Want to own the wall? Climbing coach and university student Alistair Lee advises budding climbers how to improve their technique.
Working as an instructor and coach at The Glasgow Climbing Centre and being an active member of my University’s Mountaineering Club means I often get asked "how can I climb better?” The answer to this is not simple and requires a lot of self-analysis. More often than not, it simply comes down to climbing more.
Here I am going to cover a couple of questions that I’ve been asked and how I went about answering them. Remember when following these that they are just a guideline and proper practice and safety must always be followed.
"Before I started climbing I used to work out a lot in the gym. I feel I have the strength but I am lacking the technique to climb hard… what can I do?"
As I said earlier, self-analysis is vital! Climb a few routes and try to think about what you don’t like about your climbing: are you stomping your foot down on anything underneath you? Do you feel like you're just pulling the lower half of your body up the route and your legs aren't helping you? Does that little kid next to you manage to get up your route using just his arms and you’re struggling with all four limbs?
Lack of proper technique is a fairly common problem with new climbers and it can be fixed fairly easily. When doing your warm up, climb easier routes you're not worried about falling off. Try to really concentrate on your feet and your foot position on the wall. When placing your foot, try and find the best part of the hold – this is the hold that is flat and facing in a direction that will give you the best push forward.
By doing this, you are going to ensure that your foot is in a good position and won't need readjusting (which is a waste of energy). When placing your foot ensure you're placing it gently and carefully. With the kids we call this 'silent feet'. By doing routes in your warm up with proper foot placement you will train yourself to place your feet properly and effectively, so when you're on your hard route (project) you don't need to think about your feet. They should just go on the route subconsciously.
"Being of a smaller stature I struggle to pull off bigger, more dynamic moves. How can I work on my climbing-based strength?"
Power and strength is not vital when it comes to climbing (just look up Ashima Shiraishi, the 14 year old 9a climber!) But it's fair to say that it does help. The best thing about training power is that you don't need to go down the local gym or spend ages hanging from small holds. Although these may be effective techniques they can be a bit boring and aren't necessary.
The first thing that I would recommend would be to try climbing down from routes after you've reached the top. By climbing down you're going to work on the lock off strength and help your endurance as well.
The next thing I would suggest is trying to do a few pull ups once you are well warmed up. This will train the basic strength needed for big moves but not the power of moving off holds. Finally, try big moves! It's really easy to recognise you're bad at powerful moves and then just not practice them. Try doing a few dynos, try a bit of campusing (climbing without legs), find a friend who is in a similar position as you and see who can do the biggest move… Make it a game and suddenly the training is easy.
In general it’s a good idea to break down your training session: try concentrating on technique at the start, train a bit of power once warmed up then try putting your new skills into practise on a hard route. The more you fall off the more you will learn so don’t be afraid to fail. For more information on red pointing try this UKC Link.
These tips are aimed at the climber who has just started and is aiming to climb up to about 7a. For more information on climbing better there are many videos and articles online; I'd recommend Robbie Phillips’ video series 'The Process' for beginner climbers.