/ How to break through the grade plateau???

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butterfingerz - on 20 Feb 2013
I have been indoor climbing now for around 3/4 months pretty regularly and the plan is that once the weather gets a bit better my climbing partner and I will get some lead climbing trainig then head on outdoors.

Anyway..... we seem to have stagnated with regards to our grades, we can climb a 4+/5 pretty easily..... but hitting that 5+ just seems to be slightly out of reach!

In my opinion (in my case anyway) this comes down to technique, i find that I am hauling myself up the rock with my arms and only really using my legs for balance. Which i know is totally wrong!

How would you suggest I improve my technique and push past the grade 5?

Just as a bit of background I am 82kg, 5ft 9 gym-rat, so all arms and shoulders really, thats why I guess I favour using my arms when climbing.

I have changed my training from weight lifting to sandbag training and running which will help me cut down to 78kg (my "target" weight). Which is all fine for building the strenth in my legs..... but how do improve my technique and programme my brain to favour my legs over my arms when climbing?

Maybe a silly question.... i dont know?


Offwidth - on 20 Feb 2013
In reply to butterfingerz:

Read some books on the subject of improvement, Dave Macleods is really good.


There may be another issue as a lot of low grade routes and problems in walls are unrealistic (ie graded too low) as some walls pander to their weakest punters. Hence the step up to 'proper' grades can be bigger than it should be.
ianstevens - on 20 Feb 2013
In reply to butterfingerz: It's good that you've identified on of your limitations, i.e. your lack of footwork.

One way that works really well to improve this is climbing with one hand or with a tennis ball in your hands. This prevents you from using your arms to yard up on, so you have to use your feet. And as they say, practice makes perfect.

Once you start to use your feet a little more you can focus on using them well. Exercises like silent feet (try and place your feet silently) and picking a foot placement and practise putting your foot in that place first time are good things.

But the fact you've idenfied your weakness is a good start, start off with the one hand/tennis ball techniques and see how you go. I'm sure there is a set of articles on hear about pushing through grade boundaries that appeared about a year ago.
butterfingerz - on 20 Feb 2013
i do remember seeing the tennis ball article.... but for the life of me I cannot seem to find it.... i may be just being a bit dozey though.

Also.... i'm not that flexible! anyone tried yoga for this? To be honest, i have always fancied having a go anyway but this gives me the perfect excuse!
butterfingerz - on 20 Feb 2013
In reply to Offwidth: totally agree with that, there is a grade 5 in my local gym that is like a ladder!!! Whereas there are other 5's which are significantly more taxing.
knighty - on 20 Feb 2013
In reply to butterfingerz:

I started yoga in December, so it's been what, 2.5 months? I have found that while not being the miracle grade breaker that I thought it might be, it has certainly helped lengthen my hamstrings and loosen up my hip joints already. This makes a high steps a touch easier. This is not to mention the fact that I feel as if my balance has improved! I'm currently leading f6a+ and top roping 6b.
Steve nevers on 20 Feb 2013
In reply to butterfingerz: To expand on what Ian mentioned about footwork there are a few (fairly) useful videos and articles online.

Some simple things to do is get on a low traverse on a bouldering wall and try using different parts of your foot (toe, outside edge etc) each time you repeat it. Try to avoid using the ball of your big toe , you tend to have very little movement if your foots placed like that. there a are a few things some people use like placing coins on footholds, the idea being you place you foot carefully so you don't disturb the coin.

also maybe try a few easy problems but focus on pushing yourself up with your feet rather than beasting it up.
Skip - on 20 Feb 2013
In reply to butterfingerz:

I have the "opposite problem". Reasonably good on footwork, has improved massively. However i struggle keeping grip esp on very steep and overhanging climbs.
butterfingerz - on 20 Feb 2013
In reply to Steve nevers: This is what i am worried about..... that i am not technically a 4+/ 5 climber and i just yank myself up the wall as i am pretty strong....

I like the idea of maybe sticking to a 3+/4 and focusing on just pure technique, maybe just using the index finger for balance rather than gripping..... thoughts?
EeeByGum - on 20 Feb 2013
In reply to butterfingerz: Get onto the old traversing wall and just focus on your feet. Put hands on really big holds and then focus on putting as much weight onto your feet whilst holding on with as little grip in your hands. Doing it all at ground level eliminates any nerves / fear you may have on the wall.

Another good muscle awareness exercise is to lie on your back and then tense each and every muscle in your body and then relax. Feel what is is like to tense your arm muscles. Notice how your shoulders and back also tense. When you are on the wall, if you feel yourself tense up, relax and allow the weight to flow into your legs. When you are climbing up, push up with your legs rather than pulling up with your arms.

Then just practice practice practice. Do more top rope than leading and just focus on them legs!
Ramblin dave - on 20 Feb 2013
In reply to butterfingerz:
One really interesting exercise I've heard recommended for beginners is to pick a bit of bouldering wall with noone on it, get onto the wall with two handholds and two footholds, and then try move each of your hands and feet off the holds, one after the other. (You're allowed to put each limb back before taking the next one off, obviously). Then pick more holds and repeat. If it's too easy, pick holds that are less positive or more awkwardly spaced.

