New Years Resolutions

There is no better time to start a training regime or even simply a healthier lifestyle than a New Year. However we are all guilty to one extent or another at making ourselves empty promises. There are a few ideas about goal setting elsewhere on the blog. However here I’d like to concentrate on developing you new years climbing resolutions, so that you get the most out of it.

With this in mind get a piece of paper and write in the middle of it what your main climbing ambition is for the coming year. For me I’d like to get back to last years fitness level and climb Rainbow of Recalcitrance and Conan The Librarian. For me these routes are possible, if I was going as well as I possibly could and everything went right. It is important to keep them realistic and but still challenging. An analogy would be to imagine yourself at the climbing wall and you try three boulder problems, one too easy, the other impossible and a third that you see yourself being able to do with a bit of work.

Mind Mapping

The easy problem will have little effect on you, the likelihood of you disengaging from trying the what seems like ‘impossible’ route are high, however if you percieve the boulder problem or ‘short term goal’ to be possible, often you’ll find your behaviour changing to a semi-obsessive state. As such trying to find the right target to have as your goal for the year is very important, as it will affect your behaviour towards attaining it.

So having written your target in the middle of the page, write in a circle around it 5 or more things that might stop you reaching that goal (lack of stamina, inability to find rests, lack of confidence, lack of power endurance), anything that might be a barrier to your success. Circle each statement and link it back to the central goal.

Now for each one of those possible barriers to your goal, write a few things you can do to stop them being a barrier to your goals (Climb lots of easy routes, climb easy routes concentrating on finding and developing rests, practice placing gear). Again sometimes there might be another layer to this as something like practicing placing gear could be split into whilst walking along the base of a crag, whilst top roping a hard route and placing as much gear as possible on an easy route.

Eventually you have a mind map of several routes you can take towards you dream goal for the year, as well as activities to help get you there in the form of mini stepping stones.

There are a series of useful articles already on this blog, including subjects from:
Developing Confidence to Improve your performance
Developing Self Belief
How you learn technique
Goal Setting Skills
How to Apply Overload for the best Improvements
Developing focus and pre-climb routine for success
How to deal with Stress and Anxiety when climbing
Relaxation Techniques to reduce Anxiety
Using Planning as a Tactic for Success

If you’d like to be coach either face to face if you live in and around North Wales, or via online resources like skype, then you can contact Mark Reeves at his main website.

Starting Out Indoors – Learning to Lead – No. 3

By its very nature lead climbing has inherently more risks to it than top roping, the potential to fall a great distance is vastily increased, as are the forces exerted on not only the climber but belayer as well. Meaning that there is a greater chance of failures within the belay system. Despite the added risk, for many climbers leading is the only way to climb.

There are a few consdierations that you need to take before you launch yourself head long into lead climbing. The first is are you really willing to accept that added risk, if the answer is no then you should not feel pressured into doing so. The next thing to think about is are you ready physically, lead climbing is more strenuous as you have to hang on with one hand as you pull the rope up and clip the rope through the running belays. At the same time many climb walls only have lead climbing on steeper routes.

Thirdly before you throw yourself in at the deep end, do you have the skills to do it safely. If you can’t answer that question the answer is probably no. This article is going to point out those added skills, techniques and equipment that lead climbing involves. Teaching you a safe way to progress these skills until you are ready for your first lead, an expereince that many climbers remember for a long, long time, often for all the wrong reasons.


Up until the point that you feel that you are ready to learn to lead indoors, all you would have needed was a harness, rock boots, chalk bag, carabiner and belay device. Dependant on which climbing wall you use there are one or two things that you will need to purchase in order to make the next step. These items are a rope and possibly some quickdraws, although most indoor climbing walls now have them in-situ.


The choice of ropes is going to be unfathomable as rock boots to be honest, probably even more so as there are some technical requirements that you need to consider in your purchase. These choice come down to thickness, length and the type of rope. A specialist shop would be able to help guide you through the choices, but it helps to have a little knowledge and to ask the right question.

Ropes are an expensive initial outlay, and climbing walls simply do not hire them out, due to the need to track the use and abuse. Initially you need to decide on thickness and type of rope. For indoor climbing you need to get what is refered to as a ‘full’ or ‘Single’ rope, which means that the rope can be used on its own. The other main type of rope is a half rope, and is used mainly outdoors in conjunction with another half rope.

A full rope was originally 11mm in diameter, however the advances in construction and polymers mean you can now get a full rope that is only 9mm thick. These ultra thin ropes have their place in high end sports climbing where every once of weight counts. They do however have a tendency to wear quicker than there thicker counter parts. A new rope is extremely ‘slick’ and therefore harder to hold a fall, with this in mind it is better to buy a rope that is at the thicker end of the spectrum of 10.5mm to 11mm. This will be easier to hold a fall with, and be more resistant to wear. Some ropes have stronger sheaths, others are dry treated, something which is pointless if you are initially to use the rope indoors.

Length is the next option, most walls are between 10 and 20 metres in length, so to climb to the top and lower off you need a rope that is at least 40 metres in length. However some newer walls feature routes that are 30 metres requiring a 60 metre rope. So dependant on where you climb, a 50 metre rope is recommended, however if it is a short wall, you can get away with a 30 metre rope.

Ropes are sold in 50, 60 or 70 metres lengths, so you can either buy a fifty metre rope for most wall, or even split the cost of a 60 metre rope with a friend and cut the rope in half for shorter climbing walls. You can get the shop to cut the rope for you with a specialist rope cutter, essential a ‘red hot knife’ that cuts and seals the rope at the same time.


If your climbing wall has these in situ you won’t need to pruchase any, however if it doesn’t, you will need to buy the neccessary number, to clip all the bolts to the top of the wall. To start off short quick draws of around 15cm will suffice, and ideally, having a way to decipher which end clips into the bolt, and which the the rope, this is because as you fall the carabiner attached to the bolt will become ‘nicked’ and if you subsiquently clip that damaged carabiner into the rope, you can damage the rope.

