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Jenya Kazbekova, 25, has been the reigning Ukrainian Lead Champion since she was 16. She placed fourth at the 2019 Bouldering World Championships in Hachioji. Prior to that, she made both Bouldering and Lead World Cup finals. Outside, Kazbekova has climbed up to 8c+ (5.14c).
Here, Kazbekova offers up her top tips for upping your game. There’s a lot of advice out there for beginner climbers. These basics are where to start.
Climbing combines power, endurance, power-endurance, and recovery. Each of these facets requires whole-body movement. There are always ways to compensate for weaknesses in particular muscle groups, but having everything working for itself is usually much better: You need balance.
- Power – Can be trained via a variety of exercises, including all kinds of pull-ups, push-ups, core exercises, squats, and even aerobics, like running. You can add weights to your power exercises, but I would recommend doing that gradually or with a coach. Always make sure you have a full-body workout, or at least one that includes 30 percent lower-body exercises.
- Endurance – Can be attained with lead climbing, but also other aerobic activities like running and cycling.
- Power endurance – Hard circuits up to 20 moves are the best for training power endurance. You can also add fingerboarding and campusing to your training, but I would only suggest doing so with a coach or an experienced person who may help prevent injuries.
- Recovery – Rest days are a vital part of the training process. You need to give your body time to recover after a training day to become stronger. Active rest days are always better than passive ones. Therefore, if you go swimming, running, do yoga or just stretch, it will be very beneficial for your body and mind. Massage therapy and physio treatments are great, too!
Understanding what motivates you is a very important part of climbing. We have different phases in our lives. Sometimes, we feel full of energy and psyche, while other days it is quite the opposite. It is good to know how to handle and support yourself on hard days. Some climbers like to go on YouTube and to watch climbing videos, while others might turn their music on very loud and go with the flow.
My personal advice is to not concentrate on grades. There is a misplaced importance in trying to climb something for its grade. I feel it is more helpful to climb routes or boulders just above your comfort level. In other words, if you just climbed your first 5.13b, don’t rush to start working on 5.13c. Climbing 10 other 13bs will make you a better climber, and will likely help you stay motivated.
Everyone is different, but what is certain is that you need to believe in yourself. You need to know how to visualise where you want to be. Climbing is a game, but what is cool is that you can make your own rules.
My dad used to always tell me that technique starts with your footwork. The more elegant and softly you can place your feet, the better your technique will be. Climbing on rocks gives you this great feeling of trusting your feet. After using features that seemingly barely exist, you start to trust your feet more and more. And of course, I would recommend climbing on vertical walls outdoors as well in the gym, where footwork is essential.
The more time you spend doing something, the better you become at it. This is a simple truth. There is no better way to become a better climber than to spend as much time as you can on rocks. Not to mention being in nature is vital for our wellbeing. If you can’t go outside, don’t worry: You can progress by climbing exclusively inside, although it might take a little more effort
And you shouldn’t forget that watching someone else climbing is one of the best exercises for your brain.
Don’t underestimate this aspect. It is really helpful to be flexible—even though it is very painstaking work, it will definitely pay off. The most important part of stretching is consistency. Make sure your muscles are warm and ready before you stretch to prevent injuries. With more flexibility you will have more options to solve boulders and routes, you will find better resting positions, and you might make something possible you hadn’t thought would work.
Climbers must tap into that feeling in their body that arises on an intuitive level. Imagine a wild cat and her movement in nature: it is effortless, and both free and controlled. That is a great goal for climbing.
The best way to practice flowing movement is to repeat easier routes and boulders below your level. Climb the same thing multiple times, each time with more flow. Flow does not mean as fast as possible, but rather as effortless as possible.
Nutrition plays a huge role in training. It is essential to make sure you give your body all the nutrients it needs to be healthy and become stronger. Diversity of your meals is crucial for your health. There is no need to go on a strict diet, the only thing you need to pay attention to is how you feel and how much diversity you have on your plate. You can always have your cheat pleasures, as long as you are taking care that 75 percent of the time, you eat healthy foods. A whole foods, plant-rich diet is key. The less processed your food is and the more vegetables and fruits you eat, the better.
Take care and enjoy climbing!
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