Tips and suggestions for rock climbing
This post pretends making a general review of suggestions and good practice for starting out at rock climbing. We will list several points that affect the different areas of climbing. They are points we consider you must take into consideration, above all those concerning safety, sports climbing is not necessarily hazardous if everything is done correctly, but any mistake is paid at a high price, therefore special attention must be given to this aspect.
Suggestions about the technique
- Climb with the feet. This is perhaps the most important technique, and the one most overlooked by those starting. The lower part of our body is much stronger than the upper part and, as far as possible, while you climb, concentrate on maintaining the weight of your body above your feet.
- Maintain your weight on your skeleton: when you are hanging from the holds keep your arms straight or very slightly flexed, instead of keeping them flexed at all times and keep your body close to the wall. This way, your muscles have the opportunity to rest instead of always being tense. This is to save energy.
- Move your feet efficiently: When we climb very often, we are frightened, we are in a hurry and we feel tired and kick out or scrape the wall with our feet without precision. We waste a lot of energy on finding where we must put our foot, and when we do, we hardly touch it, we do not use sufficient force for the foot to be sufficiently anchored, by not having it well placed, we do not trust it and we continue gripping more than needed with our fingers and arms. The next time you are going to climb, look for a route that is lower than your limit and try to focus your attention on climbing with your feet as precise and smooth as possible. Choose a support point, place your foot on it firmly, support all your weight and take a step forward, all as delicately and calmly as possible.
- Rest and breathe deeply every time you can: Have you ever had Elvis’ legs, when you are frightened or tired and your legs do not stop trembling? This is the result of the lack of oxygen in the body. Breathe deeply with each movement while you climb and rest. Breathing is also an essential technique to rest your mind and concentrate. While you climb rest always when you can, resting is perhaps as important as any other ability for climbing. On a long route, when you are in a comfortable posture, let your arm or both of them drop and take the opportunity to shake the muscles of your arms and that way stimulate blood circulation and facilitate recovery, and meanwhile, take the opportunity to analyse the route and plan the next steps.
- Work your core and your flexibility: work on the construction of a strong core for balance and stability on the wall. Sometimes, as much as we want exercising the core to be involuntary and do it “as we climb”, this must be a conscious decision, and it is worth specifically working it well. We can say exactly the same about flexibility, of course stretches are absolutely necessary, above all after each climbing session (consider that at muscle and articulations level we are talking about an extremely aggressive sport), but besides this specifically working the flexibility will allow us to considerably note an improvement in the fluidity of our body while we climb.
- Participate in a positive internal dialogue: There is an mental enormous component in climbing which we must essentially recognise. Try to detach yourself form everything around you to focus on the progression of your movements only and exclusively while you climb. If fear is your great problem, learn how to identify in the most objective possible way the context of your safety. Talk about fear and the nature of fear, because simply it is, fear is natural, and if you talk about it, soon you will see that everyone feels fear, it is just a question of learning how to manage it. Climbing has a very great emotional component that sometimes makes us suffer (fear) and others enjoy (shot of self-esteem).
We dearly recommend you attend a course given by professionals before trying to climb or securing yourself on your own. Climbing is potentially hazardous, although when it is done correctly it can be very safe. Even after learning the basic techniques, it is still vitally important to be aware of your safety at all times. Before climbing on your first route, or before passing from climbing to descending/rappelling, there is a series of safety manoeuvres you must know.
- Climbers and belayers must check that each of their harnesses is well placed and adjusted, and that their helmets are correctly fastened.
- The climbers must check that the rope is correctly positioned through the belaying device, and the same device is correctly linked to the ring of the harness using a screwgate carabiner with the thread closed.
- The belayer must revise the knot of their climber to assure that it is an adequate figure 8 and is tight close to the harness.
- The climber and the belayer must make sure they know the plan for when the climber reaches the meeting point (point where the route finishes or where two climbers meet after finishing a length in the case of routes with several lengths). Will the climber descend or rappel? Confusion in this manoeuvre has resulted in many accidents which can be avoided with a simple conversation.
- Establish the climbing codes used by the roped team. What will the climber say if he wants the rope to be tighter? What will they say if they are ready to descend? It is worth establishing a series of short, clear, and concise codes for efficient communication.
- Special attention must be given to taking care of the climbing equipment. Carefully look at the instructions from the manufacturer in each case and replace the material if any important deterioration detected.
