6 February 2011
Comparing general performance characteristics between male and female climbers is always interesting, especially when coaching in a group session. The common finding is that the guys can often at least throw for the holds, but fall trying to hold onto them. Meanwhile, the girls can hold on for ages but fall trying to move between the holds.
The basic reason is that guys have much more muscle to throw their upper bodies around at extreme joint ranges. A lesser appreciated reason is that girls are often reluctant to climb by throwing for holds out of fear of falling, and so adopt a massively inefficient static style. Thankfully, the guys more than balance it out by forgetting to use their feet and still can’t climb a vaguely technical problem despite all that muscle and grunt.
The winner is the guy, or girl who is confident enough to have a dynamic style, considers the best foot sequence before actually going for the move, and lastly (LASTLY!) has the strength to move to the hold, and hold onto it.
For girls, first of all, no progress can happen without addressing the fear of falling first. Every effort will fall flat on it’s face. You can’t climb to your potential without slapping, snatching, deadpointing, dynoing on most moves, or if fear of falling is dictating how you approach every move. The solution is simple, easy to follow and 100% successful whether it’s bouldering, sport climbing or trad. The details are section 3 of my book.
With that out of the way, there is an argument for some girls for a little dedicated work on the larger upper body muscles. In some cases, girls who can move confidently and have strong fingers struggle to clock up enough mileage on steep powerful terrain to ‘fill in’ their lack of upper body power.
The best way to address this is simply by climbing on steep ground with well spaced holds that are big enough that you can actually climb all session long. In many climbing walls, the number of steep juggy problems on the boulder walls aren’t numerous enough to prevent boredom. Answer: ask to set some more yourself. Steep juggy routes does it too - especially if you climb them with your feet on features only. Sometimes though, a little supplementary weights for a few months is useful to get you off the starting line.
I wouldn’t lean on them permanently, because the strength gains will eventually be more than cancelled out by how badly weights make you climb. Basic exercises like a work out of pull-ups (probably assisted at first), lat pull-downs, press-ups, seated rows (but not the low resistance aerobic type), and maybe some hanging leg raises and clean and jerk are all good. Do more of the ones you can feel you are really weak on. A few sets of each, a few times a week, for a few months should get you to a stage where you can drop the weights and progress to doing all the work on steep powerful real climbing moves.
Above all, don’t be intimidated by the ‘wads’ at the bouldering wall with tops off and making loud grunts. They don’t bite! They are often a useful source of new problems to work on, if nothing else. Just remember to burn them off occasionally on the balancy wall problems and high-steps..