This is typically achieved by either having a carabiner captivated at one end for the rope, colour coded carabiners (red for rope) or by having a bent gate carabiner to aid the clipping of a rope into the quickdraw.

The Skills

In order to progress into lead climbing you need to build on the skills you already have in order to not only get the most from your climbing, but also do it safety. Those skills come down to learning to belay a lead climber, and learning to clip the rope into the quickdraws. You can of course jump straight in at the deep end and go for it, the big question is whether your belayer ‘winging’ it as well. If so could they hold a fall, and if not what are the consequences?

There are numerous ways to learn to lead, the most effective is to do it in a group of three or more. The reason for this will become apparent when I start to work through some of the progression to making you first lead. As well as some of the other exercises that will help you pick the skills up quicker, whilst practicing in a safe environment.

Clipping Quickdraws

Practicing clipping a quickdraw on the ground or just off will help you to do it quickly and efficiently whilst hanging off one arm, at the top of the wall looking at a long fall. The most important thing is not to ‘backclip’ the rope. If you see the two photos, the correct way is to have the rope coming from behind the carabiner to infront of it, not the other way rope, as there is a greater chance of the rope unclipping in a fall.

Exercise one

Put your harness on and tie into the rope and put a quickdraw within reach of the ground. Try clipping with your left and right hand, both to your side and then across your body. Now turn the carabiner around so the gate faces in the opposite direction and repeat the exercise. Remember to check your not backclipping the rope, becoming aware of it now, will mean it will become second nature in the future.

Now repeat the same exercise as above, but move the quickdraw up until you have to step just off the ground to clip it. Find a position that is in balance before you clip the carabiner, and repeat all the possible variations in the first exercise. Can you adopt a more restful positions?

Move the carabiner a bit higher and clip the bolt at an extreme stretch? How easy was it? Now try it by your face, shoulder, waist and feet. Which were easier?

Then try clipping a quickdraw across your body, by crossing through to clip?

Lead belay progressions

Now add a few more quickdraws to clip a mini route along a traverse, but this time get your climbing partner to try and belay you, as you traverse. This exercise is really for the belayers benefit, but helps the climber try and clip quickdraws as well.

The belayer should be trying to pay the rope out, whilst still keeping a hand on the ‘dead rope’. In essence it is the reversing the method of belaying a top rope climber, but instead of taking the rope in you are paying it out.

Simulated leading

In essence simulated leading is leading but with the safety of being on top rope, it allows someone to practice leading whilst another practices belaying a leader. A third person is needed to operate the top rope. This exercise allows you work on all the skill neccessary for leading.

After a repeating the excerise of simulated leading until everyone is happy that both ‘leader’ is not backclipping carabiners and the belayer is doing everything right, and one hand is always on the dead rope, the time has come to move onto ‘real’ leading.

‘Real’ leading

By this time you will have completed a few simulated leads on several routes, for your first lead you are best to climb a route that you have already practised simulated leading on. This means there won’t be any unwanted surprises, and you have the added confidence of knowing that you can climb the route ‘easily’.

Before you leave the ground check and double check everything, make sure your tied in correctly, the harness are on right and the belay plate attached correctly, and the screwgate is done up. It is easy to become complacent in an indoor wall, and there have been several incidents in the past of people not tying in correctly, harnesses not being fasten correctly, belay plates being attached to gear loops and screwgates not being secured. Some of these have led to some very serious accidents. You will probably be nervous, which may lead you to forget something that would otherwise be second nature. This checking and double checking is something that climbers of all levels should do, and is a very good habit to get into as one day it may save a live.

When you leave the ground, wait for the belayer to acknowledge they are ready to belay. Usually done by them saying ‘climb when ready’.

The climber replies with ‘climbing’ and the belayer confirms by saying ‘OK’. Only then do you leave the ground. Again this is a habit that will serve you well throughout you climbing career.

Now for the first few times someone belays a lead climber they need someone to tail the rope so that, should they have a momentary lapse in concentration or struggle with the belaying, then there is someone backing up the belayer by having both hands on the dead rope, and only keeping a minimal amount of slack in the system. The gauge for how much slack is enough to stop a fall quickly, but not too little as to interfere with the belayer paying out the rope.

The rope should go up to the climber, not to the floor, along the floor and then up to the climber! The belayer should also be within a reasonable distance of the base of the wall. If they are 5 metres away, that is potentially around 5 metres of ‘slack’!

Lower off’s

At the top of the climbing wall you will often face a choice of what to clip into. Whether you are simply lowering off to then pull the ropes, or leading to set up a top rope for your friends the safest thing to do is to take the time to clip the rope through the lower off. Most walls have a combination of screwgate and snap gates at the top of every route. This means that you should be easily able to clip the rope into both, and do the screwgate up, giving a belts and braces approach. Other belays are simpler back to back snap links.

The other concern is if setting up a top rope, the climber should climb on the rope that they have to unclip on to prevent nasty pendulums.

Falling Off

Whilst there is a slim chance that you might fall off when you go for your first lead, hopefully you would have reduced the odds by choose an easy route you have done before. There will be a time eventually when you can’t go up or down and a fall is inevitable. In the first instance you should be concentrating on routes well within your capabilities, so to avoid falling.

However starting to develop the instant reactions needed to hold a fall are crucial skills for being safe. In the first instance it comes down to communication. If your leading and your being pushed by the climbing warn the belayer by shouting ‘watch me’ and maybe add an explainantion ‘watch me, this is a tricky move/I’m pumped/I am gonna fall’.

The belayer should be watch at all time anyway, but to add confidence to the climber on those difficult sections reply with ‘OK, I am watching you’ or ‘Go for it, I’ve got you’. This will allow the climber to know you as the belayer are on alert. Get the dead rope in a position where it is locked off already, but also be ready to pay out some slack if they make the move.

You might want to practice this on an easy route, by having someone back the belayer up again, and on one of the penultimate bolt warn the belayer you are going to fall and then drop off the wall. I am not talking about taking a 20ft screaming lob down the wall, have the last bolt above your waist and a just a little slack in the system before you move onto larger falls.

