Here we’re going to talk about the more advanced bits. The things that I have learnt over the last decade of climbing that give you that little advantage needed to boost your training or send a hard project.
These tips mainly apply to bouldering but the principles can definitely be carried through to other forms of climbing.
Although this article is focused at an intermediate level, it won’t do any harm for a beginner to have these principles in mind from the start.
1. Learn What It Is to Feel Fresh
This is essential for bouldering as the sport is largely built around the idea that you are attempting movements that are only possible with that top 10% of your power. The trick is for you to figure out what it feels like to be fully rested. To feel light, powerful and ready to perform.
There are 2 levels to feeling fresh — within the session and within the day. We’ll talk about what it means to feel fresh within the day later in this article, so for now let’s focus on within the session.
Staying fresh within the session is all about taking adequate rest between attempts. It’s far too easy to get sucked in and throw yourself at a problem repeatedly. This is not what we want.
If you’re trying a project that you have worked before or whose beta you know pretty well, then you should be aiming to have no more than 6 or 7 goes at it in a full session. Many of the top level climbers I know — when working on something at their max — will have 3 goes a day.
Putting this restriction on the number of goes you have will also teach you to make the most of them.
2. Climb Well Every Time
Who’s climbed more? The girl who flashed 3 boulders and sent another 2 on her 2nd go, or the guy who did 1 boulder on his 10th go? The guy has climbed more, gotten up less and is way more tired.
He’s probably pretty grumpy now too.
When having a focused bouldering session, it really pays to do your absolute best on the first few goes. I have learnt that this requires a certain mindset and that learning to do this properly has greatly changed my attitude towards bouldering.
A lot of this is about preparation before the climb. Making sure you’ve got all the beta down and are really focusing on visualising the movements before an attempt. Having all the correct beta and then falling off because you forgot it or screwed up the movement should be a very rare thing in bouldering.
3. Think While on the Wall
Something I was always exceptionally guilty of was throwing myself wildly at predetermined beta. If it didn’t work I would drop off and think again from the ground. Don’t get me wrong, re-evaluating beta from the ground is extremely important but I wasn’t taking that extra second to evaluate the movement while on the wall.
The trick to thinking while on the wall is to stop and have a breath when you get to a new position on a problem. It doesn’t have to be a position of rest. One of the best skills to learn in bouldering is the ability to assess, think and plan while holding an extremely powerful position.
When you have stopped to think, it allows you to consider things like the exact position your hips are in. To analyse the next hold and plan what position your body will be in upon landing the hold. I also take the time to lock down my shoulders and really think about cranking my fingers down when it’s time to do the move.
Being a boulderer through and through, it pains me to say that it was actually endurance training that began to open up this new aspect for me. Having that bit of endurance meant that I was less stressed about finishing the boulder quickly or holding powerful positions.
The loss of this stress meant I was able to think about the actual climbing more while I was doing it. You see world-cup climbers all the time reversing moves and taking some time to reevaluate what to do. Make each attempt count by actively assessing your beta while climbing.
4. Organise Training & Projecting Days
Now let’s circle back to how to stay fresh on a larger time scale than simply during a climbing session. This isn’t always the case but if you had a massive training session yesterday and can barely lift your arms…you’re probably not going to climb your hardest boulder today.
This is pretty obvious but the lesson to take from it is to plan the days you’re going to train and the days you’re going to perform.
On a trip, this involves taking rest days and separating out the days you are going to try your hardest boulder. When not on a trip and trying to balance training with getting out the local crag it isn’t as simple.
Ideally, you have your set training days and this then dictates which days you can climb outside. Unfortunately, the weather often has a different plan and (if you’re anything like me) training days get sacrificed for good conditions.
This tends to lead to the idea of splitting training and performing into different parts of the season. You can focus on training indoors during the hotter months and then allowing outdoor climbing to take priority during the best part of the season.
5. Climb with Stronger People
Being around people above your level is fantastic for learning good technique. But more than that, it does wonders to your attitude towards climbing.
First, it helps remove your fear of failure and embarrassment in climbing. This is an essential thing to overcome if you want to truly enjoy climbing and want your climbing to improve.
