Wilderness Sports Conditioning
Train Today for
Climbing Technique: Gym Drills
In order to improve your climbing technique, advance to more challenging routes, and preserve your finger and elbow tendons, try incorporating some of the following drills into your gym climbing. As always, before any indoor climbing or strength session, include a 5-10 minute general warm-up, several active stretches, and a dynamic climbing warm-up on a few easy routes first, to prepare yourself physically and mentally for more difficult routes or drills.
The following will help teach you to keep your weight over your feet and increase your sense of balance. Try them on fairly easy (for you) non-vertical slabs. These can also be good drills to include if you are trying to let an elbow or hand heal, though be very careful not to overstrain the good arm in the process.
1) ONE HANDED CLIMBING. Find an easy route and climb using both hands. Then, as the drill implies, climb it a second time, but this time, keep your non-dominant hand behind your back or down by your side. Focus on placing all of your weight on your feet and using a hand merely for balance. Try the same route a third time, this time using only the non-dominant hand to assist you. You’ll discover that the route feels completely different each time.
2) FEATURES FOR HANDS. Use any holds or features for your feet, but use ONLY the textured wall (“features”) for hand holds. Vertical World’s textured walls are perfect for this sort of drill. This is a good one for anyone who tends to rely on upper body strength to muscle up a route.
3) HANDS AT CHEST LEVEL OR LOWER. This drill helps you work on stemming, manteling, underclings, and pressing, rather than hanging and pulling. Instead of looking up for the highest holds you can reach, you will have to focus your attention on finding good foot holds — and a lot of them. Sometimes the best way to move upward is to find a new foot hold that is merely two or three inches higher than your current foot position, which will allow you to inch higher just enough to grab a hold previously out of reach.
If you tend to slip off holds, or make a lot of noise when “dropping” a foot onto a hold, then working on footwork could be very beneficial.
1) SMOOTH, QUIET CLIMBING. Alpine climber and instructor Dale Remsberg suggests that you pretend that the holds are made of delicate pumice and tread very softly. Look at the hold and choose one precise place to put your foot. Do not “slide” the foot onto the edge, instead “place” it there and do not move the foot to another position. This teaches you to be very exact with your footwork and will pay off handsomely when you get to harder routes.
2) FEATURES FOR FEET. Anything goes for hands, but use only the textured wall for feet. This will help with friction or slabby face climbing and will also get you used to using much smaller holds, similar to what you’ll have to use on harder, more technique-oriented routes.
Preview and Skip
This is a great drill for learning sequencing. Before you even start climbing, step back from the route and take a look at all the hand and foot holds available to you. Mentally walk through the route, deciding what hand or foot will go where, what move (mantel, stem, backstep, flag) you will have to do in what order, and where the crux of the climb is likely to be. Then after you’ve tried the route once in what you feel is the proper sequence, try skipping a hand hold or foot hold and see what it does to the difficulty of the route. Establish the habit of visualization early in your gym climbing career so when you start harder climbs this will come automatically.
Find Rest Points
The goal of this drill is to find a rest point every 5 or 6 moves. Tell your belayer to count the number of times you stop to chalk your hands. Shoot for 4-6 rest points per route. Shake out your arms between climbing series to prevent getting pumped. This is also a good technique to use when bouldering or traversing.
A great way to challenge yourself and build up climbing endurance is to try climbing down a route you’ve had an easy time going up. Be sure to let your belayer know that you want a little slack. This practice is especially useful if you ever get stuck while leading an alpine route that proves to be too difficult, and you need to retrace your climbing route to get back on track. Hey, it happens more often than you’d think!
Speed climb (more advanced)
Time yourself and try to beat your previous time while keeping your movements smooth and fluid. Avoid climbing to the point of feeling pumped.
Power (most advanced)
Make as few moves as possible to reach the top. This is a more advanced version of “preview and skip” and may require that you do some dynos (dynamic movements requiring lunging moves to get to holds just out of reach.) Be especially cautious on dynos or overhangs if you have any elbow or finger tendon problems, and try dynos on large, juggy holds until your body is used to the powerful movements.
Have fun, set some daily and weekly goals for yourself, and most importantly, take care of those tendons!