Esther Foster is a George Fisher ambassador, who coaches, guides and instructs climbing and mountaineering in the Lake District. Esther specialises in rock climbing, and will usually be found pushing her limits on the crags, boulders, or indoor walls in the area. In this article Esther shares her 10 ways to develop your climbing during lockdown!
Lockdown can be a frustrating and difficult time. Whilst the health of family and friends, and disruption to work, education and family life are the major issues, being restricted from our favourite sports and hobbies can also take its toll.
This is because for many of us those interests give us a feeling of freedom, the opportunity to socialise with others, de-stress and offload, improve our physical and mental health, and provide so much enjoyment and satisfaction.
I’ve outlined 10 ways you can develop your climbing during lockdown, in the hope that it provides you with a little inspiration, structure and enjoyment, whether your aim is just to renew your motivation or to improve specific areas of your climbing.
What do you really love about climbing? What have been some of your best days out climbing and why? What is most important to you in your climbing? You are more likely to stay motivated if you are doing things that you enjoy, and in a way that is important to you. When you identify your goals below, try to make them align with what you really value in your climbing. That will enable the most satisfaction and a healthy approach to your climbing.
Outcome based, aspirational goals are great (such as climbing a certain grade, going on that dream trip, or leading a certain route), but process goals help us to focus on the journey, and identify the skills needed to get to our end goal. What are the specific things you need to work on, and how will you actually do that? Examples of process goals could include: improving your ability to heelhook, making some new climbing friends, improving your endurance or climbing on new rock types.
Climbing is a sport that demands a high level of skill, body awareness, and adaptability. You might be stuck at home, but you can still train your body and brain to problem solve, coordinate four limbs at once, increase core tension and strengthen stabilising muscles. There are numerous ideas on social media for this, but to see development choose something you can practise regularly and increase in difficulty over time. Things I’ve tried have been balance exercises or squats on an exercise ball, hand stands, 360 stick challenge, and 360 block challenge.
The brain works like a muscle; it adapts and strengthens as we train it, and now is a really great time to explore some methods to improve your mental skills so that you are ready to put things in to practise once you can climb again. There is no ‘one size fits all’ for mental training, as we all respond to things differently, but if you feel that your head holds you back more than your strength or technique, then it’s definitely worth investing some time in. (Check out Smart Climbing’s ‘Mental Training Chalkbag’ for some great resources and follow Climbing Psychology on social media)
Putting pen to paper transforms vague thoughts into action. Start simple; write down your values and goals, create some straightforward sessions for yourself, go crazy with the highlighters and put it somewhere visible. Make a mini plan at the start of each week. Link workouts or exercises to things that are already in your daily routine so that you are more likely to complete them. Remember that consistency is key; making a simple plan that you can stick to week on week, is far better than creating elaborate training sessions that you only occasionally complete.
Do you need the accountability of a training buddy, a great training playlist, or a tidy, ready to go workout space? Does watching climbing films and looking at photos on social media inspire and motivate you, or does it just make you more frustrated at being in lockdown? Do you need to reward yourself when you have completed your least favourite task or workout with a nice drink, your favourite tv show or a tasty dessert?!
…but refine and restrict what you view to things are helpful, and cut things out if they just encourage negative comparisons for you or overload the ‘fear of missing out’! There are so many training ideas, amazing photos, and experts online now that it all seems a bit overwhelming at times. It’s far better to find a select few online resources that will benefit you, and do a few things really well, rather than trying to incorporate every single training session and self improvement method that you see. Remember that everything you see online, whether that’s from professional athletes, friends, or businesses....is carefully selected to show you what they want you to see. It can be easy to think that other people are more successful, more productive and more happy than you, but everyone will have had their struggles over the past year.
Strength is key. I teach people to climb smart and develop technique as much as possible, but building strength as well will enable you to move and climb harder, for longer, with less injuries, for the duration of your life. This is the case regardless of your grade or age, and in fact is even more important as you age. Exact sessions should be different for everyone, but there is actually a lot we can do at home without specialist equipment. For overall strength, a common recommendation is to include five movement patterns: pushing, pulling, squats, hip hinge and core exercises. Take it easy at first, and gradually increase the intensity of these exercises to see improvement.
Do you struggle with high steps? Or wide footholds? Can you actually lift your arms straight above your head without arching your back? Just like strength, flexibility will enable you to get the most out of your climbing and decrease chances of injury. As climbers, we need to be strong in our end ranges, and just twenty minutes of regular flexibility work could make a real difference to your climbing, and quality of life. The key is to gradually encourage your body, rather than force painful movements, and plan short, but regular sessions….one intense yoga session a month just isn’t going to cut it I’m afraid! For maximum motivation, measure or take a picture of the movement you are trying to improve, and then after three to four weeks of regular stretching, take a photo or measurement again and see how much you have improved!
Climbing specific endurance is very hard to train at home. However, now that we are in our third lockdown(!), coaches and climbers across the country have become pretty clever at developing home training ideas. If you have a finger board, you can do repeated hangs with a gentle load in order to build or maintain endurance in the forearms. Lattice Training have some really great YouTube videos and a free training app which will help with this. Endurance fades very quickly, but also improves quickly again too, so even if you have lost fitness you’ll see an improvement again in just four weeks.
Remember that regardless of how much you put these things into practise during lockdown, you will still feel a bit rusty or ‘clunky’ when you return to climbing after a long break. Your footwork may feel a bit inaccurate, you might feel a little nervous on the lead, and you might have aching muscles the next day as your body isn’t used to climbing. Don’t worry though, it’s the same for everyone, even professional climbers! Be kind to yourself, enjoy climbing with that extra flexibility, better overall strength and after a bit of focus on your goals and mental skills. You will only get better!