Speed climbing is one of the most exciting but also one of the most intimidating things to come out of the popularization of rock climbing in recent years. Before the 2016 announcement that climbing would officially be a medal sport in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, it was a small, niche part of competitive rock climbing. Many gyms in the U.S. did not have speed climbing walls, and many popularized competitions, including World Cups and National Open Competitions, did not incorporate speed climbing into the main events. After the announcement that the Olympic format would include all three climbing disciplines (sport, boulder, and speed), speed climbing was everywhere! While not all of us are training for the Olympics, the rise in popularity of speed climbing shows that it can be helpful training for any climber looking to increase their power and coordination or want to shake up their routine.
Three reasons you should take advantage of the speed wall at your local gym!
If your gym has a speed wall or partial speed wall, be sure to use that for the exercises below. But don't fret! These exercises also work on any warm-up routes in the gym. (If possible, try to use an auto-belay or trade-off with your belay partner, resting while they go!)
1. Speed Climbing Requires Explosive Power
Power is one of the core training elements of rock climbing (alongside strength and endurance). Whether you are speed climbing, redpointing your sport climbing project, or working a boulder problem, you will need explosive power to overcome complex crux moves. Clocking in somewhere around 5.10b, the official speed climbing wall isn't tricky for professional climbers. Instead, it is ideally situated, so they must take advantage of explosive climbing movements to reach the top quickly. In other words, speed climbers can use dyno! Speed climbing and speed climbing techniques promote a "springier" style that can drastically improve your power in other climbing areas. So if you know that dynos are a weakness for you, or you have felt like you have hit a plateau in your climbing, unable to send harder cruxes, try incorporating this workout into your training.
This exercise aims to practice incorporating the legs into your dynamic movement. So after you've warmed up, try climbing the route twice (four times for a partial speed wall) with no rest in between as fast as you can. Each time you get on the wall, focus on a single slip-up you made in the previous run and try to correct it. Also, concentrate on pushing hard with your legs. (Speed climbing is less about pulling with your arms and driving with your legs.) Finally, try reaching for holds that you can't reach statically. Speed climbing occurs in a near zig-zag motion from left to right as you ascend the wall, so look for holds just out of reach up and opposite you. Rest for four minutes in between each set of runs. Perform three sets for a total of six runs.
2. Improve Your Coordination on the Wall
Speed climbing requires an immense amount of coordination. While speed climbing, your whole body works together to generate upward momentum. If you watch speed climbers in competitions, they never look down at their feet. Their eyes are focused upward as they let their body perform the route they have done thousands of times before. Sometimes their feet push off the holds, and other times they're smearing (stepping against the wall rather than on a hold), but either way, it almost looks like the climbers are running up the wall! For those of us who have no interest in competitive speed climbing, we can improve our coordination so that when we are working hard on our projects, our bodies perform when we need them to without us having to think about it.
Like the previous exercise, in this one, you will ascend the wall twice and rest in between sets. Only this time, after warming up, you are going to climb once incredibly slowly. On this run, focus intensely on where you place your feet. With each foot placement, take note of where your hands are. That is because, on the second run, you will try and climb a bit faster without looking at your feet. The goal is to train your body—from your hands to your feet—to work together through repeated movement and muscle memory. Rest for four minutes between each set of runs. Perform three sets for a total of six runs.
3. Shake Up Your Normal Gym or Training Session
Finally, speed climbing is an incredibly effective way to shake up your typical climbing session. On days when you aren't psyched on your project, or maybe you are bored with the old routes and are waiting for a new wall to be re-set, try any of the exercises above or head over to the speed wall and play around! You'll be amazed by a) how much fun you have with speed climbing, b) how tired speed climbing will make you, and c) how effective speed climbing is as a training tool. Who knows, maybe you'll discover you have a knack for it! Or, more likely, you can take a couple of embarrassing falls on the speed climbing wall and have some good laughs with your friends.
Training doesn't have to be super serious or involve weight training. Training for rock climbing can be as simple as acknowledging a weakness in your climbing, making a plan to work on it, and then following through on that! So as speed climbing continues to grow in popularity and gyms worldwide begin to install speed climbing walls, be sure to take advantage of speed climbing for your climbing! Let us know in the comments what your first experience of speed climbing was like or how you use speed climbing to supplement your training.