Tag Archives: climbing project

Plateauing on Your Climbing Project? Try This! Suggestions to Help You Send (3)

Photo courtesy of Louis Arevalo

Photo courtesy of Louis Arevalo

It’s easy to get stuck in a performance rut on a project that is at the edge of your ability level, repeating the same performance every single day you climb. The most standard scenario seems to go as follows: climb up to sticking point, fall, pull back up to hard move, rest until pump dissipates and power returns, pull back on the rock and continue climbing to anchors. The problem with repeating this same pattern over and over again is that it actually trains your body to be less likely to quickly adapt to sending the route. This is a great real-life illustration of the athletic training principle of specific adaptations to imposed demands (SAID): when you do this, you are training the hang (rest period) into your body, not encouraging it to push through that place of difficulty.

You can take several approaches to stop training and ingraining this hang (or multiple hangs, as the case may be), and you can combine these approaches or employ a different one each day. The approaches I use most commonly are the following:

  1. Pull back on and continue climbing immediately with no rest, so your body is almost as fatigued as it was when you fell off (if you’re impossibly pumped, a variation if this is to rest for 10 seconds or 5 seconds and then try to continue – and then start to decrease that rest time and work toward pulling right back on);
  2. Lower down to several moves before your normal falling point – maybe all the way back to the last rest or shake-out spot on the route. Attempt to climb from there through the sticking point move and continue on. You can do this once, or do it several times in a row – being aware that climbing the hard section repeatedly is likely to be quite fatiguing, so multiple repetitions are usually best saved for the final effort of the day;
  3. Deliberate low pointing, in which you’ll take at a place well before your sticking point, most ideally a place on the route where you can normally rest and shake out on the rock (so you’re just giving yourself a better rest where you can normally rest anyway). After resting here, get back on the route and attempt to continue and climb through the sticking point area without falling. Gradually decrease the resting hang until you are resting on the rock again, hopefully now with the ability and confidence to climb through the former sticking point.

In addition to trying to break a “hanging habit,” several other on-route tactical changes can provide effective ways to help you send more quickly. These include the following:

  1. Beta reexamination. I most often employ this in two circumstances. One is if I do encounter a specific sticking point, even if I have the beta dialed, I will revisit the technical solution I’ve come up with – in other words, how I’ve worked the beta and wired it in – to see if I’ve missed anything, if there’s a more high-percentage solution instead of stubbornly sticking with what I have worked out. The other circumstance is if I watch another or several other climbers on the project, and they come up with a different way to do something that I have worked out – even if it’s not the sticking point for me. If what they’re doing appears to be way easier for that section of climbing for them than what I’m doing there, it’s worth checking to see if that works better for me. A key to this second circumstance is to know that if you do have beta dialed in, the first time you try someone else’s way it might feel awkward or not right because you don’t have it as wired – so it’s important to not immediately dismiss it in this case. I will usually play around with the new beta and try it out anywhere from five to 15 times before I decide whether it’s worth integrating into my beta for the climb.
  2. On-route resting can make or break your send, so really honing in on the amount of time you should spend at each rest and shaking out the ideal amount for your body to recover but not start to dip into diminishing returns from resting can help you send. I use breath counts at rests, assigning a certain number of breaths to each rest. This is not rigid, though – if I feel like I need more rest I’m okay with staying a little longer, or if I need less, I’ll leave earlier. But generally speaking, figuring out how to utilize rests intelligently and effectively can make a huge difference in your sending potential.
  3. Tied in with resting, your pacing on the route can also impact your success rate. Every climber has a pace that tends to work best for him or her, but it’s often the case that people who tend to climb slowly climb more slowly than is ideal, and that people who climb really quickly climb more quickly than is ideal. Finding that natural pace that works best for your body takes time and effort; it’s worth it to try to push the pace if you are slow or to slow down and breathe if you tend to climb quickly, and to observe if this makes a difference in your overall performance. In general, shaking out on every hold isn’t ideal, nor is never shaking out at all.

Summing it up: Stop training the hang, revisit your beta, use rests intelligently, and explore pacing adjustments.

Next Up: Plateauing on Your Climbing Project? Try This! Suggestions to Help You Send (4): Mental Work

Plateauing on Your Climbing Project? Try This! Suggestions to Help You Send (2)


Off-route tactical changes might help you in your efforts to bust through a plateau. Consider adjusting variables such as your warm-up protocol, amount of rest between efforts, project attempts per day, and being attentive to proper hydration and fueling. Read on for pointers in how to revise your approach in each of these areas to help facilitate faster sending.

While warming up is necessary for peak performance no matter who you are, experimenting with changing what you do to prepare for your project efforts can make a difference – particularly if you are a climber who likes to climb lots of pitches to warm up, or conversely, one who shirks the warm up entirely. People who say they don’t need to warm up are risking injury and underperformance – this is basically just like saying, “I’m too lazy to figure out an intelligent warm-up protocol that works for my body.” Bodies function better with a warm-up; warming up makes muscles more elastic, speeds up reaction time, and allows for better nutrient transport to and waste removal from working muscles, among other benefits.

