The likelihood of you making a mistake while climbing is very high, especially when you are a beginner. The most important thing in climbing (besides safety, of course) is to have fun so worrying about the hundreds of mistakes you may or may not make isn’t worth much of your time. However, if you want to avoid the most common climbing mistakes, here are seven that rock climbing beginners frequently make.
Not Warming Up Properly
The first mistake that beginner rock climbers make when they get to the mountains or the climbing gym is climbing without properly warming-up. Warming up your entire body is an important way to prevent injury and improve your climbing session.
Warming up each muscle properly means that you are getting the blood flowing openly throughout the muscles. Blood flow allows your muscles to stretch longer and compress tighter. This means that not only are you less likely to get injured, you will also be able to hold more weight longer so you will be able to pull and push your way up the wall easier than if you didn’t warm up.
This additional edge that you will get from warming up will make it so that you can climb harder routes and keep climbing longer without maxing out your muscles or getting exhausted. This is especially important to be able to do while you are a beginner because you will be able to advance to harder climbs faster, which opens up more routes and problems that you have available to climb on.
As you can see, warming up each muscle properly before climbing will not only help you climb safer, it will also allow you to climb harder problems/routes and climb longer.
Muscling Up A Climb
A common rock climbing mistake is relying on strength to pull and push your way up the wall. However, by focusing on your strength to get you up the wall, you will be limited in the routes/problems that you climb and weaknesses such as grip strength will be especially problematic when you want to continue leveling up your performance. One way to level up your climbing without spending hours in the weight room is to focus on technique.
Climbing technique includes footwork, balance, body composition and how to be more efficient with your climbing. For example, climbing with straight arms is an important technique to conserve energy and helps you balance your weight on your feet and legs. There are many techniques that you can learn, but there are different disciplines in climbing that are better for learning techniques while you climb.
Top rope and sports climbing include more muscle endurance so as a beginner climber, it is important to find a way to focus on technique, which bouldering is known for. Short routes in bouldering are built to be technique focused, which is why bouldering is a great discipline to practice technique. Rock climbing technique can be difficult to pick up as a beginner, but there are many ways to learn. One way is by watching other climbers in the gym. I prefer watching climbers on YouTube to watch how they move their bodies as well as tutorials video for footwork and weight positioning etc.
Focusing on technique more than the strength you exert while climbing will make it so that you can climb harder problems/routes and climb longer for more fun.
Climbing without Proper Safety Training
Climbing without proper safety training can lead to injury and possible death. Many climbers feel comfortable climbing with a trained friend one day and then doing it on their own with a first-time-climber the next day. The problem with this is that you aren’t able to absorb all of the information you need in one or two climbing sessions, you need expert supervision until you are properly trained.
Proper safety training can be a clinic (many climbing gyms offer free clinics) or a climbing class. In addition, these classes need to allow you to apply what you have learned and have an expert preview it so that they can check and make sure you did it correctly and provide feedback. This means that YouTube videos and picture graphics aren’t enough because they can’t provide proper feedback and they also may not be a credible/expert sources.
The list of things you need to understand to safely climb is different for bouldering and rock climbing because there is different gear and goals between the disciplines.
Here is a list of some of the things that you should thoroughly understand before sport climbing without expert supervision:
- Climbing knots: The main knot that you need to know is the Figure 8. This is the knot that tightens the more you put weight on it so you can be safe while climbing if you fall.
- Clipping safety (which quickdraws to use, back-clipping, z-clipping, etc.): Many beginner climbers don’t realize that there is the right way to clip a quickdraw and there is a dangerous way to clip a quickdraw to a bolt. Make sure that you work with a professional about back-clipping and z-clipping so you can clip safely.
- Belay safety (where the rope should be, where your hands should be, where you should be standing, etc.) Belaying is more than just moving rope through the belay device, it is also about making sure that your hands are always in the position to break. In addition, you need to keep the rope slack is in front of you and not behind your leg so you can be as safe as the climber you are belaying and you should also be closer to the rock wall.
- Climber and belayer communication: Prior to starting the climb, you need to communicate what the climber plans on doing to come back down. Will they be lowered down, or do they plan to repel down. Once a climber is to the top of the climb, both the climber and the belayer need to re-communicate the plan to ensure that appropriate action is taken.
- Anchor set-up and takedown: An essential part of climbing is the anchor set-up and takedown. If you don’t set the anchor up correctly you risk serious injury and the same can be said for the anchor takedown. Though there are many videos and tutorials about anchor set-up and takedown, practice this with an expert and have them provide feedback before you do it on your own.
Here is a list for bouldering that has a few of the things you should understand before going out without a professional:
- Mat safety (placement, size, etc.): Bouldering outside requires mats for safety. If you don’t have a mat, you can rent it, but be sure that you have the boulder route in mind when you get the mat. You will need to know how high the climb is so you have an idea of how far you may fall and how thick the mat needs to be. You also need to know the climbing angle and direction so that you know how wide and how many mats you need for the likelihood of falling.
