Note--I wrote this for a climbing movement course I was teaching to climbing instructors, but it works well for anyone.
Climbing Movement Theory
The Big Concept: Climbing is a movement sport, not a strength sport. The best climbers are good at climbing; strength matters far less than the combination of the climbers motion skills, attitude and mind. The best way to become a better climber is develop better movement; strength will develop specifically for climbing movement as fast as it is needed. Most climbs are combinations of movements; the better the climber is at those movements, the better he or she will climb the route. Strength is not even secondary, its about last on the list of needed skills. My goal is to teach the MOVES outlined below as best I can to students.
Example: In 1992 I became convinced that good climbers were strong climbers, hence I needed to be strong. After spending months in the weight room I could do a one-arm pull up with 25 pounds in the other hand and many other stunts that definitely made me very strong. My climbing improved perhaps a letter grade or two, which was positive. I then went to France, where I won several pull-up contests, often by miles. Some of these climbers were pathetic, barely able to do ten pull-ups, and these were the best in the world! Then I noticed that I was getting my ass kicked in the competitions, finishing low in the field despite being stronger than most anyone there. At the crags the French were climbing much harder routes onsight than I was capable of climbing with a lot of falls. Something was not right. One night in a bar a top euro climber was expounding on why the French were so good: "We have the best rock in the world. We climb more than anyone else. And we have the best wine." In one sentence he restructured my entire world view of climbing: To become a better climber you simply must climb more. A week later I watched Francois LeGrande onsight a route harder than anything I had ever climbed. Francois had never touched a weight, but god could he move. I resolved to learn how to move. After six months of doing nothing but climbing and studying climbing movement, I onsighted a route harder than anything Id ever redpointed. So forget weights, strength, supplements, learn how to move and your body will develop the strength necessary for the movements.
I. Movement Basics:
Every climbing move starts from one body position and flows to the next A climber must be in a balanced body position to start a movement, and a climber must be balanced at the end of a movement or fall off. Balance isnt static, like standing on a beam, but dynamic, like riding a bicycle, a balancing act between the forces you can exert and gravity. A tough route may require a "movement" that is four or five hand and foot moves long. However, there is still a start and an end point to the movement. The following is my progression for teaching climbing movement.
First, your body has four hands, which are all capable of pushing and pulling to various degrees. Watch some monkeys climbing to see this; they are all 5.20 climbers from birth. Weve gone downhill from an evolutionary climbing perspective from them, but we can learn some things by what they do. If youre going to move a foot/hand, it has to be "free" to do so, meaning thats it is ready to be unweighted. This doesnt mean your weight has to be equally spread out like the old "three points of contact" concept, but that your hand/foot has to be in a position to move. This means putting the CORE of your body in a balanced position between your hand and your feet. Not a direct line or directly over your feet, but a position that you can comfortably hold.
Drill: Get everyone on the wall. Ask them to take their right hands off, then left, then left foot, then right, coaching them on how to get into balance to do so. This teaches people to position their bodies for the moves; explaining this "lecture form" is near impossible. Most people will only learn the complex moves of climbing through doing so; explanation is usually wasted until the holds are in hand.
Holds usually have several different ways to grab them; the trick is to quickly recognize which method a hold requires: Sidepulls, underclings, straight-on edges/pockets. Explain and demonstrate each one of these holds so the class has a common vocabulary when youre working with them.
For feet, holds are used as "smears" and "edges" or a combination of both. The inside edge of the shoe is the inside edge, same for the outside edge, just like skis. Bulbous holds, small or large, require smearing with the appropriate side of the foot. Holds with a sharp edge require the user to concentrate their weight onto the side of their climbing shoes. MAKE SURE EVERYONE WATCHES THEIR FOOT ACTUALLY PRECISELY CONTACT THE HOLD, RATHER THAN SLAPPING IT ABOVE THE HOLD AND SLIDING IT DOWN THE WALL TO THE HOLD. Watch your foot contact the hold like you watch a ball until you contact it." Most novices fall off because their feet blow. Explain how to keep your feet "Quiet" on a hold, move you ankles instead of your foot.