Just like anything really, you need to build up from the tiniest fall, and let both the belayer and the climber get used to the sensation. All the while with someone tailing the dead rope. It is also better if you must practice falling to do so on steeper routes, as you are less likely to hit the wall or any large holds on your descent.

How do I progress?

From your first leads you need to start slowly working up through the grades, to start with try and tackle routes that are easy for you, this will help give you added confidence, as well as start addressing the need to stay relaxed when you are lead climbing.

The goal for any climber is to start from the ground and get to the top of the wall without falling off. The routes will be graded according to this. So doing a F6a with two rests simply isn’t climbing that grade. It is better to initially climb routes you can succeed on before trying to breach new grades. Think of a pryamid of grades, where by you need to succeed on ten or sometimes many more routes of a given grade before moving onto the next grade.

Further work can be done on your technique, so after having lead a route try top roping it, remember to do this on the end of rope that goes through the quickdraws other wise you might pendulum out across the wall potentially hitting other wall users, or even the ground if you fall off low down. This time see if you can find better places to unclip the quickdraws as you top rope the route. Look for more stable position, that means that you are better in balance.

Alternatively you can try and find better ways to grasp the handholds, often when starting out you may initial take the hold where you first touch then, and often this will not be the best way to hold the hold. Try three different ways to hold onto any grip and then choose the best.

If you over reached, or clipped a quickdraw at stretch could you have clipped it from a better position. Even if it meant climbing a move or two higher?

Added Safety

In the light of a few accidents that have involved a climber becoming detached from the rope through not tying in correctly there is very little that anyone can do for you in the time you might take to reach failure. In order to help yourself should you fail to tie in correctly and your belayer fails to spot it, it is worth taking a spare quickdraw or two. This would allow you to easy and quickly clip into an insitu bolt or quickdraw on a route. The added extension of a long quickdraw makes it easier to clip in…



There are many centres, walls and companies that offer this type of learning to lead indoor courses, that last for one or two session with a total contact time of around four hours. These courses are often staffed by SPA holders, who should have completed and logged specific additional training/assessment with a more qualified instructor, in order to prepare them for the demands of managing lead climbing sessions on indoor walls.

Alternatively courses can often be run by MIA/MIC/Guides who are all trained and assessed in how to teach lead climbing in any environment.

Starting Out Indoors – Training No.2

When most people start up climbing indoors they want to get better, not for any formal competitive reason, although competing amongst peers is one of the drives to self improvement that from time to time we all ‘suffer’ from. Seeing more experienced climbers scaling harder routes allow us to see what is possible and can lead us to wish to emulate their successes.

Whatever the reason the chance to personally challenge yourself at any level means that in order to improve you will need to do some form of training. Whether this is laying out a personal training schedule, just trying to improve week by week or working on technique, it doesn’t matter. What you will benefit from is learning a little about the ways in which we can improve, the basic principles of training and movement techniques.

This article looks at the basic’s, as well as how to structure your indoor session to get the most out your climbing. After all in is not cheap to go climbing indoors, with some walls charging nearly £10 per session.

Basic Theories

When we climb we call upon three basic energy systems, there are other types and sub-types of energy system, but for now just consider the three.

Phosphagen System – The initial energy system, that can work at high or low levels, it only last around 10 seconds.
Anaerobic – This system kicks in at a high level of intensity when you start to get pumped, it can start working at around 8 seconds, complimenting the phosphagen system, but can only last around 2 minutes. The muscles are working so hard they start to shut down the blood vessels that supply the muscles with oxygen, the bi-product of the lack of oxygen is Lactic acid. It is the build up of lactic acid that brings failure.
Aerobic – This is at a low intensity, when you don’t feel yourself getting pumped. It takes a minute to get started but can keep going at a low intensity for hours. You can perform up to about 60% of your maximum effort aerobically, before you reach your OBLA (onset of blood lactate accumulation) level, which means you are starting to use some anaerobic respiration, and will start to feel pumped.

Whilst it is possible to train the body to adapt to either, essentially getting physically stronger will help raise the level and intensity that you can climb at across the board.


Overload is a technical term that you will need to apply to any training to make improvements. Simply going to the wall once a week and doing the same routes won’t necessarily make for the best improvement. You have to apply and overloading factor to you routine which can be either.

Frequency – Number of times a week you train.
Intensity – The amount of climbing you do in a given time.
Difficulty – The grade at which you train at.
Duration – The length of time you train for.
Quantity – The overall number of routes you do in a session.

How you choose to add overload really depends on the type of fitness you are looking for. Aerobic training would benefit from frequency, duration, intensity and Quantity, but not difficultly. The reason being that if you increase difficulty you will start to work in your anaerobic levels, but training for improvement in aerobic levels you need to work within a threshold where you don’t start to feel pumped. This in effect promotes blood flow through the muscles and help dilate and strengthen capillaries.

Whereas strength would benefit from overloads in frequency, intensity and difficulty. As we are trying to make our muscles work as hard as possible and in effect tear the muscle fibres, so they can repair themselves stronger and large than before. This process only takes place during a period of recovery, and when training strength the recovery period might well be over 48 hours.


Many people climb numerous times a week, however your muscle don’t develop until after you have finished training. Essentially training breaks down and often tears muscle fibres, it is only during the periods of rest that the body rebuilds them stronger. So at first allow at least 2 days between training sessions. If you don’t allow a long enough rest then your body can’t repair the damage, so you won’t benefit from training. Instead there is a potential to actually grow weaker.

The same is also true if you over rest, in a way your best bet is to start to listen to your body. After a heavy bouldering session your body might be sore for a couple of days. Whereas after a low intensity aerobic session you might feel better after just a day.

Warming Up

Something of a swear word among many climbers, as many experienced climbers still choose not to warm up, instead jump straight onto a hard route, thinking that they will be too tired after a warm up. This misconception is so wrong that it needs a little explaining.

