by Steve Bechtel
Thirty years ago, almost none of us had coaches. I remember road tripping down to the front range for some competitions, and climbing against a young kid from Colorado Springs named Kevin Gonzales. He was good, younger than we were, and super strong. Most intimidating of all, though, was that he had a coach. The man brought him to the comps, talked with him between climbs, and watched all of the rest of the competitors carefully.

I was fascinated by the prospect, but had no idea where to turn. I had great mentors who helped direct my training. I consulted with an exercise science grad student who climbed. I read everything I could find, but there still was not that one person who had a view of my whole program.

Hiring a climbing coach is not uncommon now. There are climbing coaches for youth teams and adults. You can hire a bouldering coach. You can hire a coach for alpine climbing. You can hire a movement coach that specialized in climbing. What’s even better, you can now go into any gym in the world, and the trainers at that gym will have at least heard of the sport. The sport’s growth has helped all of us in this way – the more smart people that see what it’s about, the more they can help us get better.

So what does hiring a climbing coach get you?

  • A climbing coach will help you develop a plan for progression and performance. Your coach should help you set up a long-term training plan (12+ months out), medium term (3-6 months), and immediate program.
  • A climbing coach can help you plan your days at the crag, or in the rock gym.
  • A good coach will help you learn better movement, climbing tactics, performance strategy, and analysis.
  • Your coach can help you review performance over the previous period and look for errors and areas of improvement.
  • Your climbing or bouldering coach can help you design project-like simulation workouts.
  • An alpine climbing coach can help you work on exact training zones, strength programs, and training cycles to get you in peak condition for your, well, peak.

There is some drive to differentiate between a climbing trainer and a climbing coach. The idea is that the climbing coach will focus on movement and tactics, while the trainer focuses on strength and conditioning. I understand the value of separating these – it saves the specialist in movement from learning about exercise science, and is saves the trainer from having to be a rock climber themselves. I’ve seen successful specialists in both disciplines.

For me, a great climbing coach knows what it’s like to want to climb better themselves. If your coach can’t relate to the pain of a months-long project or a finger injury, it’s hard to make a true connection with them. Even if they “used to climb,” they may not have a connection to what you’re up against on today’s routes and in today’s comps.

A great competition climbing coach will have an intimate knowledge of the current comp climbing rules, the style of the climbs, and the schedule for the season. They will be much better at guiding your success than a coach like me, who has not competed in years and doesn’t climb on modern boulders.

A speed climbing coach needs to be more than a retired speed climber. This coach needs to know the sport, but also have a vast knowledge of how to train power and speed away from the wall. Again, the speed coach needs to know today’s sport, but should have expanded her knowledge after her own comp years into learning about the things that were most challenging for her.

More than anything, the rock climbing coach or trainer should be there to talk to you. Your coach should help you make sense of new ideas or new methods you learn about. The coach should help you figure out appropriate times to try new things, when to stick with the program, and what to do when (not if) injuries come your way.

The era of the climbing coach is here. Whether you hire a professional or just get a friend to help you through the peaks and valleys of the sport, a coach can help you go further than you can go on your own.

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