- Choose climbing routes that are in concordance with the level of each one, do not hurry to raise the level and do not take as reference the capacities of other climbers. Following routes that are not within our reach can make us feel very bad, frustrate use, and take the joy out of climbing… We must focus on having a good time and enjoying it, beyond numbers, there is a place for everyone and for all profiles, choose well, it is worth it.
- A positive attitude is very useful. Climbing gyms and rock-climbing areas are used more and more and the sport is becoming more social. As a beginner, try to add and cohesion the community taking friendly and positive interactions with those around you. The climbing community offers a unique environment to share and enjoy in freedom!
- Carefully follow the principles of Leave No Trace. Very often you will climb in very fragile environments; leave them as you find them. Respect enclosures, collect your waste, remain on the paths and park and camp in established areas.
- When climbing in a popular area, do not monopolise a route. If others what to climb the route you are one, offer them the opportunity of using your rope.
- Along the same line, try to travel in small groups of 2-4. Large groups can be very bothersome and can unjustly monopolise a complete sector.
- When you climb to the top of a wall or peak, take care with the climbers who are below you. Do not drop rocks or your equipment and take care when climbing on loose terrain to not move anything. If finally, a rock or part of your material does fall, shout as loud as you can to warn those below you in time.
- When you are behind a slower group in a climb of several lengths, politely ask for permission before you pass, if they give you permission you pass carefully and considerately. Talk with the other party and pass only if it is safe.
- Safety is always first. If an experimented climber on a rock or in a climb wants to suggest, take the opportunity and be open to the suggestion. You need many years to learn the secrets (literally) of climbing, and much can be learnt from others if we want to.
- Respect: Climbing has always been a very community activity and well linked to nature. An activity where always collectively the environment is a priority where an activity is practised on the activity itself. Over the last years climbing is suffering a boom that although being positive in many aspects, it is not in many others. There are many climbing areas that are suffering uncontrolled saturation of visitors that inevitable is leading to a degradation of highly valuable natural environments, to the point of having to close these areas to climbers. Transmitting scrupulous respect for the ecosystems where climbing is done is vitally important (never leaving any trace of our visit), as well as local habits and culture. Many times, climbing areas are located in private land, we must close any gates, never park wherever we want, if we see an environment that is full of people, opt for another area… Never make noise, are typically common sense, people must understand that mountains must never be considered as an extension of the gym.
Safety, the equipment, and the logistics can overwhelm new climbers, but after making these points clear and overcoming the uncertainties, a new climber can start to enjoy the sport. Leaving to one side all the technical jargon, we leave you with four main suggestions while you start out on your climbing trip:
- Take a rest and stretch always when you can and warm up before each session: climbing is DIFFICULT and initially you will use muscles that are inactive in your body. Before starting a session warm up your entire body, to do that design a simple “warm-up pattern” that involves simple exercises and stretch correctly to loosen tendons and articulations before starting. Start with very easy steps and little by little increase the difficulty. Stretch after each session and if you can at night before you go to bed, this will even help you to rest better. Do not continuously force yourself to the “maximum” or you will run the risk of injuring yourself. And rest, listen to your body and when it asks for rest, give it rest, this is as they say the most important part of training. Enjoy the process and be patient; it will not be very long before you feel much “looser” and more efficient, remember the journey is as important as the destiny.
- As in many other sports, ”The best climb is the one you enjoy most“. It is not a matter of numbers or peaks, it is about enjoying the climb, about places, people, in other words about the moment.
- Find reliable and safe rope companions: Of course, we insist that safety is first, and basically this is we trust the person who is our belayer, but also it is important to choose companions with whom we really feel well and have fun, as well as taking advantage of the climb to enjoy their company and the good moments we have. The experiences you will have with your companions will create affective bonds and will change your life, and can lead to deep, long-lasting friendships.
- Do not run from fear, try to manage it. Fear is always there; we cannot deny that understand it and learn how to live with it. A fearless climber does not exist, and it is important to express and naturalise fear.
- Let your climbing lessons apply to other fields of your life. Climbing can only be a good vital reference: for patience, for empowerment, for self-awareness, for resolving problems, for personal care, for coping with emotions and with communication and much more. As you learn lessons on the rock, you will see these will be reflected in your daily routine.