Alli Rainey: Improve Your Climbing: Climbing IS The Best Training For Climbing (Part 24)
A shocking revelation, no doubt! But perhaps one that may surprise you given all of my entries on training for climbing here. Of course, I plan to elaborate on the “climbing is the best training for climbing” statement at great length in the next few Improve Your Climbing (IYC) entries here. So let’s get started!
Basically it comes down to this: if a person wants to do one thing and only one thing, year in and year out, to improve his or her climbing, it should without a doubt be climbing – not lifting weights for strength gains (or power endurance or endurance gains for that matter), not campusing, not working on strengthening fingers through some hangboard-training protocol, not stretching or doing yoga, and definitely not running or swimming or biking.
In fact, if pushed to prescribe a one-size-fits-all, one-level-fits-all, super-basic training scheme to improve at climbing for any given person who wants to rock climb or who already rock climbs out there, I would most assuredly say, “CLIMB.”
The reasoning behind this recommendation? Simple. Like any complex, multifaceted athletic endeavor, climbing cannot be learned, mastered or kept up with at a high level without logging some serious and dedicated time actually doing the activity.
More on this in the next entries, but until then, get out there and climb and feel good that you’re training for climbing every time you climb!
(And for just a hint of what’s to come in this series: depending on your background and level of experience, you might not be training for climbing very effectively or efficiently by just climbing at this point…but still, you are indeed training for climbing by climbing, just like running is training for running, and playing football is training for playing football.)
Thinking that reaching one’s personal potential in climbing is possible without climbing (and climbing a lot!) would be as silly as expecting a person to master football without actually playing football.
If you wanted to get really good at football, when you first started playing football, depending on your coach, you’d probably spend quite a bit of your practice time learning and refining the basic movements and skills needed to play your position on the field (or a bunch of different positions). Maybe you’d do some sport-specific conditioning (i.e. weight or resistance training, power work, sprints, movement drills, etc.) right from the start, or perhaps (especially if you started as a small child), these components of training – especially the weight/resistance training – would be added in at a later time once you had the general skills down required to play. Or perhaps strength training or conditioning exercises specific to you (as opposed to a general program undertaken by the whole team) would come into play if or when a coach happened to note particular physical deficiencies holding the progression of your game back.
Regardless, though, after you reached a certain level of understanding and expertise at the game of football, you probably wouldn’t spend most or all of your time training for football by just running plays or practicing sport-specific skills that you loved and were already good at – and you definitely wouldn’t spend your time doing this if you had a good coach who could see the areas in you that could use more work to bring your game up to a new level.
In other words, if you wanted to improve at this point, you most likely wouldn’t show up at practice and spend two (or three, or six+!) hours, every time you practiced, randomly playing football with your friends, and you definitely wouldn’t do that every day you practiced and consider it a solid training plan expected to deliver clear, efficient and effective improvements in your game. Could you continue improve just by playing football this way? Sure, maybe – but probably not as efficiently and effectively as you might by adding some more structured and individualized components to your training/practice routine.
If this all makes sense to you and you find yourself nodding your head (but maybe wondering why the heck you’re reading so much about football in the Improve Your Climbing series), then it should also make sense to you that the same scenario outlined here might apply to climbing – and more specifically, to being effective and efficient about training for climbing. My reason for using football as an example is simply that taking a step back from something we’re close to can sometimes allow us to see things with a little more clarity than we usually do.
Next week’s entry will start to detail how the above process might play out in a climber’s development and efforts at improvement.
Let’s go back to climbing, then, drawing correlations with last week’s extremely simplistic discussion of how one might learn to play football, and then continue to improve at it after mastering the basics.
When you first start climbing, spending lots of time on the rock, in the climbing gym, or both, is absolutely essential to developing a solid general understanding of the activity. In other words, placing a high priority on developing efficient and effective technique and tactics from the start on all types of climbing terrain you’re interested in being proficient on should not be undervalued. This can be worked toward not only by climbing a lot on varied terrain but also:
• by asking for feedback and advice from more experienced rock climbers with solid technique that you admire;
• by observing how these climbers move and trying to mimic their movements;
• by hiring a trainer/coach to observe you and give you feedback and advice on how to improve your technical/tactical skills; and
• by getting a friend to video you and then watching the video to look for technical and tactical flaws,
…among other ways to work on tactics and technique (detailed much more in an earlier IYC series of entries on technique).
In other words, when you start climbing, to progress and improve, you will likely need to climb more than anything else you do for training. You need to dedicate time to developing solid tactical and technical skills on the rock, and you will also start to gain sport-specific strength, power, power endurance and endurance just by participating in climbing during this phase of your life as a climber. The majority of your training time should most likely not, at this point, be spent trying to make sport-specific strength (or other) gains by using resistance training methods or other off-the-rocks/distilled training methods, as these will not help you develop and refine the technical and tactical skills required to progress at rock climbing. In fact, too much attention to these areas too soon might actually impede your potential progression as you dump valuable training time into areas that aren’t (yet) holding you back instead of putting the time into learning the nuances of climbing.
However, all of the above does not undervalue or devalue the benefits you might see in your climbing (both at the start and later) from introducing structured training for particular areas that may need more attention (commonly called weaknesses) right from the start of your engagement with climbing, whether through more structured climbing exercises/drills or through the intelligent, individualized application of outside-of-climbing training. By recognizing and working on these areas earlier, you might experience more rapid improvement, close in on your peak potential more quickly, avoid some plateaus, and avoid having relatively minor weaknesses or imbalances grow into major hindrances later on in your life as a climber.
More on this next time…when I start with the more experienced climber and a discussion on plateaus, which will take us right back to the concept I just touched on above: the intelligence of identifying and training areas that need attention in your climbing right from the start rather than waiting until you plateau at some point in the future.
~ Alli Rainey, prAna Ambassador
Alli Rainey (allirainey.com) 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