- Spotting (as a spotter and as a climber): Spotting while bouldering helps the climber fall safely. This is done by helping angle the climber to fall feet first instead of on their head or making sure that they land on the mat instead of surrounding rock or ground. Both as a climber and as a spotter, you need to understand good spotting practices so everyone can be safe.
- Falling safety (proper falling techniques): To fall safely you need to land on both your feet with your knees bent to help take the impact of your fall. If you fall from a higher distance, you need to be able to roll onto your back/shoulder to absorb any additional impact and protect your ankles, joints, etc. from injury.
- Scouting the way down: Bouldering outside is more than just ascending, it is also descending as well. If you top the boulder you need to be able to climb back down. It is always better to climb your way down and avoid jumping to minimize possible injury. Finding a way back down should be done before you start climbing up.
Hopefully, these two lists, though not complete, give you a good idea that you need to be properly trained by an expert who can give credible feedback to make sure you are climbing safely. It is always better to be safe than sorry.
Not Including Strength Training
Many climbers recognize that climbing can be a great workout by itself so they ditch the weights and other exercises and focus solely on climbing. Climbing will build muscle and make you fit, but without additional strength training, your muscles can become unbalanced and you will be at higher risk of injury.
For example, climbing heavily focuses on the front of your shoulders and chest muscles. If you don’t exercise your back shoulder muscles, then your shoulders will become unbalanced and you will be exposed to a higher risk of shoulder cuff injury. Shoulder cuff injuries frequently happen because the front shoulder muscles are pulling on the rotator cuff more than the back muscles. To prevent shoulder cuff injuries, you need to build your back shoulder muscles so that the rotator cuff is being pulled on evenly from the front and back.
Additionally, strength training increases bone density, improves blood flow and improves your balance and coordination, which are all essential for a healthy body and healthy climbing.
As for the fun part of strength training, the strength you get from additional training will open the doors to more climbs faster. The core, for example, directly affects your ability to balance and thus your ability to complete many climbs. By adding core strength-training to your climbing regimen, you will be able to balance more and there will be more climbs that you can complete because of your additional core strength and balance.
All of this goes to show that strength training will help you climb safer and better so it is important to include in addition to your climbing sessions.
Only Training One Climbing Disciplines
Many climbers try rope climbing or bouldering and stick with that type of climbing without training or trying any other climbing disciplines. The problem with this is that each climbing discipline focuses on a different aspect of climbing that is difficult to pick-up without training in the other disciplines. For example, bouldering focuses heavily on technique whereas rope climbing focuses more on endurance. If you only boulder, then you will likely struggle with endurance. In comparison, if you only rope climbing, then you will likely struggle with technique.
This may not seem like a problem if your plan is to only climb in one discipline but not cross-training actually makes it harder to progress. Both bouldering and rope climbing requires endurance and technique. At some point, you will not be able to progress in bouldering without endurance and vice-versa, you will not be able to progress in rope climbing without technique.
If you ever get to the point of competing, you will find that unless you only go to climbing competitions specific for your discipline, climbers that are well rounded and can boulder, speed climb and sports climb are the climbers that win.
By being a well-rounded climber, you will be able to progress further and climb better so cross-training in different climbing disciplines is important.
Not Stretching After Climbing
Many beginner climbers end their climbing session on the wall and head home right after without stretching. The problem with this is that there are many benefits from stretching that they miss out on by not stretching. Here is a list of three major benefits of stretching that show how important stretching can be after your climbing session:
- Stretching prevents injury. By having flexible muscles, you are less likely to get an injury from muscle overuse, which is common in climbing.
- Stretching after a climbing session helps you recover and relax after a hard climbing session. During your climbing session, your muscles produce lactic acid, which causes your arms to be sore and fatigued. Stretching breaks down the lactic acid and helps your muscles recover faster.
- Stretching after your climbing session will help increase your flexibility, which comes in handy while climbing. If you are more flexible, then you will be able to perform better and complete harder climbs.
These benefits clearly show that it is a mistake not to stretch after your climbing session. In fact, dynamically stretching before your climbing session and statically stretching after your climbing session is even better and will increase the benefits you get from stretching.
There are many stretches that you can do before and after climbing but a good rule of thumb is to focus on every muscle throughout your body. Having super flexible legs is extremely helpful in climbing, but having flexible legs and arms, core, etc is even better so it is worth the extra time to stretch.
Though many mistakes are made by beginner climbers, these are the seven of the most common mistakes. Some of them can lead to injury but some of the mistakes just make it harder for you to progress in your climbing and it hinders your performance. By avoiding these mistakes with the easy fixes recommended above, you can improve your performance.
I recommend evaluating your current climbing regimen and compare it to this list of mistakes. If you are guilty of more than one of the mistakes listed above, pick one that you are going to work on first and once you’ve mastered avoiding it, focus on the next. Repeat this process until you make good habits to counter any of these mistakes.