Everything you need to know before you start climbing.
With over 100,000 qualified climbers in France alone and climbing walls becoming big business, there’s no denying climbing is on the up. With more and more people trying climbing for the first time, the pros behind Adrenaline Hunter got together to create the ultimate top ten tips for how (and why) you should get into climbing, too.
So before you head off to Yosemite on a free solo adventure, learn why climbing is one of the only sports with no age limit, how it can give you abs of steel and the proof behind its confidence-boosting effects.
Read on for our advice on how to safely and easily start climbing.
Not got a head for heights? Try bouldering.
Did you know there were two types of climbing? Traditional vertical climbing, and horizontal. If the idea of climbing up high fills you with fear, why not start off with bouldering. A sport practised on a w 5-meter tall wall without the need for a harness, rope or carabiners, travel across instead of up and, if it gets too hard, there’s even crash pads to break your fall! Next time you’re in France, why not try the infamous Fontainebleau – a paradise for amateur climbers.
Give your digits a workout, too
Sometimes, it’s up to your fingers to do all the hard work. Contoured into perilous positions, conquering the cliff face isn’t always about how strong your body is – but how good is your grip. Doing regular finger exercises between 3-10 seconds per finger can help develop your hand muscles (it could mean the difference between falling and reaching new heights). With tense or slightly bent fingers (arched or clip-style for connoisseurs), this warm-up technique will allow you to have stronger fingers. Regular and consistent exercises could help your grip in the long term. The goal is to have the least bent fingers possible during the ascent.
Learn to read a wall
It seems pretty obvious, but not planning your route up will probably leave you hanging. Try to visualise each movement and identify where you will place your hands and feet to get you to the top. Understand, observe and analyse the route and think it through before you set off as it helps reduce the level of improvisation. Concentrate on each hold and create a mental picture of each stage of the climb to help build your confidence – checking out the wall online and its characteristics can be helpful homework.
Work on your ZENitude
Breathing exercises and yoga compliment climbing well. The idea of climbing is to prove you can keep your calm in crazy conditions. Learning how to regulate your breathing and control your heart rate can be essential. Yoga is also great for keeping your muscles strong and lean, whilst centring your thought and improving circulation – the perfect balance of yin and yang.
Push don’t pull
Trying to climb with just your arms is a rooky mistake we’ve all made. When starting out it can feel safer to use your arm muscles to hold on tight, but as you’ll quickly realise, it’s pretty tiring and you’ll find it harder to endure a climb like that. Use your legs to do all the hard work and let your arms stretch out to help you find those important anchor points – pushing up with your legs, not pulling. All the hard work should be coming from your legs and your long arms should be used for reaching – ensuring a stable balance between your arms and legs.
Failure is your friend
You can ask anyone, climbing is a sport where you’re going to fall. Get used to it. Falling is an important part of progressing and visualising your mistakes. Getting better depends on taking risks and pushing your limits – get out of your comfort zone and don’t worry about anyone else – they’ve all been there, too. Fear of falling can be a big hurdle, but learning to fall will only make you a better climber – a philosophy helpful in life, too.
Eat smart and drink more
Climbing is a physically demanding and intense activity – eating right is really important. You’ll need a lot of energy to keep you going and adapting your diet to include lots of fresh vitamin-packed ingredients can really help. Whatever sport you do, eating a balanced diet is a good idea, but when it comes to climbing, the idea is to feel light and strong – so heavy, hard to digest meals aren’t recommended. And, of course, don’t forget to stay well hydrated. Specialists advise at least two litres a day, your body will thank you.
Respect rest days
Once you’ve got the climbing bug, it can be hard to give yourself a day off. We get it, but even if you want to hit the wall every day, your body might not agree. Give yourself a rest day and a chance for your body to heal and store that muscle memory. Everyone’s different but, in general, for every couple of hardcore climbs, you should have at least one day off.
Grab a buddy
Even if in theory, you’re on the wall alone, having a climbing buddy can help in loads of different ways. Having someone on the ground to help spot you and give you guidance could be that little bit of motivation you needed to reach the next level. Choose someone you trust but always respect the rules. Create a routine for safety checks and stick to it, whatever your level or years of experience.
A trusty set of carabiners, certified ropes and a well fitting harness – having good gear is essential. When it comes to a sport that counts on its equipment, you shouldn’t compromise on quality – especially when it comes to technical materials like anchoring tools. A well-fitting pair of climbing shoes, gloves and a helmet are a good place to start – plus a chalk bag. Don’t forget to security check before every climb.
Understand the grading system
The official rock climbing ‘Scale of Difficulty’ evaluates each route based on type, method and difficulty. The first person to summit the climb usually provides the difficulty rating. There are various grading systems by country. In France, the scale is referenced by a number (3-9) but can differ in other countries (UIAA). A subjective system that depends on the ability of each climber, the scale is considered as a general estimation rather than a rule.
Photos : Sasha DiGiulian by Alex Grymanis ©Red Bull