I’ve been getting more and more into rock climbing lately and I thought I would try jotting down all of the key aspects of that to share with you all. A huge shout out to the crew that help me learn this constantly, @toolmantim, @atnan and the rest of the crew; and @bmatt for introducing me to it.
When you’re rock climbing, one of the first things you notice are the types of people who also take part in the exercise. They tend to be equally both male and female. Physically they are very fit looking and slim (there are not too many fat people hauling themselves up walls!). The biggest thing you notice is the types of people. They all have this desire to test themselves but not at the expense of others. There is a kind of camaraderie that takes hold – everyone is trying to beat the wall. Some are doing easier climbs than others, but everyone is battling their own demons and doubts when they get going. There are things your body can do, and things you would like your body to do. Rock climbing tends to highlight the gap between these two points very well.
The other thing, is the cool confidence of the people that work at places like this. They roam around, knowing every nook and cranny of the place, which is saying something when an establishment like that is essentially just made up of nooks and crannies!
Also, the music is weird. Imagine just a drum and a bass guitar going consistently. That’s the kind of music they play at these places; it surrounds your body, immediately consuming you, yet it’s not overpowering. It goes towards the zen and calmness you can feel rock climbing.
Here are some tips I’ve picked up so far.
When you’re climbing, the key skill is learning to leverage your body in the space you are in. This, for me, is tougher than it sounds. I am not (and never have been) a great mover – I’m not particularly agile nor am I particularly subtle in my movements. So learning to understand the position of my body, the situation it is in and the location it wants to move to next is quite challenging for me.
Leverage, to me, also means assessing the feel and touch of the wall as you go about climbing it. Is there much of a gradient? What do the rocks feel like under your hands? Do they feel big and have plenty of space for my hands or are they smaller, smoother and something I might be able to stand on further up the wall? Leverage, in a rock climbing sense, is also about leveraging your mind when you’re on the ground to better prepare and think through how you will climb the wall. You often hear people talk about “thinking your way up the wall.” The most elegant climbers, seem to do this.
2. Use your skeleton
Once you’re on the wall, the next key is to use your skeleton to climb it. I didn’t fully understand this at first, but it goes towards the first point about leverage. You don’t want to be muscling your way up the wall, if you can help it.
The better idea is to base yourself and your movements on your skeleton. Swing from your arms and your legs to drive your momentum towards the rock or next handhold you want to grab. Move and pivot on the three pieces of your body that you have currently got on the wall, and then swing to the next point. Move in small increments and make sure you’re always moving – try not to stop too much, as this ruins your flow and exhausts your muscles when you need them most. It’s just like the old monkey bars at school – if you stop moving, it’s very hard to get going again and reach the next bar!
3. Use your legs
The final thing that I’ve learnt whilst climbing is to use your legs to do all the hard work, rather than your arms and hands. Right now, my forearms are quite tender from the climbing I did yesterday – which is it a great sign because it means I was probably mostly using my arms to drive my movements. Ideally, you would want to be using your legs to drive your movement and momentum up the wall, swinging and using your skeleton to move all the while staying focused on your route up the wall and the leverage you will use to get there.
What new sporting activities have you recently taken up? What would you share with people about the basics of that activity?