There is a difference in how you will prepare for a competition that is next week and you are just now deciding to commit to it, and a competition that is a couple of months away that you want to really prepare early for. Obviously, having more time to prepare is usually best, but there are ways to get ready for both and feel confident on the day of.
Let’s start with how to prepare for that competition that is coming up fast. This is usually where people find themselves because it is hard to really gauge where you will be with climbing too far into the future. Also you may not know the schedules unless it is an annual competition like the Ring of Fire Competition at Central Rock Gym.
First, you want lots of practice and time to climb. You also want to make sure to get at least a day or two of rest right before the competition. You’ll want to be fresh for the climbing. Try to spend as much time as you can climbing up til that rest time. This is because, as you probably know, you need to be used to a lot of moves and a lot of holds. If you can climb where that competition will be held to get used to theirs that is great, but if not try going to lots of different gyms to get used to different styles and holds. It might take some driving, but it will be more helpful. You might not realize it but we do get used to the setters and holds at gyms we frequent or outdoor areas we frequent.
Gym setters try to change up their routes, but they have certain aspects of their style that stay familiar and the gym is buying the same type holds. At outdoor areas we get used to the feel of the rock and the type of movements commonly found on that rock. For instance, the rock at the Red River Gorge is filled with pockets and has a sandpaper like sharpness to it. If you were to go from that rock to say Clear Creek Canyon in Colorado, the climbing would feel weird. Clear Creek Canyon has impeccable rock quality. However, it is so smooth and soft that it feels like you could slip at any moment. You won’t because it is great rock, but compared to that really rough grippy feel it could make you a little less confident.
Getting used to all different areas and setters helps you prepare for anything. You might not have tried that exact hold or setter’s work, but you are not particularly confident with a certain type because you’ve broadened your experience with types. This will keep you more confident and prepared for anything.
A week before a competition, isn’t the best time to train if you haven’t been training this whole time. This is because the practice and use of technique is the most important for now. The practice will add value to your climbing. Your strength gains in a week won’t be worth the fogginess not climbing will cause. Training is good for long term preparation, but not that last minute registration. Focus on getting the most mileage you can instead. Try a wide number of routes in the category you will be entering and higher since competitions are designed to be progressive. For example, if you are intermediate and it is V4-V6, try to climb lots of V4, V5, V6, and V7 if you can.
A week before the competition, may be a good time to loose some weight, drink plenty of water, and start fueling your nutrition right while you prepare. On your rest day and a couple hours before the competition make sure to drink lots of water. You can have water regularly as needed during the competition, but having extra water in the days before is supposed to be restorative to your muscles and get everything running smoothly. Having drank way too much during the competition, might not be beneficial as you will feel heavy and probably need to go to the bathroom more than climb. Drink regularly during the competition, but get yourself hydrated in the days before. During the competition you might want some protein shake or sports drink to have through out. This will make sure you are getting some carbs, protein, and sugars with your hydration to keep you energetic and recovering quickly.
You all know how you feel right after a big meal…usually tired and heavy. You also know that not eating can make you feel pretty bad too. Try to eat something about two hours before the competition. Making it low calorie but high in the nutrition you want like protein is beneficial. Bring little snacks like a power bar or cliff bar for during the competition to help refuel your energy and muscle power. Also treat yourself to a high protein meal after to recover. I’ve read something like a turkey sandwich in the two hour window after a competition is good.
Practice your route reading before the competition. Do this while getting your mileage. Make your practice efficient. We can hold onto poor habits we learn just as strongly as good ones. Make sure your practice climbing is full of all good habits. Focus on footwork, practice shaking out for proper rests, practice breathing, and practice reading the moves right. All these things will help you develop these skills into your natural repertoire so you have them flowing off the bat on competition day. Rest days are important to let your body restore and allow you to hit the competition fresh. However, the danger in rest is that it takes your mind out of the mental aspect of climbing. During your rest days try watching climbing videos to keep thinking about routes, technique, and keep your mind engaged. Take time to practice your skills of focusing on your breathing and being in the moment. This will help you when you need it on the climb, and you can do it anywhere.
Plan what you need to be comfortable and psyched. Bring a friend, set your Ipod or mp3 player up with psych music to play while waiting for the comp to start, wear clothes you are super comfortable climbing in to limit any distractions, etc. Also plan an efficient warm up for you. I found that for one reason or another, I warm up faster when I do a light run to get my body moving. It just warms everything and helps me get into my climbing specific warm up better. I know someone who absolutely cannot do this. The run would spend too much of his energy and make his climbing less effective. I share this to say that we all have different things and you have to play around to find yours. This will give you the best chance. Some people like traversing, some doing easy climbs, and some on a hangboard. Find what works and do it.
Also be mindful of time during a competition. In bouldering competitions, you are often scored by your best five. I will do five I know I can do well to get a decent score to definitely have. Once I do that, I work on getting harder ones to drop my lowest scores. This helps makes sure I don’t lose all my energy trying hard ones and then find myself unable to complete five. You don’t have to use my system, but find a way to make sure you are using your time well. In sport climbing competitions, you usually have a certain amount of time but set routes. Try to do your routes after watching a couple climbers, if you can, to find where the cruxes are and think about them ahead of time. Also space out your routes to give rests. Make sure you don’t get to the last half hour and need to bang them all out. Space them well. Take rests on the climbs by shaking out well too. You don’t get extra points for being the fastest, so stay calm and efficient. If moving up quickly helps you, that is fine. I’m merely saying not to skip rests when you need them in hopes of getting to the top before fatigue. It often doesn’t work that way.
For long term planning you will use everything we talked about for short term and competition day planning in the last week or two of your long term plan.However, since you have more time, you can build a training program for whatever you are preparing for. If it is a sport climbing competition, endurance and finger strength will probably be your focus. If it is bouldering than strength and power will be your focus. Come up with a schedule for when to train, markers to monitor success, and times to practice technique and overall climbing skill.
Hopefully these will tips will help you get ready for a competition day. One of the most important things to remember is to be confident, have fun, and just do your best. Competition routes are interesting, exciting, and well set. No matter how you do it should be a fun and rewarding day.