How did I get so bad at climbing?

shape1 Rock climbing is a lifestyle. Excelling at climbing is a commitment to working hard, working consistently and having enough free time to spend climbing. Our trip to Ton Sai was the first time I have truly lived a climbing lifestyle. When I hopped off the boat and made my way up the beach I was a weekend warrior and a gym rat. I didn’t climb anything very hard and had few ambitions of anything but having a good time. A few months later as I challenged myself I began to see real progress in my climbing and by the time we left I was feeling confident leading grades I never thought I’d even get on. Then I didn’t climb for three months.

One of the costs of having too many interests is that it becomes difficult to completely devote yourself to any one activity. After climbing in Thailand we did some tourist stops in Cambodia and went on a bike tour and yoga binge in Bali. The next time my fingers touched rock was months later when we arrived in Switzerland. We drove up to the local crag, St. Cergue, pulled out the guidebook and proceeded to get completely defeated by our warm up. What an impact a few months can make.

After massaging the hurt ego and the sore muscles the only choice I had was to keep trying. For the last few weeks we have been climbing consistently in Finale Ligure, Italy. After the first few climbing days I started to regain my strength and confidence and have been slowly building myself back up to where I was when I left Ton Sai. For better or for worse, if you take a significant break your climbing will suffer. Here are a few tips for minimizing the catch-up time and maximizing your climbing.

Create appropriate challenges

Depending on your climbing level, it will be common to experience a temporary setback if you haven’t climbed in a few months or more. When you return to the sport it is a good idea to start slowly. On your first day back, warm up on a route that is one grade easier than your usual warm up, whatever that grade may be. This will give you an idea of where you are at.

As you climb more, slowly increase the challenge you give yourself. Instead of trying to send that one hard route think about building back your endurance by sending a greater number of easier routes on the first few days. Be satisfied with your progress but continue to push yourself. With a little diligence you will be back to your previous level in no time.

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Acknowledge your limitations

Feeling out of shape can be very frustrating, but injuring yourself by pushing your limits before you’re ready will be far more frustrating. Taking it easy and stretching before you climb will ensure you don’t find yourself injured before you get back into a regular routine. Remember that different crags require different strengths. While in Ton Sai we got really good at reading routes and knowing which holds would be good and which would be bad. There can be a steep learning curve at new locations and being patient is key to figuring out how to send a route and feeling good when you get to the top.

On a more touchy-feely side, be sure that you are still having fun. The amount of challenge that you give yourself is up to you. A little fear is healthy, but pushing yourself beyond where you are comfortable can easily ruin your day at the crag. If you give it time you will come back stronger than before.

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