Stepping Through to the Next Grade

Copyright - Urbanrock

When we learn to climb, we climb instinctively, pulling with our upper bodies and really neglecting our legs. We climb as we do trees or ladders – front on. When it comes to rock climbing, this isn’t really efficient and as we deal with much smaller holds, or more complicated moves, we tire out and can easily fall off a route/boulder problem if the correct technique isn’t used.

Last month, I wrote a blog for on footwork, THE most important aspect of your climbing. If you are yet to read it, please click HERE.

Moving on from this, we have just released the second part of the series, Training for Climbing. It is on the “step-through“. This is such an important technique to use as it keeps your body weight over your feet, making your legs do the work so your hands/arms can relax. It is a fast and efficient style of climbing that will transform your climbing.

Have a read about how to perform the technique HERE.

I hope it works for you!

Toeing the Line

Robin on Deliverance. Photo Courtesy of Paul Keleher - DOSummitGood

Robin on Deliverance. Photo Courtesy of Paul Keleher – DOSummitGood


The foundation of climbing. If you can’t use your feet, then you’ll be throwing away energy and climbing inefficiently. Explore what are the signs of bad footwork and how to improve yours by reading the Urbanrock’s Blog on footwork.

In this blog, I explain how to determine if you are not placing your feet correctly and how to correct sloppy footwork including how to smear and foot-swap/match correctly. Most indoor climbers neglect their footwork to focus on more “obvious” weaknesses – such as strength and endurance. The truth of the matter is, start with the basics and improve what will dramatically improve your climbing.

This is the first of the series of climbing technique, so keep an eye out and let me know your thoughts.

Resin to Rock

With a wet start to 2014, the majority of my climbing and coaching has been indoors. Winter, the season for us to train and the season for us to get ready for our projects, competitions and goals. However, with the seasons changing, so does our focus and the last few weeks has allowed me to get on the rock with my clients. For most of them, this has been their first experience ever, but it didn’t really hinder them at all.

Sam on Not To Be Taken Away - photo Paul Keleher

Sam on Not To Be Taken Away – photo Paul Keleher


Over the CWIF weekend, I headed up to the Plantation with an eclectic bunch. From competition youth climbers to friends and family. The old and wise vs the young and naïve? Not so much…

Three of the guys who came up with me are clients – two boys on the Surrey Sports Park performance squad (Sam and James) and Paul – an experienced mountaineer (Everest summiteer). It was all of their first time on Grit. With cold and windy conditions, they immediately absorbed themselves with the overwhelming friction on hand. After showing them round a few classic warm-ups, we got stuck in (along with team Ireland) on the Green Traverse.

Robin demo deliverance Rol, Paul and CAC

From James and Paul, it allowed them to know this problem and have something to return for. For Sam, it was the start of the send train…an easy flash, great going for someone who had only been outside climbing once before. From here we went on to get very close to Zippy’s traverse, Deliverance and The Storm…we will be back for his unfinished business! The tips went through and it was time to leave, but enthusiasm was high – Paul went back for the following three weekends, dragging his wife along too (who also loved it)!

James Stanage


Back with the Surrey Sports Park team, a few others and Guy Davenport – the other coach at Surrey. Again, for most, it was their first time on rock and from 8 year olds to 14 year olds (plus parents), it was great to set some goals. Bouldering was on the agenda at The Cuttings boulderfield with routes in reserve for later.

Rob Crack b t

Everyone made flashes of all of the Warm-Up boulder’s offerings, from VB to V3. It was very impressive to see these youth climbers make short work of some tough in the grade problems. They all moved well and they were loving it…top outs were interesting at first, but once we went through how to (ideally) do it, the beached Whale approach stopped.

Acertop out

Moving on to various V3s and V4s, the team did really well. Sam had joined us again and we set Lightning Strike as his goal for the day. Lightning Strike is a superb boulder in the middle of the boulderfield. Starting in the roof of a cave and turning the challenging lip, the boulder gets V7 and I think it’s fairly good at that grade.

We talked through the beta, showed him the holds and it was done…4th go a solid effort with some interesting footwork at the end!

Sam LS

Sam LS2

Sam LS top

We moved on to some routes and it was good to see some good onsights of 5s and 6as from Rob and the others on some dubiously bolted routes.

Sam V5

Rob Lead C


I’ve been down to Cheddar a few times this year and a route I want to do is still a wet streak amongst dry limestone…plenty more to do though. I went down on Friday with Paul (from Stanage) – and again, it was his first time at the crag (climbing).


