10 Tips for Beginner Climbers

About to embark on the exciting world of climbing?? Here are some things I wish I knew when I first started out (not that long ago).

I’ve written everything down, but if you’re not in the mood to read, just scroll down to the video at the bottom. Easy peasy!

1. Learn to fall first

Getting down from the wall is definitely the less glamorous and less exciting aspect of climbing, but it’s still an important thing to learn to do (and to do properly) not only in terms of safety, but also a huge part in getting more comfortable with the sport. When you first go to the climbing gym, ignore the want to climb to the very top of the wall. Climb about a quarter of the way up, or a third of the way up, and practice jumping down. Do this a couple times. Go a little higher. Make sure you land with your knees bent, and roll onto your back if you have to. This way, you get used to the feeling of falling and being high up, and you climb more confidently as a result.

Side story: When we first got our bed, Queenie refused to jump off of it and she would whine every time she wanted to get off. Then she jumped off once. Then twice. And now she doesn’t even hesistate. If a four pound chihuauha can jump off a bed more than three times her height you… I mean you don’t have to jump from a wall three times your height. But still, you get the picture.

2. Proper foot placement

When you first start climbing, your instinct is to put as much of your foot on the footholds as you can. I get it, you want stability. You want security. You want to feel like you have as much surface area to carry your weight as possible. Well, stop it. Doing that actually gives you less control and less support. Using the front of your foot gives you a wider range of motion, it gives you more height, and as you progress, the footholds are just going to get smaller and smaller. Learn to trust your feet. These shoes were designed with a material that is meant to support your body weight with you using your toes. Only your toes. Might as well get used to it now.

3. Keep ya arms straight!

This goes especially for when you’re starting to climb on walls with even a slight overhang. There’s going to be a tendency to want to cling as close to the wall as possible, and straightening your arms and allowing your upper body to hang away from the wall is about the last thing you’re gonna want to do. But you gotta do it. What takes more energy, hanging with your arms straight or hanging with your arms bent? Same goes for climbing. To practice this, pretend that your arms are completely straight rods and cannot bend (obviously there will be some bending, but keep it to a minimal) then use the rest of your body to position your hands where they need to go on the holds. This ties into tip #4…

4. USE YOUR LEGS

I think almost every single time I ask a friend to go climbing with me, they tell me how they have no upper body strength. Yes, climbing does require some upper body and forearm strength, but climbing isn’t all about that if you’re doing it properly. It’s a sport that requires the use of your entire body. There are so many times when I see beginning climbers who are so focused on what their arms are doing, and they’re struggling. Their arms are reaching as far as they’ll go, and their legs are all scrunched up underneath them. But if they just simply stood up, just straightened their legs, they’d have a much easier time. Be conscious of your legs as much as your arms. They’re there to help you too.

5. The wall isn’t lava (use it)

The wall is not off limits. The edges of the wall are not off limits. Use them. I know that knowing that you can doesn’t mean you necessarily want to. I very much disliked doing it, and I still kind of do because I didn’t trust that my shoes could stick to a vertical wall (but spoiler alert, they can and do). And route setters make it so that sometimes you have to use the wall to get where you wanna go. So get used to it now.

6. Volumes

Volumes are these weird angular looking shapes on the wall, and they are also fair game. Even if they have footholds or handholds from a different route, even if the volume itself is part of another route, you can use them as long as you’re not actually touching a different colored hold.

7. The grade doesn’t define you

It’s easy to get tunnel vision when you’re looking for things to climb. I’m guilty of this as well. You go into the gym knowing what level you’re “supposed to” climb, and so you completely ignore everything else outside of this specific grade or set of grades. Don’t do that. If you think a route looks fun, even if it’s just the first move, don’t let a higher grade intimidate you into not trying. The only way you’re going to progress is if you push your boundaries and try to get out of your comfort zone.

8. Ask for help!

Don’t be shy. I find that the climbing community is relatively un-shy… (non-shy..?) full of people who are not shy. And full of people who are happy to help each other out. Which is awesome. If you see someone do the problem that you’ve been struggling with, ask them how they did it. Or just watch creepily from afar. Your preference.

9. Take rests between climbs and stretch

I’m really bad at this, but I’m trying to get better. When I say take rests, I don’t mean a 1 or 2 minute rest and then hop back on the wall. More like 4 or 5 or even 10 minutes if you have the time. It seems like forever, but it’ll allow you to have a much longer session. And a longer session means more problems to climb. And more climbing means more practice. Resting also helps you prevent injury (go figure).

10. Give yourself time to heal

I’m also very bad at this because I want to climb all day every day, and when I started out I was going 3 to 4 to even 5 days a week because I was obsessed. I’m still obsessed, but now I’m smarter about it. You have to really be in tune with your body, and listen to when it’s in pain and needs rest. When I first started climbing, my skin broke right where my finger joint is. I kept climbing on it because it didn’t hurt enough to stop climbing, but it also wouldn’t heal for a week and a half. I needed to wear a band aid, but the band aid would slip off because I would sweat, and I had to change out band aids 2 or 3 times a session. It was all bad. Take rest days. With an s. Multiple days. In a row. In the same week.

AND BAM. Now get out there and start crushin’ it!