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