You’ve been climbing for a while now. It’s time to address the issues that are holding you back from performing your at your best.
With so many avenues to improve, where should you turn? Online resources, YouTube, books, private coaching, or the climbing wall? The answer will depend on which weakness or weaknesses you are facing.
Listed below are what we've experienced as the most common issues that prevent climbers from overcoming a plateau. Because we all come from different backgrounds, some can expect to have multiple obstacles standing in their way, while others may only have one. There’s no right or wrong.
Even if you don’t believe a certain issue is something you struggle with, it’s important to read each one completely. Often, it’s the issues we aren’t aware of that hold us back the most.
1. Improper Body Movement & Technique
Your issue: You’re not moving correctly or efficiently on the wall.
Do you ever wonder how it is some people can take months off from climbing and then flash a V7 off the couch? Chances are, they’ve been climbing on and off for years and have pretty good body movement and technique. So much of climbing relies on these two factors. Even if you have the strength and power to work a route or problem, a deficiency in this department can cause you to fail on the same move over and over.
Your solution: Learn to move like a pro.
- Take a class at your gym, video: Movement 101
- Video: Footwork Technique – Drills and Exercises
2. Insufficient Finger Strength
Your issue: Finger strength has always been your weakness. You struggle to hold onto certain holds in problems and routes you are otherwise easily working.
Disclaimer: Finger training is no joke. It is to be taken seriously and should not be attempted unless you have been climbing consistently for at least three years. The reason? Popping or straining a tendon is a real possibility due to the high amount of stress that hangboarding and campusing places on your tendons.
Please note, if you are still working V3 and V4 boulder problems, the best training at this stage is simply climbing.
Your solution: Train fingers with hangboards and campusing.
Video: Training For Climbing - Finger Strength
- Choose between bodyweight and weighted hangs. Do not progress to weighted hangs until you have mastered the smallest holds on your hangboard.
Video: Campus Power Training
- For the climber who’s bouldering V6-V7, a once weekly session of campusing on medium rungs is a great way to start building tendon strength in your hands and arms.
Video: How to Train Forearm Strength for Climbers
- Lack of forearm strength is frequently the cause of the inability to hang on and move off of slopers.
3. Poor Physical Fitness
Your issue: It’s hard to find time to stay fit.
Sometimes our work lives and home lives attempt to overtake the rest of our lives. It happens to the best of us. The good news is that a 10-15 minute workout 2-3 times a week can really go a long way to improving your climbing ability, as well as your physical and mental health.
Climbing your best is going to be more attainable if you maintain a high strength-to-weight ratio. In addition to exercise, a low but healthy body fat percentage will reduce the amount of weight you have to carry and increase your climbing ability. Most athletic and active women should maintain around 8% to 23% body fat and most athletic and active men should maintain around 5% to 14% body fat. If you feel your lack of general fitness, or even your performance, could be due to your diet. A suggestion would be to read up on climber nutrition.
Your solution: Exercise more and eat right.
Article: Nutrition: Eating Your Way to Better Climbing
4. Lack of Power
Your issue: You struggle to make big moves.
Power, in climbing, is the ability to make explosive movements. In general, boulderers possess a significant leg up (or arm up) on rope climbers when it comes to power. This is because bouldering is, by nature, a powerful exercise, while roping features longer routes with dispersed intensity.
It’s important to note that training for both power and endurance at the same time won’t get you very far, due to something known as the “The interference effect". The interference effect describes the observed diminished returns on power and strength when endurance training is added to a resistance training routine. If you’re focused on achieving goals on rope, adding powerful exercises into your training routine will help you overcome a plateau. Unfortunately, adding rope climbing into your training won’t help you crush your boulder project. If you’re serious about achieving bouldering objectives, stick to power and power endurance training and leave roping for another season (after you’ve sent your project).
Your Solution: Train powerful movements.
- It’s that simple. After you’ve warmed up, climb problems and routes just below your projecting level with as much power as you can, but without sacrificing technique.
- Doing pull-ups with weight might seem like the CrossFit bro thing to do, but it’s a great way to develop power in your arms and back. Widely used by professional climbers, weighted pull-ups are also ideal for dedicated climbers looking to get more bang for their buck. Begin with a low amount of weight that you can do 3-5 pull-ups with. We recommend trying out 5-10 pounds and adjusting from there. Be sure to keep your legs straight, not bent.
eBook: Girl Strong
- Power Company Climbing is known for its training plans, both prepared and customized, that target climbers’ specific goals. The Girl Strong eBook by the Power Copany Climbing is perfect for the female climber who would like “to get stronger and more powerful in order to further her climbing.
5. Lack of Power Endurance
Your issue: You can make big moves, but get too pumped and fail to finish your project.
Power endurance is the ability to exert power throughout the course of a problem or route. Practicing sustained, powerful movements is a great way to build up just enough endurance without transitioning your muscular aptitude from power to endurance.
Your Solution: Train sustained powerful movements.
Video: Bouldering 4X4s Workout
- In this North Face video, Daniel Woods shows you how to do an extreme version of 4x4s, because, of course, he’s Daniel Woods. A true 4x4 features four sets of 4 problems each and 1-2 minutes’ rest in between, depending on your current fitness.
Training tool: The Moonboard
- If your home gym has a Moonboard, you should definitely take advantage of it. Fair warning: the lowest grade problems are “V4” and ridiculously sandbagged. The Moonboard is great for developing body tension, finger strength, flexibility, the use of high feet, and most importantly, power endurance.
6. Fear and Anxiety
Your issue: Your emotions are keeping you from climbing your best.
The fear of falling is as natural as breathing. Overcoming the fear and anxiety associated with rock climbing doesn’t mean becoming fearless, it simply means you have the ability to stay calm and focused on the task at hand.
Your solution: Train your mind.
- Book: The Rock Warrior’s Way: Mental Training for Climbers
- Meditate: The act of meditating daily can reduce your anxiety and enhance your self-awareness. If you've never tried to meditate before, you may find it more difficult than you expected, but keep at it. The process involves finding a quiet place and focusing on nothing but your breathing. Follow a guide to learn more.
If you recognize a number of these weaknesses in yourself and are interested in finding a resource that can address all of them, pick up a copy of Training for Climbing: The Definitive Guide to Improving Your Performance from Eric Hörst’s How To Climb Series. It’s also available for Kindle readers.