Get better (and stronger) while only climbing outside

I’ve seen so much focus on the exact routine and structure of training sessions to improve your climbing but very little on the structure of the actual outdoor sessions. I think this is the biggest key to explain how some climbers can progress to elite levels almost exclusively climbing outside, while others end up prioritising non-climbing training at a much lower level. Dave MacLeod says that you should dedicate a maximum of 25% of training/climbing time to off the wall training, so it makes sense that how you spend that other 75% will be the biggest factor of improvement.

 

Do More Moves and focus on them

Better climbers have generally done more moves on rock. Sounds obvious but how do you get more in if you get outside every chance you get – do more moves each session. Less obvious is how actively you're engaging in each move, the more thought that goes into how you move the more you'll learn. Deciding and experimenting with beta is the most obvious, which hand to go with first? heel hook or drop knee? From here it gets into more and more nuanced microbeta, the more details you think about the more you'll learn what works and in turn how this applies to other moves.

I find it very common when out with other climbers for them to say "I’m done" at a point I think is relatively early in the session, especially since these same climbers will happily do 3+ hour sessions when at the wall. I’m not saying you have to go till you’re utterly destroyed but if you’re a newer climber (let’s say >3 years of regular climbing on rock) then those extra climbs at the start or end of a session will almost certainly help you.  It’s becoming more common for people to mainly warm up with hangboards and bands etc, these certainly have their place but climbing progressively harder climbs will warm you up well and get more varied moves in. Focusing on climbing even easy moves well will still help your technique. Near the end of a session you might be too tired to keep trying the powerful compression problem, but instead of calling it quits, go back to that friction slab you struggled with. If it’s a grade you ‘should’ be able to do easily but can’t, that’s a great reason to work on it. I’ve had friends say they’re too tired to keep bouldering then go home and train - if you’re falling on a boulder, you’ve already put plenty of strain on your fingers that that day. Time spend fingerboarding post climb would be much better spent improving your movement over rock.

This may not apply to a high level climber trying a limit project but no doubt to get to that point they have a massive base of moves already. When I started climbing I almost exclusively trad climbed and had no sense of training, rest days or tactics – I just climbed as much as possible, rarely finishing a day before it got dark. This may not be the perfect strategy, and it certainly won’t get you the strongest fingers but you become efficient at moving over rock and encounter a huge variety of moves.

Attempt to build a pyramid of climbs, don’t just focus on pushing your max grade higher, build that pyramid of grades wider. Each of these climbs will teach you something and allow you push that max grade up quicker when you want to, as well as making you a more well-rounded climber. Don’t get sucked into long term projecting too early in your climbing, yes it’s what the pros do but they also do mono one armers, they’ve built to that point and it doesn’t make it the best thing for you to do. You progress much quicker when you start out, often a little bit of time on other climbs and you can come back to your old project and send with ease.

 The section starting 4:37 is probably the most important point, actively focusing on movement is how you improve technique. Not just passively trying a move over and over with no thought.

 

Try Harder

You can always try harder! Trying really fecking hard is a skill you develop and being able to tap into it will allow you to climb harder stuff, quicker. Plus, it’s really fun!

I think a good measurement of this is fall off:drop off ratio – how often do you fall off going for the next move vs how often do you drop off without trying it. I think for most climbers the needle could be pushed hugely towards falling instead of dropping off. How often on boulders do you eye up the next hold, lock off, sag down to explode to the next hold, then bottle it and don’t even try. We all do it, but the more you can get yourself to throw for that next hold the better you’ll become – you don’t know how close you are till you try.

 

When you first start climbing, a lot of people naturally have these habits, you’re just so psyched. However, with more people starting to climb inside I’ve noticed many people who do a lot of volume and go to their limit at the wall, don’t do either when at the crag. It’s understandable to be less comfortable when you start outside but when you do get comfortable going for it, it’s worth comparing your sessions indoors and out, how much climbing do you do? How many times will you attempt a move before trying something else?