Those strong climbers you fear have all been in your position. They’ve all spent their time at mortal levels of strength and know what it’s like. They aren’t plagued or agonised by your presence — and if they are then they aren’t real climbers!
In addition…you might find yourself thinking: Hey, it didn’t look that horrible when she did it. Maybe I’ll give it a go!
6. Try Really Bloody Hard
Everyone is certainly trying when they climb. But in my experience there is often a noticeable difference between how much certain people try.
On one end of the scale, you will see someone get to a move they know is difficult and give that half-hearted flail — or even worse: just drop off.
On the other end, someone else may get to the same position and oomf and gurn and girr through the movement before exploding off dramatically.
I firmly believe the second individual will progress much further in climbing.
Personally, I feel that as I’ve increased the grade that I climb, the lower grades don’t feel particularly easier. I’ve just learnt to try harder.
So next time you slap into 2 horrible pinches on a roof climb, scrunch your face, grit your teeth and squeeze like you wouldn’t believe. As your legs swing about madly, crashing off the wall searching for something to stop the momentum, your brain is going to tell you that holding on is pointless, that even if you manage to hold this swing you aren’t going to have enough energy to do anything after.
Don’t listen to your brain. Keep feckin trying.
7. Learn Your Weaknesses & Focus on Them
Having a weakness in one form of climbing will hold back your improvement in the other forms. Actually motivating yourself to train these weaknesses will also improve your all-round ability to train and bring you to new heights.
In addition, weaknesses are often linked to styles of climbing you don’t enjoy as much. Working on these weaknesses might lead you to realise that you do actually enjoy that style.
I used to hate slabs but after moving to The Climbing Works (the home of hard indoor slabs) I decided to put some work into them. Now you can barely get me away from the slab I love it so much.
8. Manage Your Skin Religiously
While not as important inside, skin makes a massive difference on real rock and it becomes ever more critical at the higher levels.
When I ask any of the big shots how climbing is going, they lift their hands up and inspect the skin on their fingers. That’s what they’re thinking about.
It’s useful to plan climbing days around your skin. Not everyone has all the time in the world for their skin to get good enough but this practice is done without question at the higher levels.
If it’s your first day on but you totally trashed your fingers on that huge dyno then it might actually be wise to take a rest day so you can try harder on your next climbing day. Or if you had a planned rest day but noticed the next morning that your skin isn’t back to what it should be maybe it’s worth taking another day off.
It’s also very useful to manage the number of attempts on a problem. I used to throw myself at a boulder repeatedly, get trashed and have no skin left after an hour.
As I said earlier, my climbing made massive improvements when I learnt to limit the number of goes on a problem. I started to have better skin to work with as a result.
For more skin care tips, check out our skin care guide for climbers.
9. Pick Your Problems Carefully When Projecting
If you are looking for that one mega-project that will test the limit of your bouldering ability, take up a large amount of your time and likely define your trip, then it should be a problem that fits your style.
(Going back to #7, this in no way means that you should completely avoid trying boulders that expose your weaknesses, though.)
One of the most glorious parts to climbing is that every problem is different and there is one out there that will suit you perfectly. So you’ve gotta do some research. Don’t decide to work on a problem because it’s the first one you came to in a popular area.
10. Do Everything You Can to Prevent Injury
Injury: every climber’s downfall.
There is no surefire way to avoid injury, but everyone should be doing a few essential things in the background to lower their chances of getting injured.
Things like strength and conditioning, stretching, antagonistic training and basic prophylactic physio for some of your dodgier joints all go a long way towards keeping you in one shape.
11. Get Up Whichever Way You Can
This may not apply to you, but I have come across some people who will drop off if they didn’t do a move quite right or if they grabbed a hold wrong.
Basically, if you think you can get to the top but it’s gonna hurt the eyes of all your fine-footed spotters…Do it! When you’re climbing at your maximum capacity, all that really matters is that you get to the top.
Now remember, as you get to the higher grades, technique tends to become an essential part of completing the climb. And if you’re climbing or training below your grade then you should prioritize proper technique.
12. Add Up the Little Things
All the points on this list are likely to only make minor differences to your climbing in isolation. But when you add them all up over time it could very well be the difference between getting to the top or not.