Pulling Plastic to Rock Star: 5 Tips to Taking Gym Strength Outdoors
Having been a gym rat for just about as long as I’ve been climbing, I know how frustrating it can be trying to get strength on plastic to translate to the outdoor rock world. I know some people who’ve made the transition look easy going from hard taped boulders indoors to advanced boulders outdoors on their first trips, but they’re for sure the exception to the rule. A lot of climbers who exclusively gym climb hit a wall when they try and take their skills outside because although they have the strength, they don’t yet have the technique or confidence to climb real boulders or routes. So I thought I’d do what I wish someone had done for me and write an article about a couple ways to transition from the plastic to the rock. Enjoy.
Definition of a gym rat: staging climbing pictures, (see left)
1. Start Slow
I know I sound like your high school gym coach, but warming up is more important than most of us like to think. This was one of the biggest mistakes I made when I first got into outdoor bouldering. My sights were set so high on the grades I thought I could crush, that not only did I fail to ever fully warm up, but I also missed out on tons of classic climbs because I was too consumed with getting my numbers. I think a good way to introduce yourself to the intricacies of rock climbing is to go for width rather than depth, at least at first. Why not see how many 3 star 5.8s and 9s you can hit before trying that steep 11? I think you might find that you’ll have more fun and those hard grades will come in their own time.
2. Expect Nothing (but fun)
This kind of relates to starting slow. When I first made the jump from gym climbing to outdoor I got really disappointed when I wasn’t able to climb up to what I assumed was my level. I know some people are super competitive and would totally disagree with this, but I know my level of psych is much higher when I go into a day just expecting to have fun and end up crushing. So if you’re new to the crag, maybe go without a tick list for the first few times. Having fun is a very accomplishable goal.
3. Use Locals/Get the Spray
I can’t even count the number of times a route has felt impossible, only to have a local walk past and spray me with crucial beta. So next time you visit the crag or boulder field, take an extra protein bar or bottled water and see if you can’t woo a local into spraying you down on the super cruxy figure 4 pogo move. Be warned, not all locals are willing to drop such killer hints without seeing you work the climb. So give it all you got and just be nice, climbers don’t bite er…. often.
Being a small guy I’m not ashamed to say that my first hard boulder problem was one that perfectly fit my style. It was a lowball campus and while it’s not exactly classic to a lot of people, I was psyched because it was hard and I sent it. There’s no shame in starting off with what you’re best at. If you’re one of those gym rats who loves nothing more than flying between walls and skipping holds, look for a route or problem with a dyno. If crimps are your thing then crimp away my friend! Of course you’ll want to expand your abilities and strengths, but when you’re building confidence, no worries if that means sticking to things you do well.
5. Go With Friends
Even if it means shelling out more cash for gas, I’ve found climbing with good friends is way more motivating than flying solo or with partners you only sort of like. This is especially the case in bouldering. The more super friendly, similarly strong climbers you can get around you the better. The last thing you want is to only get twenty minutes on your favorite problem because your whole group isn’t ready to work something of that grade yet. And no one wants to have a belayer who could care less about the climber or the route. Belayers who are of similar strength levels will keep interest in the climb and make sure you have more time to work hard sections. The only real essential here is that the people you climb with are positive. Nothing sucks psych like a self-absorbed negative climber, no matter how strong they are.