Saturday, July 14, 2012


"How Can I Get Better at Climbing?"
Since the point of this blog is to share realistic information to normal, every-day climbers, I thought I would start things off by addressing probably the most frequently asked question I get around the gym: how can I get better at climbing? My answer is always more general than specific, and is based on the following three principles:

Figure out what you really mean.
Everyone thinks climbing "better" means being able to climb harder routes or problems. Now, I've never met anyone who doesn't want to climb harder, but being "better" has different meanings for different people. For everyone, being a "better" climber should mean more than being a stronger climber. So ask yourself what you really mean by "better." Do really only want to be able to hold on to the tiniest of crimps? If so, great, then go get on a hangboard. Or do you mean you want to be able to climb routes/problems that don't fit your style? Or do you mean you want to be more efficient climbing outside so you can get more climbing in on your weekend trips?

Distinguish between knowledge and ability.
Knowing that something exists - a backstep, for example - does not mean that you can actually do it. Knowledge requires practice to become a skill. Conversely, just because someone is a super-strong climber does not in any way mean they know anything about climbing. You can't just mimic what you see strong climbers doing and hope that you too will become strong. Remember, being "better" does not just mean being a stronger climber. Combining knowledge and ability will get you on the fast-track to becoming a better climber.

Increase your knowledge. 
Once you figure out what you really want to become better at, then determine what you need to know to be able to reach your goal. Here are three simple things that will help:
  1. Find a mentor. In my opinion, this is the most important thing you can do to become better, regardless of what "better" means to you. If the only people you are climbing with are at your same level, your progression will be painfully slow. Climbing with someone who is more experienced, more knowledgeable, and who may even be stronger than you will necessarily increase your performance. Even if they don't actively teach you, you will naturally absorb new things from them.
  2. Watch "better" climbers. Sit down at the gym and watch how that one really strong climber does a route. Or watch how the guide on the next route over from you sets up and takes down their anchor. 
  3. Read books. If you want to be stronger, read training books. If you want to improve your technique, read training books. If you want to be safer outside read anchoring or "how to climb outside" books.
Increase your ability.
You need to be able to transfer what you have learned to an actual skill you can use while climbing. Only two things are required for this:


But practicing isn't as simple as it sounds. To really practice, you need to not think about performance. Be honest- the last time you were climbing, were you thinking about sending your project, or were you thinking about actively practicing something you want to improve on? Most everybody climbs, and even trains, for performance. If you want to a better climber, focusing on performance is really, really inefficient. In any activity, performance is when you "put it all together" in a culminating effort. By definition, you cannot be practicing when you are performing; once you have practiced enough and have achieved mastery, then you perform.

So, coming in to the gym every session and trying to send routes is not going to lead to much improvement, because you are not practicing. Similarly, reading a book on anchors and then going outside and trying to set your first multi-point, complex anchor is probably not going to work well for you. 

I will say more about how to practice in future posts, but for now let it suffice to suggest that the vast majority or your time climbing should be focused on practicing and not performing.

Have the right gear.
If you want to improve, you must have the right gear. This doesn't mean the latest, greatest, most expensive gear, it means having the "right tool for the job." 

For example, let's say you are a beginner climber wanting to break into the 5.10 grade level. There are two pieces of climbing gear that are absolutely essential:
  1. Proper shoes. Climbing shoes are the only piece of climbing gear that will, in and of themselves, improve your climbing. You cannot climb well in old, worn out shoes. You cannot climb well in shoes that don't fit you correctly. You cannot climb well in shoes that aren't meant for what you want to do. Please, don't go online and find the cheapest pair of Mad Rock shoes and guess at your size. But also don't get the most expensive pair that you see all the pros wearing in the magazines and videos. Go to your local climbing gear shop, talk to the staff, and try some on. My general recommendations to anyone climbing up to the 5.11 grade are the Evolv Defy  and the Evolv Bandit
  2. A good harness. A harness won't make you a better climber, but if your harness is comfortable then you will want to climb more, which will make you a better climber (assuming you are practicing!). Until you are doing something really specialized - only trad climbing, only ice climbing, or high-end sport climbing - you do not need the most expensive, most high-tech harness available. What you need is a lightweight, breathable, and comfortable harness that you don't dread putting on. My recommendation is the Petzl Sama

So, if you want to become a "better" climber, try following these ideas for a while and see what happens. I'm very confident that you will see fast progress. Thanks for reading, and let me know how it goes!

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