A warm up serves to ready the body and the mind for exercise, and something as intense as climbing requires a thorough warm as possible. A warm up is the lowest intensity of exercises, that helps raise you heart and breathing rate, dilating the blood vessel in the muscles and lubricating the joints and tendons. It is the most import part of any session, a warm that includes some form of technique drill will not only warm up the body but the mind as well.

Where as jumping straight on a hard route will result in a climber become pumped extremely quickly because the blood vessels haven’t had the chance to dilated, reducing the oxygen supply to the muscles meaning you will become pumped quicker. It is often hard to recover once you have suffered from this flash pump, meaning the whole session will be ruined.

As such when starting out indoors, you need to go on the the easiest of routes, and concentrate on climbing them as technically as possible, use the exercises from the last article like climbing sideways, climbing silently, one handed climbing, handless climbing and climbing slowly. This should typically last for at least 15 minutes, and you should not feel pumped at all, just a little warm and glowing and you should feel the body loosening up. You can extend the warm up for longer, working on very easy routes, after all the more easy climbing you do the longer the session will last, and the better value for money you will get.

Preferably start the warm up on slabs and don’t be tempted to move quickly to steeper terrain, often it is better to just repeat slabbier routes rather than move onto steep juggy terrain. During my warm up sessions I tend to do a reasonable amount of time on slabs that are so easy I can do some one handed and handless traversing. This helps me concentrate on find positions of balance, being precise with my feet and start to turn my brain to climbing mode.

If you warm up on routes consider going up and down an easy route 2 or three times before you switch over with your belayer.

During the latter parts of the warm up you want to start thinking about doing some stretching. Whilst this goes some way to help prevent injury, the main reason is to help us maintain and develop flexibility.


The maxim I always use is warm up to then stretch, don’t stretch to warm up. Meaning that we don’t stretch when our bodies are cold, we do it after we have warmed up. If you want to work on flexibility at home you can warm up passively by having a hot bath and turning the heating up during the stretch exercises.

When at the wall you can add some stretches towards the end of your warm up, by performing some arm, finger, thumb, lower limb and shoulder stretches, in between routes.

The important thing to remember with stretches is that you need to hold them for at least 10 seconds statically, so don’t bounce up and down into them. Try not to force the stretch.

Sequencing training

In order to reap the best rewards you need to sequence the types of training you do, and spend at least a month doing each. Sport scientists recommend Strength – Anaerobic Endurance – Aerobic Endurance as the best way to sequence your training for overall improvement. However the majority of climbers just aren’t interested in that level of training commitment.

Training Specifics

Strength Training

Whether you choose to use a weight training regime where you can train general strength as well as work on the muscles specific to climbing; circuit training which will work on your more general strength; or climbing to develop the very specific strength there are a few key points that you need to take on board.

In a gym you will hear people talk about there 1RM or the maximum weight they can achieve one repetition of in a giving exercise. From this people work out there theoretical 3RM or maximum weight they can achieve three repetitions at.

If 1RM is 100% then 3RM is about 95% and 6RM 85%. Using low reps (3 to 6RM)and working to absolute failure will give maximum strength gains. When working this intensively the body rapidly depletes its energy supply and you will only be able to continue working out for up to 30 minutes. Some research has shown that if you work each muscle group once to the point that after the number of reps set out to achieve you physically can’t move the weight then this leads to the most effective strength gains, meaning that there is no need to rest and repeat the exercise. You ideally need to allow 3 to 5 minutes rest between exercises.

If you move that theory across to bouldering, perhaps the best way to make gains in specific climbing strength as well as hone your technique, then we are talking about doing 30 minutes of climbing at the absolute top end of your ability. Don’t forget to rest for 3 to 5 minutes between each problem. Whilst this may seem like a waste of money, to only go to a climbing wall for 30 minutes, you are of course forgetting that a very low intensity warm up on routes is a must for such activities. Followed by 30 minutes of intensive bouldering then another 30 minutes low intensity warm down and stretch.

Having worked in a climbing wall for several years I found it very difficult to spend to much of my spare time returning to train, but only going for a 15 minute warm up followed by a 20 minute boulder was more than enough for me to become reasonable strong. By the end of the sessions I would feel still feel OK, but that I was on the downward slope of my strength. I would never train to when I became too tired, as this is often when injuries happen.

Isolate different climbing strengths, by working the fingers on less steep terrain, on small hand holds, if a problem is too hard try using bigger footholds, but remember as you get stronger to make the foot holds smaller.

Work you arms and shoulder by moving onto steeper walls with bigger holds, concentrate on making every move as statically as possible, working the muscles slowly and not using any power to overcome any reach.

Bouldering for technique

Unlike strength where you are trying for an short intensive burn, bouldering can also be enjoyed at a much less intense level. Instead of trying to use the upper body as much as possible, you try and use it as little as possible, instead using footwork, body position and balance to reduce the need to pull hard.

In virtually ever bouldering wall in every country there is going to be someone more than willing to give some free advice on matters of the best way to climb a problem. The trick is to avoid taking this advice for granted instead trying a problem in a variety of different ways, and asking yourself which way felt the easiest for YOU and perhaps why?

It is this feedback that will help you to become a better climber through listening to your body. Whilst it is tempting to boulder on steep walls, when working technique consider that we learn skills like movement through repetition of that movement, in fact it takes around 100 repetitions to lay down muscle memory of any one movement. So slabs and vertical walls, will at first be not only more appropriate for the general angle of routes you aspire to but be at a level that allows repetition.

There is one over riding rule to technique training and that is practice does not make perfect, practice makes permanent. Only perfect practice will make perfect.

Often we never actually see ourselves climb, so we have no benchmark of how we actually climb. Try taking you digital camera to the wall and videoing you and your friends on boulder problems. Review your performance after you have climbed the problem, and see how you compare to others who climb that problem. Look for keys to better performance like which way your upper body is facing during the crux and what foot and handholds you are using. Don’t try and over analyse the video, instead pick one move and try to make that once section better, video yourself again, and then repeat the process. If you try to work on more than one point you may overload you brain and end up climbing worse.

