Just like mountain trekking, rock climbing is a sport that is more accessible than most beginners may think. One of the most important tips for beginners is to not feel intimidated. Give climbing a try and you might find that you like the challenge, workout and mental training. Improving is a constant pursuit, so we’ve put together a list of tips to help beginners and intermediate climbers progress in climbing and stay motivated at the crag!
Take a course
An introductory class from a certified instructor is essential. Visit your local climbing gym and sign up for a course where you can try it out taste and experience just how welcoming the community is.
Find a partner
The climbing gym is great for meeting a future climbing partner. You might click with someone in a course or find a more experienced climber to team up with. It’s important to learn to trust your climbing partner, so find someone with whom you are comfortable.
Set goals and manage ambitions
If you start to climb regularly, you might see your level go up quite quickly at first, only to plateau at a later stage. Get to know your body well and pace yourself. Climbing will push your limits and will force you to step outside your comfort zone, but you should always remain realistic in your expectations. Every climb in itself is an achievement! You can learn a lot by watching more experienced climbers, but you’ll still need to practice and train.
Essential equipment for beginners
For climbing courses, both indoors and outdoors, the organizers usually lend the necessities. However, once you’re committed to rock climbing, don’t waste money on rentals. It’s good to have your own climbing shoes, harness, chalk bag and a belay device with locking carabiner. Don’t skimp on safety and get a helmet for climbing outdoors.
Save this for later
While you’re still unsure whether you’d like to pursue climbing in the long term, you don’t need to have your own a crash pad for bouldering outdoors, rope and quickdraws, or gear for traditional climbing. When you start lead climbing and prepare for going outdoors, that’s when you can consider investing in a quality climbing rope and quickdraws.
Improve your climbing skills
Learn technique vs strength
Don’t just pull yourself up the wall with the sheer force of muscle; use your whole body. Your climbing will improve with precise movement, balance, and position, much more than with just strength.
Pay attention to your feet
Footwork is key in rock climbing, and your legs should always do more work than your arms. Embrace the practice of “silent feet,” where you stop blindly ‘groping’ the wall with your feet and try to place them with precision and without sound.
Rest your arms
Always keep your arms straight as much as possible and rest them whenever you can. You’ll tire out quicker if you climb with bent arms.
Engage your core
Body tension and core strength are more important than upper body strength. It’s not a six-pack you need, but the lower front and back core as well as small muscles to keep the tension up.
Control your mind and breathing
It’s a myth that climbers are not afraid of heights. Climbing is about managing fear, handling frustration and keeping your ego in check. Learn to read a route in its entirety while still on the ground, then concentrate on just the next step as you climb to stay focused. Regular, rhythmic breathing through your nose helps you stay calm.
Falling is part of climbing and will become part of your routine if you practice it. Watch other climbers closely, exercise falling with your partner and take a course at your gym.
Warm up and stretch
As eager as you might be, not attacking the hardest routes first thing helps prevent injuries. Warm up with light cardio, do dynamic stretches to ready your muscles, then begin with easy routes or boulder problems.
Learn climber’s exercises
Listen to your body: if your muscles hurt the day after climbing, do crucial opposition exercises such as shoulder presses, dips or push-ups. Pay attention to your shoulders when climbing and take care of them with shoulder stability exercises. Talk to an instructor and watch online videos for specific climber’s exercises. Consider getting a massage roller or resistance band.
Take care of your hands
Your hands will experience torn nails, ripped skin, blisters, calluses and more mistreatment. Climbing chalk will further crack and dry your skin. Take care of your hands regularly with a rich hand balm or care product. Be aware that it’s much harder to build finger strength than muscle strength, so don’t overwork your fingers on small holds. Finger injuries are common and take longer to heal.
Ropes & Knots
A good gym requires climbers to be certified before they climb on their own, and a course will teach you belay technique, how to handle the rope and tie the necessary knots. Get in the habit of safety checks with your partner and always check knots and set-up before climbing. Knots and belaying moves should become deeply ingrained like muscle memory.
Climbing grades rate the difficulty of routes and boulder problems, and knowing them helps you pick the ones appropriate for your skill level while avoiding those yet too difficult. Stay safe by not attempting what is clearly beyond your skills yet, but also don’t get too hung up on climbing grades. Everyone has different strong points, so it’s more useful to learn how to gauge a route’s challenges in relation to your level.
Safety also depends on clear communication between you and your partner, so master the basic commands between climber and belayer early on and stick to them. Learning the lingo (i.e.technical expressions) helps to understand what the heck pro climbers are talking about at the gym or crag.
Interested in rock climbing and want to learn more? Our beginner’s guide offers a more in-depth look at what you need to know about the sport when you’re just starting out!
Are you ready to take your climbing outdoors? Combine bouldering and sport climbing in famous Rocklands with a safari in South Africa!