How to Improve at Indoor Rock Climbing

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Once you are beyond being a beginner in indoor rock climbing, it is time to move onto becoming a "great" indoor rock climber. Here are some suggestions for those of you wanting to make this your regular sporting activity. It assumes that you have already tackled a few beginner walls and feel up to more intermediate rock climbing pursuits.

Steps

  1. Find a good rock climbing venue. As a beginner you may have tried various locations. Moving on to regularizing your climbing will probably mean settling for one or two regular locations for a time in order to methodically conquer a series of increasing skill-level walls. Your experience will be affected by the quality of your climbing venue. Scout out local operations in gyms, specially developed rock climbing places and outdoor venues. Select those that appeal to you and where the staff appear knowledgeable and helpful. Also ascertain the quality and type of equipment available.
  2. Increase your strength. Climbing is a sport requiring strength. If you do not have good strength already, or you are not maintaining the strength that you do have, it is important to do strengthening exercises. The following list simply provides explanations of the areas on which to concentrate and the types of exercises that may be helpful. Seek professional advice or use a good exercise/climbing book to hone down the exact content of the exercises that will suit your needs:
    • Arms: Improve your grip by doing exercises that will strengthen the arms and wrist/forearm region. Use a squeeze ball regularly to strengthen the wrist and hand region; lift small weights frontwards and sideways to improve overall arm strength. Try static hangs on a bar to increase your capacity to do static hangs while climbing. Better to discover on the low bar than a high wall that you cant do this!
    • Shoulders: Strong shoulders are also an essential feature of being a great rock climber. Strong shoulders aid arm strength and protect the neck and upper back region from unnecessary strain. Pull-up exercises, exercise elastics, weights and simple arm rotations are all ideal strengthening exercises for shoulders.
    • Upper body: Pull-ups are brilliant for increasing upper body strength. Even a mere 10 a day done regularly will make an enormous difference to your strength capacity.
    • Legs: Legs do more work climbing than some give them credit for. If the arms fail, the legs are up for it all. Do not overdo the leg exercises, just ensure that they are flexible and strong.
  3. Exercise in moderation. With all these exercises, do not go overboard and develop enormous muscles. Climbers do not need large, pumped-up muscles; climbers need strength and flexibility. Your exercise routine should be regular and short in duration; enough to build strength only. You will get a lot of physical conditioning out of the climbing itself.
  4. Limber up. Before you even put a foot on that wall, warm up and do your stretches. Youll be stretching those leg muscles to their limits on the wall, so do your body a favour and be ready before you start. Stretching will increase blood circulation and increase your muscle flexibility.
  5. Ensure adequate fluid intake at all times. Drink water before the climb and between climbs. Always replace the fluids you lose through sweating from the climb.
  6. Be steady and focus. Avoid distractions by concentrating on the climb at hand; ignore noise and do not watch the people below if they distract you.
  7. Take the steady road to increasing your climbing skills. If you go for the hard climbs before you are ready, theres a higher chance of injury, for example, spraining your wrist or tearing a muscle. Assuming you have already tackled the easier climbs, take on the more advanced skill level walls. Ask staff for the suggested progression. Sometimes it can take several weeks of continued attempts to tackle some walls - be patient and enjoy the challenge for its own sake. This is all part of what makes indoor rock climbing an enjoyable way to keep fit.
  8. Care for your bodys needs after the climb. Climbing is strenuous when undertaken as a regular and prolonged activity. Ensure that your body has a good fuel-up by eating complex carbohydrates after the climb. Some people find a dark chocolate boost very helpful also.
  9. Join a climbing club or group. If you have become an enthusiast, join with other enthusiasts. Youll get motivation, friendships and regular activities. Also consider joining up with online climbing forums that will provide you with useful tips, gear exchanges and contact details. Even if you do not feel like joining a club, at least mingle with the other climbers after a climb at the gym or climbing venue. Debrief on the problems and highs of your climbs.
  10. Keep your bum into the wall as you climb, doing so will assist your body in going up. Because your bum, or the gluteus maximus are the largest muscles in your body. Which means they weigh a lot and will pull your body downward as you climb.
  11. Maintain three points of contact as you climb. This means that you can have one limb off the wall, so you can rest it. (i.e. Two hands one foot or two feet one hand.)
  12. When beginners climb, they have the tendency to look up constantly, reframe from doing this as it will make it difficult for you to choose your foot holds as you climb. Look up and down to ensure that you are using every hold to its maximum potential.
  13. Learn to use walls and ledges as foot holds, otherwise you might become stuck as you get further up the wall.
  14. Leave the wall. Once you have become competent in the controlled environment of indoor rock climbing, get bold. Leave the wall and try outdoor rock climbing. Start small and see how it feels. If you like it, itll open up a whole new sport for you.

