Make a Change

Winston Churchill once said “to improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often” and no truer word can be said about climbing. Climbers are often seeking out their weaknesses and working on them, to create new strengths.

More so than ever before we are seeing multiple athletes achieving the hardest climbs – take a look at the last few months and we see not one, but two 9a onsights! In the last week we have seen THREE ascents of Indian Face – a route that has barely been touched since the FA. So, we must be changing – because we are definitely improving.

If we look into the past, it may help reveal what was different compared to today.
The most obvious place to start is training. Many didn’t bother with it – they climbed at the weekends and that was that – how could you train for your newest project on concrete slots and breeze blocks – you just couldn’t. Ron Fawcett once said “the best training for climbing is climbing” and that is what most did.
Those that did start training did so towards the end of the 80s on cellar boards and all focus was on strength and power – again with the focus of their latest projects in mind. Competition climbers were few and far between, just like the climbing walls.
My father climbed in the 70s and early 80s climbing some of the UK’s toughest and most iconic routes – he had a 20 year break and when he started again – you could see that it was all about jamming, strength and power…

Obviously, today there is more specific sports science supporting climbing than ever before. We have more articles, blogs and literature on how to train for every phase and event. The sport is growing, so more people are involved and where we once had to rely on the gospel of a few and copy what they did, now everyone is training specifically for themselves; finding out what works for their weaknesses and making them strengths! This is not to say that some are merely climbing, but more people are aware of training and how to do it correctly – for their body.

I think the biggest difference however is the emergence of climbing walls. Every term a huge number of young children book onto NICAS (National Indoor Climbing Award Scheme) Level 1. NICAS is a progressive course that will take a climber from being a novice through to a competition climber. Each level introduces new climbing techniques along with all of the safety procedures necessary to be a very competent climber – it is clearly the best progressive course that exists in climbing today.

Another aspect that has become far more popular than ever before is coaching. Once something that many turned their noses up at is now widely received. People at all stages of their climbing career are now seeking professional advice – straight from a beginners’ course to 20 years climbing under their belt. It is great to see the sport evolve so that people are looking to correct their flaws immediately, without ingraining poor technique which in turn becomes instinctive through muscle memory. If we were to look at swimming lessons (for example), they coach you correct kicking form and stroke straight away. Obviously climbing can be very dangerous, so beginner courses tend to focus on the safety aspects rather than the technique – but more improver courses/coaching can be seen in every wall around the UK, which is great. (For more information on coaching, please email the link at the bottom.)

The aspect which is the most pleasing to see for the development of climbing is the growing nature of competitions.
Most walls now host their own climbing competitions – from route masters to Winter Boulder Leagues (Reading Climbing Centre). We are also now seeing more regional based competitions become far more main stream – with the help of social media. Competitions such as Blocfest which ran for the first time through 2012/13 was a huge success and it was great to see people of all abilities enjoy the problems and sharing the beta.
One of the biggest competitions is the Youth Climbing Series (YCS). This is a British Mountaineering Council (BMC) and Mountaineering Council of Scotland collaboration which sees regional competitions take place to determine who will battle it out in the grand final – often held at EICA Ratho in Edinburgh.
Every year we see more children enter these competitions and every year we see the level of competition increase – the wall academies/squads/teams are really training well and it is great to see children from 8-17 compete at such a high level.

So although there were climbers who did train and there were climbers that did compete, the numbers are incomparable between the 80s (for example) and today. Walls are emerging in every town and city year on year and all are encouraging their customers to get involved with courses and competitions. People are more eager to improve seeking the help of coaches and as a result of all of these elements, climbing is moving forwards! Climbers are starting younger, building up enthusiasm and training specifically for our sport – as a result, the grades are tumbling. If you are yet to try climbing, now is the time!

If you are new to climbing or would like to know more about some of the topics discussed in this blogs, please click on the links below.

Changes to the YCS for 2014
Reading Climbing Centre
For more information on coaching –