Anaerobic Training

Anaerobic ability is the ability of the muscle to continue exercise after they have effectively shut of the supply of oxygen to them because they are working so hard they squeeze shut the cappillaries that bring the oxygen. This is something which we call upon whenever we are trying to push ourselves on the hardest of routes we can manage. We rapidly become ‘pumped’, which is when the lactic acid in our muscles builds up to such level that in brings about total failure.

The lactic acid is a bi-product of our muscles working without a sufficient oxygen supply. As soon as this starts to happen unless we get a good rest, the clock is ticking. Failure will come about in a matter of minutes, due to the gradual accumulation of the lactic acid in the muscles.

You can train you muscle to operate better in this lactate overload, by training at a level that promotes it. Usually this is done on routes, that are near you maximum level and after a short rest or interval repeating the route a few times.

So if you have lead a F6b at the wall as you best effort, then train on climb a F6a, with sustain climbing rather than one with a distinct crux, and however long it takes to climb give yourself twice that time as a rest period. Then climb the route again and rest again, you are trying to make it to 6 internals, if you can’t then lower the grade.

To apply overload start to reduce the interval or increase the grade of route.

In real terms this type of training will only give you a few extra moves before you fail. Mainly because although you can increase your ability to keep climbing through the ‘pump’, you can’t cheat nature and lactic acid will always win.

You are far better improving strength and aerobic ability, in effect raising the level where the pump sets in.

Aerobic Training

To train aerobically, you must be working within a level that you can sustain aerobically, so in climbing this is a level where you won’t feel ‘pumped’. If you start feeling pumped stop and drop the grade and angle of the climb.

Essentially, specific training for aerobic climbing is only a little more intense than what you warm up at. So by extending the warm up to include more easy routes, up to where you feel the pump and then drop the grade and or angle to the minimum and start up through the grades again. This low intensity climbing is another good place to practice technique, trying to get you legs to do all the work. Typically you need to keep this level of exercise going for about 1 hour, including the warm, after this level of exercise it is a great time to do some stretching to help your flexibility.

Climbing easy routes for an hour can be tedious, so instead of just climbing routes try and use the time for technique again and have a list of exercises, and climb up and down a route in the style suggested.

Face the upper body right.
Face the upper body left.
Face the upper body left and right, pivoting around as you change the direction you are facing.
Climb Silently – really concentrating on no foot noise.
Climb Slowly.
Climb as fast as possible.
Climb aggressively.
Climb as fluidly as possible.
Climb with your hands staying below your shoulders.
Climb and find as many hands off rest as possible.

Effectively, this aerobic training is helping to encourage capillary growth in the muscles, by widening, reinforce and promoting new pathways. It also helps to improve the efficiency of the heart and lungs to transport oxygenated blood around the body.

You can help your heart and lungs out by doing other aerobic activities like swimming, cycling, running or aerobics. Whilst this won’t help the specific muscles of climbing it will help strengthen the heart, and increase the amount of oxygen that you blood can supply to the muscles along with how efficiently the lungs can remove the carbon dioxide and replace it with oxygen. Again general aerobic workouts need to last for at least 1 hour.


There are very few courses that offer training, to qualify as a Mountaineering Instructor you only have to climb VS, although many climb a lot harder. A qualified instructor who climbs in the higher echelons of the graded will have a wealth of personal experience and the ability to communicate it, as well as the ability to train key safety points.

Finding a coach or trainer can be very hit and miss, as anyone can set up in business as a climbing coach or trainer, as such it is often personal recommendation that work best. Although people like Neil Gresham, Adrian Berry, Steve McClure, Katherine Schumacher, Dave MacCloud or other top climbers who have not only reached their highest potential through training, but also offered ‘coaching and training’ for several years. These coaches often have the edge over ‘instructors’ when it comes to the sports science rather than the training of technique and safety. You should expect to pay up to £40 per hour.

Starting Out Indoor Climbing – No.1

For the majority of people who start out climbing increasingly do so through the indoor route. The safe and easily accessible nature of indoor climbing means that many people start out using a climbing wall as an alternative to a Gym, and before long find themselves hooked on the sport and wanting to take it further.

This is the first of a series of articles that will appear here that will show you how to progress from indoors climbing through to climbing outside on real rock. It will look at the different equipment, skills and even courses that are on offer to help you get the most out of your climbing, whilst at the same time help minimising the risk to you and those around you.

This first article is starting from the very basics and looks at the equipment and skills you will need to master in order to climb in the majority of indoor climbing wall independent of an instructor or friend. Most climbing walls requiring you to be able to put on your harness correctly, tie into that harness and belay someone up a top rope and safely return them to the ground. There are a few more basic pieces of kit you’ll need, as well as some skills but they will all be covered below.


For indoor climbing most walls can hire out the equipment, eventually you are going to need your own harness, rock boots, chalk bag, HMS carabiner and belay plate. There are so many of these items on the market, the most taxing decision is which is best for you. Here we look at some of the pro’s and con’s and help you become a more discerning shopper.


So many companies make so many types of harnesses the choice can be a little bewildering. If you buy a harness from an outdoor shop they will all be UIAA and EU rated to the appropriate safety standard. As such any harness you buy will do the job you require. However a little forward thinking means that the harness you buy now will help serve you for a few years to come, depending on wear and tear.

When and if you make the transition to the outdoors, you will need 4 or more gear loops on your harness, as well as adjustable leg loops, not only to help cope with those seasonal weight increases but the thicker clothing you might wear outdoors.

Harnesses do come in different sizes, many of which overlap, so unless you feel like your about to turn into a anorexic then it is better to have a harness that will allow some ‘growth’. Always try a harness on before you buy them, not just the waist loop but leg loops as well. Check they all fit, are comfortable to move around in and most shops will have a hanging loop, so you can feel how the harness feels when you are hanging in it.

Some manufactures make male and female harnesses that cater for the different proportions of either sex. Metolius even make a Safetech harness where every single point you could possibly clip into is rated to 10kN. Most climbers rely on common sense not belay off there gear loop that is only design to hold 5 kg’s, however it is a reasonably common error when starting out, something which I have seen in at indoor walls numerous times.

