Each climber’s journey is unique in its unfolding with the exception of one thing: plateaus.
As beginner climbers we are absorbed, excited, enamored and enthralled with our new sport. We get stoked to see progression in such a short amount of time; however, climbing has a steep learning curve. At the end of last summer as the days got shorter and my climbing turned indoors, I realized I wasn’t progressing. Although I was climbing all of the time, I wasn’t able to nab those harder grades. I had reached a plateau. How did I get here after all of that initial progress? One look at my routine and the answer was clear. I was lingering on routes that made me feel cozy. I was avoiding bouldering. I had yet to shake hands with the systems wall or the hangboard.
If you too have found yourself wallowing in a very flat and uninspiring land here are my recommendations for breaking free:
1.) RECOGNIZE where you are hitting a wall. Is it physical, mental, or a technical plateau? It could be all three! Do you want to be more dynamic? Do you want to sport climb harder grades? Do you need better endurance for long moderate routes? Your training should reflect your goals.
2.) GET TECHY. Technique is all about good footwork, which requires a whole lot of core strength and body awareness. It’s about paying attention to how you are weighting your foot in order to apply the most friction between the rubber of your shoe and the hold.
Laser Beam: Whether rope climbing or bouldering, take a good look at foot holds and zero in on exactly where you want to place your foot. Aim for it like a bull’s eye. Try to be as precise as possible and scrutinize the best place for your foot. Do not move on until you have placed your foot perfectly on the hold. With practice, you will be able to move more quickly.
Rubbin’ Nubbins: Do nubbins or chicken heads spook you while climbing outside? Seek out the holds you have difficulty with on routes or the systems board. Find the tiniest, edgiest holds and climb only using these precarious protrusions. Learn how to place your foot to gain the most surface area and practice driving off them!
Downclimb: Just made it to the top of a route? Get two for one and downclimb the route. This will enhance your endurance, while also training your body to find the best purchase on foot holds. This is an exercise in being hyper-aware of your body position in relationship to where you are placing your feet.
3.) BOULDER MORE. It’s the best way to improve your strength as it trains the maximum amount of force you can place on a hold while also training you to move with speed. Efficiency is paramount in breaching the next climbing level.
4.) GO LONG. Improve your power endurance by running 4x4s on ropes. Select four routes two grades below your on-sight grade and climb all four consecutively with no rests between routes. You can also run 4x4s on boulder problems if your goals are pushing your bouldering grades.
5.) STRONG MIND. Weak mind, weak body. Discriminate between irrational and rational fear. Take the fall! If you’re outside assess the risks before climbing. Pushing yourself means knowing what you’re getting yourself into. Most of the time our fear of falling is irrational. Force yourself to stop thinking about falling or worse, failing, and go for the next hold. You will surprise yourself.
Nonattachment: Kick your ego out the door and stop worrying about sending. Climbing is not about getting to the top of every route you attempt, it’s about the journey it takes to get there. Your mind should be focused on each hand hold, each foot placement, and your breath. That’s it. Take yourself out of the climb, meaning don’t think about your desire to flash the route. Also, don’t let your mind wander to thoughts about what you have to do tomorrow. Focus on the moment. People perform best when they are process-oriented, not outcome-oriented. Alex Lowe famously said, “The best climber in the world is the one who has the most fun.”
Positive Vibes: Negative self-talk is a powerful thing. Likewise, so is positivity. Stop thinking to yourself “I can’t,” and push yourself to say and think, “I can.” Belief that you can climb at the next level is huge.
6.) TAKE NOTES. How did you feel between climbs? How many times did you fall? How long did it take you to climb the first vs. the last climb of one set? How long did you rest between sets? Tracking your progress is extremely helpful.
7.) REST. What’s that? It’s hard to balance rest days with your desire to climb. However, my crusher friends, you may be surprised to hear that resting can give you the most physical gains as muscular micro-tears and swelling heal quickly with proper rest and nutrition. Remember: you only climb as hard as you rest.
8.) CROSS TRAIN. Calisthenics, running, swimming, hiking, cycling, walking. I like to trail run on my off days. Keeping a high level of fitness is crucial in breaking through. Here’s a great core workout to help keep you stable:
Core Crushing Workout:
-60 second plank, 3 sets.
– Left, right, and center crunches 10 reps, 3 sets.
– Bike Crunches, 20 reps, 3 sets.
– Pyramid push-ups: 2, 4, 6, 8, 10, 12 holding a 10 second high plank between. Build up then work down. 2 sets.
Climbing is full of peaks and valleys. Accept where you’re at, and know that you’ll get to where you want to be with time. Start small and focus on one aspect of your training. In an interview for EpicTV Daniel Woods says that “the hardest thing to deal with as a climber is trying to push past a plateau”. He advises pressing the reset button. There will be seasons where you feel light, strong, and fluid, and others where you’ll feel blocked. The key to breaking through a plateau is being in sync with your mind and body, and staying dedicated to this new path you are creating for yourself.
Show up for the climb, love the struggle, and don’t forget to breathe!
Erin Monahan is a freelance writer and climber with a unique brand of stoke. She started her climbing love affair in Moab and now lives in Portland, Oregon as a weekend warrior. Want to know more about the girl behind the stoke? You can find her documented adventure and life lessons on her website, Terra Incognita. She’s also up for chatting about your gritty and glorious experiences too, so be sure to say “Hi” when you’re at the Portland Planet Granite.