Climbing the World of Strength & Conditioning

As I've delved deeper into the world of climbing, I've started to notice some interesting parallels between my work as a strength and conditioning coach and the skills and techniques needed to be a successful climber.

· 6 min read
Climbing the World of Strength & Conditioning
Photo by Patrick Hendry / Unsplash

As a college strength and conditioning coach, my focus has always been on helping athletes achieve peak physical and mental performance. Over the years, I've had the pleasure of working with some of the best team sport athletes out there, helping them build strength, endurance, and mental toughness to take on the competition.

But recently, I've been getting into a new form of physical activity that has really captured the attention of my family and I: bouldering and top-rope climbing. There's just something about the challenge of navigating a rock face, figuring out the best way to move your body, and pushing through physical and mental barriers that really speaks to me.

As I've delved deeper into the world of climbing, I've started to notice some interesting parallels between my work as a strength and conditioning coach and the skills and techniques needed to be a successful climber.

Physical Conditioning

For starters, there's the importance of physical conditioning. Just like in any sport, building strength, endurance, and flexibility is crucial for climbers. You need to be able to rely on your body to power you up a rock face, hold your balance on precarious footholds, and maintain your grip on small handholds.

Mental Fortitude

But beyond just physical strength, there's also the mental component of climbing. Fear, self-doubt, and anxiety can all be major barriers to success on the rock, and developing the mental toughness to push through these emotions is key. Visualization, positive self-talk, and a willingness to take calculated risks can all help climbers conquer their fears and achieve their goals.


And of course, there's the importance of teamwork. While climbing may seem like a solo sport, the reality is that it often takes a team effort to reach the summit. Whether you're climbing with a partner or in a group, communication, trust, and support are all critical for success.

All of these similarities between climbing and strength and conditioning got me thinking: what can climbers learn from the world of team sports, and vice versa? In the rest of this article, I'll explore some of the key lessons and skills that can be applied across these different domains, and how they can help athletes of all kinds reach new heights of physical and mental performance.

Lessons From the Climb

One lesson that climbers can learn from team sports is the importance of goal setting. In team sports, athletes often set specific goals for themselves and their teams, whether it's winning a championship or achieving a personal best in a particular event. These goals serve as motivation and help athletes stay focused and committed to their training.

Similarly, climbers can benefit from setting specific goals for themselves, whether it's conquering a particular route or improving their technique on a particular type of hold. By setting clear, measurable goals and working towards them in a systematic way, climbers can stay motivated and see tangible progress over time.

Of course, in both climbing and team sports, it's not just about setting goals - it's also about having a plan to achieve them. This is where the principles of strength and conditioning can come in handy. In my work with athletes, I always emphasize the importance of developing a well-rounded training plan that incorporates a variety of exercises and techniques to build strength, endurance, and agility.

Similarly, climbers can benefit from a well-rounded training plan that includes not just climbing itself, but also strength training, cardio workouts, and stretching and flexibility exercises. In particular, strength training can be a great way to improve your climbing ability, as it helps build the muscle mass and power needed to tackle tough routes.

But while strength training is important, it's not the only type of training that matters. Endurance training, for example, is critical for climbers who need to be able to sustain their efforts over long periods of time, whether they're climbing for hours on end or taking on a multi-day ascent. And flexibility and mobility training can help climbers maintain proper form and prevent injury.

Beyond physical training, climbers can also benefit from developing their mental skills. Just like in team sports, mental toughness is critical in climbing, where fear, self-doubt, and frustration can all derail a climb. Visualization, positive self-talk, and relaxation techniques can all help climbers stay calm and focused even in the face of adversity.

In my work as a strength and conditioning coach, I've also found that athletes benefit from learning how to manage their energy levels and recovery. This means not just working hard during workouts, but also taking time to rest and recover between sessions, fueling your body with healthy foods and adequate hydration, and getting enough sleep.

Similarly, climbers need to be mindful of their energy levels and recovery, particularly during multi-day climbs or extended sessions at the gym. This means taking breaks as needed, hydrating properly, and making sure to refuel with healthy snacks and meals.

Valued Communication

Another important lesson that climbers can learn from team sports is the importance of teamwork and communication. In climbing, having a solid climbing partner is critical, as they can help you stay safe and provide support and encouragement when you need it most. Similarly, in team sports, athletes need to be able to rely on their teammates to help them achieve their goals.

Effective communication is key in both climbing and team sports, whether it's discussing strategy and tactics, giving and receiving feedback, or simply providing encouragement and support. Clear communication can help prevent misunderstandings, build trust and respect, and ensure that everyone is on the same page when it comes to achieving their goals.

Of course, climbing and team sports are not identical, and there are certainly unique challenges and skills involved in each. But by recognizing the similarities between these different domains, climbers and athletes can gain new insights and strategies for achieving peak performance.

For example, in my work as a strength and conditioning coach, I've found that many of the principles that apply to team sports also apply to other types of physical activity, such as yoga, Pilates, or even dance. By focusing on building strength, endurance, and mental toughness, athletes can improve their performance in a variety of contexts.

Finishing the Climb

As I reflect on my experience as a college strength and conditioning coach and my newfound passion for climbing, I am struck by the similarities between these two domains. Both demand a relentless focus on improvement, a willingness to push oneself to new heights (literally and figuratively), and a commitment to building a strong foundation of physical and mental skills.

In college coaching, success is often measured by wins and losses, championships and accolades. But beneath the surface, there is a deeper sense of purpose that drives coaches and athletes alike. It's about striving for excellence, pushing oneself to the limit, and never settling for "good enough."

Similarly, in climbing, success is not just about reaching the top of a particular route or boulder problem. It's about pushing yourself to new heights (literally and figuratively), learning new techniques and skills, and experiencing the thrill of the climb.

The quest for improvement never ends, whether you're a college coach or a climber. There is always another challenge to conquer, another level to reach, another skill to master. And that's what makes these pursuits so rewarding - the sense of endless possibility, the thrill of the journey, and the knowledge that you are constantly pushing yourself to be the best you can be.

Of course, there are also unique challenges and demands in each domain. As a college coach, I faced the pressure of balancing the needs of multiple athletes and sports, dealing with injuries and setbacks, and constantly adapting to changing circumstances. But in climbing, I face different challenges - the physical and mental demands of a tough climb, the risk of injury or accident, and the need to stay focused and alert even in the face of fear and uncertainty.

But despite these differences, I have found that the lessons I've learned in one domain have served me well in the other. The importance of goal setting, the value of a well-rounded training plan, the need for mental toughness and resilience - all of these principles apply whether you're coaching a team or climbing a mountain.

Perhaps the most important lesson of all is the importance of perseverance. Whether you're a college coach or a climber, there will be times when things get tough - when you face setbacks, when progress seems slow, when the path ahead seems uncertain. But it's in those moments that you have to dig deep, stay focused, and keep pushing forward. It's about trusting the process, believing in yourself, and never giving up.

As I continue to explore the world of climbing and coaching, I am excited to see how these two domains will continue to intersect and inform one another. I am grateful for the lessons I've learned in both, and I am excited to share those lessons with others who are on their own journey of self-discovery and improvement.

In the end, whether you're a college coach or a climber, the most important thing is to keep moving forward. Keep setting goals, keep working hard, keep pushing yourself to new heights. The journey may be long and challenging, but the rewards are worth it. So strap on your harness, tie in your rope, and get ready for the climb of your life - because the view from the top is always worth it.