Assessing fitness for beginners in climbing
'Young people worry too much about training ... The time to start training is when you stop improving' Ben Moon
The modern climbers' preoccupation with strength and power has led many novices to believe that the best way to improve is to become stronger. While strength and power are important the higher up the grades you get, concentrating on them at the start of your climbing career may get you a long way up routes but never to your full potential. It's better to concentrate on efficient movement to improve your balance and poise, and save energy, especially on strenuous routes.
Initially, you will make all the gains in strength and endurance that you need from simply climbing lots. The only reason to spend time in a gym is if the weather is bad or if there is not a crag or climbing wall close by. However, if your base fitness is low then you will need to channel some effort into some form of physical training. Be consistent, one day of training is like one day of dieting: it doesn't do you much good over the long term. There are no shortcuts.
Training does not simply build more muscle; it improves the performance of existing muscles, respiration and heart function. Training also builds tougher bones, ligaments, tendons and connective tissue by creating changes in the muscle, its blood supply, the quantity of enzymes and other chemicals necessary for efficient functioning. Training improvements are likely to be most dramatic when your initial fitness is low, and as your fitness improves more effort is needed to make significant gains. In other words, the better you become the harder you have to work to improve.
Tips for effective training
- Increase the amount of exercise gradually, and then progressively overload the system with more intense training.
- Make training enjoyable and specific for rock climbing.
- The amount of time spent exercising is more important than the amount of effort e.g. It is better to run one mile in 10 minutes than half a mile in four minutes.
- Breathe evenly during exercise and learn to work through fatigue, but also know when to 'back off' before you drop.
- If you are tired, or not feeling one hundred per cent, adjust the training to suit.
- Experiment with light, medium and hard training days for variety.
- To assess whether your body has recovered from previous exertions, create a warm up regime to assess how you are feeling.
- Start with low intensity, high volume workouts for endurance.
- Work the antagonistic (opposing) muscles to keep the body balanced - even muscles that get less use in climbing.
- Do not over train. Make sure you get plenty of rest to let your body recover.
- Generally, stamina training requires less rest than strength or power training.
- Find yourself a regular training partner. This will make it more difficult for you to wimp out and skip your training sessions. Plus, you will have someone to feedback and help monitor your progress.
- Use running or cycling to improve your cardio-vascular fitness.
- Avoid stressful exercises like finger boards when you start, leave them until you are stronger.
- Aim to improve your strength to weight ratio - improve strength and lose weight.
- Warm up and stretch before and after climbing or training.
- Work on your flexibility (stretching) weekly or better, daily.
- Be patient do not expect physical training to turn you into Ben Moon or Ben Bransby, you cannot put back what God left out.
- Everyone is individual. Your physique, muscle fibre characteristics, heart and lung size and other factors affecting performance are inherited.
Alun is a qualified British Mountain Guide and IFMGA Mountain Guide. He has over 30 years experience of guiding and instructing across the world in rock climbing, big walling, mountaineering, ice climbing and ski touring. He has written several books and is an acclaimed photographer. Alun is a true pioneer in the field of climbing and mountaineering.
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