Most would agree that the most effective way to get better at a sport is to play it as often as possible, but too many people think that’s the only way. In reality, you can do many accessory exercises and activities to improve your performance.
Climbing has many such activities because it challenges your agility, hand-eye coordination and functional strength like few other sports in the world. Here are four training tips to improve your climbing skills and reach your next goal.
1. Focus on Your Feet
Climbers spend a lot of time focusing on their grip strength and upper bodies — and understandably so — but you have to show your feet equal attention. The first thing on your checklist should be to purchase new climbing shoes if your current footwear isn’t satisfactory. A pair of comfortable shoes with a solid grip can improve your performance in the blink of an eye.
Second, you should incorporate more footwork drills into your training. Use an agility ladder to perform some of these simple yet effective exercises:
- Ickey shuffle
Athletes across many sports perform these footwork drills to improve their speed, balance and agility. All three qualities are important for climbing. You need to get your feet in the right spots quickly, maintain your balance throughout the session, and be agile enough to make difficult maneuvers like backsteps and smears without thinking twice.
2. Work on Your Mobility
A climber’s mobility also plays a significant role in their success. There’s more to it than the ability to stretch and contort your body to get those hard-to-reach holds. You also need to be able to push off from your foothold and get to the next step without expending too much energy. Those crucial moments often determine whether or not you reach the top.
Bodybuilder-style strength training is adequate for improving your mobility, but you should also do more functional movements with equipment like battle ropes, tires and sleds. These items target essential muscle groups for climbing, primarily the core, shoulders, forearms and lower body. Here are some exercises that will improve your mobility and translate well to climbing:
- Sled pushes and pulls
- Stiff-leg walks
- One-arm row pulls
- Tire flips
- Rope slams
- Wide circles
- Bilateral waves
Most exercises with these pieces of equipment are best utilized on an indoor turf surface, which has great traction for explosive movements and allows you to throw and drop the weight without issue. This training style is more beneficial for climbers than traditional weight training, as the exercises translate to the wall and help you move to the next hold from awkward positions.
3. Strengthen Your Stabilizer Muscles
You should also add more stabilizing movements to your weight-training routine. Stabilizer muscles aren’t the direct targets of an exercise but keep your body steady while another muscle does the heavy lifting.
Rotator cuffs, hip flexors and the muscles surrounding the spine are primary stabilizers. Here are some exercises to help you support those muscles and get stronger in the process:
- Hanging leg raises
- Pistol squat
- Split stance shoulder press
- Pullups and chinups
- Pushup variations
You might think these exercises put too much on your plate when combined with your climbing routine and mobility exercises. However, just two days of weight training a week is enough volume to get results if you take full advantage of each session and have the right diet for muscle growth. You should have no issue fitting mobility and stabilization into your weekly schedule.
4. Keep Trying New Climbs
While everyone has a handful of preferred climbs, it’s important to mix up your routine so you address your weak points and become a well-rounded climber. Go to different gyms, look for various holds and try steeper grades. The only way to realize your true potential is to continuously step out of your comfort zone.
You’re going to experience genuine fear when you try something new, but that should be expected in climbing. Even with the ropes and protective gear, your mind can still trick you into panic if you find yourself in an unfamiliar situation. You can do several things to limit fear’s effect on your performance:
- Gradually try new things. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.
- Practice falling.
- Focus on your breathing.
- Look to your training partners for encouragement.
Even if you’re making progress, your confidence will still ebb and flow. Accept that reality and focus on your long-term goals.
Rethink Your Climbing Training
Your climbing skills involve a lot more than the ability to get from one hold to the next. You also need to do a good deal of training away from the wall. Improving your footwork, mobility and stability will go a long way toward making you a better climber, but the most important thing you can do is continue to challenge yourself.