18th Jan 2008


I've been climbing for about 6months now and I'm leading VS, could you give me some tips on how to build my grip strength so I can progress on to harder routes. I wanna kick the bloke’s ass I climb with too, ha ha.


This seems to be a very common barrier that people have trouble breaking in the UK, moving past the VS grade can seem very elusive.

Part of the reason for this is that once you get onto HVS’s and harder, the style of climbing changes quite a lot. On VS’s one tends to find a good selection of adequate holds, many resting points and decent gear placements. But moving up through the grades, these elements start to worsen. This is not something to fear but it is about understanding what you are up against, rationalizing it and utilizing the tools you have acquired to make successful ascents.

A big thing people need to work on is endurance. HVS’s have a tendency to be pumpy and the feeling of getting pumped can;

a. Induce fear and the climber will ‘take’ before they are truly maxed out, or

b. The climber will get completely boxed because they aren’t pausing to find rests and utilise the holds in the best way therefore falling off in a panic state.

So, trying to climb more each week on things that are out of your comfort zone and are working your forearm endurance will help. This is more of a training thing for the wall. Try to get on routes where the moves are all doable but you can’t get to the top in one go. Keep trying this type of route and don’t give up when you start feeling a burn in your forearms- you will be amazed how much further you can go before you REALLY can’t hold on anymore.

This will help to train your body and forearms to be able to hang on longer and it will also train your mind to know how to react in an extreme situation; all useful tools for when you feel you are ready to go out and get on a harder route.

Grip strength is a very specific thing and not worthwhile to work on as an isolated method to improve your climbing.

Climbing at all levels requires a holistic and methodical approach. Preparation is key.

I have found through my one-to-one coaching sessions that most people who come to me make vast improvements without any extra training (they already have sufficient strength and endurance to climb harder but aren’t using it correctly). With hints and tips from me in areas that are less physical, such as; mental approach, preparing for a route and assessing its character- climbers make big gains.

So my advice is try to be more focused when you climb on improving your endurance and your technique in finding rests where you didn’t think one existed. You could experiment by climbing a route that is near your limit (on toprope) and hold each hold for 2-5 seconds. This will get you pumped but try and push on and see how far you can climb while you are pumped. Also you can allow yourself to shake the hanging arm out, and then try the route by not shaking the hanging arm out. This will show you the difference between trying to recover and get something back in a seemingly unrecoverable scenario and not trying at all.

Have a go and as always have fun!