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Alli Rainey: Improve Your Climbing – Tactics (Part 12)

Wednesday, November 12th, 2014

Part 1:

alli-rainey-improve-your-climbing-tactics-part-12-01How do we define tactics, in terms of training for climbing and climbing performance? Simply put, tactics are strategic decisions and maneuvers you can use to your advantage in order to improve training and performance outcomes.

Some tactics are relatively simple to employ and can have an almost immediate and positive impact on your training and your performance, while others are much more difficult to implement and may take a number of efforts/adjustments over the course of months or even years, in order for you to fully realize how to use them to your best advantage. Hence my wishy-washy designation (yet again) of tactics as ranging from easy to hard.

Tactical decisions can pretty much involve nearly every aspect of your climbing, including your life in general and how climbing fits into it. How you approach and move through every climbing day and training session – the decisions you make during those days and on your rest days, too – all of these contain tactical judgment calls, whether you’ve ever considered this before or not. The number of pitches you climb, the number of days you climb per week, the types of pitches, what you choose to train, what you choose not to train, not training at all, overtraining, the amount of stress in your life, how much sleep you get, what you eat, what you drink, drinking alcohol, smoking, how you rest on routes, your mental preparation, your training plan (or lack thereof), the pace you climb at, your ability to handle the unexpected, the other physical activities you do…the list goes on and on, and all of these items and more represent tactical choices that have the potential to positively or negatively influence the outcome of your training sessions and/or climbing performance efforts, both short-term and long-term.

In other words, tactics encompass almost every part of your life, including your decisions about how much importance you personally wish to place on climbing training and climbing performance, and how much time, if any, you want to dedicate toward improving at climbing. Beyond that, do you wish to take a methodical approach to training, implementing training tactics that might detract from your climbing for a portion of time each year (resulting in an improvement in overall climbing ability if implemented correctly)? Or do you prefer just climbing as hard as you want to or can without integrating such an approach? Or something in between? There’s no right or wrong answer to this general tactical question, of course; climbing is and should be an individual and personal activity for every person who does it. What you want out of it is up to you, and you should make your decision accordingly.

Regardless of how much time and energy you wish to dedicate to climbing training outside of climbing itself, if you have any interest in improving your current level of climbing ability, you might find that by implementing certain tactical changes into your climbing repertoire, you can do so almost immediately or with relatively little effort, particularly when compared with learning new techniques or gaining significant climbing-relevant strength and/or fitness.

This series of (10) entries will cover several of the major tactical areas relevant to improving sport climbing (and to a certain extent, bouldering) ability, ordered from easiest to hardest, which will lead us quite naturally into the topic of the next series of blog entries – the mental game.

Part 2:

alli-rainey-improve-your-climbing-tactics-part-12-02Tactical No-Brainers: Easy Decisions to Help Promote Performance Improvement (A)

Stack the odds in your favor when you’re climbing and training by paying attention to the following tactical areas (some which I’ve discussed in previous entries, and some which I’ll discuss in greater detail in future entries):

  • Partners. Choose partners who are safe, positive and supportive. The last thing you need to be thinking about or should be thinking about when you’re going for it on lead is, “Is my belayer going to catch me safely?” If you are thinking this, you will not be able to climb at your limit – ever. If your partner DOES know how to catch you safely and has proven his/her ability to do so time and again, and you’re still frozen from the fear of falling, this obviously represents a different issue (one that I’ll discuss in the next series of entries on the mental game). But if your partner doesn’t know how to do this, it’s time to either have them learn how, or to find a different partner.

    Beyond safety issues, partner compatibility can make or break a climbing day – issues such as when the day will start, the pace of the day, where to climb, how long to climb, attitude (Serious? Silly? Somewhere in between?), and so forth can have a huge impact on the success of your climbing day. Do you like to work projects with your partner, or on your own? Also, consider your partner’s attitude toward you and vice versa. Belittling comments are the last thing most people need when they’re trying to push their limits. Having a partner who is positive and supportive can be a real advantage in helping you achieve peak climbing performance.

