Are You Too Old to Start Rock Climbing?

Whenever we see somebody rock climbing on TV, we always see some young people in their prime. This can discourage those that may be getting older from trying out this awesome sport.

Are You Too Old to Start Rock Climbing? No, if you’re fit and have good cardiovascular health, then you will be able to rock climb.

Older rock climbers are typically the best at endurance and though they may lack the strength that younger climbers have, they can absolutely start climbing in their older years.

Individuals can start climbing at age 40 or older as long as they realize that their training process will be different from those that are younger.

Anyone can Climb

Adrenaline junkies aren’t the only people that go rock climbing. Nowadays, anybody can do it. In fact, there are rock climbing gyms popping up all over the country to help bring people of all ages to experiment in a safe and controlled environment.

Some climbing guides like those at Front Range Climbing Company even specialize in taking older people rock climbing to show them that this sport is not just for the younger crowd.

Many senior clients like going with a guide that is also a mature age so that they aren’t taken on any unnecessarily risky routes.

For climbing novices, these harder routes can present many mental and physical obstacles that the climber isn’t prepared for, and it psyches them out, keeping them from furthering their climbing.

Physiology of Older Climbers

Many say that if you are simply maintaining your current level of performance, then you are winning the battle against aging. Research generally suggests that an individual’s athletic performance will start to steadily decline around the age of 30.

Men have been found to hit their maximum strength potential in their mid-20s while women hit theirs around age 30. At these points, the “explosive strength” that your body exhibits starts to decline at a rate of 3% every year in your 30s and one percent every year after that.

Any older person  will tell you about their increased joint stiffness, but it isn’t widely known that the capillarity and muscle-fiber density hardly changes at all.

Sports that demand higher levels of power and endurance will have declining performances for aging people, and aerobic endurance sports experience this as well, but it is much slower and begins at a later time.

According to Very Well Fit, the VO2 max can still be achieved by women at 35-40 and men 30-35. This is the absolute max, you can always be increasing your endurance and strength in your older years, but you just can’t hit the peak level.

Through correct training and heavily encouraged safety, people engaged in sports such as climbing will not only be able to maintain their performance but even improve their endurance.

Research into rock climbing specifically has shown that your older self can even outclimb your younger self because of increased wisdom and movements.

Motivations and Lifestyles

If you try to invite a seasoned climber out on a 5.14 and they grumble about why they aren’t up to it, you can almost guarantee that physiological limitations aren’t one of the main factors.

Many times these factors are as important:

  • Crazy social life
  • Stressful job
  • Family duties

Although a decrease in tendon strength affects performance, for most people, it can be extremely difficult to fit regular training in around everything else in your life. In addition, knowing that you are getting weaker, deteriorating, and have to make up lost ground can irritate people into giving up entirely.

Many will become fearful of injuries accumulating later in life too as they can be more serious and cause significant problems in other areas of their life. It is much better to drop your climbing to one or two days a week than to quit entirely.

Before you look at specific plans, examine your own individual factors that could influence different outcomes:

  • Years of training
  • Build
  • Weight
  • Age

If you are a 50-year old that has been getting injured all your life, then it may be a good idea to implement some training that’s recommended for 60-year-olds instead of your own age bracket.

Similarly, if you are in your 60s and you hardly ever get injured, you may be able to try some guidelines that are recommended for 40 and 50-year-olds. If you have been rock climbing for decades, then you may not even have to change up your routine.  Instead,  you can keep doing what worked for you in your 30s.

Warming-Up

Everybody has heard that they need to “warm-up” but what does this mean for you and what does it mean for climbing.

You should almost always start off your training session with an on the spot jog, or something equivalent that gets your pulse up. After you do this, you should spend about 30-60 minutes doing some easy climbs with some traversing, with some occasional rest in between increasingly harder climbs you will be ready.

One of the biggest mistakes that even veteran climbers sometimes make is to climb in a sequence that has random grades and difficulties.

The very first climb should be on a vertical wall that is somewhat juggy, you shouldn’t get a pump from climbing this. Every climb following this should get you about 25% more pumped.

The pump feeling is something you feel in your muscles, so it is very subjective. You will have to experiment with different climbs to feel what gives you the pump and causes you to break a sweat.

When you’re bouldering, you should build up all the problems in a graded sequence. Regularly switch up your styles and try to do every grade at least 3-4 times, with plenty of rest in between.

Sometimes we can start going through the motions as we climb, but you should have your mind engaged 100% so that you’re always watching your movements and looking for ways to improve. You are there to train, and you have to use your mind to improve.

There are certain drills you can execute that will help specialize in different aspects of the climb, such as:

  • Fluid movements
  • Controlled breathing
  • Accurate footwork
  • Relaxed Grip
  • Twisting of the hips on overhangs
  • Straight arms

Strength Training

Since strength is one of the hardest things for older people to excel at, it would be a good idea to discuss the best ways you can preserve and improve your strength.

Nobody wants to believe that all their hard-earned strength has been lost from their earlier years. If you have a long history of injuries, then you may have to keep your strength gaining to a lower level because it will be much riskier to try and hit your absolute peak without getting hurt.

