12th May 2010


Firstly, may I thank you for the opportunity to pose questions to you, it is much appreciated.

I am 38, female, have been climbing approximately three years, twice a week. I mainly boulder, on indoor walls, occasionally do routes indoors too.

Although I am still very passionate and exited about climbing, I am really frustrated at my lack of progress. I am still bouldering at around V4 grade, some of which are taking me numerous attempts over a period of weeks. Then when the problems change, I am back to square one! I struggle particularly with anything overhanging and big "reachy" moves (I am 5'3"). I am reasonably active away from climbing, doing a bit of running and yoga and have started doing some upper body weights. I am not sure whether my problem is strength, technique, lack of flexibility, or just general rubbishness!

I would be happy to tailor my training to specifically improve my climbing, but would be unsure how to go about this.

I would be really grateful for your advice, climbing has become really important to me and is a great source of pleasure but I have to admit to becoming extremely demoralised recently.

Kind Regards, and congratulations on your many achievements!


Jane, it sounds like you have fully got the bug! It also sounds like you are doing all the right things to help your climbing.

Firstly, without seeing you climb it’s quite difficult for me to tell why you have come to a sticking point but I will try to highlight some areas to look at and ways to make progress.

If you really have to break down climbing into very simple terms, you’ve got; ‘technique’, ‘strength, power and endurance’ and the ‘mental’ side.

Technique is a big one. If you haven’t got your technique up to speed, you will not be able to progress onto harder problems. Footwork is key, the harder things get the better your footwork needs to be. But bouldering requires different techniques to climbing routes and a lot of the time being able to pull hard in combination with using the bodies momentum (swinging) is a good way to get through moves. In terms of flexibility, I obviously think it’s a very important aspect of climbing but I doubt lack of it is what is holding you back at this stage.

Without decent amounts of strength and power, you will definitely come to an obvious plateau in bouldering. Inevitably holds get further apart and footholds become inadequate; so if you can’t pull between them, you are scuppered. If you’re short the difficulties of bouldering do become magnified and there is no way round that. Height does help for sure in bouldering, so if going on ‘The Rack’ isn’t an option, other methods need to be used.

Such as, gaining finger and contact strength. In order to get holds you will need to climb more dynamically and end up catching holds at the end of a jump with your feet cutting loose. This requires coordination, good body tension and as I said contact strength- not much to ask! You will need to work on using smaller holds on problems but also possibly doing some campussing. This would be a very good way to gain the contact strength you need and train your body to move more dynamically. Please campus with caution to avoid injury.

The good short boulderers one watches, have a very dynamic style and have an amazing ability to hang onto holds with their feet swinging about in thin air. So working on your body tension and core body strength is a big must. If your core has no stability, you will struggle to maintain contact with your feet and when they inevitably come off, you won’t be able to place them back on again.

It could be worth you trying harder problems than V4. This is a good standard but if you are stuck at this level, maybe you need to be trying harder things to teach your body harder moves. Even if it takes you weeks to be able to do one or two moves, this work will get you stronger but also widen your knowledge of climbing moves and what’s possible.

Finally, the ’head’. You may have found that there are some things above that are resonating with you. But the mental side is worth considering too. Although, bouldering isn’t a particularly scary style of climbing, it does require an incredible amount of commitment and effort to achieve problems. Because the moves tend to be a lot harder than on routes, there is not much of a chance to relax and enjoy the climbing (except maybe when warming up). The essence is about trying very hard and climbing at your limit. So a tremendous amount of concentration is required to finish problems and even to commit to getting on them. Especially, if the hard move is at the top, it can take quite a bit of courage to go flat out to a hold when you know there’s a chance that you might lob off. So it’s worth having a look at whether you are being held back because you can’t force yourself to do a hard move. If this is the case, then practising hard moves at low level initially is good and then trying to go higher up. Always be aware of your fall zone and if you do come off have conscious thought on how you land- this can minimise unnecessary injury.

Remember, full commitment and focus is required to complete boulder problems, so don’t let people distract you and try to give 100% when trying.

Lastly, rest. It’s very important to rest enough between goes. Usually a longer rest than you think is better. We tend to get bored when we are sitting around waiting and can get back on a bit too soon. So try to have decent rests between goes, as power needs time to ‘recharge’.

I hope this has given you some ideas for things to work on- good luck.