All climbers will experience it at some point: a climbing plateau. With specific reference to climbing, a plateau means to reach a certain grade level where everything at that grade and under is almost too easy, but the grade above is seemingly impossible.
After many years of climbing and teaching, I have found the most common plateaus to be at the following grade transitions:
V2 to V3
The best way to overcome this plateau is to dedicate yourself to learning proper technique. Work on footwork, practice keeping your arms straight, and focus on body position.
One of the best ways to practice all three of these focal points is traverse training. Traversing means to climb from side to side — not necessarily up. It’s all about thinking creatively, using different holds, finding rests, and being efficient on the wall.
Traversing helps to improve footwork by forcing climbers to work on step throughs and back steps. If you’re traversing and attempting to climb as far as possible without falling, you must use these two techniques to move farther on the wall with fewer moves.
While traversing, it’s extremely important to keep your arms straight. Straight arms conserves the most energy, fully bent (or locked off) uses slightly more energy, and then half flexed uses the most energy. In fact, think about your arms as the place holders and your legs as doing all the work, just like ascending a ladder. Traversing forces climbers to think conservatively about their energy, and keeping straight arms is the best way to do that.
Last but not least, traversing forces you to practice body position. While traversing, you will be forced to use difficult holds in awkward positions. This means you must really think about where to put your feet to prevent barn-dooring, or to make bad holds more positive and easier to hold.
V4 to V5
At this level most climbers have a solid understanding of basic technique. Although the value in learning and practicing technique can never be understated, I believe that the best way to overcome this plateau is through various hand strength training.
To move beyond this plateau, I recommend entering the climbing training room to exercise on the Hangboards, Systems Wall, and Campus Rungs.
While the training room may seem intimidating at first, remember that it is not solely designed for the advanced climber. There are beginner and advanced level workouts that can be done in this room.
Note: Know your own ability and strength, and never push too far beyond it. All activities should either be at or just above your skill level. Listen to your body. If something hurts, stop immediately.
Here are three helpful exercises for getting started in the Climbing Training Room — that’s one for each station. Adjust these to your level of ability. I recommend performing these exercises either after a climbing session (to reach peak tiredness) or if you have limited time to climb and still want a workout.
Systems Wall: Find two jugs, place your foot under you so that you may flag and reach out with that hand. The reaching hand should grab and hold three different types of worse holds. Hold on to each hold for a count of five before moving on. Repeat for each side 3x. Can make harder by moving around the feet. Can make even harder by holding onto bad holds and moving off of them.
Campus Rungs: Find the rung that is appropriate for your hand strength. Place one hand higher than the other, pull up into a locked-off position, hold for a count of five seconds, and then switch. Rest and repeat five more times. This is called an offset lock-off. *Unless you have several years of climbing experience, always use the foot rungs to avoid injury.
Hangboards: There are many hangboard workouts available online so feel free to look some up that range from easy to hard. When at this plateau, it’s best to begin with hangs on the worse holds, and pull ups on the better holds. If the smallest hand hold is still to tough to hang from, place something underneath you so you can reach on tip-toes. I’d recommend hanging on large jugs until failure, then switch to medium holds, then small, and all until failure for a set of three. Feel free to add in some other holds like slopers and pinches.
Remember: always warm up first!
With this combination of hand strength and technique improvement, the V4/V5 plateau can be quickly and effectively overcome.
Ugggh is all I can think of when I get to this grade. This is when the climbing gets really tough. You must have an excellent understanding of intermediate to advanced level technique. You must also have a solid and diverse training regime.
By training regime, I don’t mean working out every day with climbing exercise. I mean climbing about four times each week, taking ample rest, varying your training room exercises and difficulty levels, focusing on developing finger strength, and maintaining a proper diet.
V7 is one of the hardest plateaus to overcome. Overall gymnastic fitness will certainly help in getting there. Find weight room exercises and weight lifting regimens that work for you. Stretch every time you train, workout your core, and research training methods from professional trainers and professional climbers and adapt them to suit your ability.
Want to learn more about climbing technique or how to train? Sign up for Climbing Foundations, a course designed to get you off the mat and onto the wall with proper fundamentals.