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Rookie Mistakes: Seven Things Beginner Climbers Get Wrong


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The most common thing holding climbers back is themselves. After climbing for over 25 years, here are seven things I’ve learned is common for rookies.

1. You are trying something too hard.

Too often a V5 climber spends the majority of their time on a V8, or a V2 climber on a V5. Bad idea.

If you must try something three grades harder than you’ve done, just do it for a bit. And do it for the right reasons. Don’t obsess. About three to four tries per session. If you have a project, keep it to one to two grades above your max. That builds confidence. Getting shut down all the time sucks; and the longer you spend time on moves you don’t belong on, the greater chance you have of getting injured. Also, more wins is better because you are going through the motions of what it feels like to put something together. The latter is invaluable.

2. You are not warming  up properly.

You are doing a few problems (or routes) levels below your ability. Then you get a drink, have a chat, and think you’re good to go. You are not.

I don’t care how old you are, warming up takes 30 to 45 minutes. If you leave the office at 5:30 to go to the gym, do 50 jumping jacks and some push ups, or even run in place, before you get in the car. Getting the blood pumping and heart rate up is key to any warm up. By the time you arrive at the gym, you will notice you are looser and ready to go quicker.

3. You are falling on the bouldering wall and letting your legs absorb all the fall.

Keep doing this and a knee, ankle or hip injury is not far off.

Learn the art of rolling backward when you fall, assuming of course your gym has good pads. Land in a squat with your momentum moving

backward then to your butt then to your back. Roll like an egg, but not so much as to get whiplash. Gymnasts have been perfecting the art of the backward roll for decades. Falling in the bouldering cave is the most common form of injury for gyms. Practice falling and don’t add to that statistic.

4. You are too scared to fall while lead climbing.

If you are scared to fall you’ve got a problem on your hands. Of course, a wee bit of trepidation is ok, but if you generally don’t like to fall, you need to practice ASAP. This fear alone will 100 percent keep you from reaching your potential as a climber.

Practice taking small falls on top rope, then small falls on the (overhanging) lead wall. Then bigger falls on the lead wall. On your warm up, climb to the top then downclimb and take a whip on the last bolt. I have seen so many people not send because of the fear of falling, which is totally ridiculous, because being comfortable with the whip is in your control. It should be the first thing you master.

5. You are trying to climb with good posture.

You are keeping your back straight and slightly arched, just like you would when doing squats. Or, more generally, you think you need to climb a certain way. Except this is not the weight room everyone, this is climbing. There’s no such thing as good posture in climbing. There is only what works, the cruel fact of natural selection in terms of movement.

If you must, the best “posture” is to stay loose, moving and flowing between holds; adaptable, never stiff … unless, of course, you need to be stiff. Climbers talk about being “in position” for a move, but never good posture in general—this is because the moves and positions are always changing. It is never a one-size-fits-all scenario. Good “posture” is only applicable on a per-move basis.

6. You are not resting enough in between burns, AKA, the rapid fire.

For the entirety of my twenties, I was guilty of this. I’d fall then get frustrated and hop right back on, typically with the same result: failure. Force yourself to take rest, even if you don’t think you need to. Muscle needs to recover after exertion, period. End of story.

7. You are wearing horrible shoes.

Just. Stop. Doing. This. Get yourself a good pair of shoes. Don’t buy the cheapest. Buy the shoes that suit your needs and have the best fit. Think, you just spent $30 on a kale salad and a beer last Thursday night, and you won’t spend an extra 30 bucks for climbing shoes that you will use three times a week for a months? No sense do you make.

Francis Sanzaro can be found here.