For many climbers, competing in competitions and eventually becoming a professional climber would be a dream come true. Unfortunately for a lot of climbers, me included, this is not a reality. Becoming a professional competition climber is not a walk in the park and shouldn’t be treated as such… but it is possible. For those talented, dedicated, and ambitious enough to make this their goal, below is a step-by-step guide that lays out exactly how you can get yourself there.
1. Determine Which Type Of Climbing Competition You Want To Enter
There are a few different types of climbing competitions you can enter. The main three competitions are bouldering, sport, and speed. Figuring out which discipline (or disciplines) of climbing you want to compete in will be the first step along your journey.
Unless you are trying to become an Olympic climber, it may not make sense to excel in all three. While sport and bouldering have their differences, they are much more similar to each other than they are to speed climbing. I won’t get too into this here but many climbers were upset at the 2020 Olympic format as they felt that each climbing discipline should have been separate and not lumped together into a single cumulative medal. I agree.
Not even Alex Honnold is a master at everything in climbing. In fact, although he is one of (if not the single) greatest free soloist of all time, there is a good chance that he would not win an elite bouldering competition. This is due to the different demands of each type of climbing. Not one climber on earth will be the best individual boulderer, sport climber, and speed climber at the same time.
2. Identify Where You Need To Improve
Identifying where you need to improve will be key in developing into a great climber. Every elite competition climber has worked on their weaknesses and have constantly tried to better themselves.
If you are unsure what aspects you struggle in, I recommend to try out different moves, routes, and session designs. Be sure to take note if any areas/aspects are harder for you. Below are some areas to judge your current ability:
- static movements
- dynamic movements
- finger and grip strength
- foot work
- body positioning
3. Prepare Yourself Physically
Once you have identified which areas you need the most improvement in, you need to train these diligently. That said, you can’t just abandon every other aspect of your training. Emphasizing training in the areas you need improvement will help you become a more well rounded climber and will in turn help you climb any problem type you might come across in future competitions.
If you are interested in seeing what the current prices are for the most popular rock climbing training aids, you can find them on Amazon by clicking here. Using the Amazon affiliate link above and/or other links in the article helps support this website.
As you know, not every route is set the same and the difficulty of each one depends on your strengths and weaknesses. By training your weaknesses, you will give yourself a better chance at performing well in the competitions. For example, it doesn’t matter how great of a static climber you are if every problem in that specific competition has a dyno.
You won’t become a professional climber overnight. It will take countless hours of training and actually putting in the work. Following an intelligent training routine that uses proper session design will be key in improving quickly.
4. Get Your Feet Wet
To officially kick off your journey, I recommend joining a local competition to get exposure to the format of comps and get a taste of what they are like. Typically, your local climbing gym will put these on. If not, you may have to ask/look around and see where the nearest ones to you will be.
If you have access to/the ability to join a local climbing team I highly recommend doing this. Your fellow team members will have awesome tips and invaluable experience you will be able to learn from. This could be anything from training tips to how to eat/prepare for comps.
5. Eat, Sleep, and Breathe Climbing
If you truly want to become a professional climber, you will need to make climbing the center of your life. It needs to be on your mind from when you wake up in the morning to when you go to bed at night. Very talented climbers from all over the world want the same exact thing as you do. To get it, you need to make sacrifices for it. To be the best, you need to beat the best.
Every single day you should be working on getting better and becoming the best climber you can be. Even on “rest” days you need to be doing your best to actually recover. Nutrition, rest, and recovery are extremely underrated and are integral parts in maximizing your training. If you don’t recover from your hard training sessions, your performance will begin to suffer and you will open yourself up to more injuries.
Make good food choices. Get a full night’s sleep. Continue to learn and improve.
6. Develop an Effective Competition Routine
You will need to compete in competitions often to get the experience needed to become a great comp climber. When doing these competitions you will need to develop routines and strategies that work well for you.
Everyone has different preferences when preparing for competitions and you should start to figure out what yours are. Do you like to sleep in or wake up early the day of? What and when do you like to eat to feel strong and energized during the competition? If you have to travel to the comp, do you like to get there a few days early or arrive a couple hours before and just send it?
There are many factors to consider for this. Honestly, getting to a point where you are comfortable with how you prepare for comps and how to go about performing in them will be trial and error. It is best to work these kinks out early and find ways for yourself to maximize your performance.
7. Increase Your Exposure
You will want to start to gain an audience/following as you start to become a better and better climber. Whether this is through social media, youtube, podcasting, or something else, you will want to start to promote yourself. While this may seem silly or useless… trust me, it is not. By putting your name out there and sharing your climbing journey, you will start to gain a following.
Having a large following will give your climbing career the potential to start to finally support you financially. Unless you are winning a lot of elite climbing competitions right away, climbing will likely be costing you money rather than making money from it. Having a large following can help you alleviate this financial stress by getting you noticed by sponsors sooner.
8. Get Sponsored
Once you have gotten good enough and have a large enough following, you will be able to get sponsored. Climbing and outdoor brands (and even some non-climbing specific brands like Red Bull) sponsor climbers that they feel will help promote and represent their brand well. Climbing sponsorships typically compensate climbers with gear and/or money.
While getting sponsored is super cool and can provide you with awesome gear, not every sponsorship will be enough to financially support your lifestyle. In fact, it is likely that your very first sponsorship will not even come close to this. That said, at this point you can confidently and proudly call yourself a professional climber!
9. Continue To Improve and Grow Your Brand
As you continue to improve along your professional climbing journey, you will start to win more money from competitions and increase your following. These will be integral in negotiating better sponsorship deals and will help support you more financially.