*Today’s guest post is from David Sandel of Low Gravity Ascents. David shares tips for beginning climbers.*
These are not tips for people that are yet unsure if they really like climbing. They are not tips for people that are sure they like climbing and need an all-encompassing guide including gear and safety tips. These are tips for people that have the gear they currently need, know they are going to devote considerable time to the sport, and would like to start becoming more skilled climbers.
1. Lose Weight
It hurts my feelings to say that, but it’s likely true for the majority of us. The U.S. isn’t known for producing lean bodies on a large, nationwide scale. Even if you’re already lean and muscular from life as a gym rat, chances are really good that your tendon strength is not on par with your muscular strength. For climbing, tendons matter more than muscles. When I started climbing, I was a lean 175lb. – 180lb. I lost muscle mass on purpose to get down to the 160lb. – 165lb. range. No doubt, some of it was just “beginner’s gains”, but I think losing and extra 10lb. – 20lb. really got me down to where my tendon strength matched my bodyweight. And if you’re not lean already and have a few “extra pounds of love”, the reduced bodyweight will definitely help you more.
2. Use Your Feet
I know I am guilty of this when I started, and I’ve seen it a ton while climbing in the gym, but beginners just seem to forget that their feet are attached do their body and can help them move ‘up’. I’m not talking about more advanced footwork like drop-steps, crossovers, and heel hooks either. I mean, simply raising your foot and stepping on your next hold. If you find yourself tippy-toeing on a hold to get your fingers on the next hold up, you’re likely missing a foot hold. Move your hands down to their previous position, keep them there, and look for someplace to put your feet. Beginner routes usually do not require full-body extension.
3. Watch Climbers Who are Better than You
Not only will you get a better idea of how to use your feet properly by doing this, but you will also see how to position your body in other ways for various problems you will encounter. You may be scrambling up walls by brute force now, but by moving more efficiently, you will able to progress faster.
Humans possess cognitive learning skills. That is, learning by watching, and then mimicking. Sure, you may not be as skilled or as strong as Sharma to pull off the exact moves on a 5.15 just yet, but by watching him move, you’re subconsciously learning how to flag your feet to prevent “barn dooring” or when to reach across your body for the next hand hold rather than matching hands and then reaching with the hand closest to the hold. These things are counter intuitive to beginners, but if you see it done, you will learn that these “tricks” will put you in a better position to link the next moves together.
4. Climb. Then Climb Some More.
The old adage of “practice makes perfect” still holds true to this day. If your goal is to progress to higher grades (which is most certainly NOT everyone’s), the frequency in which you practice will also dictate your progression. And I don’t believe in practicing just for the sake of practicing either. I want you to have high quality practice. If you’re amazingly sore from climbing the day before, take a day or two off. If you’re just not into it one evening, do something else that will make you happy. If there is actual pain or injury, don’t fight through it; take time off or do something that doesn’t cause pain or exacerbate the injury. If you truly are motivated to climb harder, the time away will only get you more excited and more motivated for the next session.
5. Have FUN!
So cliché, isn’t it? But it’s true, not only from a “culture of climbing” standpoint, but also from a performance standpoint. People learn best when they’re in the best psychological state. A lot of times, that’s when we’re having fun. I became really good at math in elementary school by playing a super fun (at the time) computer game (on an Apple IIe). In college, I learned sophisticated defenses playing football because the coaches joked with us and played sweet music during practice. So, if you’re not having fun, you’re definitely climbing for the wrong reasons and doing a great disservice to your own progress.
Now, get out there and climb!
David Sandel is an avid outdoorsman, Evolv Grassroots Sponsored Climber, and all-around swell guy that doesn’t take life too seriously. He is the man behind Low Gravity Ascents, where he likes to write about rock climbing, mountaineering, gear reviews, and athletic training. He holds a “Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist” certification from the National Strength and Conditioning Association on top of being a full time engineer. Visit his site and discover many ways to connect through social media!