The point of this is to get you thinking about different ways you can position your body relative to the same holds, and what effect that has on your weight distribution - you should find yourself having to shift your whole body from facing left and reaching up to facing right and keeping low in order to take the weight of different hands.

Also, I've found in the past that routes that are just about onsightable are often a good place to practice technique. So if you crank your way messily up a route first time, it can be interesting to go back to the same route again and work it for a while, really thinking about how you can make each move look and feel as smooth and effortless as possible. This is probably easier on a bouldering wall than leading / top roping, since you have to worry less about getting pumped while you're thinking about it or spending hours and never actually getting up the whole route...
tom_in_edinburgh - on 20 Feb 2013
In reply to butterfingerz:

There are a few easy fixes which will likely get you the first 5+. Once you get a couple the rest will feel easier because you'll go in expecting to succeed. You'll still need to work on the footwork and finger strength to get 6a though

1. Look for routes that play to your strength. If you've got strong arms and shoulders go for an overhanging route with big holds where the difficulty is physical power rather than a slab route.

2. Try a different centre. There can be a big difference in grading and styles so you might suddenly find 5+ easy if you go somewhere else.

3. Spend more time on the ground looking at the route and thinking about the sequence to get through the crux and where you might be able to get your weight on your feet and shake your arms out. When you fail spend some time thinking about how you could position your body differently to get better balance or if you'd be better with a different sequence of movements.

4. Take care with warming up and resting so you have the best possible chance. Do the hard route at the beginning of the session after 2 or 3 easy warm up routes so you are fully heated up but not at all pumped.

5. Really go for it - it's not an issue to fall onto a top rope if your belayer is OK.
duchessofmalfi - on 20 Feb 2013
In reply to tom_in_edinburgh:

Do the opposite of what tom_in_edinburgh says. Your problem is you are already climbing routes that suit you and that is why your technique sucks.

Spend a couple of weeks working on slabby routes, routes that are dead technical, climb with one hand, climb all the routes that skinny kids can do. Work on your technique and balance.

Don't do anymore juggy, steep routes for a bit, all that muscle is holding you back. Think Adam Ondra rather than the Hulk.

Definitely don't kid yourself by going somewhere with easier grades (but do go to other venues) - you might as well get a felt tip and write "6a" on all the 4+ you climb for the same effect.
duchessofmalfi - on 20 Feb 2013
And I should add ask people to show you how to climb the problems you're stuck on, more often than not having someone explain the technique gets results.
butterfingerz - on 20 Feb 2013
In reply to duchessofmalfi: Exactly, whether intentionally or not, I find myself drawn to overhanging, juggy routes.

I will try out the vertical "fiddly" routes and also try to go slower!!!

I always find i charge up a rock, dragging myself hand over fist lol
Pero - on 20 Feb 2013
In reply to butterfingerz: Some suggestions:

Take a few climbing lessons!
Try climbing without raising your hands above your head
Try not to climb "straight up", but lay-away and side-pull to the left and right whenever possible

Also, re training:

Work on flexibility (if you do a lot of weights you might be a bit inflexible)
Do lots of stretching and consider Yoga or Pilates instead of a weights session
Do some balance work (standing on one leg etc.)

duchessofmalfi - on 20 Feb 2013
In reply to butterfingerz:

Also try (careful - risk of injury) climbing one or two fingered - this prevents you from using your over developed arms and forces you to use your feet and core muscles correctly.

The problem you face is that your upper body strength distracts from the basic technique that everyone else learns when starting out. There are lots of ways around this but the easiest to implement yourself is to climb routes (or in a style) where this "advantage" doesn't help so you can develop technique.

Big arms without balance, flexibility, core strength and technique get you up very little. Also bear in mind that you can't put all that arm power through you hands without jugs so, unless you are content with the climbing equivalent to "monkey bars", you need to get some of the other attributes listed here.

When you get a bit further you need to add mental attitude to the list!
tom_in_edinburgh - on 20 Feb 2013
In reply to duchessofmalfi:
> (In reply to tom_in_edinburgh)
> Do the opposite of what tom_in_edinburgh says.

Actually, you should do everything that duchess_of_malfi says AND everything that I said. When you get stuck on a grade boundary for a while you need the mental aspect as well as the technique and strength improvements to go further.

I spend about 6 months getting nowhere on 6a, changed centre and got four of them in a row on sight. The first was a soft touch, probably not worth the 6a but mentally getting it in the bag changed the game because 6a became something I was expecting to succeed on.
eltankos - on 20 Feb 2013
In reply to butterfingerz:
Yeah, +1 for getting onto more slabby/ vertical routes with smaller holds.
Makes you really think about your body position and balance, rather than just dragging yourself up the wall with your strength.
Also, you might want to consider a coaching session, I did a "Movement & Technique" session with TCA in glasgow for 15 (half price special offer, but the 30 quid would have been worth it), your wall may have something similar.
duchessofmalfi - on 20 Feb 2013
In reply to tom_in_edinburgh:

But did it work back at the original climbing wall? I know lots of people who get really excited when a load of soft touch routes get set and they think they've magically got better (equally they get really down when a month later the new routes are hard or just back on the money).

