In the beginning climbers are often amazed and proud of how quickly they start to develop climbing skills and work up to harder routes. Then many climbers hit this point where they feel like their progression has significantly slowed or stopped. They feel frustrated they are not getting any better, and they may wonder is this it for me? It could be at any level; Maybe V4, 5.10, v9, 5.13, or even 5.8. It can happen to anyone and most likely will at some point, but don’t worry. There are some ways to get past it and start feeling strong and capable again. Before you know it, you could be climbing things you never even imagined possible.
Let’s start with a first scenario. When we are new to climbing and starting on beginner climbs, the moves are not particularly tricky and the holds are usually decent. This makes sense because we all need somewhere to start from so we can start to build up confidence, learn, and get going. Also outside climbers who are doing harder routes, may need a safe place to down climb once tired. Therefore, there is a plethora of easy climbs around the gym and great outdoors. These may be very ladder like or a little harder, but still pretty basic. You are getting on the rock or plastic and that is what is important.
As people start to work their way up, they start to get to moves they haven’t done or holds they are not used to. It might be that you can’t even comprehend how to get from one hold to the next. Unfortunately, for some what happens next is what leads to their inevitable plateau. Some people all together avoid these tricky situations, and continue to work up the grades on climbs where the holds feel doable and the moves are known. Keep in mind this is not always the same as people are different. Some may find that crimps work well for them and they seek out crimpy climbs. Some may find slopers palm well in their hands and seek out slopey climbs, etc.
If you have followed this path, here is why you are hitting a plateau. As climbs progress you need to learn new moves and maneuver new holds. By skipping these, you can get ahead for a little while, but eventually it will hold you back. This problem is an easy one to fix. You just need to start learning new holds and new positions. If you get to an area where the climb doesn’t make sense, try some different things. Stay there and test out different positions. Ask someone for advice who may be able to do that move. Watch a bunch of people climb it and see what moves and techniques they utilize. If you are new to the move and trying it at your limit isn’t working take it to simpler holds. Instead of climbing on a route, pick rainbow holds positioned closely to what you need. For example you can practice a rose move using jugs by just picking ones on a boulder wall that are the right distance for you.
You can also try the bottoms of harder problems that have moves you are not familiar with. I have been trying the bottoms of climbs that are a grade or two higher than my limit and have holds like slopers that I’m bad with. I’m close enough to the ground that if I fall it is okay so there are not any consequences. If I get it, great! I’ll keep trying it in harder situations. If I don’t get it, I can keep working on it until I can. If it seems too challenging, I can find a slightly easier set up to try out and work my way up. This is great for learning new moves. If you try a v6 move and cannot get it, look for a similar one on a v5 or v4 or downward until you find success and then work your way back up.
Remember fears of falling or failure could be holding you back. Keep these in check and find ways to work with them. If you are scared of falling, pick situations where there will be little to no fall consequences. For example, try top rope instead of lead, or try moves a foot off the ground bouldering. If it is a fear of failing, set reasonable expectations you can meet, and try to climb when there are not as many people around so you are not worrying what others think.
Also make sure to climb your weaknesses. No more avoiding what is uncomfortable. Work at it. If you cannot hold a sloper, get on every sloper climb from 5.8 until you can’t keep going. Work on the things that make that hold or position a weakness. Do you need better grip strength? Do you need better shoulder strength? Do you need to work on dynoing? Slopers are a weakness for me. Therefore, I climb things with lots of them even if it is below my hardest grade. I will get on an easy climb that challenges me because of that hold. I also know some of it is shoulder strength, so I’ve been training my shoulders. The other part is positioning, so I try sloper starts to work on getting the position without fear of falling. You can do this with any move or position. Don’t worry about being embarrassed or doing a climb below your level and falling, because you will look better than ever once it is no longer something that holds you back.
Another reason people reach plateaus, is they don’t train for strength or endurance. I’ve heard many serious climbers wish they were better, but when you ask them about training they say “No way, I just climb.” Just climbing is fine, if you are having fun just climbing. If you sincerely want to get better, you should try training. Pick what you want to improve at because training everything is hard to impossible, and work on that thing.
Also keep in mind that you don’t have to master every climb in a grade before moving forward. You can if you want to, but make sure to challenge yourself by doing things you think are too hard to do. You might be surprised how far you get and that confidence might push you forward further than you knew possible.
This is just the start of a very common topic with lots of room to work on. We will post more in the future! Let us know what information would help you and what you thought of this approach.