The final consideration with a harness is the type of buckle that is used to fasten them. Essentially there are two types the first A) requires the buckle to be double backed by the climber. B) When tighten the buckle locks of automatically.

Rock Boots

If there are a lot of harness to choose from then there is even more rock boots. The number of manufacturers is vast, all producing a variety of boots, that have a variety of specialisation’s within climbing, as well as the ‘Lasts’ or foot shapes that they are built around.

In an ideal world you will be able to go into a shop and say that you are looking for your first pair of rock boots, and be recommended a few pairs to try on. Unfortunately not all outdoor stores are staffed with experienced climbers or for that matter stock a large range of rock boots. So your best bet is often to shop around and try on different models, makes and sizes until you feel you have a boot that fits your foot. Just because your mate uses a certain brands model doesn’t mean that your foot will fit that boot.

In terms of fit you need your rock boot to be snug, with your toes touching the end of the boots but not totally scrunched up so they are to painful to wear for more than five minutes. If the sales assistant tells you that you need to buy rock shoes two sizes too small, walk out, you’ll only end up buying a another pair down the line having crippled your feet for a few months.

Having gone through a variety of boots and decided on a pair, try walking around the shop for 10 minutes and see how your feet feel. Remember that sometimes you might be wearing your rock boots for a couple of hours, especially when you make the transition to climbing multi-pitched routes.

Chalk Bags

Whilst a simple item, there use is often far from ideal. It is a personal choice, but aim for a size of bag that easily allows access to your whole hand. Some climber choose to clip theirs via a carabiner to the back of there harness. Whilst this may seem a good way to carry the bag it is often too low to easily get your hands into.

Instead use a short length of cord around 1.5 metres will be adequate, by tying the bag round you waist it is held higher and more secure, and in the confines of a corner or chimney, it is often possible and far easier to pull the bag round the front for easier access.

Screwgate Carabiners

Climbing inside you will need at least one screwgate carabiner that to securely fasten a belay plate to. Again the choice is immense, all will be rated and stamped with a CE number (European safety standard) so in reality any will do. However the main use of the carabiner will be for use in conjunction with a belay plate so a HMS type will be preferable.

With this in mind the two main types of screwgate carabiners are, A) Micro HMS carabiner and B) Large HMS or Pear Shaped carabiner or C) D-Shaped carabiner. Whilst either would work with a belay plate the best to use is a HMS carabiner, as it helps the rope run more freely.

Belay Plates

Like all things climbing the range and variety is massive, and goes from the most basic and effective A) sprung stitch plate, more elaborate tubular belay devices like (B) DMM bug, (C) ATC or (D) Metolius BRD. Then of course there is the more complex auto-locking device like the (E) petzl Gri-Gri.

All can do the job you want them to, and all have various pro’s and con’s associated with them, with some being slicker or less grabby than others. All need proper training and vigilance when belaying.

The Essential Skills

There are several skills that are fundamental in climbing, and whether you are a beginner or a total expert there are very few variations to doing this safely. Whilst this is not a complete this of all the variations, it has been kept basic and simple to avoid confusion. Also many of these early principles and habits that you get into will follow you through your climbing from starting out indoors to climbing multi-pitched routes in the mountains.

Fitting a harness

Hopefully you would have brought a harness that fits and is comfortable, more than likely you will have tried it on at home and read all the instructions. Quite important because some harness have multiple adjustment point.

To start of with loosen the waist belt and if a fully adjustable harness the leg loops as well. After this you will probably have to untangle the harness, the trick here is to start with the waist loop, remember any logo’s will have been stitched onto you harness so they read the right way up. Then move the leg loops around waist belt until there are no tangles or twists in any part of the harness.

Put the harness on, make sure the waist belt is around your waist, and not your hips, and tighten till you can just get a flat hand down the front of the harness, but not a clenched fist. If the buckle needs doubling back to lock the harness closed do it as soon as you have the harness tight enough. Avoid any distractions or questions until you have locked the buckle off, this will prevent you from ‘forgetting’ about it, which is another common near miss you see in climbing walls all the time.

When you have finished the waist belt, adjust the leg loops, they need to be comfortably tight, but not restrict movement yet not hanging loose half way down your leg. Again, as soon as they are adjusted, double back the buckles to lock them closed.

The last point is to visually check that yours and your climbing partner(s) harness are on correctly and that all the buckles are locked off. This last step has saved numerous climbers both expert and novice over the years. I have pointed out this to numerous people before when climbing, and you can expect a mixed response, some people will thank you, whilst more insecure people can bite your head off, whatever the reaction it is better than seeing someone hit the deck next to you.

When you have finished, you will hopefully not have to adjust the leg loops again for a while, and by simply loosening the waist belt you will be able to step out of the harness, leaving it ready to use the next time you go climbing.

Tying into a harness

Having got your harness on you now need to tie into that harness correctly, whilst other climbers or your friends may choose to use bowlines, double bowlines or other knot. To start with it is better to keep things nice and simple and use only the fig 8 knot.

Whilst it may seem easier to tie a fig 8 on the bight, and clip in with a screwgate carabiner (see Diagram), now is a good time to start developing your knot tying skills, so by the time you are moving outside, or have to tie the knot in anger for the first time alone you have it dialled.

The vast majority of climber use a re-threaded fig 8 to tie directly into there harness. This requires you to tie a fig 8 with about 1.5 metres or from an outstretched hand to the opposite shoulder. This tail then needs to be threaded down through the waist belt and then continue through the leg loops. This is a good habit to get into, because if you progress outside and you are in a driving blizzard and wearing gloves, you can occasionally miss thread the second point, and it is better to miss the leg loops than the waist belt.

You then need to pull all the tail through so the loop of rope you are making is nice and small, like the webbing loop that links the leg loops to the waist belt. Then follow the rope back through the knot ‘re-threading’ it (see diagram). For the knot to be secure you have to dress it or tidy it up so it looks nice and neat, this also helps when it comes to undoing the knot after it has been loaded with your body weight.

