Skill Development

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Regardless of the chosen style, climbing is a skill-dependent sport. Routes like Darkness at Noon (5.13a) at Smith Rock require precise footwork and grip control. ©Mike Anderson

Climbing is a skill sport, and mastering climbing requires significant effort to develop the necessary skills. Climbing movement requires physical strength and endurance as well, and while their relative importance may make for an interesting debate, the fact is that climbing well requires several important components; and all are important.

Incorporating Skill Practice in your Training Program

Novice climbers are often advised to hold off on physical training in order to focus on the higher-priority activities of skill development and movement practice. However, this advice incorrectly implies that the two pursuits are mutually exclusive. If you make the effort, you can easily carve out sufficient time for skill development within your physical training program. Engaging in shorter, but more deliberate skill-development sessions will result in far more effective practice than the typical random climbing activities. Furthermore, most skill development is not physically taxing by design, leaving ample capacity for physical training.

For example, if you were to climb every third day in a climbing gym, you could spend the first 30 to 60 minutes on movement drills (which double as a warm-up) and the next 30 to 60 minutes on sport-specific training. Such an approach provides ample time to acquire new skills, and ample opportunity to train in significantly less time than you would spend in a single day of unfocused cragging. The Rock Prodigy program incorporates skill development in this complementary and synergistic way.

You can work on developing your climbing skill in any venue, the crux is simply setting skill development as the goal and paying attention to your movement.

You can work on developing your climbing skill in any venue, the crux is simply setting skill development as the goal and paying attention to your movement. ©Frederik Marmsater

Learn more in The Rock Climber’s Training Manual. Skill Development topics include:
• Habits for effective rock climbing skill development
• Principles for developing and improving Footwork
• Principles for developing and improving Handwork
• Principles for developing and improving Dynamic Movement
• Rest techniques
• How to practice progressively to ensure continuous skill improvement
• Specific movement drills for developing and improving general climbing efficiency, footwork, and dynamic movement.
• How to incorporate Progressive Practice into your training schedule to concurrently develop skill and fitness Articles related to Skill Development:

  • Use Video to Dial-in your Beta The advent of inexpensive, compact digital imaging technology has been a boon to outdoor sports. Now, nearly everyone can get Galen Rowell-worthy images of their adventures in the wildest of places; and products like the Go Pro allow for first-person videos that required a professional camera crew in the past. I’m surprised and a little confused that more sport climbers don’t take advantage of this technology to boost their climbing performance. Modern digital point and shoot cameras can easily record high definition video that can help you remember those complex sequences. Though I’ve climbed all over the country, I’ve only ever seen Mark and I recording our attempts at the crag in this way. Read more…
  • Spice Up You ARC Routine  …If technique is always your limiting factor, continue to emphasize ARC workouts.  Even advanced climbers with great technique can benefit from longer ARC phases if they are training for ultra-endurance-oriented climbs (like those at the Red River Gorge, for example) .  At this point in my career, my ARC phase is never more than 6 days, and some seasons I don’t ARC at all.  That said, a paltry three ARC sessions can be enough to bore me out of my mind.  Read more…
  • When to Start Training for Climbing  …why not start training immediately?  There are at least three standard reasons often cited:  1) Developing proper movement skills is the top priority for beginners, and time/energy spent training will take away from movement training.  2) If you get too strong, too early, you will develop bad movement habits that will plague your entire career (i.e. you will campus every move, never use your feet; Chris Sharma has this “problem”).  Read more…
  • Sport Alpine Climbing and Siege Sport Climbing  …On any project you will eventually reach that point where you know all the moves, you’re falling in the same spot(s) over and over, and you’re just hoping for a miraculous star-alignment to occur to facilitate a send.  At that point you are unlikely to improve much as a climber by continuing on the route.  You may get better at climbing that particular route, but not much better at climbing in general.  On the other hand, if you move on to another route, you will be exposed to an entire pitch of new moves and sequences.  If the new route is at another crag, you may also be exposed to a new type of rock, new warmups, etc.  Focusing on routes that you can send in 5 or less days will get you up 20 times more routes as the guy spending 100 days on the same 80-foot climb.  Read more…
  • Tips for Effective Campusing Part 1: The Basics  …The campus board is the best tool we have for developing and practicing the use of momentum in climbing, because momentum is almost always required on the campus board, and the holds are smooth to the touch, so they don’t punish dynamic movement like abrasive rock does.  If a campus move can be done statically, then the climber could certainly do a more difficult move.  A well-performed campus move at your limit will DEMAND the flawless use of momentum.  Read more…
  • Tips for Effective Campusing Part 2: Going Big! …This is another aspect of campusing that translates directly to rock climbing (and something that even beginners can benefit from improving immediately).  If you watch me climb, you will notice that I’m almost always pushing down with my low hand until the last possible moment, particularly on big moves.  Many climbers ignore their low hand once the shoulder passes it.  This is a mistake, and it puts unnecessary strain on the opposing arm’s fingers and pull muscles. Read more…
  • Bouldering for Power …This situation would be dire enough, but often the lack of realism is further compounded by exotic hold shapes (massive volumes, slopers, jugs, and other protruding features that are easily pinched).  The third strike comes in the shape of relatively enormous, incut footholds that encourage huge moves and minimal core tension.  Put these factors together and the result is a smorgasbord of problems that are a whole of fun to climb but provide little training benefit to actual rock climbers.  Hard rock climbing in America is about pulling on small edges and pockets, while standing on tiny footholds on near-vertical terrain.  The ability to campus from one lightbulb-shaped protrusion to the next has no relevance.  Read more…
  • On A Mission  I’m heading out to Smith Rock in a few days for a two-week trip. The climbing at Smith is extremely thin and technical — and difficult to prepare for. I believe strongly in taining and I generally feel that using indoor tools is superior to “just climbing” outside (for building strength, power, and endurance). That said, indoor training is far from ideal for developing or polishing technique. For highly technique-dependent climbing, like that at Smith, some amount of outdoor skill practice is essential. Outdoor training can also help prepare your finger skin if its done wisely (in moderation).  Read more…
  • Training Intensity  …Most technique training should be done in the low intensity range.  When new techniques are introduced, the intensity should be very low, but eventually you will need to increase the intensity to “stress-proof” your technique.  At some point you will find yourself using these new skills on a limit-level boulder problem or redpoint crux, but you can’t consider yourself a master until you are routinely applying the technique while onsighting at your limit.  Usually in such a scenario the intensity will be very high. Read more…

If you have questions or comments about Skill Development, please post them on the RCTM Forum.  We will try to respond as soon as possible.


2 thoughts on “Skill Development

  1. Pingback: When are your ARC Days? | eeebahtoehey

  2. Pingback: Sending your First 5.12: Movement Drills for Climbing - Senderella Story

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