Paul has been training hard on a programme I have written him. He certainly did well at Stanage, climbing some V4s and V5s which were personal bests at the time. On sport routes, his previous PB was a 6b. Knowing how he had been climbing and his strengths/weaknesses I told him a few routes that would prove as good goals for the day.

After a shaky start, Paul and I arrived at one of the goals for the day, his first 7a. I made the decision to get Paul to bolt-to-bolt the route on his first go, getting used to the moves, holds, footholds and falls (getting the head in game). He looked pretty comfortable on it, so on the way down got him to iron out some slight issues and link through the crux…

From here, we had a good rest period and started reminding ourselves of the beta – feet and hands, sequences, body positioning, clipping and shaking points. When to climb slowly, and when to pounce.

Paul started off smoothly, getting to his first crux in short time. A little hesitation, but he was through. Now, onto the final crux and a big dynamic move…one miss fire, two miss fires, third time lucky, Paul gave it a little more and topped his first ever 7a! Great effort and a good day.

Paul Raw Deal

I get a lot of satisfaction coaching people indoors, but this is only exaggerated outside for me. Seeing people experience different types of rock, new crags, new areas and new climbs is just amazing, but seeing them achieve their goals as well is the icing on the cake.

Hopefully this weather is here to stay and with it, more days on the rock and more goals ticked.

If you would like to find out more about being coached outside, drop Robin and email on





How to train hard and not get injured?



Youth climbing has become a hugely competitive aspect of our sport. Today, we see the likes of Ashima Shiraishi, Mirko Caballero, Cameron and Jonathan Horst as well as Shawn and Brooke Raboutou climbing at an exceptional level at such a young age. They are following in the footsteps of Alex Megos, Adam Ondra and of course Chris Sharma, Dave Graham and Tommy Caldwell.
We see many guidelines on how to train safely for under 18s, but surely this would not allow these guys to achieve such high levels of performance? Do they fingerboard, do they campus board? Do they train?
In my latest article, I have joined up with physiotherapist Nina Leonfellner to ask many questions about training safely as well as approaching Mirko Caballero, Molly Thompson-Smith, Sierra Blair-Coyle and Alex Megos, asking them how they are climbing at this level at their age? Did they follow these “guidelines”? Have they ever been injured? Do they have any words of advice for the next generation?

Find out more by reading my latest article on here.

BMC Youth Climbing Series 2014 London and the south east

Youth Climbing Series
.SSP CACssp teamSam Trophy

In mid January I joined the Surrey Sports Park to coach their squad. We had a tough job on our hands with very little time to prepare for the BMC Youth Climbing Series (YCS) 2014. After putting their training programme together with Guy Davenport (who also coaches the team), we have been working furiously to get ready in time, and what a good job they all did. Throughout the first two rounds, we got six 1st places, three 2nds and 6 thirds, taking the whole team through to the finals which took place Saturday 29th March at The Castle Climbing Centre.

The Surrey Sports Park squad has really improved over the last two months and it was great to see them compete at such a tough level. All the team should be proud of how they climbed.

The 3 stand-out performances for me were by, Sam Jenner, Issy Adams and Finley Adams who all won the regional finals in perfect style, well done guys!!!



After a slight rest week this week, the team will be back to work getting ready for Ratho and the other upcoming national BMC competitions later this year.
Bring it on!

A quick note to say that we are very proud to support Climbers Against Cancer with our new kit, thanks John. Also a big thank you to TheraBand and Coach’s Eye for your products and support.

If you are looking for youth performance coaching, please drop me an email on for more information.

Finger Injuries

POP is usually the first thing you hear (and feel) when you get a finger injury.
Nina and I have been writing away to create our latest article on all matters fingers.
From pulley tears/sprains to DIP and PIP joint inflammation.

If you are feeling like your fingers are bruised or recovering from a finger injury have a read and read what you should be doing.
If you’ve never had a finger injury – read it for tips on how to avoid the finger injuries.
Click to read the article.

Next up – youth climbers and injury prevention.

Video Update: Demo of Elbow Exercises

In case you are yet to read the article about elbow injuries, please visit This is part 2 of the series which Nina Leonfellner and I have released discussing the common injuries climbers suffer from and how to combat/treat them.

I had some requests asking to clarify how to use the Thera-Band Flexbar. This is a great tool which can treat various conditions, from elbow tendonitis to wrist and shoulder injuries.
Click here to buy your Thera-Band Flexbar, well worth it.

Have a look at the video below, hopefully it will clear things up.

Elbow Injuries

Golfer’s elbow? Tennis elbow?
If you are suffering from either condition, have a look at my latest article on which I wrote with Nina Leonfellner. It is a condition that WILL affect you at some point in your climbing career. I know many very competent and knowledgeable climbers that have been wiped out for 3 months, 6 months and even up to 2 years. It usually strikes when you are at your strongest, which is why people try to climb through it…this is not a good idea.