The end of rope that protrudes from the knot needs to be at least two good handfuls, and for the belts and braces approach tie into a stopper knot.

Again when you are tying into the rope don’t let anything distract you and when finished tying into the rope, it is a good habit to check the knot again. As a belayer check the knot of the climber. This double checking your partner is one of the most fundamental fail safes in climbing, we are only human after all and total possible of making silly mistakes.


Belaying safely is one of the skills that changes very little from beginner to expert. Whilst the more experienced people might look sloppy when they belay their friends. It is not excuse to copy there bad practice. When you are starting out the more disciplined you become the better your belaying will become. The old adage practice makes perfect is wrong, practice makes permanent. Only perfect practice makes perfect.

It is therefore essential that you develop a correct pattern for belaying (see diagram), as these first moves will be the platform you work off throughout your climbing, so it is important that you start off being as vigilant as possible. In short it is a four step pattern:

1. Take the rope in
2. Lock the rope off
3. Swap your hands over.
4. Return to the beginning, ready to take in

Common accidents are novices belayers dropping climbers, by letting go of the wrong rope for sometimes less than a second. This can be prevented by having a third person backing the belayer up by holding onto the ‘dead rope’ for the first few times, and then just during the lowering for a few times after that until both the climber and belayer are confident the belayers ability. Whilst this might seem a little over the top and at times condescending, would you prefer to be responsible for someone’s serious injury if you momentarily ‘get it wrong’.

The next thing to master is the process of lowering someone off the wall, once they have reached the top. Whilst it may seem like experts simply throw themselves off the top, have a good look at what they do, the odds are on that they will communicate both verbally and visually, as well as feel if the rope is tight as a way to checking the belayer has them tight and locked off before committing to the rope.

This is where climbing calls come in, calls that a few years down the line might require your instant reaction. So starting to use them correctly in a climbing wall will help ingrain them until they become also subconscious.

So picture yourself having just reached the top of the wall, you want to be lowered off so you look down and shout ‘Take!’ whilst at the same time trying to get eye contact with the belayer, and watch and feel them take the rope in tight and lock off the rope. When the rope is tight the climber responds by saying ‘That’s Me’, and slowly eases their weight onto the rope, you can keep your hand on the rope going to the belayer as a back-up. When you have committed your weight to the rope, the belayer should look look to visually check, as well as feel the added tension in the system. This is the signal to the belayer that you are now ready to be lowered. The belayer should respond by saying ‘OK’, before they start to lower in a SLOW and CONTROLLED manner.

Trying to lower someone as quickly as possible might seem like fun but it can end in tears. Really rapid lowering will produce a glazed on the rope as the friction heats up the top carabiner, and effectively melts the rope.

Basic Movement

When starting out climbing there is a tendency for novices to be overly dependant on their arms. Where in truth easy routes can be climbed with the majority of effort on your feet. I order to promote good technique there are a few exercises that will help you.

Sideways Climbing

In this exercise you can either face left or right, meaning that your left or right shoulder will be almost touching the wall. As you climb up you will from time to time need to pivot round on your feet to face the opposite direction. This techniques really helps on slabs and vertical walls.

Silent Climbing

The aim is to climb up as silently as possible, the reason for this is most novices have poor footwork, and tend to stab holds a few times before they eventually get there foot on a hold. By trying to make silent foot movement it forces you to look down and place the foot accurately on the holds.

Slow Climbing

Like silent climbing this slows down the climbing process and makes you more accurate with your foot placements. It also helps you feel how the weight transfers from one foot to the other.

One Handed Climbing

Try climbing a slab with only one or if it is very slabby, no handed. This really helps you find positions of balance, between the movements.

Introduction to Indoor Climbing Courses

Most dedicated climbing walls offer this kind of course and are a very good way to start out if you don’t have any friends willing to offer you an indoor apprenticeship. The courses often comes with a training element for somewhere in the region of 6 to 8 hours of instructed time followed by a short assessment.

The assessment is the climbing walls way to assess that you can fulfil there criteria for signing in as an independent climber. Typically this is Putting on a harness correctly, Tying into the harness and belaying correctly. The courses also tend to cover the basic risk and control of those risks both in roped climbing as well as on a bouldering wall.

If you book a course through an independent instructor, then look for someone who is either SPA (Single Pitch Award – Able to offer indoor and outdoor climbing on single pitch venues) or an MIA/MIC (Mountaineering Instructor – Able to offer a full spectrum of indoor and outdoor climbing including teaching lead climbing and instructing/guiding on multi-pitched rock routes). Ask if they are insured, and if in doubt about there qualifications you can approach the MLTUK the awarding body about a particular instructors qualifications.

Proper Planning and Preparation prevents poor performance

This classic coaching maxim is often applied to a whole manner of different situation, and it also holds true in climbing, especially if you are planning on pushing your boundaries. At its most basic it is refering to having done the ground work, for instant there aren’t many people who are going to get up after a prolonged period on the couch and climb at there previous limit. However if you have been out climbing at your limit for a few months and feel comfortable, then prehaps you’ve done the neccessary work to push those limits and step across that line in the sand to a new no mans land where anything can happen. If that’s the case then there are a few things you can do to minimise the unexpected.

This diagram can take the form of anything from a very basic pencil drawing showing the expected path, and main features like corners, aretes, cracks, holds and quickdraws. If its and indoor route, try to include all the hand holds and which direct they look best to hold them, were you can shake out, which holds you clip off and where the crux section of the route is. These diagrams can also be used to break the routes down into sections.

Eventually you will find that there is no need for you to draw a diagram of a route, as you can build a mental picture by breaking the route down, into easy climbing, hard climbing, crux sections, possible rests, even where there is protection. Often to achieve this you’ll need to view the route from several different view points, to get a better 3D image of the route, alternatively it is also posssbile to climb an easier adjacent route, allowing you a birds eye view of crucial holds.

