Training the Young Climber

There have been two great articles published online recently, and I don’t want to go over old ground by repeating them, instead I shall throw you over to the sites. The first is by Dave Macleod, who talks about how young people often learn the hard way about injuries. The second is from Rebecca Williams who runs Smart Climbing, who added a recent blog post on more rounded training based on her experiences of gymnastics.

Last week I met up with Rebecca as she had a whiteboard she didn’t need anymore. I stopped for a quick brew and somehow we both got talking about Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD) in climbing. We discuss that far too much time seems to be on climbing rather than the conditioning of a well round general fitness.

Rebecca’s recalls her gymnastic past, whilst during my MSc I went and visited an old school friend who is an elite gymnastic coach, to chat about what she does with the gymnasts that she trains, and having observed a session, I can say that what Rebecca describes appears a common thing in gymnastics. Yet during our discussion I tried to remember times when I had seen a 30 minute warm up or 30 minute stretching session at the climbing wall, and sadly I have yet to come across it, but that doesn’t mean it does not happen.

Similarly I have also done two of the BMC LTAD, and as it has been hard to get involved as a deliverer of these courses, so I decided to do a bit of digging and research and set up a similar course on LTAD.

When looking at the Fundamentals stage of LTAD and how other sports cover this, I found most other sports don’t use their sport as a vehicle when developing the ABC of movement (Agility, Balance and coordination). Instead they use a set of exercises that are aimed at developing these skills, skills which if not learnt by a certain age become harder to master. If they have mastered these ABC then the child can, if they choose to, take them to another sport, but essentially the Agility, Balance and coordination are already hardwired. Try searching Agility, Balance and coordination in Google and you’ll find a lot of resources, some from tennis and other sports are particularly good, and include short videos of what you can do.

Interestingly the BMC and UIAA recently endorsed the notion that ‘campus board’ training was inappropriate for young climbers, as a research paper had linked it damaged of the growth plates in the fingers and subsequent permanent finger deformity. However, I suspect any overtraining of fingers of steep boulders may well have a similar effect.

Another issue for young people, I wrote about a long time ago was weight issues, after reading an article on weight and gymnasts. It attributed weight being made an issue by a coach as making gymnasts be significantly more likely to develop some form of disordered eating. However it also looked at coaches’ thoughts, asking them ‘Do you make weight an issue in training’, to which nearly all coaches denied making it an issue. However when they asked current and ex-gymnasts they found that a much higher percentage felt the coach made weight an issue. I am sure that there would be similar results if that same work was carried out on climbing coaches and the question was of weight, and on ‘protecting children against finger injuries’.

By the look of the two articles I linked to above, neither of them are not alone in thinking that training young climbers is still a delicate and relatively misunderstood thing, with little decent research being available. However conditioning training seems vastly underused, and the issues around the development of young climbers bone structure is still often misinterpreted, and could lead to as Dave puts its young climber learning the hard way about injury.

I draw a parallel to a powerlifting training regime that was tested many years ago as part of some research. The protocol showed that yes it was extremely effective at increasing strength, however the research was cut short, as whilst the strength increase was undeniable, the down side was that it lead to some pretty horrific injuries (Ruptured/detached muscles and tendons if I recall). We are only starting to come into the light from darkness when it comes to training young climbers, and like this protocol we may be making some mistakes.

So whilst the start of the BMC young climbers competition circuit is starting up this weekend. Where competition is growing as more and more people compete (around 2000+ young climbers are involved across the UK), how we train them to do this is still a dark art, and perhaps we should use a precautionary principle when training young people.

Anyway I really just wanted to support the two articles I mentioned and managed instead to go off on yet another tangent


Snowdonia Mountain Guides PDF Brochure

Hi, I have been bust putting together a little brochure with all the courses we are offering over at Snowdonia Mountain Guides. I will put a link on the website soon, but for now you can download the PDF here.

The Brochure covers all the courses we have coming up over the next few months, right through to the Autumn of 2013. If you use social media and have friends who climb or mountaineer who’d be interested in seeing our Brochure please help us market this brochure by re-tweeting this tweet, or sharing the link to the PDF with your friends on Facebook.