So that you understand this debilitating condition, read the article and take note of the exercises. If you add them to your strength and conditioning sessions, you will keep it at bay.

As we discuss in the article, many of your injuries occur due to poor posture and technique when climbing. If you would like to have your climbing assessed, please drop me an email on and we can book a video analysis session.

Shoulder Impingement

Robin 7b+

Having written the injury management and prevention articles, Nina and I decided to release the series through The first part is for shoulder impingements/shoulder injuries. If you are suffering from a pain “in” your shoulder, it is definitely worth a read – click on the hyperlink here.

If you have any questions, or need video analysis to assess your climbing style to see if there are technical flaws causing damage/injuries, please do not hesitate to contact me.

The next part of the series is on elbow injuries and will be highly useful for those suffering from that annoying twinge that stops you pulling hard.


Injury Management and Prevention – part 2

Last week I introduced this 4 part mini-series about injury management and prevention. We considered some of the exercises we should do on a regular basis to keep our bodies fighting fit.

This week, we shall continue on the preventative measures and consider how best to avoid injuries during a climbing session.

One of the most alarming aspects that I see on a daily basis at climbing walls is the lack of knowledge surrounding warm-ups. Many people are naïve to the benefits, others choose not to bother, constrained by time. I am sure most of you have felt how detrimental a poor warm-up is, especially outside! You do a few dynamic stretches and then do a nice easy climb to get moving and then jump to your (almost) onsight limit. That flash pump is just so hard to lose. So, what can we do about it? If you are unsure why we need to warm-up, or how to do it properly, then the following should be hugely beneficial. Also, we discuss the best way to warm-up and keep warm on those crisp winter days…

Nina, how important is a warm-up? Why and how should we do it properly?
One of the most important aspects of your climbing session is a warm-up. It is essential to any sport for multiple reasons;

Firstly, to get physically warm in order to raise body temperature so that tissues are more adaptable. It also should be used to raise your heart rate to circulate blood and fluids so that muscles have the right ingredients for exercise. It will also lubricate and loosen joints to prepare them for upcoming movements and shock loading.

Many of us (children and adults) spend all day “relaxed”, sat at a desk all day. A warm-up is crucial in awakening or activating your core and body tension. Having a weak or untuned core will put people at risk for all climbing injuries.
After a slow day, we also have to activate our nervous system, brain and reflexes. Going from an office, to driving a car, then suddenly climbing will lead to a poor session and increase the chances of injury.

Activate and tense muscles to be used: shoulders, arms, hands, torso, hips and ankles.
-(band or climbing rope) shoulder and torso movements
-press-ups/transition planks/planks/inch worm
-pull ups (feet on/off)
-torso rotations/shoulder circles/shoulder and blade warm-ups
-side to side hip actions/floor bridges
-split squats/squats
-practice jumping off (squats jumps)
-leap frogs
-“towel wringing”
Mobility warm-ups: a series of actions that looks like stretching but you are not holding the stretch for any longer than 5 seconds.

Nina demonstrating shoulder blade isolation - joint mobility - compressed.

Nina demonstrating shoulder blade isolation – joint mobility – compressed.

Nina demonstrating the second part - extension. These should be held for between 3 and 5 seconds.

Nina demonstrating the second part – extension. These should be held for between 3 and 5 seconds.

This highlights a similar exercise but vertically rather than horizontally.

This highlights a similar exercise but vertically rather than horizontally.

So are these all things we should do at the crag as well? Won’t we look a bit stupid skipping by a cliff?
Yes, we should definitely do this at the crag. You can choose which mobility warm-ups to do in case you are worried about how you look, get creative!!
Just follow the principles: Move and feel warmth in the shoulders, torso and hips. It takes a while for us to warm up our extremities such as our fingers and these are vital to climbing, and arguably the most fragile – be careful.

So getting warm is one thing, but how do we stay warm? On those cold Winter days when we are forced to rest between goes, how do make sure our soft tissues don’t get too cold? If they do is it worth repeating the warm-up again?

Yes, definitely! Relax, recover, have a cup of tea or coffee in a flask. If you feel that your body has lost warmth, despite wearing a down jacket, then get back to doing your warm-up – a few star-jumps or skip with the rope or use it for arm circulations and movement.



The session has gone well, but before we pack up and just head home after trying at our absolute limit, should we do anything else?