Climbing an adjacent route will also allow you to get used to the type of holds, the angle of the wall, and even the style of climbing. This in turn will help you to imagine how you might climb the route in your own mind (see imagery post). At its most advance level you would include imagining a series of ‘What if’s’ – the gear isn’t as good as you thought, the holds are smaller, the rock is steeper, the crux is harder, the gear is better, etc…

The key Points are:
Draw a diagram
Breaking the route into sections
Where are the likely rests
Look at the route from several different view points to get a better 3D image
Climb an easier adjacent route to get a feel for the rock and another view point
Imagine how you might climb the route

Training Images

In North Wales bouldering Guru, Guidebook producer and all round Mr Nice, has been involved in developing one of the UK premiere training facilities. Dubbed ‘The Mill’ the bouldering facility offers problems from desperate to impossible if you are what might be consider a reasonably good climber. The climbing probably starts at V6 upwards. The concept is based on the ‘School Room’ in Sheffield which had twenty ‘members’ who chipped in for the rent and the cost and time of setting the facility up. I have been invited along a couple of times where I both flailed miserably and took some pictures.

I did manage a problem that the big boys that train there call easy, however it was probably V7! Anyway I hope you enjoy the images.

The only jug on the entire wall!

James Lillie cranking in out.

James King on the Steep Wall

Jemma Powell focuses of the finishing jug!

Jemma Powell

Pete Robin’s who’s put the power of the mill to good use with ascents of Pools of Bethesda V12(?)

Mill Scene

The Man, the Myth, Simon Panton enjoys his vision.

Olly Cain training his front levers, he also showed that training pays off with an ascent of the uber Fontainbleau classic Carnage.

Relaxation Techniques

As I have mentioned relaxing as a strategy to combat anxiety and performance catastrophies, it only seemed appropriate that I gave you a few more pointers, as to how to go about training yourself to be able to relax. Like most skills, relaxation doesn’t neccessarily come naturally, as such you need to practice using it to be able to rely on it when your in those stressful situations.

Firstly it is important to realise that there are numerous ways that you can try to relax, and one will be more effective than others for different people. The more popular ways are controlled breathing, Breathing-mantra, progressive muscle relaxation, transcendental meditation. Whatever relaxation technique you choose, you should aim to practice it at home to start with, and spend 15 to 20 minutes relaxing.

After a few session, once you feel you have started to get the hang of the protocol, try to reduce the length of time it takes to reach a relaxed state, and with it the overall length of the session. What you are trying to eventually achieve through practice is the ability to reach a more relaxed state in a 10 to 20 seconds. Allowing you to relax before leading a route or even when on a route, as your about to embark on the crux section.

There are some more links here:
Progressive Muscle relaxation -MP3 audio
Progressive Muscle relaxation – Video

When I get pumped/scared/stressed I lose my footwork technique

This is a fairly common situation for even the most experienced of climbers, as the pressure mounts on an ascent the ability to maintain that good and efficient footwork and technique is lost. There are a few climbers who can stay cool, calm and collected in the most difficult of situation, and it takes a lot to rattle there cages, however most mere mortals are blessed with healthy dose of self preservation. To a certain extent you need to train yourself to switch off or ignore this natural reaction to stressful situations or at the very lest learn how to use it to help rather than hinder your performance.

Whilst the mechanism for the stress may be different, in that being pumped may lead you to think that you are close to falling off might be the ‘stressor’, or simply being run out a long way from gear may have a similarly stressful effect. Whatever the ‘stressor’ the effects are a stimulation of what psychologist refer to as the Hypothalamus Pituitary Adrenal (HPA) axis. Often this is associated with a certain amount of worry or cognitive anxiety, and the results of the HPA axis stimulation is physiological arousal, that we often experience as somatic symptoms. These symptoms are numerous and include increase heart rate, butterflies in your stomach, sweaty palms or jittery feeling. In fact a whole raft of physiological changes that we evolved for a fight or flight response.

Modern sport psychology has look at how this can have effects on performance, and quite often this has included looking at the issue by using a climbing task as the stressor. There are two suggestion as to how that stress effects us the first is the conscious processing hypothesis, that basically says that the stress causes addition thinking load on a brain that only has a limit capacity for thought. When you reach a certain capacity you no longer make the movements automatically, instead you have to consciously think through every move, and in essence revert back to being a beginner. It is often referred to as paralyses by analysis.

A second theory is that of processing efficiency, here the hypothesis is that the additional cognitive load makes you process movement less efficiently. To compensate for the loss of movement efficiency you increase the effort you put into the task, which in climbing will lead to a vicious cycle where if you were pumped you worry and grip harder and become more pumped.

So what can you do about reducing the effects of stress? Well there are several things you can do but everyone is different, so what works for one person, simply won’t be effective for another. The first thing is that higher levels of confidence can buffer against the effects of stress. The second thing we can do is find a way to relax, as relaxing helps counter certain somatic effects of the HPA response to stress. A third strategy is using self-talk to stop and counteract the worry and cognitive anxiety.

In terms of footwork and technique sometime a mantra can help deflect the thoughts away from the stress, and towards good technique. So if you find yourself losing you footwork technique, start says “Every foot hold counts”, “Drive with my feet”, “My feet are solid”, “I am solid”. These mantras will help fortify you technique and remove the focus from the stressor!

Rope Rescue: Escaping the system

There is often a thread or two on UKClimbing on how you can go about escaping the system. In an effort to answer this question I literally threw this video together today, after filming it yesterday. Now its not polished, as I filmed myself, which ain’t that easy. I also did everything in one take, so there is one point that I slip at at, other than than though its pretty much as is. The video starts with an overview of the whole skill before going into the component parts of escaping the system.

This really is the start of self rescue, as the question you need to ask yourself is when you have escaped the system, how are you going to rescue the injury person or yourself. These skills take a long time to learn, and need a lot of practice in a safe environment to master. There have been several near misses on MIA courses when doing improvised rescue, so even the experts can get it wrong.

If you like a course on how you can develop these rope rescue skills then please contact me through this blog. If you have any questions on the video then please post a comment here, and if you found it useful and would like to see more video’s on coaching climbing skills then you’ll have to let me know that there is enough interest to warrant it!

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