Tips

  • Always climb with a belay buddy.
  • Complex carbohydrates include fruit, pasta, potatoes, rice etc.
  • If you get stuck mentally about your climbing ability, keep on thinking: "I can do this, I can do this" and eventually you will get there. Sometimes you have to talk yourself through the hard parts and be your own coach; that is just the nature of a sport like climbing. If you feel fear, it is important to assess whether this is a fear arising from lack of enough skills or whether it is caused by a new terrain, poor equipment or just a "bad day". Each of these sources of fear can be addressed and remedied. Fear of heights, however, is much harder to address and if this is a sudden issue for you, seek professional assistance to address the phobia.
  • Hire a personal trainer if you want specialized attention and help. This is really no different than hiring a personal fitness trainer; instead of gym exercises, you are doing climbing exercises and still receiving the same fit, toned and streamlined body.
  • Use your legs just as much if not more than you use your arms. Try to have at least 3 points of contact on the wall at all times.
  • Relax. Do not rush. Take your time and focus on doing the routes correctly with good form, rather than quickly.
  • Do not stress if you do not get it the first time. You will eventually achieve it, and you will be all the more proud.
  • If you cant seem to get a route, ask the climbing staff at the centre, most of them will be happy to help you.
  • If you really get stuck, go to one that is a little easier, work on that one, then work your way up.
  • Ask someone that has climbed that wall where the tricky sections are.
  • If you are still young enough to get away with climbing the walls at your local park then keep on trying new ways to get to the top.

Warnings

  • Start off slowly if you are afraid of heights. Only go as high as you are comfortable, and slowly work on going a bit higher each climb. Remember that with a proper setup and halfway competent belayer you are incredibly safe. Trust your equipment. The weakest piece can support almost 2,500 lbs if used properly, and about 1,000 lbs if not. Falling injuries are rare in a gym, and seem to occur mostly when inexperienced climbers try to race each other.
  • If you get on a route thats too hard for you, do not keep trying if theres no way youll be able to do it; if you are hanging on the rope for longer than you are climbing, get off. It will only frustrate your belayer and the people who are waiting to do the route. Move to a different route and come back to it once you have improved.
  • Treat injuries with respect. If you push yourself hard and pull a muscle, give it time to heal before you start working yourself again.

Things You Will Need

  • Harness. Your life depends on it. You can often rent a harness at the climbing venue, but its safer, more comfortable and more convenient to buy your own.
  • Carabiner and rappel-belay device. These are sometimes provided by the venue.
  • Belay certification. Every venue has its own testing and certification requirements.
  • Climbing shoes. Wearing the right shoes can really boost your performance. Rock climbing shoes may look funny, but you wont believe the difference if youve been climbing in sneakers. Even if youve been renting shoes at the gym, youll notice a significant improvement in your ability after you break in your own pair. Its essential to get good advice on fit and stiffness so seek advice from knowledgeable climbers or salespeople.
  • Clothing. Almost anything goes as long as it gives you a full range of motion. Loose or stretchy is good; tight jeans are not. Youll be indoors and youll be getting warm from the exercise, so do not wear anything that will overheat you. You can buy fashionable rock climbing clothes in outdoors stores, or just wear workout duds.
  • Chalk bag, with loose chalk or a chalk ball. Sweaty fingers are slippery.
  • Pre-selected venue with various levels of challenging walls
  • Water or sports drink
  • Tote bag for your gear
  • Climbing skills books

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Sources and Citations

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