New to Climbing? 5 simple ideas to help you start off strong

In this article IMG_0185I have tried to get across the main subject or teaching points that I use while coaching from a basic level all the way through to competition standards.

No matter what the level, it often seems that any one of these 5  simple points are the biggest stumbling block to progression in climbing.
These are my ‘go to’ concepts for any first time session with a client. Feel free to use them and/or share your thoughts/ideas with me.

The 5 points:

  • Look at your feet!
  • Climb with different colour footholds.
  • Try to pause before each hand hold.
  • Use your toes, not your mid sole.
  • The top is not the finish.

Using the concepts above…

With any of my clients I always suggest, as with most subjects, that breaking them down into manageable parts is a good idea. These concepts are such broad topics that it may be best to treat them as something to  consider while climbing, rather than a specific technical aspect. Just be mindful about them, allow the thoughts to float around in your headspace.

Take one concept, think about what it means and how you might implement it. Consider it through out the early stages of a climbing session, especially the warm up. When you start to get tired, don’t worry, just enjoy your session.

Try and keep one concept in mind for 5 or 6 sessions, until you can consider and climb with all of them at the back.  Remember to keep the concepts at the forefront of all of your climbing and movement reflections.

1. Look at your feet!

The simple nature of the title gives nothing away as to the depths that this concept reaches. It is a common thing that many new climbers are told and is obvious. But what it really means or what I suggest is to really look at your feet; take your time to focus on them and be mindful to watch you feet move until they are on a hold or in the position you want them to be. All too often a climber moves the leg and then foot, gets close to the required foot hold and then looks away at the last second. Looking away before the foot is properly connected to the hold will lead to inaccuracy, a lack of confidence in movement and thus excess pressure exerted through the hands.

It is better to place the foot slowly and accurately, weighting it confidently and thoroughly. This is only possible if the foot is observed for the entirety of movement.

Look at you feet and take your time. Slamming your feet onto holds is OK inthe lower grades and you mostly likely will get away with it, but as the foot holds get smaller and smaller as you progress through the grades, more accuracy is needed.

You’re going to have to learn mindful and precise footwork at some point, so why not learn now?

2. Climb with different colour feet

All too often new climbers (specifically indoor climbers) start off on the lower graded climbs and desperately try to get to the top, by way of grabbing the hand holds and smashing feet on the foot holds. While this might achieve the sole aim of getting to the last hold, it will instill very bad habits and look terrible.

A simple concept to improve this bad practise is to use any colour foot holds. In doing this, you will have to make decisions each time you move; decisions on balance and precision. Leaving the decisions of movement up to the route-setter (the person who put the holds on the wall) while learning to climb will hugely inhibit your movement progression.

This is often a hard task as it is so different to how most people climb, so to start with this try using the same colours along with different colours while forcing yourself to make at least 3 foot moves before every hand move.

3. Try to pause before each hand hold

Being able to reverse the move you have just done is a clear sign of a climber who understands good technique and balance. Being able to reverse movement can be the difference between success and failure.

Reversing movement requires an understanding of various different techniques, and the skill to be able to effectively combine them. Specifically the techniques that I have mentioned in the intro, but it’s enough just to think about them. Practise climbing slowly and attempt to pause for as long as you can before each hand hold is grabbed. At the start this may only be a second so try to find body positions that allow you to be in balance and pause for longer and longer. Aim for an eternity!

You can mix this exercise up by trying to pause with fewer and fewer points of contact with the wall e.g. rest with no hands at all.

4. Use your toes, not your mid sole

There are many advantages to climbing with your toes (or the toe part of your shoe) on the hold. The main one of these is that it allows you to twist your body while maintaining solid contact with footholds. Novice climbers will often begin by placing their midsole on the hold and effectively reducing the movement of the foot. As you try to rotate (which you should definitely be trying) your foot will pop off from the hold or you will need to lift yourself up/jump to allow the foot to move and this wastes a lot of energy.

Another reason that you should not be using the midsole of your shoe is that it makes poor use of the shoe’s engineering. Climbing shoe designers work hard to make shoe as supportive to your toes as possible and so shoes are often softer in the midsole.

You can improve your toe placement on the holds by thinking about climbing with your heels facing out from the walls. When climbing on smaller footholds this is absolutely crucial. So, to gain the most from your feet at this earlier stage of your climbing career try to make a habit of this technique now.

5. The top is not the finish

A fast and simple way to begin the journey of climbing slowly and effectively is to not think of the top of the boulder problem or route as the finish.

Try to climb each problem as if there is another 800 meters more climbing left to do, simply snatching for the top in any fashion is no good. After all, the top is arbitrary and if you visit another climbing wall that is lower or higher, do you always climb to the same point?

If you complete a problem, great, but climbing it more than once with these concepts in mind will greatly increase your efficiency of movement and will build up your database of muscle memories.

By climbing with the 800 metre mindset, you start to approach the problem differently. Energy is conserved, technique is considered, and rests are taken when they are available.

This concept is the one that most climbers see performance gains from. It requires a combination of all of these concepts, manifesting the loose thoughts and building better technique.


Thanks for reading

Please visit  for more information or to discuss  climbing coaching in Bristol

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