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Technique and Sending Tips

Speed Climbing 101

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The author at the 2018 Pan-American Championships, where he took first place in Speed.

Have you ever walked into your local gym and noticed that tall, gray wall with the weird-looking red holds? You probably never paid it much attention … until you saw the local youth team fly up it like an army of possessed spiders.

Well, that wall is the official IFSC speed route, a 10- or 15-meter speed- climbing route standardized around the world. We speed climbers all compete and train on the exact same route, every time, without fail. The world record is 5.48 seconds, set in 2018 by an Iranian climber, Reza Alipour, who looks more like he belongs in a CrossFit gym than anywhere else.

That’s crazy, you think. How do I get into something like that? Well, my friend, this article is for you … straight from a certified speed climber.


Speed Climbing is Not Rock Climbing

A certain stigma is associated with speed climbing. “It’s not real climbing, and I’m a real climber, therefore I don’t like it.” You know what else isn’t real climbing? Puppies. Hamburgers. Memory-foam mattresses. Marble countertops. Do you not like those either?

Sure, everyone is entitled to an opinion, and climbing the same route a million times in a row might not be your jam. But speed climbing doesn’t deserves a stigma just because people assume that it is trying to be something it’s not. I could go on and on, but for the purposes of this article, Step 1 basically says, “Get over yourself, your friends, and your sick, and be willing to try something different.”


Dive in!

Want to know the best way to learn the speed route? Just hop on.

Climb the route normally, get to know the holds along the way, and try to go all the way to the top. The moves are weird and big, so don’t be disheartened if the route takes you a few tries. After that, try to cut down your time!

On your next go, maybe you can aim for one minute, then 50 seconds, then 40 seconds, then 35 … The more you climb the route, the more confident you’ll become with the moves, and the easier it will be to cut down your time. Eventually, you’ll be so confident and familiar with your sequence that you can do it mindlessly (and maybe even dream about it occasionally). You can also film yourself climbing to pick out areas you can make faster.


Faster is Easier

Think about a dyno—an all-points-off jump from one hold to the next. Dynos are pretty fast, right? It makes sense that the most efficient way from point A to B on a climbing route is to just jump there (assuming the holds are good enough), because you can cover the greatest distance in the fewest number of moves. Luckily, the IFSC speed route is set up for that perfectly. The moves are so big that the easiest way to climb it is to dyno to basically every hold, which is faster anyway.

So, instead of reaching as far as you can by locking off and slothing your way up the wall, the fastest way up is to jump between the holds, even though you might not need to.


Like a Ladder

We’ve addressed the importance of jumping while speed climbing, but now we need to address what to do with your legs while you’re jumping.

Speed climbing is all about efficiency, so it doesn’t make sense to just let your feet dangle below you, right? Once your feet have left the previous hold, the time spent getting them to the next hold must be minimized. So, regardless of what your hands are doing, get your feet there! The best way is to climb the route like a ladder, meaning, move your hands and feet at the same time. You don’t climb a tall ladder with just one limb at a time. Your hands and feet always move in tandem.


Feet Are Friends

In the context of training and the actual physiology of the sport, speed climbing is closer to a track-and-field event than it is to lead climbing or bouldering.

An experienced Eastern European speed coach once told me “your legs are the motor, and your hands are the steering wheel.” It’s so important to get as much power as possible from your legs, all the way up the wall. I often see people new to speed climbing who are so focused on grabbing whatever they can of the next hold, their feet just motor and flail behind them like they’re running from a ghost in “Scooby Doo.”

Start learning the route by minimizing your smearing on the wall and using the big red obnoxiously obvious holds instead. Big feet equals big power!


Arms Bent!

As important as your feet are on the speed route, you still have to be able to effectively “steer” with your arms. The best way to do that? Keep your arms bent, for every single move.

Think about it: Is it easier to do a pull- up starting with your arms straight, or starting with your arms bent? This is why, when I coach kids, I advise against doing excessively big moves on the speed route. Even though you might be able to do a huge dyno, if you can only catch the hold with straight arms, it’s going to be way harder to pull yourself up and continue the route. Let’s tie this back to Step 3: If you dyno to a hold, it’s only worth it if you can catch it already locked-off and ready to go.


Confidence is KEY!

Back to Step 2: Eventually, you’ll be so confident and familiar with your sequence you can climb the
route mindlessly. While you’re speed climbing, you won’t have time to think about anything, especially the beta.

So, why second guess the sequence you picked? Just freaking do it. Then do it again. And again. And again. And again. And again. And again. If it’s bad, you’ll fall. Pretty simple. The more
you practice your sequence, the more confident you will be with the moves. Some speed climbers are so confident in their sequence they can do the route blindfolded without much trouble!


Change Your Sequence

As you learn the moves and become more confident in your sequence, you’ll become stronger, and eventually be able to change to a faster method. The goal is to make each move as efficient as possible, so changing your method might be something as minute as staying a little bit to one side for
a section, or stepping on a slightly different part of the hold for a certain move. Keep an open mind and always look for ways to improve!

Well, there you have it. You now know everything you need to get into this new, strange thing that’s almost rock climbing. Live by these eight steps, and you’ll be faster than your friends in no time!

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How to Become the Best Climber in the World