles in your body, the thighs. To benefit from this, however, you actually have to trust your feet and place your weight on your feet.
One way to ensure that you are using your feet as much as possible is to place your hands flat against the wall without a handhold while you make the movements. The only way you can stay balanced and get up the wall is by placing your weight in your feet.
If you are having a hard time balancing while doing this, try moving your hips to the side, closer to the wall, further away from the wall, etc. until you find the best position for your hips to be that keeps your weight over your feet.
Often times, there won’t be footholds in the places that would make the climb easier. In those cases, smearing can be very beneficial.
Using the sticky rubber on the bottom of your climbing shoes, smear your feet on the wall and use tension as your foothold.
To make smears easier, attempt to get as much rubber on the wall as possible at an angle that you can get the most tension from (see getting your heels as low as possible above).
One thing that can make smears difficult is dirty shoes. To prevent issues with dirty shoes, keep chalk from getting on them and try not to put your shoes in the dirt or on the ground while you are wearing them and while you aren’t wearing them.
10. Avoid Over Gripping
One of the easiest ways to overexert energy is by over gripping a handhold. Like mentioned in a tip above, you should be placing as much weight on your legs as possible and only using handholds to help you stay balanced.
Of course, there are times when that won’t seem possible (see smearing tip above) so you may rely on your handhold to get you to a more stable position. If this is needed, then pay attention to how hard you are gripping and attempt to minimize that effort as much as possible.
One way I do this is by moving my palm away from the hold a little or by hovering my palm a little higher than I would usually to help me feel the energy and effort that I am putting into my fingers. From there, I can adjust how tight I am making my grip and ease the tension in my fingers.
11. Train Your Balance
Since balance is one of the biggest contributors to a good climbing slab performance, it is a good idea to spend additional time training your balance.
You can do this with specific exercises or using a medicine ball, however, a lot of climbers enjoy practicing and training their balance on a Slackline.
One fun way to practice your balance on a slackline is to jump up and down on the line. This will force your body to fully engage all of its muscles and also allow you to practice relaxing your muscles while doing so.
Note: If you choose to practice balance on a slackline, ensure everything is set-up correctly and you are being safe.
12. Identify The Sequence/Beta Before Getting On The Wall
Just like in any other kind of climbing, the sequence and beta are the most important things you should identify before getting on the wall.
Many times climbers will do a move before recognizing the entire sequence of the climb and find themselves in a predicament that they spent so much time and energy getting into one position that they need to spend just as much time and energy to change their position. Thus, they spend twice as much energy and time as they need to.
In addition, identifying the beta before getting on the wall should also help prepare your mind mentally for the movements. According to Vertical Mind, visualizing each movement in your mind first makes the movements easier.
A common reason for the movement to feel easier, besides just knowing what you should do for those movements, is that they are more likely to feel like a second time making the movement instead of a first-try feeling. Making it easier to commit and usually a smoother transition.
13. Strengthen Your Core
Balance and body control is primarily done with your core. If you really want to improve your slab climbing abilities, consider strengthening your core so you can have the balance and body control to make all of the necessary movements for each move for the entirety of the climb.
Many climbers do variations of the plank position as well as bicycles and hollow banana exercises to build their core. Whatever you do, consider what part of your core needs the most work and find exercises that compliment that need.
14. Move Your Feet First
With feet being so important when climbing slabs, it is ultra important to move your feet before moving your hands as much as possible.
It is possible that moving your feet before your hands can feel uncomfortable or make the movement more difficult. However, in most cases, you need to trust your feet and the strength of balance that your legs can provide.
This will help move your body weight to the correct position while also preventing your hand movements from causing misbalance.
Another problem moving your feet frequently causes is that it may be difficult to see your feet or where your next foot movement is.
15. Control Your Breathing
This tip isn’t just for slab climbing but it certainly seems important when you have to be very patient with each move, like what is required in climbing slabs.
If you find yourself nervous or feeling rushed, focus on your breathing. Ensure that it remains in check throughout the entire climb.
This will not only help with getting oxygen to your muscles and brain, but it will also help you be patient with each move and ensure that you are focusing on what your body is saying while you are doing it.
16. Practice Flexibility
Flexibility is one of the most difficult things for climbers to acquire and it is also one of the reasons that climbers don’t like climbing slabs.
Your flexibility should be trained if you want to be better at slab climbing. This is flexibility in your entire body, from your neck, shoulders, spine, to your hips, hamstrings and calves.
Additional flexibility will help you make movements that require you to place your foot high or your shoulders sideways.
To train flexibility, there are many videos online with dynamic stretching routines to help you improve your flexibility.
17. Climb Slab Routes Often
The best way to get better at climbing slabs is by climbing slabs as often as possible. The more you practice slab routes, the better you will become at recognizing the moves you need to make to get up to the next move and to the top.
18. Practice Leg and Hip Mobility
Even if you have the flexibility to do so, unless you can raise your foot up to your belly button, you’ll find many opportunities that would have been much easier if you could.
Grabbing your foot with your hand to place it on a foothold is not only a little embarrassing but it also takes a hand off the wall and increases your chances of falling.
It would be better if you could just place your foot on the foothold using the mobility and strength in your legs and hips.
19. Be Patient
Slab climbing requires a lot of patients and if you rush a move or continue to the next move too quickly, you are more likely to fall. It is better, instead, to be patient.
In most cases, each move you make on the slab is a slow-moving movement. For those cases, allow yourself to be patient.
Be patient with your body, be patient with your mind and be ok with slow improvements.
20. Adjust Your Body Position For Balance And Stability
A lot of times in climbing, we may grip harder instead of taking the time to adjust our position for balance and stability. In slab climbing, it is important to continuously adjust your body position for that balance and stability.
Every time you move, identify where the other limbs need to be to get the balance and stability before moving onto the next hold.
In some cases, you should also adjust your body during the movements so that the movement is as controlled as possible.
21. Shift The Weight Completely
If you find your foot heavy or difficult to move to the next hold, it is likely that you haven’t shifted your weight completely to the other foot.
To prevent heavy feet, shift your weight completely before moving your foot to the next foothold or smear position.
22. Practice Slab Climbing With Only One Hand
Talo Martin, a famous slab climber from Spain is known for redoing his slab routes until he is able to do it with one hand to increase the challenge of the climb. However, it is also a good practice for climbers who are trying to improve their slab climbing.
There are a few games or challenges that climbers have created to improve footwork for slab climbing. Climbing with only one hand is one of those games.
If you only have one hand to use while climbing, you will be forced to move your feet before moving your hands, in addition, you will be forced to practice balance and placing your weight in your feet.
23. Practice the Yoga Pigeon Pose
The pigeon pose is a stretch in yoga, but it is also a common movement in slab climbing.
Often times you are forced to place your foot up by your hip or belly and then put all of your weight on that foot and lift your body up.
The pigeon pose won’t help with the immense strength you need for that movement, but it is a stretch that will help with that movement more than almost any other stretch.