Finish a session with a few really easy routes or problems to help flush out toxins and lactic acid after a hard session, and lower your body temperature if you had a more aerobic session. You want to finish your session feeling tired, but not too pumped.

Static stretching.

Gentle static stretching can stimulate good collagen (tissue) for rebuilding. Over-stretching can degrade and weaken tissue. This is why we now advise not to static stretch before sport and exercise, only AFTER, in case you go beyond a healthy strain.
Stretching must always be complimented with strengthening and sometimes it is better to simply stretch in tension (eccentric contractions).
Static stretching is good for areas of stiffness that are inhibiting nerve movement or joint range needed for climbing. However, positioning and technique are paramount. It is best to avoid stretches felt on a joint or tendon. Best to feel the stretch in the muscle. Positioning of joints like the elbow must be monitored. No hyper-extension at the elbows or knee allowed in any position as this places the delicate elbow tendons and ligaments in an over-stretched position.



Strength and conditioning is a form of neuromuscular (muscle building motor learning) training with equipment or body weight to increase strength, power, agility and coordination. “Conditioning involves the correct application of exercise principles to progressively improve and allow you to perform your chosen activity with greater ease”. This can be applied to antagonist training, or training “climber-specific” weaknesses such as squats, split squats, pull-ups, press-ups, rotator cuff, core etc.

Wide-arm Press-up

Wide-arm Press-up

The goal of the session would be to increase strength, technique, coordination and ease of movement with the least strain on the body. This form of training compliments any climbing technical drills. For example, if someone is slightly weak with rock-overs and pressing up with their legs, then they can improve on this by working on their deep hip muscles, buttocks, split squats and step-ups.

Thanks Nina! Next week we will be looking at specific climbing injuries, how to recognise them and how to repair them.

If you would like to contact Nina, please visit her


Injury Management and Prevention – part 1

You are injured” are some of the harshest words an athlete can hear. The smallest injury, which may be insignificant to non-climbers, can put us out for weeks, months or even longer! Our goals can be shattered in a moment of madness, foolishness but sometimes for no apparent reason at all.

I find it fascinating that some people seem to be more prone to injuries than others and that most people seem to be unaware of what the most common climbing injuries are and what we can do about them – or even better, how to avoid them.

I have learnt a lot from error, as many of you will have too, but I will not impose my training upon you (just yet) – rather seek the words of a professional physiotherapist. Some of you will still be wary of what I have just said – as many physiotherapists don’t have a Scooby Doo about climbing – and the intricate complexities of what damage we can actually sustain as climbers. Many will be able to diagnose fairly accurately, but having been on the receiving end of a poor analysis previously, I don’t intend to let you suffer as well.

A full rupture of the A2 pulley in the ring finger. The term bowstringing refers to the gap seen between the bone and the tendon - a result of the pulley no longer holding the tendon close to the bone

A full rupture of the A2 pulley in the ring finger. The term bowstringing refers to the gap seen between the bone and the tendon – a result of the pulley no longer holding the tendon close to the bone

Let me now introduce to you Nina Leonfellner. After qualifying as a Physiotherapist in 1999 from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, Nina has been treating sport and musculoskeletal injuries in the private sector ever since. Nina has been a dedicated rock climber since 2000, and has treated, climbed and worked with some of Britain’s elite rock climbers, such as, Hazel Findlay, Ben West, Neil Gresham, Tim Emmett, Charlie Woodburn and Chris Savage. Nina writes articles in CLIMB magazine, as well as, teaches an Injury Prevention Module on Neil Gresham’s Masterclass Coaching Course. Nina is also a lead clinician for EIS and High Performance Squad athletes at Bristol University – it’s suffice to say that she knows what she is doing!

I had a good chat with Nina about climbing injuries; how we can treat them and how we can prevent them. I have decided to break it all down into bite-size snippets of information, released over the next few weeks, so that you can actually take in what is being said. After all, it is quite easy to overwhelm people with too much information.

Nina, on a very basic level, what do you think the most important aspects are in avoiding injury?

Warming up correctly is essential, but we also need to consider good technique, flexibility, antagonistic training as well as strength and conditioning training.

You mention strength and conditioning. What is this and why is it so important?

Strength and conditioning refers to exercises that target specific muscle groups’ strength and endurance. It is important to strengthen certain muscle groups in isolation in order to decipher and then work on our own weaknesses that could be hindering our climbing or leading us to an injury. It is also valuable to do these types of exercises to develop body awareness.

So once we have got our bodies into fighting shape, how can we ensure they stay this way?

It is essential to continue with your strength and conditioning and antagonistic exercises, even if it is once a week for both aspects.

As mentioned above, a lot of people talk about the benefits of antagonistic exercises, what are they referring to?

