Get Better, Not Stronger is a new series by Rob Pizem. Instead of hangboarding and lifting weights, Rob believes that most climbers will improve the most by learning how to climb effectively. His column focuses on training technique and basic movement skills.
Routes all have a natural pace that they should be climbed. This can be slow and delicate or fast and furious. A slow climb can have tiny holds that need to be gripped and stood upon in a particular manner, whereas a fast climb will have bigger holds and imprecise or large feet that you can grab and stand upon in a variety of ways and still send. By climbing a route at its ideal pace, you can conserve energy and improve your odds of success. The challenge is identifying the right pace for a pitch or section of a climb.
Examples of Poor Pacing
Climbing Without Rests
What happens if you choose to climb a route without taking any rests? I have watched climbers choose this path for years. They typically start off strong, climbing well, and reading the route’s sequences until about one-half to three-quarters height. At that point they get extremely pumped. In the moments after the pump hits, they can’t decide which way to go, doubt enters their mind, and they either fall from the route or take at their high point. Upon a short rest on the rope, they easily complete the climb and wonder what went wrong. They say that they need to get stronger and gain more endurance, when all they really need to do is rest while climbing the route.
Climbing With Too Many Rests
So what happens when you rest too much on a route? No matter what, you will get pumped enough that it will negatively impact your climbing success. On slabs your toes and calves will get fried, on vertical terrain, your fingers and toes will get pumped, and on overhanging terrain your grip and forearms will begin to fail. Even if you’re on a comfortable ledge, hang out too long and your focus begins to wane from being on the wall for so long. As you move into a difficult or confusing section, this delay can allow doubt to set in, which is never a good thing.
Efficient Pacing and Resting
I like to chunk a route into smaller pieces. Start by identifying the rests. The areas between the rests are your chunks. Climb through each chunk, rest for a few breaths while visualizing the next sequence, and then climb to the next rest without stopping. Chunking allows you to turn a route into a series of short boulder problems. By resting after each boulder problem, you can be ready to take on the next portion of the climb with the proper amount of energy needed to be successful. Additionally, when you reach the real crux of the route, you can be rested both physically and mentally, which puts you in the best state for completing the challenge. The goal of chunking is to reach the top with no falls feeling like you could climb the route again.
How much should you rest at each shake? A rest should allow you to decrease your overall heart rate. That means that you shouldn’t leave if you are still out of breath from your last chunk. A rest should be just long enough to decrease the pump that you have built up from the last section of climbing. That might mean that you will just shake out each arm once, or that you will shake for 2 minutes at that location.
Determining the Right Pace for the Route
How do you know what the pace of a route should be? Here are a few examples to think about.
- If there are very few good holds (or on a slab), you will likely be climbing slow and resting often.
- If there are no resting holds (and on steep terrain), you will likely be climbing quickly.
- If the climb is slightly slabby to vertical, you will likely be using the chunking method and resting after each boulder problem or bolt or two.
Most climbers who begin to focus on their pacing will see a number grade increase in their climbing. Not only that you will be able to climb more routes in a day because you are saving energy. Mentally, you will improve because you are not getting to that point of mind fatigue and you will continue making and acting on your sequence decisions.