Whether you are just starting to climb, or you have been climbing for a long time, you may be considering ways to get better at rock climbing and/or bouldering. There are a few things that you can do before every climbing session to improve your performance and climbing sustainability.
Mind you that I included sustainability as a key reason to do the things listed below before every climbing session. Climbing your project once is great but being able to climb it multiple times is proof to yourself that you have developed the skill and strength necessary to do that climb. Thus, sustainability is an important factor to consider in your climbing regimen.
Below you will find five things that are important to include at the beginning of your climbing regimen if you want to improve your performance and sustainability.
1. Identify Beta For Going Up And Down Before Climbing
Reviewing the climb and identifying beta for getting up the climb is essential for bouldering and rock climbing. Beta, for anyone that doesn’t know, is the plan or the movements that you need to make to get to the top of the climb. By identifying your plan before you start climbing, you will be able to conserve more energy for more difficult parts of the climb, stay calm if you are in a frustrating or difficult position and know where holds are that you may not be able to see when your face is three inches from the rock face.
Each move requires energy to make and if you make a move and need to go back to make a different move, or perhaps you don’t know the next move so you have to hang in the position you are in, you will use more energy. To conserve energy, you can plan the beta for going up the wall, and in case of bouldering, you should plan for getting down as well.
Stress and climbing go hand in hand and many climbers learn to remain calm while stressing, but the mental weight of stress makes climbing harder. However, minimizing stress by knowing where climbing holds are and having a plan of action that helps you know where to go next will decrease any stress present while climbing.
Recognizing Hidden Hand Holds
Frequently when we are away from the wall and are able to look around the route, we are able to see climbing holds that may not be as obvious when you are on the wall. Part of this is because your face is so close to the wall that you aren’t able to see over ridges or bumps. By identifying and planning your climb before you begin, you will have a better chance of finding it while you are on the wall. In addition, by knowing that a handhold is only a couple feet above your right knee, you have more confidence moving your weight without fear of compromising your position.
Beta For Climbing Down
Identifying beta for climbing down while bouldering is part of bouldering 101. If you get to the top of the boulder, and you don’t know how to get down, then you may be in trouble. Luckily, when you boulder, you don’t go above 10-15 feet so if you have to jump onto a mat, you can minimize injury. You can avoid jumping down by identifying your route back down before you start the climb.
2. Identify One Thing To Practice During The Climb Before You Start
If you keep a climbing journal, you may already be doing this, but it is one of the best ways to constantly improve your climbing performance. Identify something that you struggle with or have room for improvement on and work on that while you climb the wall. For example, if you lock off frequently and you want to practice straight arm technique, then consider keeping your arms straight for the entire climb.
Ideally, only pick one or two things that you will work on during that climb so you don’t get overwhelmed or miss anything. I recommend one thing if you really struggle with it and only move to two things if both things are easy to do together.
For example, working on flagging and dynamic movements at the same time can be difficult. With that being the case, pick one and focus on that one for the entirety of the climb. If you’d like, you can re-do the climb with the other focus and get a completely different experience.
3. Discuss Your Plan With Your Climbing Partner Before Climbing
When it comes to your climbing partner, you have the safety and support aspects of climbing that you need to take advantage of when it comes to improving your climbing performance.
There are a few things that you should discuss with your climbing partner for safety and support.
Gear and Knots
Check with your partner to ensure that your gear and knots are tied properly. In addition, make sure that your partner is familiar with how to use everything and do a couple of practice catches near the bottom of the climb to make sure you both will be safe.
Many climbers require specific language to be used when asking for slack or tightening the rope. Be sure you’re both on the same page and will be able to communicate with each other effectively.
Repelling vs Being Let Down
At the top of the climb, you need to either repel down or be let down by your climbing partner. Make sure that you communicate this plan prior to starting the climb. That way you don’t have to worry about hearing each other or getting confused. Whatever you decide before the climb, stick with that. Only change your plans if your safety depends on it.
