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April 26, 2016 by
Jay Medley
Sure, you do a safety check and a warm up, but do you really prepare for a rock climbing wall? Do you put any forethought into that bouldering problem? You should. By reading a rock climbing wall, you will save yourself time, conserve energy, and become a better climber.

In competitive rock climbing, there’s a competition where climbers only have a brief chance to look at a climbing route before they have to attempt it and they can’t watch other climbers complete it. That gives you a pretty good idea that looking at the wall before climbing it can give you a big advantage. So why aren’t you using that advantage right now?

When you read a route, you’re looking for the holds that you’ll be able to grab on your way up. This way, you minimize the chance of having to backtrack if you’ve climbed yourself into an area with no holds. You’ll be able to climb faster and with more fluid movements. You’ll also be calmer as you approach the wall because you’ll have a plan.

Reading the route is a fairly simple idea: just look at the holds. Identify the best ones: the big, easy to grab ones that will make your climb easier. Also look for small holds and those that may be on the outskirts of the route: these are the ones that are harder to see while on the wall, so take the advantage of being on the ground and being farther from the wall.

You may need to remember that those holds are there for when you get stuck. You can also figure out which holds are for hands and which are for feet. Hands need bigger holds while feet use little ones (remember, indoor climbing walls were designed by a route maker, not placed randomly by nature.) Once you’ve identified some handy holds, plan your way up the wall. Imagine which holds you will grab as you go.

Don’t forget to look at the whole wall. It’s easy to plan the first few holds you’ll grab on a wall, it’s harder to plan your route all the way to the top. Yes, it’s hard to see the top, but this is where you need a plan the most. By the top, you may be tired and need to conserve what little energy you have left, and you don’t want to fall so close to the end. Don’t get lazy and stop reading halfway up the wall, plan your whole route.

You can also watch other climbers if you’re not the first in your group to climb. Note which holds they grabbed and whether they were successful. You have a much different perspective from the ground and can see holds that a climber on the wall can’t, so it’s easy for you to shout out suggestions. See what works for other climbers and base your approach on your findings. A climber who goes before you may also give you tips afterward.

After the climb, take the time to analyze how it went. Did you fall? If so, why and what could you have done differently? If not, did your route-reading work or did you have to change it up on the wall? Analyzing the climb afterward will help you to develop your route-reading skills so that you can get a better read next time.

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