Stop Climbing Like an A$$#0/e, and Other Tips for Climbing Progression from Beginner to Intermediate to Advanced.
I'll be updating content as able to include injury prevention, skill drills, strength, conditioning, and tons of tools for you to meet your climb goals! Each post will have a section for BEG, INT, and ADV, so scroll down to read your section.
PART I BEGINNERS
Working your way through the plateau of 5.10’s on lead or V3 for bouldering.
What separates beginners from intermediates? If you are in your first year of climbing, this section pertains to you, no matter what grade you are climbing. You may be developing more strength in your upper body than ever before in your life, AND you are having a blast doing it. AWESOME! However, you are still learning indoor etiquette and outdoor ethics. Your finger tendons are still developing. Your technique is a mess. That’s right. I’m not saying don’t be proud of your newly found passion and how quickly you are progressing. I AM saying, no matter what grade you can pull yourself up, you have a thing or two to learn in order to prevent injuries. Stop attempting to do what the pro’s do on social media. Just let them inspire you for now.
If you are not yet climbing outside, you are a beginner. If you are top rope climbing only, no matter the grade, you are a beginner (for the purposes of this blog). If you are not leading 5.11 in a gym, you are a beginner. If you aren’t yet consistently flashing V4, yes, you may benefit from this section because you are also a beginner. Congratulations! If you are mentioned in the above, you have a TON of potential!
Think outside of your immediate circumstances for a minute.
“We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
Native American Proverb
- When taking on an outdoor hobby or sport, remember you are the steward for the land you use. There isn’t someone coming to clean up after you. The Climbing Access Fund, https://www.accessfund.org, says we are simply loving our crags to death. Don’t just work to leave no trace… leave an outdoor space BETTER than you found it. Use chalk the color of the rock you are on when possible.** Remember desert areas are especially vulnerable. Take a bag to throw other peoples’ trash into; there will be peoples’ trash. This includes “organic” matter. Micro trash, pistachio shells, orange peels, dog poop, 2 legged animal poop, cigarette butts, tissue, and the one random sock you used for (we really don’t want to know), have no place at the crag or on a trail. We all love a good crag dog, but pets digging can be a significant source of erosion, damage crags, and terrify wildlife.
- Be respectful of landowners, indigenous traditions, seasonal closures for wildlife.Your climbing goals DO NOT trump these. You are often there only at the permission of someone else. Almost half of climbing areas are NOT public land. *Like it or not, your refusal to be a caretaker and guardian of that property can result in everyone losing access. Places like Devils Tower in WY, Hidden Boulders on the OR coast, or Cochise Stronghold in AZ have no room for a “Whoa, bra, let’s conquer this!” attitude. Try to reach out BLM staff, park rangers, local guides, etc. There is no downside to asking how you can help the area stay beautiful and safe for all.
- As you begin to climb outside, be mindful of noise. Your voice carries upward, and through canyons. Climbers need to hear each other for safety. Loud chatter at the crag, music, and yelling can make communication difficult. Please DON’T be the cause of someone’s accident. Also note that wildlife is particularly sensitive to sound. Small animals scurry, and birds can abandon nests.
Please DO take time to enjoy the view! Be pleased that you are taking care of yourself andhopefully having fun doing it.
“I’m better than I used to be. Better than I was yesterday. But hopefully not as good as I’ll be tomorrow.”
There are three primary areas we look at as coaches: Mental Focus, Technique, and Strength. This blog will cover all of those topics and more. During each phase of your climbing, the priority changes. For beginners, I recommend you work on focus and mental aspects of climbing. Focus on the skills in the skill section. Focuson improving your body awareness, especially breathe work. Focuson keeping minimal upper extremity use, while focusing on core tension, and lower extremity pushing. Focus on calm and controlled movement, even if you feel a fall coming. Learn to fall like you did as a toddler.
To write goals, you must first recognize where you are TODAY as a climber. You will need to take an objective look at your climbing. We start with an honest self-assessment. It is also beneficial to have a coach like myself watch you climb, then assess areas of strength as well as areas in need of improvement. We can be wickedly hard on ourselves in some ways (ignore those, they are almost always wrong), and overly generous in others. Consider current level of cardiovascular fitness, past and present injuries, mental skill, technical skill, experience, and strength.
PART II INTERMEDIATE /MODERATE
You are now comfortable leading 5.10 outside, but struggling to lead 5.11 to 5.12.
Bouldering has progressed to allow projecting V4 to V6, maybe an occasional V7.
The tips in these sections of my blog are for you, but all of the tips are good review at any grade. Hopefully my writing helps you to climb smarter, and not work yourself into an injury attempting to progress.