Drill: Get everyone on the wall, go through inside edge, outside edge, smear.
II. Intermediate-Level Movement: Do the Twist
Upward progress on a route depends on driving the moves with your legs as much as possible, using your arms as little as possible. Even on very steep terrain, your arms will only carry you for a move or two. Top climbers dont have big arms, but they are flexible and adapt their bodies quickly to the terrain. The steeper the terrain gets, the more your feet became hands instead of just pegs to stand on. On very steep terrain you will be pulling with your feet to stay on the wall, and then pushing with them to move horizontally. Think like a spider walking across an overhang Most climbers fail on steep terrain because they cant effectively keep their feet on rather than because they lack arm strength
Drill: Have students climb across the wall with straight arms, out a cave on big holds with straight arms, twisting their bodies back and forth rather than pulling with their arms. Trunk rotation is "bad" in skiing, but it rules in climbing.
Concept: Your body is a series of levers with muscles to move them. The trunk of your body is where all the levers attach, and where the majority of your weight resides. Most climbing movements are done most efficiently as twists and swings, like a metronome, with your weight moving back and forth from hold to hold depending on where your trunk is. Your weight has to be balanced between whatever contact you have with the rock and the evil force of gravity.
Reaches: Reaching for the next hold is obviously a big part of climbing; if youre going up then youre reaching. Reaches begin on the starting holds and finish, surprise, on the finish hold or holds. There are basically four kinds of reaches:
Drill: Set several of these problems up.
Drill: Set several of these problems up.,
Drill: Set these problems up.
Drill: Set a problem with a large foothold that can basically only be done with a rock-on. Careful of peoples knees.
Reaches start and end at holds, but the "initiation" for a reach should begin with both hands on holds, flow upward or sideways, and then end by repositioning the climbers body on the finishing holds for balance. If a climber lets go of the hold with the hand they are reaching with before developing some momentum, then the move is much harder. Flow, its all about flow
III. Advanced Movement. Get DYNAMIC!
Lunges should be a potent weapon in any climbers grab bag of tricks, both to save energy and for when there is no other solution to a problem, a kind of "Blast Everything on the Screen" button. Dynamic moves initiate with a "Spring" body position and end in a "Catch." The body position in the "Spring" determines the body position in the "Catch." If a climber starts out with a a poor Spring position then the games over before even arriving anywhere near the catch. Some people call this, "Leading with your feet," or "planning the strike," it all means starting so that you end up with enough support to hang on.
Drill: On a vertical wall with big holds, send everyone across it just using their right hands, then switch and go back the other way with the other hand. Not too long, maybe five metres, but with lots of big holds. This is always fun. This also helps people starting thinking about movement like chess: I start with this move, which ends at the beginning of the next move, which holds do I need for my hands, for feet, why?
Drill: After everyone has "mastered" the above drill, set two horizontal lines of hold across the wall about 50cm apart. Send everyone across this line of holds, but this time make them double-dyno between the lower and upper line of holds on each move, cant use the same holds with the same hands twice. Explain double dyno.
Bigger dynoes: All dynamic movement follows a "C" pattern in the air. Most climbers dyno incorrectly, starting with their weight in close to the wall, followed by an aggressive pull upward, which sends them flying AWAY from the hold at the end of the dyno Heres the E-Z way to dyno:
Most people blow number two above, pulling too early with their arms, which results in their weight flying OUT away from the hold rather than in and toward it. The big concept here is to move your weight, the pendulum, away from the hold, then swing it back toward the hold, powering the motion with your legs and fine-tuning direction with your arms. You dont catch the finish hold at the "deadpoint" of the motion, but reach out and grab it with one or both hands as it comes toward you, pulling your body back onto the wall.
Drill: On a vertical wall, set a relatively easy "double Dyno, with a longer one above that and an even longer one way up the wall.
Drill: Also set a horizontal dyno, a diagonal dyno, small-edge dynoes, dynoes with good feet, bad feet, etc.
OK, enough already, have fun climbing.