How to Train for Competitive Climbing

So you’ve tried climbing a time or two, developed the infamous forearm cement, cried a little, laughed a lot and now you’re wondering how you can get better. Those guys and gals at the gym who look like they’re straight out of Sports illustrated can be a little discouraging, I know, but you can get there too.

For people like me who have never actively trained for a sport in their life, it’s difficult to know where to start. Training for anything takes a wealth of self-discipline and commitment to short term and long term goals. While I will provide you with workout plans you can follow, I’d like to first make a list of general guidelines to help you stick with any training regime!

1. Make time.

This sounds pretty obvious – if you want to train, you have to be available. But, I find it is one of the first excuses people come up with as to why they can’t make it to training. Life is busy, we all understand, but if climbing is an important part of your life – make time for it! It helps if you schedule climbing in the same nights every week so it becomes a routine. In terms of having a busy life, climbing also provides a nice escape from our day to day lives, making our days seem more enjoyable.

2. No excuses.

To continue with the aforementioned “I don’t have time” excuse, why don’t we just throw out all excuses right now? “I’m too tired,””I’ve had a long day,” “people are watching me,” “this is too hard.” Life is too short to be hard on ourselves. When I don’t feel like climbing, I go anyway and 9 times out of 10 I leave there feeling better than when I arrived. If you want to get better, you have to push yourself. (Note: injury is a good excuse – don’t push yourself to more injury!)

3. Buy a membership.

If you’re going to the gym and purchasing a visitor’s pass every time, you’re not only wasting your money, but you’re giving yourself an excuse to back out. Search around for a well-built, affordable gym that you like, preferably with good staff members, pull-up bars/equipment and a pleasant environment. Go up to the front desk, shell over some cash, and walk out of there with one of those expensive memberships. Congrats! You’re now financially committed to the journey… hey, that’s a start! 🙂

4. Find a community of climbers.

If you’re nervous and don’t know how to go about socalizing with strangers (join the club), simply climb! People love offering up beta – especially when they’re working the same problems as you. Do your thing and eventually you’ll find yourself working the same problem as someone else. If this hasn’t proved successful, then find a problem someone else is working . Discuss different beta, how you attempted it last time, what worked for you, etc. Give it time! Having a community of climber friends is great for many reasons:

  • They help you see mistakes that you have difficulty noticing in yourself.
  • To keep you motivated to come to the gym.
  • To offer support and advice.
  • Buddy training is more enjoyable than training solo.

5. Follow pro-climbers on social media.

Nothing is more motivating than watching Alex Puccio do several muscle ups, abs a-blazing. These pros know what theyre doing, and what theyre doing is always climbing! Scope out technique, training tips but mostly how devoted and in love they are to climbing. Very often you’ll learn something new or at least be motivated to get out and train.

6. Watch climbing.

If you’re from a smaller city like me, then you can never be a spectator because you’re always competing at local events. However, there’s this great thing called “youtube” with infinite videos of climbing dating years and years back (I once watched a Canadian Nationals video with a commentator who didn’t know Sasha Digiulian). You’ll find these videos incredibly entertaining but also educational. I learned a cool slab foot-matching technique from watching a climber at ABS Nationals. Also, if you lack motivation, let the pros show you how well training pays off.

7. Invest in a good pair of shoes.

Rental shoes are great for first-timers, but not for climbers like you. They’re expensive yes, but they will drastically improve your climbing simply because they fit your feet and your feet only. The snug fit will help you feel the holds better and consequently help you make harder moves. Your new shoes should feel tight all around, keeping in mind that brands like Scarpa and LaSportiva will stretch after you buy them, where as brands who use synthetic materials like Evolv tend to maintain their shape. Visit your local retailer of climbing shoes (big stores include MEC or REI) and the staff there will be able to help you find the right pair.

8. Set S-M-A-R-T goals.

Goals are incredibly important and necessary when it comes to training. If you’re like me you’re tired of hearing about S-M-A-R-T goals, especially in the workplace. However, when it comes to creating well defined goals, this system takes the cake. I’m not one for being very strict about what surrounds a goal, so long as goals exist and they are helping get you to where you want to be. If you’re having a hard time creating goals, I highly suggest taking a look at the website at the bottom of this paragraph. Make an athlete journal and record short-term and long-term goals about what you want to achieve. Periodically check off what you have completed and create new ones to give direction to your training. Creating a physical record of your accomplishments will make goals and progress more tangible and therefore easier to see!

9. Accept failure.

Trial and error is a huge part of climbing making ‘failure’ unavoidable. Don’t get discouraged! This only makes accomplishments that much sweeter. 🙂

10. Climb for fun.

When you begin training, it’s easy to get tied down to different workouts and attempting certain moves incessantly to the point where it gets tedious. Amongst your training schedule, make sure to leave at least one day a week for pure climbing enjoyment and just climb! Whether it’s inside or outside, hop on some fun routes to remind yourself why you’re training in the first place. Of course, try to climb skillfully but don’t get beat down about making mistakes. If you project V4s, jump on some V2s or some V1s just for fun. If you’re weird and enjoy slab routes, do some of those! Just make it fun for yourself – not everyday has to be challenging.

11. Take up cardio

Many people will tell you that cardio is not beneficial in the climbing world because it unnecessarily bulks up the muscles in your legs. While I agree that we don’t need to train our lower body as much as our upper body, I tend to disagree that its not beneficial. First off, cardio is an important part of any healthy lifestyle. It helps us regulate our heart rate when we’re pulling through some tricky, endurance moves on an overhanging wall.  It will burn body fat that’s litterally weighing you down and pulling your feet off those hard roof problems.  It also provides a great warm up for some stretching – another important avenue for improving your climbing.  Also, not all cardio is just hopping on a treadmill or a trail to go for a run; whether you’re a sport climber, multi-pitch or boulderer there is a type of cardio that can benefit your climbing….but more on that later! 🙂

12. Rest! 

When you start getting into a training routine, it’s easy to get excited about how fun it is to see progress that you begin to ignore your body’s need to rest and recover. Rest is crucial to repairing muscles from previous, strenuous training sessions. Progress will halt and injury could occur if we don’t give ourselves enough time to rest. The amount of rest days needed differs from one person to the next, but I would recommend at least 2 rest days a week. Listen to your body! A good days rest is better than a sloppy session! Put your shoes away for a day and go try something else – climbing will always be there when you come back. 🙂

Have fun and climb on xx

5 Replies to “How to Train for Competitive Climbing”

  1. Cool idea for a blog! Love that you climb! If you are looking to do any cardio on your cross training days, I run monthly challenge groups to help people reach their health and fitness goals. Would love to chat with you more about it! 🙂



    1. Thank you for reaching out, and I’m glad you like my blog 🙂 Right now I have a plan in place, but once that’s over I will certainly consider it!

      1. Absolutely! Good luck!! 🙂

  2. I am so thrilled I stumbled across your blog! I have been ammaturely climbing for about 3 years. I go through spouts where I climb a ton and then don’t (because of time lol). Anyway! I’ve always been curious about different workouts to improve and how to start competing. Love this! Keep it up!

    1. Really happy to hear that, thank you! Climbing is definitely time consuming! And most sessions last awhile too, so it’s different from just going to a fitness gym. Thank you for your kind words! Best of luck with your different workouts. 🙂

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