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Climbing training part 1: Self-assessment

with Liebig’s law of the minimum.

So, you want to climb harder? Get a finger board. Finger strength is how you get better at climbing, isn’t it?

Or is it technique?

Or core strength?

Anyway, climbing training is about improving your physical ability, so just work on all of these things.

So where does addressing your fear of falling fit in?

Climbing requires many different aspects. Where do you start?

Well, that may be the best question, or rather: ‘Where am I starting?’.

Assessing your current position in climbing terms is a good first step in making improvements. To help with that assessment we introduce – Liebig’s law of the minimum:

So, that clears that up. Right?

OK, some of us might need some clarification. Rather than getting deep into the maths there’s a handy analogy – Liebig’s barrel:

The original law related to how yield in food crops was related to the least available micronutrient, but it has since found a wide range of applications in many fields. For clarity this diagram has been adapted to a climbing context.

As you can see, you attempt to fill the barrel by pouring ‘Training effort’ into the top to raise the level of your ‘Ability’. However, some of the staves making up your barrel are too short (in this case core strength) and your ability will not increase.

Obviously the analogy is not perfect. In climbing you could probably compensate for poor core strength with increased finger strength to some extent. But only training finger strength will lead to more and more situations where your core lets you down. Likewise, it does not matter how much you work on your cardio fitness if the thing holding you back is fear of falling.

If you are very new to climbing it is likely that any effort you make will generally improve the limiting factors. The good news for you is that it’s just a matter of consistency (see later). Time is the limiting factor in how your ability develops, so just get out there and climb. Setting realistic goals will let you track your progress. It is easy to get intimidated by the ‘harder’ climbs, but know this: there is much overlap in difficulty. Even in well established grades there will only be an overall correlation between the grade and how hard a route, problem or move feels to you. Not being able to do every V2 you try doesn’t mean you won’t be able to do any V3s. Always have a go at things that might be too hard. It’s the best way to impress yourself.

That said, once you have been climbing for some time it is useful to keep in mind what kind of things you are failing on. You might notice trends that will clarify for you which of your ‘barrel staves’ are limiting you.

There are also other factors in wider life that may have a detrimental effect: Are you getting enough sleep? Proper nutrition? Under constant stress? There are so many factors it can be hard to keep track of what could be slowing your progress. To help you consider all the variables here’s a map:

This is not an exhaustive list, for example the specific climbing techniques we could list are almost endless, but it is useful to have a list to start with so you can go through each item. If you can think of a crucial element that is missing please leave a comment below and we will try to periodically update this series.

The physical ingredients are probably the things you are most familiar with, the sport and surrounding atmosphere is geared towards physical improvements. In this respect you can critique each part of your body from the perspective of different types of strength and flexibility, as well as viewing the performance as a whole.­­­­

Information on improving your mental game is less prevalent, but just as important. Sometimes it can be as simple as knowing that your body can move in a certain way to utilise holds or features more efficiently. Or it can be overcoming emotional barriers that stop you capitalising on your hard-won physical gains.

Finally, there are all the things that are not an intrinsic part of you but still impact your capacity to climb or make progress in ability. Some of these are things that we might take for granted, not even considering that they could be different. However, this is where improvements will usually benefit not just your climbing but many other areas of your life as well. For some, this could be the most important area.

Hopefully the map above can show up unconsidered areas of your climbing training, or things that you maybe try to ignore in the hope they will go away. All aspects of this sport can be consciously improved if you give them your attention. The next parts of this ‘How To’ series will expand on these groups in more detail, so stay tuned for the gains…

How to get better, Part 1

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