Get Competitive About Climbing

Climbing competition

Girl Crush of the Month, Juliane Wurm competing at the World Cup. Photo credit: Photo: imago sport fotodienst.

One of the best ways to improve at climbing is by trying your hand in a competition. Yet, so many climbers shy away from any sort of competition. “I’m not good enough to compete” or “I’m just not that competitive” are two phrases I’ve heard recently in talking up the upcoming all-female bouldering competition, the Iron Maiden. In terms of improving your climbing, these are actually two reasons why you should compete. Today we share why participating in a climbing comp is a tool to becoming a better climber.

Climbing competition

Chelsea Rude competing at ABS Nationals. Photo credit: Mary Mecklenburg.

Practice On-Sighting. On-sighting in a comp equals more points. However, unless you keep an scorecard, on-sighting in real life doesn’t equate to more points and therefore isn’t something you explicitly practice in your climbing. Often times I get halfway up a route and realize I have no idea where it goes next, pumping out while I try to re-position my body. Most of my projects take 10, 20, 50 attempts, which isn’t an option in a comp. On-sighting requires being able to read a route to climb as efficiently as possible. Reading a route requires planning ahead (while still on the ground AND mid-route), a technique that demands practice just like being able to climb crimps or slopers. Comps force you to learn how to read a route efficiently, which directly translates to improving your climbing.

Climbing competition

Climbing comps can also be a great way to connect with the climbing community. Photo credit: Natalia Bolutukova.

Work Your Weaknesses. It’s easy to gravitate toward problems or routes that compliment our strengths. Unfortunately, this tendency doesn’t make us good “all-around” climbers. This point is somewhat specific to climbing and similar sports; in running a race, you can practice running the exact distance you’ll run – in a climbing competition you have no idea what will be thrown at you. If you only work overhanging problems, you will be in trouble when the route-setters favor slab problems. Comps force you to address your weaknesses and reward you for your strengths. Further, comps are a fantastic way to identify your weaknesses, which is often a much more subtle and difficult process than it may sound.

Strategize and Pace Yourself. A major component of a winning comp strategy is effective pacing throughout the entire competition schedule (qualifiers, finals, etc.). Unless you’re Big Time and competing in the pro finals, you’ll generally be given a few hours to rack up the highest number of points by completing boulder problems in the fewest attempts. One strategy (that we learned the hard way) is to let someone else figure out the beta and then swoop in for the flash. This requires that you can assess and remember beta and then execute it quickly. However, elusive problems might not be solved until the end of the comp: you need to still have enough juice left to power through and send. Both of these skills are massively applicable to projecting a route or problem outside.

Climbing competition

Climbers competing at MetroRock’s Dark Horse Competition.

Working Under Pressure. While you might have all the time in the world to send your personal “long-term” project, in a competition you have limited time to send problems close to your limit. Forcing yourself to climb in a stressful situation is a skill that will help you keep your cool when you’re trying to (finally) send, when you’re far above your bolt on a route, or when you’re making the last delicate move on a boulder.

Gain Experience. In the end, why not compete?! As opposed to other competitions that pit participants against one another, climbing comps encourage the community to work together to solve problems. Ultimately, you’re competing against yourself to make yourself a better climber.

So don’t be shy, get out there and try the next comp at your local gym!

Climb and compete on! ~Cate

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3 thoughts on “Get Competitive About Climbing

  1. Katie says:

    I’ve competed in my climbing gym’s annual competition twice and am heading to another gym’s competition this Saturday. Each time I compete I find significant improvements in my climbing skills.

    “As opposed to other competitions that pit participants against one another, climbing comps encourage the community to work together to solve problems.” I’ve found this to be so true. You really are competing against yourself, which helps a little with any nerves.

  2. Trish says:

    I looove comps!! I’ve never done super well in them, but they’re so much fun. My favorite part is the “bonus rounds” — one year they had milk crate stacking at the Rocknasium, and there’s often “dyno for dollers” at the Planet Granite comps. And then, there’s always the obligatory free swag giveaway! Comps are definitely another great reason the climbing community rocks. 🙂

  3. bieber4lyfe!!! says:

    I”M TOTALLY GOING TO THE IRON MAIDEN!!!! I heard you guys have lulu lemon and a bunch of local food (chocolate and other goodies). SWEET!

    – b

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