Beginners Climbing Improving your climbing Indoor climbing Motivation

New to indoor climbing? Tips on how to improve and have fun

Improving quickly – the key is repetition

You did your Beginners Course and now you are back for your first time climbing on your own with your partner. It’s going to be hard like anything new so perseverance is the game, don’t give up on your first go, it will get easier.

Short is sweet to start with

At Alter Rock I suggest you start on the short walls. This allows you to build confidence in yourself and your belayer. Being closer makes it easier to talk to each other and if things go wrong it’s not far to the floor.

Build on your confidence

In climbing confidence is a big factor. Once you have made it to the top of a route then repeat that route after a short rest and you should find it easier because you know you can climb it. Getting better is all about repeating what we are trying to get better at and the more times we repeat it the better we become.

Use Pyramid Training methods

Start with the easy climbs. Go from climb to climb doing all the grade 1’s then do all the grade 2’s. After doing the 2’s if you are feeling tired do the 1’s again. They should feel easier. You have just done Pyramid Training. If the 2’s were OK then do the 3’s and then come back down the way. Resting is important but you can do this when your partner climbs or when your change lines.

If you are trying something that is a bit too hard, then cheat and use a different colour hold. This is known as rainbowing the route just get to the top. Once you have rested then go back up and try it without the cheat. If you still use the cheat don’t worry come back on your next session and try again. Don’t forget, when you succeed, have a rest and do it again, it should be easier as you have the confidence from your successful attempt.

Easy routes are good for warming up

Every climbing session start with the easy routes, it’s a good warm up for body and mind and gets you switched onto climbing. It allows you to practice your techniques whilst in a comfortable position. Don’t forget you should be enjoying yourself. Once you hit that point where you have had enough or its all too much hard work, repeat all the routes you have just done as a warm down.

Expand your techniques

Alter Rock uses a mixture of setters so there is a mixture of styles. This allows you to experience a variety of climbing where you can learn new techniques to overcome the different problems. This will lay the ground work where you place your new learned techniques into your metaphorical rucksack ready to bring out and use when you need them. You will only learn these techniques by climbing often and they will only become instinctive by lots of repetition.

It helps to climb with an experienced climber, but if your mate is new to the activity then perhaps you should seek a coach to guide you through those first few weeks of climbing. We can recommend instructors for you, or you could enrol on one of our popular six week Learn To Climb (NICAS) courses.

In a nutshell

Keep repeating those easy routes, you will become fitter, stronger and more confident. As you progress you will improve your foot work, learn to relax, learn technique and above all have fun! Happy climbing.

Written by Garry Jackson

Climbing Coaching Indoor climbing

Who needs a climbing Coach?

Do I need coaching?

Do you want to get better at climbing? Hopefully the answer is yes and it’s like anything in life, the more you practice the better you will get, providing you are practicing the right techniques. Practice a bad technique then you will become very good at doing something very badly but if you practice the right technique you will get better.

A coach may not be the best climber, but they can see what you are doing and tell you what you are doing wrong – there are lots of people who can do this – like your mates, but a good climbing coach can tell and show you what to do to improve.

Is a coach just for competitive athletes?

All top sports people have coaches and they have got to the top of their chosen sport by having coaches from an early age. That doesn’t mean its too late for the rest us to get better at our chosen sports, all it takes is dedication and a coach. Coaching is a new addition to amateur sports but it’s slowly gaining popularity. Although sport is a pastime for fun and a way of keeping fit, it helps to have the drive to become better which will help to maintain your interest. It’s like having belts in martial arts, a way of monitoring progress and keeps you focused by having goals to aim for. In climbing, you can try a more difficult grade of route, achieve it and then aim for the next grade and the cycle continues, showing your progression.

Regular sessions pay off

Coaching is not about having one hour’s session and thinking you will improve overnight. It’s about regular meetings, for example once every 4 weeks. This allows the climber to practice, maybe using a training plan that’s been worked out by the coach, before being reassessed and learning more techniques and discussing ideas. Discussing ideas with a coach is very important as we are all different and what might suit one person may not suit another, problems have to be discussed so the coach can find the correct solution.

Another big plus of the coach is they act as a motivator. The coach has set you a training plan, you have four weeks before reporting back, showing improvement and pleasing the coach as well pleasing yourself. What a great incentive?