  • Equipment. I touched on the importance of wearing climbing shoes that fit your feet properly and that match the style of climbing that you’re attempting in order to maximize your technical footwork capabilities in the previous series of blogs on technique. Along with properly fitted and functioning climbing shoes, you should make sure that you have all of the appropriate safety equipment needed for sport climbing (harness, rope, quickdraws, locking carabiner, belay device), plus the knowledge of how to use it effectively and efficiently. This represents a simple tactical choice, but it can have life-threatening consequences if ignored. Knowing how to feed rope properly for clips as a belayer is key to not sabotaging your partner’s performance, just asknowing how to clip the rope efficiently into a quickdraw is essential for your performance as a sport climbing leader. Additionally, wearing clothing that restricts your movement is a poor tactical decision, as is refusing to learn how to use “extras” that can enhance performance, such as well-fitted kneepads. ReadThe Best Rock Climbing Pants (LIVESTRONG.COM) and What to Wear for Bouldering (the nest) for more on this front.

Part 3:

alli-rainey-improve-your-climbing-tactics-part-12-03Tactical No-Brainers: Easy Decisions to Help Promote Performance Improvement (B)

Stack the odds in your favor when you’re climbing and training by paying attention to the following tactical areas (some which I’ve discussed in previous entries, and some which I’ll discuss in greater detail in future entries):

  • Stopping While You’re Ahead. Don’t climb yourself into the ground, especially if you’re planning on multiple climbing days in a row or have very few rest days planned in the next few weeks/training cycle. Climbing until you can’t hang on anymore, even on easy routes, isn’t the most efficient or effective way to get better at climbing. Instead, stop when you aren’t able to put quality efforts in on harder routes anymore, or when you start to feel your technical abilities deteriorating (training bad technique isn’t smart!). Warm down on an easier pitch or two or three, or just with the hike out and some stretching. You’ll recover more quickly and probably will improve more quickly by being a little more conservative on this front.
  • Resting Enough. I’ve talked about this before. Resting is probably one of the most overlooked and underused/misunderstood keys of implementing a successful athletic training program. Not resting enough can make you never recovered enough to climb at your peak levels. No matter how hard you may already be able to climb while carrying a huge load of accumulated fatigue, you would likely be able to climb even harder if you learned how to rest more effectively and to periodize your training/performance schedule (remember – athletes can only hold true athletic peaks for amaximum of two to three weeks). By resting enough, I mean all aspects of resting – from the rests between efforts, to sleep, to rest days, to maximizing your recovery on rest days. Read Ways to Improve Your Sport Climbing/Bouldering (5): Resting (EASY-MEDIUM) and Ways to Improve Your Sport Climbing/Bouldering (6): Promoting and Maximizing Recovery (EASY) for more on this.
  • Stress Reduction. Stress can negatively affect athletic performance and recovery, both. If you’re traveling to an overseas climbing area, for example, the stress from the journey can cause you to underperform or feel more tired than usual. Take this into account and allow yourself the time and space needed to adjust (if you have time), or cut yourself some slack by adjusting your outcome expectations (if you don’t have time). Normal life stressors can definitely impact your climbing training and performance as well; if you had a particularly difficult day at work or just argued with a loved one, you might find that climbing or training is exactly what you need to blow off steam, but you may also find that your performance isn’t the best, depending on who you are and how you handle such situations. Keep in mind that some people perform better than others in self-imposed stressful situations (i.e. competitions or redpoint/onsight pressure); you can work to improve your reaction to such situations by conditioning through repetition as well as developing mental tactics that you can draw upon whenever you find yourself in a climbing-induced stressful situation (more on this in the next series).

