5 Tips for the Beginner Climber
Huge thanks to @csportfit for prompting this post!
All of our climbing journeys started somewhere. Mine started in December 2015 when I went to my local climbing gym, Mission Cliffs, for the first time on a date with my now-boyfriend, Walter. I remember feeling terrified in the moment while on the wall, but overall exhilarated from the experience. Now years since that first introduction to the sport, I often think back about the first few months/years when I started to get into climbing more consistently. Here are some tips that, upon reflection, I found to be the most useful:
Tip 1 - Try climbing shoes/harnesses on in a store before you buy them. This one seems obvious, but I know how tempting it is to search the internet to find the cheapest price for something online and hit purchase. Don't buy your first pair of climbing shoes online if you haven't tried the shoes on in the store first! Since this purchase is a long term investment into your journey in climbing, you want to make sure you purchase shoes that fit your feet well. You don't want to buy shoes that are so tight that they make you miserable every time you put them on, but you also don't want shoes that are so loose that your heel slips out of them while you're on the wall. Ideally your first pair of climbing shoes will be a neutral ( flat) shoe since these types of shoes generally have a stiffer midsole (so your feet and toes don't get as tired while climbing) and you can wear them all day without taking them off between burns on a boulder problem or routes on top-rope.
Great examples of beginner friendly shoes are:
La Sportiva Tarantulace (Men's) [Pictured]
Photo courtesy of La Sportiva NA
La Sportiva Oxygym (Women's) [Pictured]
Likewise with harnesses, you're going to want to make sure it fits well before buying it. Most stores have a rope and carabiner set up that you can clip into to hang in the harness - this is especially helpful because once weighted, you can see if the harness puts any unwanted pressure on certain places on your body. I've had this exact situation happen to me in the past where a harness I liked fit me well, but ended up pinching some pressure points in my thighs once I weighted it, which ultimately led me to not purchasing it.
Here are some harnesses I found that fit me well:
(See my review of the BD Women's Solution vs the Petzl Selena by clicking here!)
Tip 2 -The best way to get better climbing is to keep climbing. I've seen this question asked a lot online, specifically in regard to starting hangboard training, so I thought I'd address this. I didn't start seriously training on a hangboard until I started working with my climbing coach, Chelsea Murn, earlier this year (roughly 4 years into the sport). When we first started working together 8 months ago, I could barely hang onto the Beastmaker 1000 45mm edge for 10 seconds. Today, I'm fighting to hold onto the 15 mm edge on the Tension Grindstone Mk2. Is hangboard training effective? Yes. Have I improved as a result of hangboard training? Yes. Is it right for me? That depends. I'm not a personal trainer, but in my experience I wouldn't recommend hangboarding until you've had a few years of climbing experience under your belt because hangboarding, if done incorrectly, can lead to injuries. For the first few years I started climbing I noticed improvement in my performance the more I was just on the wall, trying and failing on different routes and boulders and getting feedback on my technique from others. Tendon strength, similar to technique, is also something that you will develop over a long period of time and climbing in general is a great way to build that baselayer of strength. Once you've built up that baselayer, then it may be time to revisit the idea of hangboard training.
If you're at the stage in your climbing journey that you feel ready to start hangboard training, I highly recommend you check out working with the following trainers:
Tip 3 - Get comfortable with falling. A lot of the folks I bring climbing for the first time are terrified of falling off boulder problems. This feeling is normal and doesn't really "go away", but you'll learn to recognize when those feelings are telling you that a fall from wherever you're at is potentially dangerous versus irrational fear. Learning how to fall is a vital skill to learn in order to avoid injuring yourself. Check out Jenn Sends' video that I think explains how to fall correctly pretty well.
Practice by taking small falls with the correct form in the gym and then slowly increase the height of the falls. Obviously the more you practice falling, the more you'll become comfortable with it, which will allow you to try harder problems! Projecting harder routes ties in with Tip 2 in that climbing problems outside of what you can onsight (a clean ascent made on the first attempt without prior practice or beta) or flash (cleanly complete a climbing route on the first attempt after having received beta of some form) will help you recognize where your technique is lacking and in what ways you can improve.
Tip 4 - Don't compare your progress to someone else's. I have been guilty of doing this as I'm sure everyone else has at some point, but don't let yourself fall into this mindset. It takes the fun out of climbing. It was hard for me to sit back and watch folks that I introduced to the sport start to send grades in the gym that I couldn't - my ego was definitely bruised. I talked to Walter about how I was feeling and he said something that made me reflect on the origin of those feelings. He said that everyone comes from different backgrounds when they started this sport - some may have a background in ballet so they're more flexible, or from parkour so dynamic movements come more readily or, in my case, from no sports background so climbing was extremely challenging because my body didn't have a base foundation of muscles to work with. Looking back on it, he was right because I remember my back and shoulders being extremely sore for a few days after a climbing session for at least a few months.
If you're like me in this situation, that's okay - but keep that in mind and set realistic expectations for yourself.
Is this hard to keep this in mind while you're in the moment? Of course. It's still an ongoing battle and will always be, but recognizing those feelings, identifying what is triggering your ego to respond in this way, and figuring out a way to move past those feelings is key.
Tip 5 - Find a mentor. Develop relationships with more experienced folks at your gym to reinforce or correct the skills you're developing on your own. I want to emphasize that your mentor should not be the only source of where you get your information from since people are fallible. Please look into taking classes with your gym or local gear shop, read instructional books like Knots for Climbers by Craig Lubben and How to Rock Climb! by John Long, or watch instructional videos from the American Mountain Guides Association (AMGA). Having a mentor is almost like a tutor in the sense that you'll have someone more experienced to be able to spot check what you're doing, offer advice, etc., which will not only improve what you're learning, but will also make you a self-reliant climber. Having a solid knowledge base is crucial before you start applying your knowledge out on the rock on your own - it can be the difference between making it home safely or being in the latest edition of the American Alpine Club's Accidents in North American Climbing.
Hope these tips were helpful! Let me know in the comments if you have any questions!