But – you can also warm up too much and undercut your performance, as a recent study demonstrated, an interesting read on perception vs. reality in warm-up protocols. Of course, everyone’s ideal warming up routine will not be exactly the same, since different bodies function differently. But playing around to figure out exactly how much of a warm up and how hard you need for optimal performance can help you send, and being aware that the right warm-up for you might vary depending on your project, too (meaning that when you tackle a new project, your old warm-up routine might not be ideal for your new project).

In a similar fashion, knowing how long to rest between attempts at a project route can be the difference between a send or a fail, as can knowing how many attempts to give per day. This really depends on the route and on you as a climber, and again, it is up to you to figure out the ideal amount of resting time between efforts to give you the best chance to send. For me, an hour off between go’s is usually standard for a hard effort.

For attempts per day, mine can vary from one to four, as this has to do with the style of the project and how hard it is for me. My general rule is that if the moves start feeling inordinately harder than normal or I start flailing on moves I can usually do, my efforts for the day are over, no matter what I thought I might be able to do that day. Another more subtle aspect to be aware of is that the first time you link through moves that you haven’t done before – say taking the route from three hangs to two hangs, or two to one – you have increased the intensity of your effort, and you may be unable to repeat such an effort that day even if you’re used to giving more than one burn per day. You may also need more days off to recover fully from this increased intensity. It’s your responsibility to understand this effect and to make the most of it – with full recovery, your body will be more likely to be able to repeat or even surpass that effort on your next day on the project.

Getting into great detail about what it means to hydrate and fuel properly is way beyond the scope of this article, and I’ve written about this in detail before. Suffice it to say here that you should be attentive to regularly sipping small amounts of sports drink containing 6 to 8 percent carbohydrates throughout a day of difficult efforts, as well as making sure you refuel right after each difficult effort with a small amount of well-tolerated solid food – not right before! Feeling actively hungry or thirsty during a climbing day is best avoided, as is feeling overly full/gassy or being waterlogged from drinking too much at one time. Dehydration can result in a serious performance deficit, as can underfueling. Make sure you’re supporting your body’s efforts by staying comfortably hydrated and fueled throughout each climbing day.

Summing it up – if you’re plateauing on your project, on the days when you’re out there trying it, consider employing the following tactical changes: Change your warm-up protocol. Rest more between burns. Do fewer burns. Eat/hydrate more appropriately.

Next Up: Plateauing on Your Climbing Project? Try This! Suggestions to Help You Send (3): Tactical Changes (On-Route)

Plateauing on Your Climbing Project? Try This! Suggestions to Help You Send (1)

Photo courtesy of Louis Arevalo

Photo courtesy of Louis Arevalo

Taking time off might be the very last thing that a plateauing project climber might want to consider doing, but for me, it’s become one of the first lines of defense when a project seems to come within reach for a day or two, and then that reach starts to feel like it’s slipping away. The classic response to diminishing returns on a project is to start putting in more attempts on the project and refusing to take days off from a set-in-stone climbing schedule, but this can be entirely counterproductive and can lead to even more frustration and greater diminishing returns. You might eventually sneak away with a send by continuing with this approach, but chances are that if you stop this struggle sooner and employ some of the following suggestions, you would in actuality send sooner than you would by carrying on with your stubborn schedule.

If you start to low-point your project or have difficulties with moves you have been consistently doing or that used to not feel as hard to you, you are most likely in need of more rest – more days off or days away from this particular project, or both. You might even benefit from a week away from your project climbing on something else – this can allow your muscles to recover from the specific movements your project demands, while also refreshing you mentally.

More than once, I’ve lived real-world examples of this – taking a week or so away from a project that I’m close to doing, maybe climbing on some other routes, coming back much more recovered and relaxed, and sending the climb. It works, if you can calm your mind and condition it to accept that you’re making a smart big-picture decision and likely expediting your sending process. I often will also climb fewer days total during this week (give or take) away from a project. This is actually nothing remarkable to recommend; in fact, it falls in line with the idea of tapering for peak performance – something that is well understood by expert trainers for all types of sports worldwide. To stimulate a performance peak, try decreasing frequency, volume, and/or intensity, or a combination thereof, for eight days to two weeks before you want to peak.

The general expectation of far too many climbers that they should be able to maintain peak performance capabilities 24/7/365 is utterly ridiculous and unrealistic. If a climb is at or near the edge of your current athletic ability, an undulation in performance on that climb from day to day (or week to week) is natural and nothing to freak out about. The best training/climbing/performance plan will involve undulating peaks and valleys – you just want to make sure that each peak is higher than the last one, not lower, which indicates overtraining or erroneous training or detraining. If you start to experience weeks of decreasing returns, try the resting/tapering protocol suggested above. Ditto if you want to stimulate a performance peak.

Summing it up – if you’re plateauting on your project, try taking more rest days. Climb something else. Break your routine. Taper. Develop a deeper understanding of stimulating peaks and how this process plays into enjoying periodic peaks in athletic performance.

Next Up: Plateauing on Your Climbing Project? Try This! Suggestions to Help You Send (2): Tactical Changes Off-Route