If you have just gotten into climbing at a later age such as 40, then the lack of strength will be a major weakness, and it will be a key obstacle to overcome on your way to becoming an expert climber.

For many young climbers, it even takes years for them to build up enough finger strength to climb at a high level and not get injured. For the older climbers, it may be a good idea to minimize the strength gaining part of the training and focus on your advantageous trait: Endurance.

The main group of people that are above 40 who can freely pursue strength training are those that have an injury-free record through many routes and endurance trials. If this is the case, then you will have a very high level of tendon strength.

Many older climbers have found it particularly helpful to change your entire mindset behind climbing. Focus more on the techniques and skills rather than brute strength. While this also works for younger climbers, older climbers can find it especially useful.

Any strength training that is directed for veterans should be focused on bouldering. There are unlimited routes for you to go down to improve, and this is a good tip for those that want not to get hurt and still improve greatly.

Endurance Training

You will be able to see a fair amount of results in endurance as a seasoned climber. However, if you have already been climbing for a long time, then you may only see improvements in your mental state rather than physically.

Endurance and technique are highly correlated, and there will always be things you learn to improve yourself in either of them. Among these are:

  • Spotting rests
  • Learning to keep calm in stressful positions
  • Route-reading
  • Climbing faster

One of the most important things for  a seasoned climber to remember is to not attempt too many different types of climbs in one day. Doing so will increase the time needed for recovery. Instead, you should train a specific quality on each day, such as long-distance endurance one day and middle-distance endurance another day.

Another good tip to remember while training is to not mistake your volume for intensity unless this is part of a training program. Once you are warmed up, you should turn up the intensity on more difficult routes instead of staying on the easier ones.

Your recovery will vary based on the intensity you set out for, but always keep in mind that while training, “quality beats out quantity.”

Hydration and Nutrition

The older you get, the more you feel the effects of a poor diet vs. a healthy one. It is very important to eat healthy to not only keep your weight under control but to keep you alert and your bones/joints strong.

As you experiment with your diet and how your body reacts, do different amounts of nutrients try to find your limits and what you can do under certain conditions so that you don’t end up cramping and needing above-average recovery time.

Different workouts will require different nutrient intakes. For a high-intensity endurance workout, you should have a big electrolyte drink ready to replace those lost.

Make sure you know when to eat as well, eating a giant meal before you train is a big mistake and will make you feel horrible in addition to a poor training session. Instead, go for a piece of fruit like a banana or an energy bar. Be careful not to eat too late at night, either as this causes you to gain weight more rapidly.

Training for Older People

For older people, it is better to do littler climbs with a higher frequency as opposed to super intense spurts with extensive breaks in between. As you increase with age, the goal should be to increase the rest you get between each climbing session.

Try to keep track of each intensity for the week. Develop your own sense of 1-10 intensity and rate it yourself to provide a good gauge of what you can handle and what to schedule for the next session.

The most common plan goes with a light week followed by a medium week and finished by a hard week. Keep in mind that the whole time, you should be prioritizing endurance over strength. This will minimize the likelihood of repetitive-strain injuries.

Be aware of your body and climbing abilities because though you should increase your resting times.  These should not be so long that your performance starts decreasing.

Bouldering Plan

When bouldering, try to keep the entire session to two hours max. This includes a 45-minute warm-up and 15 minutes of warming down (after the high intensity to finish off the climb).

Focus primarily on your technique, the best angle to train in overhanging is 25 to 35 degrees. Switch between vertical and steep routes, practice using the half crimp for its strong utility purposes.

Be careful not to do too much with the pockets and full crimps because this could easily cause injury if not prepared. For your first training hour, you can focus on everything you know you can do with one try.

During the high-intensity hour, try the routes and problems that may take you a couple of tries. Only use your powerful moves on problems that are well within your grade, cut out all the super dynamic, and “campus-style” moves.

For every 30 minutes you spend climbing, you should rest for 10 minutes and add one minute of rest for every move you use on a hard problem. This will help keep you in good shape for the rest of the session.

Climbing Beginners

Many people start to adopt a pessimistic attitude as they age. They prefer relaxing in front of a TV instead of going out and trying new things. If you feel that some things have passed you by and you can no longer experience them, you’re wrong.

Remember the phrase by Helen Hayes–“the expert at anything was once a beginner.” This means that you can become an expert in anything you wish because the current experts were once at your level.

If your physical condition is still excellent, then you don’t have anything holding you back. Anybody under these circumstances can learn to climb and become great at it if they put in the effort.

Lose Some Weight

If you are somebody that is a bit huskier, then you will have a more difficult time climbing. This is because one of your main opponents working against you is gravity. The heavier you are, the harder it will be to climb and keep yourself balanced.

Not only is fat a hard thing to overcome, but muscle can also be a detriment to you sometimes because it also adds a bunch of weight, and the muscles you use to climb may not be the muscle you have bulked up throughout your life.

This doesn’t mean you have to be incredibly skinny to be a good climber; it just helps, and it may be a hurdle you have to get over if you are on the heavier side.