Part 4:

alli-rainey-improve-your-climbing-tactics-part-12-04Tactical No-Brainers: Easy Decisions to Help Promote Performance Improvement (C)

Stack the odds in your favor when you’re climbing and training by paying attention to the following tactical areas (some which I’ve discussed in previous entries, and some which I’ll discuss in greater detail in future entries):

  • Eating/Drinking. Don’t worry, I’ll talk more thoroughly about nutrition in a future entry. However, what and when you eat and drink is definitely a key tactical decision, and one that should be implemented to your advantage in order to enhance your climbing performance and your training outcomes, too. If you just can’t wait to read more about nutrition, grab a copy of Dan Benardot’s Advanced Sports Nutrition-2nd Edition to get a head-start on how to be an intelligent athlete both on and off the rocks. (Hints: starving yourself throughout climbing days/training sessions is not a very smart way to manage bodyweight or energy levels as a climber, and eating a low-carb diet is also a great way to sabotage your athletic performance).
  • Limit Alcohol Consumption. I’ve talked about this before, but I feel the need here to reprint this from a previous blog entry a couple years back. And again, I’ll start by saying what I said then: I really don’t care if you drink alcohol all day every day, so long as you don’t cause harm to those around you. It’s your choice. But if you’re interested in pushing your body to its limits as an athlete, you should at least know and understand the sacrifice you’re choosing to make by consuming alcohol in excess. (The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines binge drinking as more than four drinks in a sitting for women and more than five for men; heavy drinking is an average of more than one drink daily for women and more than two drinks daily for men). Below, I’ve listed 10 reasons why climbers (and other athletes) interested in peak performance might want to consider limiting their alcohol intake. Please note that these are only some of the athletic-performance-related issues associated with alcohol use; while some of them do relate to general health issues as well, I’m not going to list all of the negative long-term health issues associated with overconsumption of alcohol.
  1. Alcohol consumption increases muscle damage when consumed after workouts. Drinking 1 gram of alcohol per kilogram of body weight after exercising resulted in a greater loss of muscle-damage-related power, according to a study in the March 2010 “European Journal of Applied Physiology.” However, drinking .5 gram of alcohol per kilogram of body weight had no significant impact on muscle damage.
  2. Drinking alcohol increases your muscles’ recovery time after a workout, as indicated by the University of Notre Dame’s Office of Alcohol and Drug Education (OADE).
  3. Alcohol impairs hand-eye coordination and slows reaction times, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) Current Comment on Alcohol and Athletic Performance.
  4. Drinking alcohol can cause hormone imbalances. Of particular interest to athletes is alcohol’s potential to decrease testosterone levels, as noted by the UC San Diego Athletic Performance Nutrition Bulletin: Alcohol and Athletic Performance.
  5. Alcohol consumption can result in weight gain and increased body fat.
  6. Alcohol disrupts your body’s natural sleep cycle. Sleep deprivation delays muscle recovery, promotes hormone imbalances and reduces your brain’s ability to learn new information, notes OADE.
  7. Diuretic effect. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that just because alcohol’s a liquid, it’s not dehydrating. It is. Learn more by reading “Does Beer Make You Pee More?
  8. Drinking alcohol may increase your risk of muscle cramps. Since excessive alcohol consumption lengthens your muscles’ recovery time and causes more muscle damage, it also has the potential to predispose you to muscle cramps. For more on this, read Beer Consumption and Muscle Cramps.
  9. Excessive alcohol consumption can negatively impact your performance for up to five days, notes the OADE, in part by impairing your brain’s ability to learn.
  10. Long-term alcohol abuse can cause chronic muscle damage and weakness, inhibit nutrient absorption and lead to malnutrition, as well as potentially causing an array of additional health problems, according to ASCM.

~ Alli Rainey, prAna Ambassador

Learn more about Alli

Alli Rainey ( discovered rock climbing more than 20 years ago, and it has been a driving passion in her life ever since. After incurring an injury that prompted her to explore training for climbing beyond just climbing itself, the results amazed her so much that she started studying the science of athletic training in earnest. This led her to become an ACTION Certified Personal Trainer (CPT) and a climbing coach. Rainey is also a Yoga Alliance certified yoga instructor (RYT-200) and a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard University. Facebook: /alliraineyclimbing; Twitter/Instagram/LinkedIn: allirainey