Being a good rock climber means that you have learned and then mastered a good technique. As you progress, strength and predisposition are not going to get you very far if you technique is bad. The mistake many climbers make, is to believe that in order to be better, they need to be stronger. Sure, strength helps, but it is not all, in fact, you’ll see plenty of amateur climbers who train their strength a lot, but once they are on the wall, they feel powerless if they are required to make a particular move.
To help us understand what it means to be a better climber, let’s take a look at the top élite climbers and their careers. What do Chris Sharma, Alex Honnold and Sasha DiGiulian have in common? They all started very young. With this I don’t mean that if you start late in life you’re not going to be good, but when you are young, you don’t focus on your strength as much. Young people are knowledge sponges, they are curious and they want to know things. As we grow, we don’t have the patience to learn and we want to get stronger fast. So you either have to start as a child, or you get into the right mindset to learn a good technique. As the top climber Lynn Hill says:
“I’m a curious person. That, I think, is a quality that’s necessary for education: if you’re not curious then you’re not interested, and if you’re not interested then you’re not going to learn.”
Now the problem is: it’s easier to get stronger than to get better. Just about anyone can go to the climbing gym and finish some walls or boulder problems and feeling on top of the world but training to improve technique is more of a mental effort. It requires coordination and awareness, both of which, if you climb for fun, you are not going to exercise. You need to get to the point where you feel as if the technique that you are using has always been with you. Good climbers don’t think too much about what they do, they just do it right and this is the art of climbing.
Before getting into how you can be a better climber, I would like to point out that I’m not any of the élite climbers, but I’ve been a beginner and I’ve gotten better, so let me help you prevent some mistakes that I’ve made when I started that I wish I could have avoided.
1. Use Your Feet
When we first start climbing, we tend to rely only on hand holds because they give us a false sense of security. We look for them first, then we drag our feet up. Unless you are very strong, this mechanism is counterproductive; it makes your arms very tired in no time and you will struggle to finish the wall. So the best advice I can give you, is to pay more attention to your feet than your hand. I know it’s hard, but it’s the only way to progress. Also, the best way to step on a foothold is by applying pressure on it with the big toe, that’s why it’s important to have the right climbing shoes (you can find all the information here).
2. Use Your Hips
Your entire body needs to move, not just your arms and legs, rotate the body as well when you are on a wall, that will help you especially for more dynamic moves.
I know that it seems illogical, but we often don’t give our best while climbing because we are afraid of falling, and we end up being too careful. If you fall on purpose you will see that it’s not as terrible as you thought and you will climb with a lot more confidence.
4. Use The Wall
It is possible and sometimes useful to rely on the wall as a support for your feet, which when I started I thought it was impossible, but the more you climb the more you realize how using the wall really helps you.
5. Don’t Fret
It’s normal wanting to get better, but like with any sport you need a certain degree of patience and training. In climbing, if you don’t get better slowly you risk injuries, especially on your fingertips if you grab small holds and the tendons in your fingers are not strong enough yet. This happened to a friend of mine that, due to a tendon injury, wasn’t able to climb for months, so in this case there’s a useful say: prevention is better than a cure!