I know what I am doing

Not everyone can be coached, some people think they know everything already and so they can’t be taught. They might get better as they figure it for themselves but it’s easier with a coach. For the climbers that explore becoming a coach it will be something that they won’t regret and it will have an impact on their climbing as well as their day to day life.

Recommended coaches

The 2 links below are for 2 climbers who set routes and problems at Alter Rock. They would be happy to coach you on the routes and problems they have set.

Steve McClure

Mark Pretty

Anita Aggarwal all things climbing – inclusive climbing coach – GB World Paraclimbing Medalist. Contact Anita via message or email from her athlete page.

Another coach you might like to try is

Jamie Vardy

bouldering Climbing Indoor climbing

Climbing Grades – Useful guidance or mental stumbling block?

In this blog I will discuss different grading systems and how we grade the routes and problems at Alter Rock. Then think whether grades get in the way of your enjoyment of a climb and can act as a mental block. At the end of the day grades are only there as a guideline and you should enjoy your climbing regardless of what grade you are attempting.

This is a very emotive subject. Most of us, but not all, like chasing grades because we want to be seen as hard climbers and that we can hold our own when we are asked what grade we climb at.

Grades are very complicated, with different countries having their own grading systems which they then try and compare with each others systems. But for indoor climbing generally the French/Spanish sport climbing grading system is used.

At Alter Rock we have decided to use a simple tagging system for the bouldering grades, Very Easy, Easy, Hard and Very Hard. This can be crossed over into V grades.

In the outdoor world famous climbs get repeated by many climbers who have an input on what grade it should be compared to other established climbs. This can take many months to achieve a consensus or even years. Indoors the setter sets the route with an idea what sort of grade he is trying to achieve, tests it once on a top rope gives it a grade and walks away leaving it for the customers to try. Routes generally stay set at Alter Rock between 12 to 16 weeks before they are removed and replaced. This makes the argument about what grade it is a bit pointless as it is not there forever.

bouldering wall with numbers-1

Grades are there to ensure you have a nice time and from an outdoor point of view to ensure you do not end up in a position that may potentially hurt you or even worse.

Grades do have a physiological  effect on the climber. Often we look at the grade and think or even say “I can’t climb that it’s too hard”. And that’s it we don’t even try, and if we do its a half-hearted attempted because we have already told ourselves we can’t do it.

All climbers have different abilities and different styles of climbing because they choose to climb different routes on different rock, cracks, overhangs, short routes, long routes, grit, sandstone, limestone, slate, sport and trad, the list is endless and because Alter Rock  uses a variety of setters there is always a variety of climbs and along with it a variety of grade which may not be consistent.

The only way to have grading consistent throughout the centre is to have 1 person climb them all, but 1 person’s 6a could be another person’s 6b or 5+. They could be tall or short, on form or not on form. The route could be set in the really nice crimps they like or with the horrible rounded holds they don’t like, or it could be on the slab where friction and balance are key or through the stepped over hang where big powerful arms are required.

And there’s the problem; we are all different.

Perhaps the next time you do a climb that you think should have been easy for you perhaps just reflect, maybe you are tired, did you miss that secret hold around the corner, is it because you don’t like those holds and likewise when you climb something that’s graded really hard and you make easy work just accept that you are having a good day and really you are a good climber when all the dice are stacked in your favour.

The grade is only someones opinion and likewise you can have your opinion. In any case the grade won’t be far out, hopefully. Above all what ever you are climbing enjoy it regardless of its grade.

bouldering Climbing Indoor climbing kit and equipment

A guide to climbing shoes

Climbing relies on good footwork and good footwork relies on good shoes. There is a lot of technology involved in climbing shoe manufacture to aid your climbing experience. The top climbing shoe manufacturers use a variety of quality rubbers, no rubber is better than any other, but the rubbers used have different properties which operate better at different temperatures. The main thing is to keep the rubber soles of your shoes clean, this will keep them sticky.

How long should climbing shoes last?

Some rubbers are soft. This means they will wear quicker, but poor footwork will wear your shoes very quickly. I go through a pair a year using them about 3 times a week, but like anything, the more you use it the more wear it gets. With age, all rubbers will loose their properties, they become hard and inflexible and they won’t stick.

