Climbing can be a dance, a technical ballet if you will. Using 4 points of contact are your steps. Each climb possesses a configuration of holds for hands and feet, your mission is to “crack the code” and unlock the perfect sequence of moves for your technical dance.
Let’s consider the two basic types of climbers at a gym. Most climbers come in and boulder– they move in ways that feel the easiest based on their knowledge of climbing. In comparison, a beginners’ lack of experience can lead them down a clunky path of technique and movement that will solidify poor habits. A less common approach is to climb with the intent of completing each move as technically sound as possible. Attention to detail can reinforce correct skills and allow you to progress quickly. Quick results are not very common, but can be achieved by climbers who can effectively practice technique. One of my favorite quotes– “Don’t practice until you get it right, practice until you can’t get it wrong”.
Part 1– proper foot placement
Since your legs are more powerful than your arms, it makes sense to let your legs to most of the work. Exceptions to this are steep overhanging routes which we will cover later. To effectively use your feet, start with spotting your footholds and WATCH your foot all of the way to the exact spot you want to stand. Directing your foot placement require a high degree of attention to detail. This is important because your feet are:
Once you see a foothold, position your foot on the most positive spot of the foothold. You will want to use the space of your shoe directly under your big toe. Next, shift some body weight over the hold before standing up on it. It’s this downward pressure that helps the shoe rubber stick to it, so not properly weighting a hold often leads to the foot slipping off the hold. For newer climbers, it is more intuitive to climb with one foot pushing at a time (as in climbing a ladder), so you’ll need to make a conscious effort to develop this important foot skill.
The last step is proper alignment of your center of gravity directly over a foothold. Balance, stability, and application of force are all working together when your center of gravity is positioned directly over your feet, forming a line perpendicular to level ground. On vertical or near-vertical climbing surface, you simply need to keep your body position straight and over the feet as much as possible. When the climbing wall overhangs, it becomes impossible to position your weight over your feet, so new fundamentals take over.
The Pyramids in Egypt certainly are one of the Wonder of the World. However, that does not mean all pyramids are ancient history. Pyramids are a great way to train off the wall as well as on the wall. Lately, I have been doing conditioning exercises with a pyramid style of reps. I am picking up to 5 exercises that focus (pun intended) on different muscle groups, and completing them in a 5-7 round pyramid. To explain this easier:
Round 1- 1 rep of everyting
Round 2 – 2 reps of everyting
Round 3 – 3 reps of everything
Continuing up to the max number you decide for that day. Once you get to max reps (lets use 7 for this example), you go back down:
Round 7 — 7 reps of everything
Round 6 — 6 reps of everything
Round 5 — 5 rounds of everything
Here are some examples of my exercises
I will substitute various ring exercises or basic cardio exercises like burpees as well.
Even though our fingers and toes are the main parts of our body in contact to the wall, our larger muscle groups of our arms, chest and back help up make the most of climbing. Usually, poor leg strength is NOT a limiting factor for climbing well, as its the larger muscles in your upper body that are most likely to hinder your success.
Climbing a few days per week will get you stronger and increase overall strength and endurance, working on specific muscle groups can give you the edge in your climbing. Here are some of my favorite basic pulling exercises– only a pull up bar or hangboard needed. All three varieties should be done with palms facing outward.
1. Basic Pull Up -The universal exercise for building upper body strength. As a general rule– doing a hundred pull-ups per day will NOT make you climb 5.14. I would place an emphasis on climbing and technique first, and finish your workout with proper pull ups (no kipping, swinging or dynamic motion). Ideally, perform three to five sets with about a three-minute rest between sets being the ideal rest break for strength training.
2. Uneven Grip Pull Up – This requires a little setup– one hand must be 12″-18″ (as much as 24″) lower than the other. You can loop a sling over the pull up bar, or hand one over the jugs on a hangboard. As you begin to pull up, start with pulling harder on the higher hand, and begin pushing down on the lower hand. Ideally, perform three to five sets with about a three-minute rest between sets being the ideal rest break for strength training. These pull ups will replace normal push ups– do not do them in additionally.
3. The Frenchy – I remember reading about this back when I started climbing in the early 90’s, with an pull-up exercise the French were doing– at the time, the French were killing it with competitions and sport climbing. this exercise uses isometric contractions in the range of motion of a pull up. Making this one of the best pull- muscle endurance exercises, however they do come with a price as more lactic acid is released by your arms and back.
Using a pull-up bar, pull up to the top position and lock off with your hands against your chest for a five-second count. Lower yourself to the bottom, straight-armed position, and they again pull up to the top position, but this time lower yourself halfway and lock-off with your elbow at a 90-degree angle. Hold this position statically for a slow, five-second count, then lower yourself to the bottom. Pull up a third time, but this time lower yourself about two-thirds of the way (with an elbow angle of 120 degrees) to perform another static, five-second lock-off. Lower to the bottom position and you will have completed one full cycle.
Without stopping, immediately begin a second cycle of Frenchies. Pull up three more times while doing the three- five second lock-offs positions. Be sure to hold all the lock-offs for a full five-second count, despite the burning that begins to develop. Continue performing a third, fourth, and fifth cycle, if you’re able. Stop when you can no longer perform a full pull-up or hold the lock-off. Rest for five minutes before doing a second and third set.As you will see, this exercise becomes really hard, really fast and is incredibly difficult. You can do this 2-3x per week.
Putting your time in at the gym or on the rock, most likely you will come face-to-face with some of the most common climbing injuries:
As it stands, statistics in climbing have shown nearly 85% of 5.12 climbers had experienced an overuse injury– with finger injuries as the most common. Looking at the relationship between a climbers ability and frequency of injury, climbers who train hard, and want to keep training hard should do everything to minimize their chances for injury. These are some of the top ways to keep yourself healthy and off the IR.
1. Don’t climb to exhaustion. Many small body tweaks happen near the end of your climbing/training.
2. Don’t climb and/or train more than 4 days per week. Overtraining is the best way to become injured. Taking enough rest days is a sign of a seasoned climber.
3. Develop antagonistic muscle groups in arms, upper body and mid-section. Two days per week of light “push muscle” training is a great start. Proper warming up is necessary– starting with light cardio and active stretching for most bigger muscle groups.
4. Change the style of your climbing to avoid the wear and tear on your body. Focusing on one specific movement on a problem is one sure-fire way to become injured.
5. Work on Technique versus Power. Obsessive training will end in injury (see Tip #2). Also, developing proper technique will enable you to make the most of the strength you already possess.
I feel this is a great exercise for all climbers, but I feel the biggest gain is when the difficulty hits V4.
Pick a series of 5 problems just under your maximum (about 85-90%).
Climb each problem such that you will always touch each hold with both hands or match hands on every handhold. Climb each problem 2-3 times doing this with minimal rest in between attempts, and resting longer periods between the different problems. Make sure to pick different angles of wall, and different styles of climbs.
One thing I like about this is it forces the climber to figure out ways to create lower body tension to match the holds. Sometimes, it forces you to stop on smaller holds when you would normally crank to the next. This can become a very difficult exercise on compression problems.
The main reason this is more effective on harder climbs is that with easier climbs, holds are configured closer together and more down-pulling in nature. As climbs get harder, hold position varies much more and the spacing between holds may be further apart.