Sometimes, when you are on the wall, you get in the moment and forget the plan that you intended for that part of the climb. In these situations, it would help if your climbing partner can remind you of the beta that you planned for. In addition, there would be less pressure on the partner to provide you incredible beta if they haven’t climbed the route before.
If you tell your climbing partner what technique you are working on during the climb, they can support you and help you identify when that technique needs adjustments. This is helpful for reviewing your performance after the climb and also while you are on the climb. For example, if you forget to flag when your goal is to flag every move, your climbing partner can remind you.
4. Check Your Gear Before Climbing
One of the most important safety aspects of climbing is checking the gear. You may be wondering why this is on a list of performance and sustainability tips. Safety fits perfectly with sustainability. If your gear is old or a knot isn’t tied correctly, then you are more likely to get injured. Injury prevents you from climbing and thus, you need to avoid injury in order to make climbing more sustainable.
Here is a quick safety check for your gear that you can do quickly before you start climbing:
- Make sure the rope is free of tares or spurs by running it through your hand. You can do this quickly and easily when you are placing the rope on your rope tarp.
- Check the harness for tares, wear or anything concerning
- Check the helmet for cracks and make sure the closure system works
- Check the carabiners and make sure that there isn’t any concerning wear or dents or scratches
- Check the belay device and make sure it is in good shape
- Check knots to ensure they are tied properly
- Check bolts on the climb to ensure they are sturdy and not concerning. (Note: this may be difficult to do on every bolt before you start climbing so check them as you clip into them. If they aren’t sturdy, then you don’t need to finish the climb. It isn’t worth the risk)
5. Warm-Up Before Climbing
You may wonder why the warm-up is at the bottom of the list and not the top. You’ve heard it before, and you will continue to hear it because it is one of the most important things you need to do before you start climbing. However, I didn’t want to lose you before you finished reading everything else that is on this list. Which is why I put warming-up at the bottom. However, warming up should be done at the very beginning!
Warming up is essential to your prehab (a.k.a. preventing injury). It is also essential for peak performance, which is probably why you decided to read this article.
Warming up is good for preventing injury because it warms your muscles and makes them more pliable and usable. If you don’t warm up your muscles, you are more likely to tare or pull muscles, which can take you away from climbing for a long period of time (sometimes between 6-12 months). As you have probably noticed, every week you go without climbing is a couple of weeks of progress lost. Think of what it would be like if you went 24 weeks or more because you didn’t properly warm up.
Warming up is also important for peak performance because it increases your muscles’ ability to flex and be mobile. By warming up the muscles and dynamically stretching them, you enable your muscles to be longer and also be able to contract tighter. Length and tightness will allow you to reach holds that you wouldn’t be able to otherwise and hold onto or move your limbs that you wouldn’t be able to do without a proper warm-up.
There are two essential parts to warming up. Moving your muscles so that they are warm and dynamically stretching them so that you can lengthen and tighten your muscles easier and better.
For the warming up your muscles, move every muscle. Many climbers like to jump rope for a period of time so that you get all of your legs and arms warmed up. To make jumping rope the most effective, ensure that your core muscles are tight throughout the warmup. You can also do mountain climbs, pushups, etc. Just make sure that all of your muscles (including your hand muscles) get some of the action.
For stretching, ensure that you only do dynamic stretching. Static stretching can damage your muscles before you are properly warmed up so leave static stretching for after your climbing session. Stretching should include something for all of your muscles, including your neck and ankles, and anything else you may not have thought of. To ensure you get all of your muscles properly stretched, I like to start with my head/neck and work my way down all the way to my toes.
Taking steps to improve your climbing performance and sustainability can be a challenging aspect in your journey but it’s also worth it. Consider identifying beta, picking something to work on, communicate with your partner, ensure gear safety and warm up before climbing to help.
Each of the items listed above will improve your bouldering and rock climbing performance and sustainability if you do them consistently.
What do you do to improve your performance and sustainability? Comment below with your suggestions.