Learning to climb – 8 tips for beginners

“If your mind is empty, it is ready for anything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.” ~Shunryu Suzuki

This is pretty much how every climb feels when you start out, but eventually those big and scary problems shrink a little. This shot of my bouldering buddy Matt was taken on a bouldering day in Squamish this summer.

This is pretty much how every climb feels when you start out, but eventually those big and scary problems shrink a little. This shot of my bouldering buddy Matt was taken on a bouldering day in Squamish this summer.

As children we are used to constantly falling. Constantly failing. Constantly not being able to reach something, do something, be good at something. We roll with it and embrace it and laugh at it. Something happens in us as adults that slowly changes that fearlessness into a deep fear of failing at …well, almost anything. As a bit of a perfectionist myself, being a beginner is not something I normally enjoy. Don’t get me wrong, I love to learn, but not being good at something is incredibly frustrating for me. That’s one of the many reasons I knew I really must love climbing….because as a beginner you fail and fall and can’t do stuff every single time you get on the wall/rock. Other than living abroad, it’s been one of the most humbling experiences of my life and continues to humble me each day. So, I thought I’d help any other beginners out there a bit and give you a few (and by no means exhaustive) tips on being a beginner.

1. Remember how badass you are for doing this every single day. This one is key. Because climbing will kick your butt on a regular basis. Just today I got back from the climbing gym and was totally stumped by a problem (a particular climb) that I had happily conquered on my previous visit. It’s amazing how one day you can rock anything and the next you can’t do a thing. But, the fact that you’re even doing it, is completely awesome…and…totally badass.


These guys rockin’ a bridge. (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

2. Remember the beginner’s curve. Know that your rate of improvement will be about 100 times that of an experienced climber and you will see incredible results simply by climbing regularly. You may be terrible on your first day of climbing, but even one month in you will be totally amazed at your progress. A lot of experienced climbers have told me to really enjoy this time of rapid gains because eventually the gains become smaller and are much harder to see.

The bunny hill

In my first month of climbing even the bunny hill or “kiddie pool” as Leslie calls it seemed hard.

Outdoor bouldering

Just a few months later I was trying outdoor bouldering for the first time!

3. Climb regularly. Here’s what I’ve had recommended to me and so far, so good: Twice a week to maintain, three times a week to improve and four times a week or more to seriously take it to the next level. Sure, you can cross-train and do other activities to strengthen or help your climbing (yoga is an amazing counter balance for climbing) but in general the best thing to improve your climbing is climbing itself.

4. Give yourself rest days. You’ll thank me for this one! If you are like me and you fell madly in love with climbing you will want to climb every single day and then some, but…you simply can’t, or you’ll get injured. At the beginning you will need a couple of days of rest after each session in order to let your body properly recover. I know it’s annoying, but it’s essential. Even now, seven months in, I can’t really climb two days in a row (or I can, but I can barely do much on the second day.)

sand angels

When in doubt, collapse in the sand and make sand angels on your days off, just like my niece is doing here.

5. Remember that tendon strength develops a lot more slowly than muscle strength. The first year of climbing is prime time for finger injuries in new climbers, and I am no exception. Four months into climbing I injured one of my fingers (more on that in another post) and I’m still recovering from it, nearly three months later. Even if it seems your muscles can do a certain problem, remember the incredible force you are putting on your fingers and don’t push it. Believe me, you’ll be happy you followed this advice. Injury sucks and in bouldering it is especially common.


It’s worth learning something about tendons and finger strength. I learned after injuring myself, of course.


6. Take care of your body! Put the following people into your phone contacts – massage therapist, chiropractor and physiotherapist. Think I’m kidding? Particularly if you are an adult beginning climbing later in life you will need regular body maintenance. My various therapists now just ask me when I go in, “okay, so what is it this week?” If you want to do a sport that demands the most from your body and is a constant fight against gravity you will need to take care of it properly.

7. Take a class or some lessons. If you have the time and can afford it this is the best way to improve your skills quickly. If you can take a class, then chances are you’ll meet some fun people too. I took the Intro to Bouldering class at my gym, (the Hive Bouldering Gym), which is one evening learning the ropes (or lack thereof, pun intended) and two free weeks of climbing afterwards. For all you wanna-be kick ass lady climbers out there try the Women in Bouldering class (and hopefully other climbing gyms have something similar) which is a ton of fun (though I had to drop out early due to my finger injury!) I also take lessons from a fabulous instructor, Celeste Wall at the Hive as well. And, if you don’t have time for any of those things – YouTube has a ton of great climbing videos to learn from like this one called “Improve your climbing.”

8. Have fun! Let the fun take over and try not to take yourself or climbing too seriously. The thing I love about climbing is just how fun it is. It’s hard, it’s intense, it will test your mind and your body….but most of all, it’s so much fun. That is going to be a theme throughout my posts and I will keep drilling it in your minds, as well as mine. That is what makes me keep going back for more. Enjoy this process and I promise you will always leave each climb with a giant grin on your face.

Monkey girls

My bouldering buddy, Laura and I just monkeying around on a day out in Squamish on the boulders.


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