It is not only the sole that wears. Over time the uppers loose their strength and the shoe does not support your foot as well so there is less power generated through your feet.

Do climbing shoes have to hurt?

Your shoes should not be painful to wear, they might be tight, they might pinch, but they should not HURT. There are more than 5 well known brands of climbing shoe distributed throughout the UK, for example Boreal, Scarpa, Evolv, Spotiva and Tenaya. These brands between them probably produce 50 styles of climbing shoe. The game is to find the shoe that fits your foot like a slipper. From all these shoes I have only found 2 styles, which are from 2 different manufacturers, that fit me. If the shoe hurts it is the wrong style for you.

The importance of getting a good fit

Shoe type is dictated by the style of climbing; rock type, steepness, time wearing the shoe, indoor or out, bouldering or routes, but no matter what style of climbing you are doing the main thing with your shoe is that it is comfortable and this is achieved by making sure it fits correctly.

  • Heel – No baggy spots.
  • Arch – Flat or raised arch, it shouldn’t squelch.
  • Toe – Mortons toe (2nd toe longer than big toe)
  • Toe box – No air gaps
  • Foot – Symmetric (big toe bends inwards to other toes) or
  • Asymmetric (big toe is inline with side of foot)

Female fit shoes – not just for girls

If it is called a female specific shoe and it fits – just wear it. Don’t be gender specific about your feet, female specific shoes have a slightly different cut. There are no male specific shoes, the rest are unisex.

Don’t get too bogged down with shoes. There are climbers wearing trainers that climb better than me, but a climbing shoe that is personal to you and not rented, will give you a better experience whilst climbing. Happy Feet, Happy Climbing.

bouldering Climbing Indoor climbing Setting

Setters and the art of setting the walls

Why is Alter Rock the best set wall in the UK (probably)?

Garry discusses what makes a good setter and how we make sure that we always have an interesting variety of routes available for advanced climbers and beginners too.

Ian Moodie in setting action

Some time ago on a Wednesday afternoon the setter was busy setting problems and we were in conversation, the topic being climbing, what else? He stated that “Alter rock was the best set wall in the UK”. I looked at him a bit puzzled as I know other climbing centres are well set and asked him why he thought that. His reply was “ because Alter Rock employed the best UK climbers to do the setting.” He said this with a big grin on his face, because he included himself in his statement and rightly so.

This particular setter no longer sets at Alter Rock. Like many others that have set for us, things change, life gets busy so things move on. Over the years Alter Rock has employed many setters that have come and gone. All have been top end climbers and all have been competent route setters, setting interesting routes and at the end of the day that is what our customers need.

Because of our setting routine there is constant change on the walls and even when the lines or problems are set by the same setter on the same day they are so good at what they do that they give variety.

What makes a good setter?

Its not easy being a setter, it helps to be a top end climber so you can set hard routes but at the same time you have to be able to set easy routes for children. They have to be able to set for the tall and the short and make every route or problem in their set different using all the different edges and angles. They are constrained by the holds available in  design and colour and what is already on the walls so the colours don’t clash.


How do we find our setters?

In the early days Mark “Zippy” Pretty came to us. This was through word of mouth. The first setter we had was Jamie Cassidy, I think he introduced us to Rob Napier who introduced us to Mark. Jamie stopped setting for a while, but I understand he is back doing stuff and Rob became too busy to fit us into his diary as he is competition setting around the world. Mark then introduced us to Steve McClure. Well I think that’s how it happened. These two are still setting for Alter Rock. Recent setters to join our rota are Dom Garden, and where you have a Garden you need a Gardner and that comes as a James Gardener. Dom came to Alter Rock via Matt, who left for France, then came back, so we are seeing Matt Pearson again and the newest climber to our line up is Ian Moody who does not live up to his name.


Whilst I was climbing today I dwelt on the fact that perhaps the cheeky setter was right that Alter Rock is the best set wall in the UK. Alter Rock has always used a variety of good setters for its routes and problems giving lots of variation. All setters are different, they have their favourite holds, their favourite moves and when combined they leave their own signature and generally by the way the climb feels you know who has set it.

I reflected at the end of my session how pleasing it was to climb the routes and how well set they are. Having 6 of the UK’s best climbers setting at Alter Rock does give a lot of variety to its climbing.

Garry Jackson