Many climbers will specifically alter their diet in the winter to keep that extra weight far from their bodies. Climbing expert Sheftel says, “Don’t overeat. Don’t eat late at night. He also tries to stay away from excess protein. He only has it after a workout to increase his recovery.

Make Sure You Still Cross-Train

Climbers do a lot of pulling, which builds up their forearms, upper backs, and biceps while their triceps, pectorals, and shoulders remain weaker. This can become a massive imbalance as you continue to climb.

An uneven ratio such as this will not only be bad for your fitness and posture, but it could also increase your chances as injury.

The solution to evening everything out is to work on all your “push” muscles. Push-Ups are great for this as well as shoulder strengthening and stretching. If you don’t already do yoga, try adding some poses such as downward and upward dog, hare, and cat pose.

Rest Hard and Train Hard

Even though you are older you still have the capacity to work out as many 20-year olds. Just make sure that you are sufficiently warmed up, and you allow yourself a lot of recovery time.

Teenagers can just sleep one night and be totally rested from all the climbing they did earlier that day. Older individuals may need to take 2 or more days off to fully recuperate after a difficult climbing day.

Wisdom Is on Your Side

Though older people are behind in strength and resistance, they are ahead in terms of patience. Young people are always trying to rush their movements, and they even attempt routes they aren’t prepared for at all.

Climbing can sometimes be frustrating for some people, especially those that are new to the sport. They may feel like they just aren’t making progress, and they’re putting in too much effort for too little return.

Just remember that if you focus on the big picture and long term improvement as well as resisting the urge to overtrain, you will surely see results.

Begin at an Indoor Climbing Gym

One of the best ways to get started in rock climbing is to take a trip to your local climbing gym. You can go with some of your friends, spouse, or by yourself. Going with other people will make the whole experience more fun, and you can watch each other grow as climbers.

Within a few classes, you will learn how to belay, and you will most likely meet some other new climbers that are in the same spot as you.

During all your training in the gym, you can experiment with your body in ways you never could before. You will learn to control your body weight and movement efficiently. If you have had trouble with balance before you will get much better through rock climbing

One thing beginners learn very fast is how to keep their weight centered over their feet, which helps them tremendously as they climb vertical terrain without falling. Be careful not to jump right into a route you aren’t prepared for, focus on mastering the easier routes, and all the techniques they require.

Hire a Guide

If you have had enough of climbing in the gym, then you can hire a guide that will take you out for some real rock climbing. This will present you with an entirely new set of experiences where you can experiment with different holds and use muscles and techniques in a way that you couldn’t indoors.

You have the opportunity to put belaying to use, and you can also try rappelling. Make sure you practice all of this carefully because it can be dangerous especially your first couple of times.

Avoid Injury

Being an older person, you are unfortunately more prone to injury, and even though you may want to make everything as fast as you did in your younger days, this will inevitably cause you injury.

Younger climbers are more flexible and usually stronger, which helps them recover from injuries easier as well as avoid injuries in the first place.

A good habit you can start performing is warming up your body and stretching before you do any difficult climbing. Just getting the blood moving before climbing will help tremendously with your abilities and health.

Warming up is something many people forget, so it can be helpful to get a full routine down that you do every time so that you don’t forget to do a stretch or warm-up entirely.

After the warm-up, you should always start doing routes that are easy for you so that your fingers and arms wake up.

Be very careful not to overwork yourself during your first few days because you will quickly notice that you are using muscles that you don’t normally use. These muscles will get very sore in the beginning, especially for older climbers. Take a decent break after every climb to give your body a chance at resting

Improving Your Climbing Ability

The only way you’re going to become a better climber is by climbing. There are no shortcuts or loopholes you can take to go around the actual climbing.

You will quickly find out that the more time you spend at the gym or out on the rocks, the quicker your “muscle memory” will develop, and you will become a natural at climbing.

The techniques and balancing will become second nature to you, and you will barely have to think while your climbing because it becomes pure instinct.

Don’t worry if you’re not that strong. Your strength will no doubt improve as you keep climbing. Obviously, strength will be harder to increase as an older individual but there is a lot of potential for mature people that isn’t often realized.

Endurance is typically an area that older people can excel in that younger people lack. Since this can be developed much easier, try to do a lot of pitches that are less difficult and just get into a good zone in your mind while climbing over the stone.

This “zone” is what athletes often experience when they’re on autopilot because everything they’re doing is second nature to them.

You Aren’t Too Old

As long as you aren’t in a bad health condition where you could be having heart or breathing problems while up on the rocks, you will be perfectly fine.

If you even have to ask if you’re too old, then chances are you will have no problem going out and doing it. Not only are people in their 40s perfectly good climbers but many others climb well into their 50s and 60s.

Climbing is always a great adventure, and it can be done throughout your entire life. Not only is it extremely fun but it will keep you in great shape. You will lose weight, build muscle and get great cardio.

Many people that take up climbing see a burst in confidence since they have overcome all these difficult routes and challenges that are presented to them in stone form.

Who knows who you will meet while you’re out there at the gym or on the rocks.  He or she could become your climbing buddy or your next best friend.

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