Friendly, community competitions are a great way to connect with others, test your mental and physical fortitude, and become a stronger climber.

By Ryan Halvorson

Have you ever considered participating in a local comp, like the upcoming Avocado Cup which kicks off Tuesday, February 6? Whether you’re a seasoned climber or a new one, participating in a friendly comp and be a fun learning experience, especially when you’re armed with insights on what to expect and what you can do to prep for the challenge.

In this article, Mesa Rim climbing coach Nayton Rosales shares his top tips for making the most of a friendly climbing comp.

 

TO TRAIN OR NOT TO TRAIN

In advance of competition, participants often augment their training programs so that they can be at their best, physically and mentally. Marathoners ramp up mileage. Spartans hit up obstacle courses more regularly. Climbers spend more time on the walls.

But Rosales says that timing is everything.

“A lot of people tend to think that they need to train and train hard,” he says. “Climbers feel like they need to do a lot of campusing, 4x4s, and weighted pull-ups leading up to a comp. The thing about comps is you need to think long-term and not for the weekend. If you haven’t been training, then cramming for an event that’s right around the corner is a bad idea.”

Rosales says that pushing hard in the last moments before a comp can leave a climber feeling sore and weak, which will inhibit performance. So, instead of dialing up the training, he encourages climbers to do the opposite before the big event. There’s not much that can be done to boost peak performance if you’re only a week or two out, so rest and light training loads will keep the body tuned to its current highest possible output, says the coach.

However, if there is time to train—say the comp isn’t for a month or two—Rosales suggests opting for a plan to help build endurance.

“Many of these events last 2 to 3 hours, which means that there will be a lot of climbing,” he says. “Work on building power endurance by training at about 50-80% of your max capacity. Do things like 20-move circuits or 4x4s.”

In a 4×4, choose four boulder problems that are about 2 to 3 grades below your max. Climb the first one four times back to back and then rest for a few minutes before moving on to the next one. Complete all four, rest for about 5 minutes and then repeat the sequence on the same boulders or pick four new ones. Try for a total of three sets.

Rosales explains, “It’s the kind of training that makes you feel the pump; it will improve your endurance threshold so you make it through a comp without pumping out or gassing out early.”

It’s also a good idea to talk to a climbing coach who can give you specific and individualized guidance on how to safely and effectively prepare for a comp, he adds.

 

GET YOUR MIND RIGHT

One of the biggest mistakes that hinders climbers during competition is that they focus too much on things they can’t control, says Rosales.

“Competition can be nerve-racking. And focusing on anything other than yourself and your own abilities in the moment can make things worse. So, try not to worry about the other climbers and what they’re doing. And don’t think about the outcome or where you’ll place.”

Instead, he says to focus on what is within your control: your climb, your breath, your rest, and your movement.

“If you’re performing at your best, that’s the only thing that should matter. Focusing attention on anything else is a distraction that will affect your climbing ability.”
He also suggests approaching a friendly comp as it is–friendly and fun.

“This isn’t the Olympics; we’re all rock climbing as a community and having fun,” says Rosales. “Help each other out; talk to each other and share beta. And keep in mind that the best competitor is the one who’s having the most fun. If you’re focused on the outcomes, you might not have the best time.”

 

STRATEGIES FOR SUCCESS

Training and mindset aside, there are plenty of things you can do day-of to enhance your experience. Here are Rosales’s top tips for navigating comp day.

Don’t neglect the warm-up. Be sure to arrive at least 30 minutes before the comp starts to get in a thorough warm-up. People often avoid or short-change the warm-up and then get flash-pumped during competition.

When warming up, the key is to slowly increase climbing intensity.

To do that, try a boulder pyramid to raise the heart rate and get blood flowing. Pick four easy climbs, three medium climbs, and one medium-hard climb. Start with the easiest ones, followed by the medium ones and then the medium-hard one. Once completed, do the climbs in reverse order. Make sure to take plenty of rest along the way to minimize pump.

Keep replenished. Drink plenty of water throughout and make sure to have something to snack on so you keep your energy levels high. After about 1.5 hours, the body’s glycogen stores are depleted so it’s important to consume something to prevent that.

Play to your strengths. There will be problems set on all sorts of angles so if you’re better at slab, for example, focus on that. Also, keep in mind that overhung problems are physically taxing so don’t spend all your time in the cave. Mix up the angles to conserve energy.

Don’t go all-out right away. Find a boulder that you consider to be the most challenging for you and then slowly work your way up to it. Aim to get a solid base of climbs before attempting your toughest climb.

Fulfill your requirements first. In a comp that’s scored based on your best three or five climbs, it’s recommended to fulfill your minimum with easier climbs early on and then work on earning more points with tougher problems. It’s common for people to go too hard, too fast only to get so pumped they don’t finish the comp requirements.

Study the problem. Take the time to plan a route before you climb; know exactly how you want to climb so that you don’t make too many unfinished, energy-zapping attempts. Figure out where all the holds are and observe how other climbers approach a problem. The best people to watch are those who are similar in stature. A 6-foot-tall climber will climb much differently than someone who is 5’6”.Rest more than you think you need to. Energy conservation is key to keeping a competitive edge and lasting the entire 3 hours so take plenty of rest between climbs to keep muscles fresh and stoke high.

 

When all is said and done, the most important things you can do at a comp is to use it as a learning experience and to enjoy the ride, Rosales advises.

“These are really awesome boulder problems that are geared toward comp-style, which are fun to try and can teach you new techniques,” he says. “It’s always a learning experience. And if you’ve never done a comp, it’s a good introduction because it’s such a friendly atmosphere.”

He concludes, “At the end of the day, any time spent on the wall is helpful; even if you don’t make the podium, you’ll gain new skills and insight to become a stronger climber.”