Four ways to climb better without training

No one can support effort or enthusiasm for training indefinitely, nor should you aspire to it. The beauty of rock climbing is that during strategic times you can actually get better at climbing by shifting your focus from endless turns and reps to tactical strategies or, better yet, just getting out on the rocks. This principle should be a consolation during times when work is too busy or when you just can’t find the energy to get to the gym. Don’t get frustrated, just log into a different headspace.

Here are four ways to get better without training.

1. Set climbing goals

There’s nothing better you can do for your climbing than to identify a series of routes or boulder problems that you’d like to solve in the near future, even if you can’t train for them. For best results, make a “goal pyramid” and at the first level choose five or six climbs that you could achieve relatively comfortably. On the next level, choose three or four on the next level, then one or two on the next level. When planning your first climbing trips, focus on the first level, but don’t wait until you’re completely done before going up a level – try a thing or two on the next level while completing the first level , etc. In no time you’ll be a better climber and having fun, without training.

Also consider keeping a climbing diary, in which you will track your goals and your climbing days. Journaling lets you track your progress over time and helps you keep track of what works and what doesn’t.

2. Focus on technique

Most climbers would like to think they focus on technique, but what does that mean? If your usual approach is just to focus on climbing, you may actually be treading water and ingraining bad habits. If you can, pay for a session with a reputable climbing coach to see if they can spot any technical issues. Set up at least one video camera on a tripod and film yourself climbing. Then replay it and try to critically analyze your technique.

Do the following movement exercises during your warm-up:

  • Footwork. Focus on the placement of each foot with a slight pause before contact. Do not touch the wall above the grip and aim to land the foot in one motion, without readjustment. Keep an eye on your foot until it is firmly in place.
  • To input. Next, focus on releasing your grip and keeping your arms as straight as possible.
  • Breath. Finally, remember to breathe deeply and regularly. Accentuate it if you must.
  • Cadence. Try to climb each warm-up a little faster than the last without sacrificing form.

These exercises will facilitate long-term improvements in the quality of your movements and will also help you maintain your form during high stress situations on more challenging routes.

3. Do your mind a favor

Changing your habitual thought processes and behaviors is much more difficult than invoking the will to try hard or practice. Climbers usually present the same excuses or justifications for avoiding or failing climbs: routes seem too difficult, weaknesses are too demoralizing to work on, fear of others judging us, procrastination, etc. These things hold back our escalation more than anything else. As Adam Ondra told me recently: “The mind is not there to help you, but to hinder you! The key is to set up practical and functional routines and to keep your expectations realistic. Just promising to be a little more open-minded and positive is a good start.

Try this short list of key mental training strategies:

Mental routine before the ascent

Perform this routine during your warm-up climbs and during cool-down periods. Customize it to your own requirements and condense it into different time slices (eg 5 minutes to 30 seconds). Train regularly during training sessions and do not try to use it for the first time in a high stress situation.

Here is an example :

  • Adapt to your environment: Observe your immediate surroundings, including potential distractions. Take a deep breath and relax.
  • View: Repeat your project sequence while away from the cliff. Imagine yourself climbing in real time. Do not rush. Make the image as real as possible by imagining sensory details like rock texture, temperature, even sounds and smells. Do not imagine that the route is easy: rather, that you face difficulty.
  • Black Box: List all the factors that worry you, offer positive solutions, then display them in an imaginary black box or even write them down. Return to the box and open it after the ascension, and you will find that the majority of your worries were unfounded. This exercise helps you trust the process going forward.
  • Use positive self-talk: Give yourself a final pep talk, using keywords that you find inspiring. Listen to music that helps lift your spirits.
  • training falls (on bolts or good traditional gear): For those afraid, or even a little nervous, of falling on bolts or other bombproof gear, regular practice drops are probably your tool most powerful and effective mental training. If you practice falling on vertical or slab walls, make sure they are fairly smooth and have no ledges or protrusions. Make sure your partner understands the dynamic belay technique to give you a smooth hold.

4. Forget the note

There is a whole aesthetic side to climbing that can be explored, freed from the pressure of goals and expectations. Let the quality of the line, the movement, the environment and the fun you can have with your friends influence your crag choices. According to the laws of reverse psychology, by diverting attention from pure achievement for a while, you may actually end up climbing your best, without consciously trying. After all, this is rock climbing we’re talking about, a unique and magical activity that sometimes breaks all the rules.

This article first appeared in rock and ice issue 220 (August 2014).


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Richard V. Johnson