Just be your best version of yourself.
At this point in your climbing, you will need to start setting specific goals. Are you training for a trip? How should you structure your training to meet your goals? What’s at risk for your body type? What is your climbing style and what are the things you avoid? Are you training for bouldering? Are you training for trad? Sport? Alpine? While you CAN choose any or all of the above, it will decrease your progression toward harder grades if you choose to be a generalist. If your goal is to have fun playing outside while improving skill in climbing, EXCELLENT!
At the intermediate level, your priority is technique. I recently met Lynn Hill, Stone Master, (and personal hero for me)! This is what she had to say to me on climbing progression and injury prevention: “One of the biggest points I would stress is that climbers use good technique at all times - even when tired, which is hard to maintain. Good technique is efficiency, proper alignment, breathing, proper amount of muscle exertion (as opposed to over-gripping), and of course, the right mental state.” Lynn is currently working on a subscription based video series to teach just that! …Did I mention this 5’2’ pioneer, climbing warrior is my hero?!? Check her out!
I can’t emphasize the number of finger and upper extremity injuries I see at this level because of lacking leg and footwork. Climbers tend to set goals for improved finger & arm strength because of the injuries in these areas. This is symptom management. It isn’t addressing the cause of most injuries at this level. The injury source is actually a need to incorporate hips, posterior spine, and trunk muscles into climbing. BE MINDFUL of HOW you climb, not getting to the top. You have made it this far, pushing grades, now let’s clean it up a bit to get to the next level.
Take a moment to watch other climbers. There are so many styles, sizes, and shapes! Watch what others do well. Watch how bodies move differently from yours. What goals can you make to emulate them? Are you static and graceful? Are you powerful and dynamic? How is your balance? How do your old injuries effect your climbing?
Put thought into what you have accomplished. What are the things that make you love climbing? What were your proudest successes and WHY? Have a coach assess you for areas of improvement. Honestly, not harshly, consider current level of cardiovascular fitness, past and present injuries, mental skill, technical skill, experience, and strength.
PART III ADVANCED
Ready to project outdoor 5.13 and up! You should be comfortable with any gym problem or route. Projecting V7 & up… which overs a ton of territory.
AKA Projecting Hard $#!+
The tips in these sections of my blog are for you, but reading the advice for beginners and intermediates can be helpful too. Never forget the fundamentals. Sometimes a reminder of "why" we work so hard is a good thing.
What happens when you decide what you’ve got isn’t gonna cut it anymore? You get more.
In the U.S., we are just starting to recognize climbing as a sport worthy of sponsorship and funding by the nation you may someday represent. As I write this, climbing is about to premiere in its first Olympics in 2020! Already the rules and competition will change for the next summer Olympics in 2024. This has started to open the door to financing for the first national training facility, coaching, physio, nutrition, and the entire village it takes to keep athletes at this level healthy, happy, and injury free. It also begins to open the door for more research to combine with current coaching instead of the traditional athlete coaching athlete with what they did 10 years ago model.
Your priority is now building strength and staying healthy while doing it. I strongly recommend regular coaching, body work, and serious thought to nutrition and sleep. Your team is there to keep you on track and prevent you from being distracted. We all tend to want to do the things we are good at, while shying away from the things that are hard and make us feel less successful. The HARD things that we have not YET mastered are the things our coaches will make us do regularly.
Pectoral Opener with Barbell
Lying on the floor with one arm out like you’re going for a high five- pin the end of a barbell in the meaty part of your pec muscles just inside the point of your shoulder.
Take it slow- find a point that is tender - but not too painful - and breathe. Slowly roll the bar out to also get the bicep, taking your time along the way to pin down any sore points.
You may move your arm in any position to deepen the pressure.
Hip Flexor (TFL) Release
Standing upright, perpendicular to a wall, pin a lacrosse ball between your tensor fascia latae (TFL) and the wall. You can this spot by locating the pointy part of your hip bone in the front and move down about an inch and back about an inch- it may feel tight or tender.
Once you have the spot pinned play with moving your leg around in small circles or forward and back. You can also roll the ball back further and work your glutes!
Lateral Neck Flexion with Strap
Grab a strap, towel or band and loop it over your one shoulder. Take the
end of the strap with the opposite hand and gently pull down. This will anchor the shoulder and first rib- deepening your stretch. Then shift your head away from the strapped shoulder until your feel a stretch. Hold for about 30s and repeat 2-3 times. Play with the head position- you’ll feel when you’re getting a good stretch!
Have fun and let us know what you think!