Climbing technique is a huge topic and not one that I’m likely to cover in any complete form in a 10-part series of blog entries. I won’t even pretend that this can happen. Instead, I aim to help you first gain a deeper understanding of what climbing technique depends on – some key factors that play into a climber’s technical development – along with what we mean by “good” and “bad” technique (I actually prefer the terms “more efficient” and “less efficient”). From there, I’ll cover the basics of how to approach learning any new climbing technique. Finally, I’ll cover several major technical issues that I most often observe when teaching climbing clinics.
It’s hard to designate technique as easy, medium, or hard – in part because some techniques are harder to master than others. Plus, for some people, learning techniques will come more easily than for others. The reasons for this are multifold, and include the following:
- Athletic Background. One big factor that plays into a person’s ease of technical development (not to mention strength and fitness base!) is athletic background, meaning, what did you bring to the table before climbing, or did you start climbing at a young age? My unscientific observation is that those with a strong base in sporting activities that rely on tremendous amounts of complex body awareness, strength and active flexibility combined tend to have an advantage over those who don’t come to climbing with such a background, in terms of technical development. So if not rock climbing from a young age, people involved in dance, gymnastics, martial arts and yoga, to name a view, seem to have an overall advantage in developing sound technique more rapidly than those who do not have such a background. Their already-honed body/spatial awareness plus higher-than-average strength and active flexibility in climbing-relevant areas likely account for this advantage.
- Genetic Potential. Genetic potential (also known as training potential) contributes to a person’s quickness of adopting and learning new physical techniques. As I’ve mentioned before, genetic potential is a very real factor in athletic training. Some people are born with two left feet; others can perform what for most people would be very complicated physical tasks with nearly perfect coordination relatively effortlessly with little practice. While a person’s genetic potential can’t be changed, almost every person has some untapped potential to work with. In other words, even if you’re not as gifted when it comes to coordinating complex physical movements as another person, this doesn’t mean you can’t learn and make gains. But it’s good to be aware that for some people, technical adaptations in the physical realm are far easier to attain than others.
- Physical Base. Another often overlooked but core element of technical development for sport climbers and boulderers alike is the physical strength/conditioning of the person in question, particularly as it relates to climbing-specific movements. My favorite athletic training book, Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training, by Tudor O. Bompa and G. Gregory Haff, drives this point home over and over again: Technical proficiency at a given sport can only happen if the athlete in question possesses adequate physical strength to perform the technique(s) in question correctly and efficiently: “An inadequately developed physical base will limit the athlete’s ability to learn technical aspects of the sport. This scenario strengthens the argument that physical training is the foundation of all training factors.”
This multipart series of blogs and articles starts here, in case you have to catch up – you’ll also find a full table of contents, complete with links, in that entry. My designation of each area as “easy,” “medium” or “hard” is purely subjective. I’ve arrived at the designations from my personal experience garnered from 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You may find some of the areas harder or easier to change. You also might not agree with me or my take on things. That’s fine – feel free to take it or leave it as you wish! Also, remember that the information I provide here is purely offered as advice and that no exercises or training program should be undertaken without receiving medical clearance from a healthcare professional.
One other caveat: As will be true for all of the entries and articles in this series, if you’ve already mastered or maxed out the topic at hand to the best of your ability level, you’ll reap far fewer benefits or none at all from my suggestions – good for you that you figured it out, but sorry I couldn’t help you out more. Happy climbing and training!