Indoor climbing requires physical and mental strength. A seasoned climber shares his hard-earned secrets.
You don’t have to scale Mount Everest to enjoy climbing. These days, the proliferation of indoor-climbing walls allows you to summit without traveling to the ends of the earth.
Climbing requires cardiovascular fitness and full-body strength — from the tips of your fingers to your toes.
It also demands coordination, balance, and a honed-in mindset, including the willingness to face and work through physically and mentally tough situations. It’s all about problem-solving. Climbers who excel find ways to harness their energy to generate focus, power, and, ultimately, enjoyment.
“Mentally and spiritually, you change because you learn that you really can face your fears,” says lifelong climber Chris Noble, author of Why We Climb: The World’s Most Inspiring Climbers and Women Who Dare: North America’s Most Inspiring Women Climbers. “You overcome obstacles. You will learn to set goals — and then accomplish them. You learn that you can control your thoughts and emotions.
“Perhaps most importantly, you heal the split between your body and mind that is one of the primary afflictions of modern life.”
Sound like lofty goals? That’s why Noble’s training tips include both physical drills and mindset techniques to elevate your indoor climbing to the next level.
Indoor-Climbing Training and Techniques
- Build full-body strength. Performing complex, multijoint movements off the wall — squats, deadlifts, pushups, and pull-ups — will give you a solid base to build more nuanced climbing technique.
- Conserve energy by hanging with straight arms between moves. Many climbers flex their arms to keep their bodies close to the wall — a strategy that leads to fatigue, soreness, and even overuse injuries. Keeping your arms straight sometimes requires hanging out on the wall with your knees fully bent.
- Hold on as tight as you need to — and let go as much as you can. Climbing requires an incredible amount of stamina, so don’t waste energy. Find the balance between holding on enough not to fall while relaxing enough to conserve strength.
- Keep a hip to the wall. To understand why, stand up, face a wall, and reach your right hand as high as you can. Then, turn your body so your right hip is touching the wall: You just reached several extra inches higher with minimal effort. This is especially helpful when the next hold seems too far away. Turning your hip to the wall could give you the reach you need to make your next move.
- Develop attention. “Focus is essential for climbers and everyone else hoping to be their best selves. The good news is that if you want to cultivate the ability to pay attention, climbing is an excellent way to do it,” says Noble. Use pauses and rest points to center yourself and examine your situation, including assessing your confidence in the next moves and the consequences of a possible fall.
- Watch children climb. “Kids are not spending a bunch of time being anxious and overtightening their body,” Noble explains. Watching their natural, relaxed movement also teaches you that technique can make up for holds that seem too far apart; even though kids are shorter, they often climb more difficult routes than most adults can manage.
- Don’t get caught up in numbers. Focusing on the difficulty of the route you are climbing or comparing yourself with others will ultimately diminish your motivation and joy. “Everyone climbs at their own level,” Noble says. “When you talk to the world’s best climbers, you realize they are dealing with the same fears, anxieties, and concerns that all the rest of us have.”
Drill: Protect Your Shoulders
Climbing involves a lot of overhead arm work, so it’s important to take care of your rotator cuffs. Before you climb, use the following four-move circuit to warm up these small but important muscles.
An easy way to remember this circuit is to think of the letters I, T, Y, and L, which represent the shapes you will create with each movement.
Lie face-down on a stability ball, with your chest and abdomen on the ball and arms hanging down to the floor. Perform two sets of 20 reps of each movement.
I: Place your arms flush to your body so your hands are by your hips.
T: Move your arms out to the sides.
Y: Move your arms forward into a Y shape.
L: Bend your elbows so your arms form an L shape with a 90-degree bend at the elbow, hands at ear level.
Because your rotator-cuff muscles are small, you don’t need any added weight for these movements to be effective. If you choose to add a load, keep it light — 5-pound dumbbells are plenty.
This originally appeared as “Rock On” in the March 2018 issue of Experience Life.