Climbing Fitness

Over the past nine months or so that this blog has been running I have covered a variety of topics that cover just what climbing fitness is. Rather than be specific I have had a rather holistic approach on the one hand to focus on individual needs, and on the other hand to try and account for the fitness of the body and mind as one unit. So whilst you might be physically in the best shape ever, if your head isn’t with you then no end of climbing fitness will get you up the route. In an attempt to give you a quick over view of the topics I have covered I am going to try and link back to the best bits of the last few months work.

In terms of the physical side of climbing, the main this you need to do is learn to identify your weakness and skills you need to reach your goals, through something like mind mapping or performance profiling, as well as know how to train them. Typically these fall into three areas of the holistic climbing machine which includes the physiological (You Fitness for Climbing), Cognitive (the psychology of climbing), and Bio mechanical (Movement efficiency). If we look at these three individually then there are several post already in existence on this blog.

Physiologically, climbing can benefit from getting stronger, increasing your aerobic capacity and increasing your anaerobic endurance. Depending on you aspiration and goals what you spend your time training for will vary, you might find yourself fluctuating your training requirements throughout the year. An absolute must for any physiological training is the application of overload, to allow you to make those much needed improvements.

The cognitive needs of the sport require us to be able to perform at our limit of physical ability in perhaps some of the most risky positions we will ever encounter. The anxiety that climbing induces can reduce us to being a total beginner as our minds basically stop running on auto-pilot and have to think through everything. There are various strategies to help address these issues include use of self-talk, imagery, relaxation, self belief, increasing confidence and fall practice. Further mental skills are developing a routine and preparing properly before climbing

In terms of becoming more efficient there are several things that you can do, however for most people who already climb, the biggest issue is unlearning those ingrained bad habits. This is only achievable through lots of good, if not perfect practice. Often done a a low stress and easy environment to allow the number of perfect repetitions to learn the new techniques.

Who, What, Where? Lead Climb Coaching

There is much more to lead climb coaching than showing you how to place runners, and manage the risks. One of the misconceptions with instructors rather than coaches is that all an instructor does is cover the safety aspects rather than the associated soft skills of mental and physical preparation. Its a shame that so many people perhaps don’t realise that coaching is just a different facet of instructing and vice-versa. We all at the end of the day try to teach people new skills, and in the case of Lead Climbing Coaching we often put it into a very contextual setting, where our students are actually on the ‘sharp end’ of the climbing rope.

This allows us to make a distinction between ‘safety and danger’ often in real situations. As both a coach and instructor I find it interesting that the two groups try to separate themselves into two camps. One can only assume that a lack of any official ‘coaching’ qualification make those self appointed coaches feel vulnerable. Having a qualification though isn’t necessarily an adequate indication of competence for something like Teaching Lead Climbing or Performance Coaching. In fact the way an MIA assessment works it would be very hard to justify teaching lead climbing on your assessment, so even a qualified MIA may only have half a days experience from there training course on the introduction of people to lead climbing, however the associated assessment of risk throughout the course make that aspect a key skill that has been assessed, as is teaching progressions.

When I started work as an MIA I was assessed on several different occasions by senior instructors at Plas Y brenin as part of an in-house check. In the years since i have taught many different people in all manner of lead climbing situations, and that experience has allowed me to develop a very good understanding of what routes I can used to develop different skills, and of course how hard those routes are so that should someone wish to push themselves I can ‘judge’ a climbers lead climbing ability versus the difficult and risk level of a route.

For me it is one of the most rewarding parts of my job, even if it means lots of jumaring. However it is also quite worrying at times and something that I never underestimate the risks involved and part of that accepting the risk is in part down to the students as well. It would be impossible to guarantee a students safety, however that isn’t a caveat to throw caution to the wind when we teach lead climbing. We have to ensure that the student has the necessary experience to assess those risks and the route is appropriate for them to lead.

I have heard of a coach basically shouting encouragement from the top of the cliff as there student started to struggle, until the point that they fell off and stripped a runner or two, and nearly hit the ground. If that is a coaches idea of appropriate management of the situation I would suggest you look elsewhere. I have also watched many instructors at Plas Y Brenin and from other centres in North Wales offer fantastic ‘coaching’ in lead climbing. Not just putting in wires and other protection but the movement and mental processes that are required of a competent lead climber.

So my advice is to ask the right questions of any instructor or coach.

What experience do they have?
What routes are they likely to use and why?
Will they put you straight on the lead? (arguably they should see you climb whilst seconding first to assess your ability)

Similarly does the instructor or coach ask the right questions of you.

What is your experience?
What routes have you lead or seconded? Also does the instructor know those routes?
What do you want to get out the day?
What do you want to work on? (mental skills, gear placement or both?)

Alternatively ask on UKC for recommendations or for a contact of a previous client of the instructor/coach.

The where comes down to your aspirations, if you want to climb on Gritstone then you should probably look at getting and instructor based in the area. They will have a far greater experience than someone travelling over to the area. Similarly if you want to develop your multipitch or sea cliff climbing then somewhere like North Wales or Pembroke would be advisable. Again look for someone with experience of the type of route you want to climb, many small independent instructor keep blogs of what work they have done recently which might form an excellent way to assess not only what they do for work but also for pleasure as well.

In terms of cost you probably need to be looking to pay at least £150 per day based on two people sharing one instructor, cost will vary, for instance a day with Johnny Dawes will set you back £300. Whilst a large provider like Plas Y Brenin will charge £285 per person for the weekend with food and accommodation thrown in, they also have a lot of experience delivering this type of course.

If you would like some lead climb coaching then Mark Reeves offer session through