Muscles which counteract that of another. Tissues loaded in a certain direction will deform and lose fluid. A way to reverse the deformity is to exert an opposite force on them. This replaces lost fluid and helps reshape the tissue. A bit like correcting a dent in a car door…if tissues are constantly exposed to the same stresses and strains the dent simply gets bigger and bigger, until eventually the stresses are big enough to cause damage.

What are the best antagonistic exercises a climber should be doing and how many times a week?

In climbing antagonistic muscles are mainly pressing and lifting ones. Antagonistic exercises are a fantastic method to aid recovery quickly. Incorporating antagonist strength training after a morning OR afternoon climbing session, or on the following “rest” day will help to “reshape” and rehydrate your tissues back to health.

Normal, shoulder width, press-ups; narrow press-ups; side lie one-arm press-ups and dips are examples of these. Using a wall, table or the floor all present progressive options to these exercises.

Press-ups are a great antagonistic exercise. Here Nina demonstrates shoulder-width press-ups

Press-ups are a great antagonistic exercise. Here Nina demonstrates shoulder-width press-ups

Wide-arm Press-up

Wide-arm Press-up

Wide-arm - off-set or raised variation

Wide-arm – off-set or raised variation

Note that finger and wrist extensors (top forearm muscles) are not technically climbing antagonists, but I include them in antag training as there is often a dominance in flexor strength amongst climbers & full resisted finger extension range of motion does not get exercised in climbing.

Care is needed not to overload tissues, so light weight (or modified body weight positions) with higher repetitions (12-20) is best after hard climbing sessions. Which exercises in particular will depend largely on what your strength and climbing goals are, but if you are in doubt, ask a strength and conditioning expert, climbing coach or a sports physiotherapist.

Nina using an elastic band for finger extensor exercises

Nina using an elastic band for finger extensor exercises

Nina, a lot of people will have read this and still wonder why they can’t just climb and forget all the other exercises?

Climbing is a sport that generally focuses on the anaerobic systems of fitness, for instance, muscle strength, agility and power, particularly in the upper body. It is important to also focus on other elements of fitness like aerobic (pushing your heart) and flexibility to keep an overall rounded picture of health and fitness. This will ultimately make you a better athlete or climber.

Nina in the starting position for side-lie one arm press-ups

Nina in the starting position for side-lie one arm press-ups

The upper position to which the side-lie one arm press-up is pressed out to

The upper position to which the side-lie one arm press-up is pressed out to

Thanks Nina, we’ll catch up next week to discuss more injury preventative measures during your session at the wall or crag. If you would like to contact Nina, please visit her website


British Champion

Catrin Podium

This weekend saw the most talented youth climbers gather at the Depot Climbing Centre, Leeds for the British Youth Open Competition. The Opens are a competition that has historically been used as part of the selection process for the youth bouldering and lead GB teams.

I have been coaching Catrin Rose for a few years now and I am delighted to say that she just won the lead climbing championships for Category C!

A few years ago, Catrin was picked out as an enthusiastic climber who wanted to improve. She had been climbing for a few years prior to this and certainly had a flair.

Over the last few years, Catrin has been a member of the Reading Climbing Centre’s Academy team. She has been training with the team twice a week and had a private coaching session once a week. On top of this, Catrin’s hugely supportive parents travel all around the UK every weekend in order to search out a new centre, new routes and new route setters to test her onsighting skills.

She is one of the most dedicated climbers I have ever had the pleasure of coaching and deserves her recent victory more than any other.

I caught up with Catrin after her weekend to hear what she had to say;

Having competed on the Saturday in the bouldering and narrowly missing out of the finals, Catrin felt “quite confident going into Sunday“, knowing that she was “much stronger on routes“.

catrin R1

Although I dropped the second route near the top, I was happy with qualifying in second place and being in the final and isolation, I was surprised by my lack of nerves. After the viewing period, our group was out first, I have to admit I was slightly more nervous when I found that out, but quickly calmed down once I started climbing. I felt I climbed well, but was slightly annoyed with myself that I fell off where I did.” Catrin soon felt a little happier knowing that she had the current high spot and she was guaranteed a podium finish with only one climber left to compete. Catrin was over the moon (in a slightly competitive way) when the last climber fell below Catrin’s high point and was declared the champion!

The youth open is definitely my best result to date and I am delighted about how the comp went!

Catrin R2

Catrin trains very hard on a weekly basis and we are all incredibly proud that she won this competition!

Now, time for a little rest and on to the next!

(All photos taken by “supportive parent” Tanya Sage – also incredibly chuffed with Catrin’s win.)