Improve Your Sport Climbing (13): Tactics, Part 1 (EASY-HARD)


How do we define tactics, in terms of training for climbing and climbing performance? Simply put, tactics are strategic decisions and maneuvers you can use to your advantage in order to improve training and performance outcomes.

Some tactics are relatively simple to employ and can have an almost immediate and positive impact on your training and your performance, while others are much more difficult to implement and may take a number of efforts/adjustments over the course of months or even years, in order for you to fully realize how to use them to your best advantage. Hence my wishy-washy designation (yet again) of tactics as ranging from easy to hard.

Tactical decisions can pretty much involve nearly every aspect of your climbing, including your life in general and how climbing fits into it. How you approach and move through every climbing day and training session – the decisions you make during those days and on your rest days, too – all of these contain tactical judgment calls, whether you’ve ever considered this before or not. The number of pitches you climb, the number of days you climb per week, the types of pitches, what you choose to train, what you choose not to train, not training at all, overtraining, the amount of stress in your life, how much sleep you get, what you eat, what you drink, drinking alcohol, smoking, how you rest on routes, your mental preparation, your training plan (or lack thereof), the pace you climb at, your ability to handle the unexpected, the other physical activities you do…the list goes on and on, and all of these items and more represent tactical choices that have the potential to positively or negatively influence the outcome of your training sessions and/or climbing performance efforts, both short-term and long-term.

In other words, tactics encompass almost every part of your life, including your decisions about how much importance you personally wish to place on climbing training and climbing performance, and how much time, if any, you want to dedicate toward improving at climbing. Beyond that, do you wish to take a methodical approach to training, implementing training tactics that might detract from your climbing for a portion of time each year (resulting in an improvement in overall climbing ability if implemented correctly)? Or do you prefer just climbing as hard as you want to or can without integrating such an approach? Or something in between? There’s no right or wrong answer to this general tactical question, of course; climbing is and should be an individual and personal activity for every person who does it. What you want out of it is up to you, and you should make your decision accordingly.

Regardless of how much time and energy you wish to dedicate to climbing training outside of climbing itself, if you have any interest in improving your current level of climbing ability, you might find that by implementing certain tactical changes into your climbing repertoire, you can do so almost immediately or with relatively little effort, particularly when compared with learning new techniques or gaining significant climbing-relevant strength and/or fitness.

This series of (10) entries will cover several of the major tactical areas relevant to improving sport climbing (and to a certain extent, bouldering) ability, ordered from easiest to hardest, which will lead us quite naturally into the topic of the next series of blog entries – the mental game.

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!

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