Five quick ways to improve your climbing technique
- Thursday 17 December 2020
When we wrote the book with the humble title The Climbing Bible, our editor claimed it mandatory to include ‘The Ten Commandments of Climbing’. Obviously, these are neither religiously binding nor absolutes, but what might have started out as a bit of a laugh actually turned out to be a good exercise to reflect what we saw as key elements to progress as climbers. You can read all ten commandments in the book, but we want to elaborate a bit on some of the most fundamental ones here.
We started our climbing careers together twenty-five years ago and have been through our own personal evolution as climbers as well as observing others going through the same process. Why are we still in love with this sport? What have we done right and wrong in our own careers, and what have we done right and wrong while coaching others? Why do some people turn to sport and competition climbing where others go in other directions of the sport? And, most importantly; why do some people never stop climbing?
Stian Christophersen climbing into the sunset in Kalymnos, Greece. © Chris Burkhard
Commandment 1: You have to climb a lot to be a good climber
This might seem obvious, but with climbing evolving more and more into the realm of sport it’s worth highlighting. You can find lots of information on how to train the physical aspects of climbing, but nothing really comes close to climbing a lot on different walls, crags, styles, angles and holds. All of these will present you with their own particular challenges on how to move, weight your feet and position your body. Going to the same gym, on your favourite wall, using your favourite holds and doing your perfectly designed strength program can never give you the same diversity as doing a lot of climbing in different places. And this diversity will build your ability to solve the puzzle which is moving between holds to find the tops you’re looking for.
Commandment 3: Train technique before physical training
A friend of ours once said: “Your technique today is inversely proportional to your strength when you started climbing”. Even us climbers are only human; we tend to favour what we’re good at. The explosion of climbing gyms around the world provides the opportunity to climb a lot on jugs and utilize arm and upper body strength. But what happens when the difficulty increases? The holds become worse, the body positions more strenuous and the movements more complex. We can’t any longer rely solely on our pulling power because the holds and body positions don’t allow us to merely pull harder to succeed.
Think about it; have you ever witnessed the ridiculously strong guy (yes, guy, we’ll come back to that in a second) from the gym not being able to climb at all close to the same level when you go outside? Whereas some of the girls seem to effortlessly hike your balancy projects? This is not a guys/girls discussion, but it seems obvious that if you need to rely more on your technique to get up a route or a boulder you’ll hone those skills to a higher degree than if you’re able to muscle your way up. Just imagine what can happen if you combine the two; being technically skilled enough to move efficiently and then build the strength to pull harder.
Hannah Midtbø using opposing forces between holds to climb a steep boulder problem. © Stian Christophersen and Martin Mobråten
Commandment 5: Rid yourself of the fear of falling
Being afraid of heights and having a fundamental fear of falling is something that probably has been wise in an evolutionary sense, as it reduces the chances of falling to our deaths. Yet, nothing is more hindering to your climbing performance than being afraid while climbing on the sharp end. Through a graded exposure towards falling and climbing higher above the last quickdraw, you will learn to trust the gear, the belayer and yourself. You will be able to enjoy the climbing more as you’re less afraid, and nothing really beats the feeling of mastering something you were initially afraid of.
Commandment 6: Train finger strength
Wolfang Gullich said: “there is no such thing as too much power”, and if most of that power is situated in your forearms you are well equipped to tackle hard routes or boulder problems. Finger strength is probably the most important physical factor, and the one most closely correlated to climbing level. So, if you are to train just one thing besides climbing, train your fingers, and do so with high quality, progressive overload and through safe training methods.
Commandment 10: Preserve the joy - climbing is all fun and games
Climbing can be a lifestyle, a form of training or just a hobby you do a few times a month. No matter your approach it seems paramount that you always try to make it fun. We find that this makes you a better climber who is curious to learn new moves, it makes you try harder on your physical hard training sessions, and it might just be what makes you stick to climbing for a long time. A time filled with joy and memorable experiences.
A static movement pattern is the style of choice when the moves need to be precise and the holds are hard to hit. © Stian Christophersen and Martin Mobråten
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