That said, sometimes it can be easier to climb above your usual maximum if you don't know how hard it is before you start because you don't give up so easily.
jkarran - on 20 Feb 2013
In reply to Ramblin dave:

> One really interesting exercise I've heard recommended for beginners is to pick a bit of bouldering wall with noone on it, get onto the wall with two handholds and two footholds, and then try move each of your hands and feet off the holds, one after the other. (You're allowed to put each limb back before taking the next one off, obviously). Then pick more holds and repeat. If it's too easy, pick holds that are less positive or more awkwardly spaced.

This is a good exercise. Combine it with slow deliberate movement along a vertical-ish warm-up traverse and you start to get the motion control improving alongside balance. This can be mixed up further by seeing out low stress rest positions and grips, once you start to get creative with your feet, balance and the shapes of the wall there's more than you might think. The same techniques are applicable and to an extent even more important on steep ground, they just require a more positive approach and more effort from your lesser used muscles and as a result can be quite draining.

Additional areas worth looking at are planning the climb, getting the moves and clips figured out beforehand. The plan will fall apart at some point but that's ok so long as you learn from it. Good planning saves you time and energy, it can also help deal with anxiety. Work out where the rests will be. Make life easy for yourself, get a couple of clips in first to save the energy and anxiety of clipping near the floor. Get enough rests between goes.

If you do grind to a halt then take the fall, take a rest then figure the moves out before returning to the floor for a proper rest. There are loads of ways to figure moves out efficiently but it's one of those things where two heads are invariably more creative and better than one. Get your partner involved too.

Manage your anxiety. If you're scared of falling then work on that bit by bit until it's way down the list of thoughts as you're climbing. If you're scared of falling from a particular move then (so long as it's safe and merely scary) take the fall, you'll be fine and knowing that is a huge help. That said, sometimes (rarely I find, mostly its debilitating) the fear can be useful.

Use momentum. All the earlier warm-up exercises were slow and static but that's not always efficient. Learn to bounce accurately. Even just a little nod or twitch can be enough to unload the limb you want to move or shift. A dynamic style and quick accurate movement can be a big energy saver.

Alun - on 20 Feb 2013
In reply to tom_in_edinburgh:
> 1. Look for routes that play to your strength.

With respect, this is exactly what the OP should not be doing. He needs to improve his technique, and the way he will do that is by climbing things that do not play to his strengths

To the OP: Your self-assessment sounds pretty spot on to me. Just climb as much as you can, and as varied as you can - slabs, overhangs, bouldering, leading etc. etc. And preferably outdoors, of course. Your technique will gradually improve, and you'll naturally get stronger too.
Pero - on 20 Feb 2013
In reply to tom_in_edinburgh: Hi Tom, I'm afraid, I'm with the Duchess of Malfi on this one!

I've climbed with a few people who refuse to learn new techniques and then roam the wall for routes that require only what they can do. Yes, they climb the odd 5+ and even 6a, but whenever the climb doesn't fall into the narrow category they have mastered, they are stumped.

In fact, the OP has realised this and knows he needs to broaden his technical ability to move on - not find more climbs that suit what he can already do!
Styx - on 20 Feb 2013
I'm surprised the Neil Gresham Masterclass DVD's haven't been mentioned yet, they are an absolute gold mine of information for someone such as yourself.
Get part 1 now, get it!

Offwidth - on 20 Feb 2013
In reply to Pero:

I agree and would go a stage further... ignore the grades as they are so all over the place around that level. Find a route you can just flash and a similar one that you just can't do (but you can work it) and follow training to be able to lap on the former and redpoint acheive the latter. then repeat again and again for different styles.
Kevin Woods - on 20 Feb 2013
In reply to butterfingerz: I think indoor walls aren't a great place to learn movement.

All the 4s and 5s I've ever climbed inside are simply nothing like real climbing (by that I mean outdoor). 6's are getting better but still not there imo. I think climbing outdoor regularly has been the best thing I could do for my climbing.

It sounds like, based on your build and style, you want to get onto slabs where moving your feet are so key. And do loads of them.

In the long run, try to be analytical of your movement - introspective. There's a million questions you could ask (and get bogged down in) like could I be faster, could I be stronger, could I do it if I trusted a heel hook more instead of popping off when going for the move. But work out what the climb demands and work toward that. And try routes that a wee bit too hard so you can't get them first shot but with some application they'll go.
Ramblin dave - on 20 Feb 2013
In reply to duchessofmalfi:
> And I should add ask people to show you how to climb the problems you're stuck on, more often than not having someone explain the technique gets results.

This, very much. You can learn a lot from other climbers, either in the form of direct advice or just by watching them and trying to figure out what they're doing that you aren't. In my experience there are always loads of people around who're happy to give someone a few tips, often whether you want them or not.

Again, this is another thing that seems to happen more on the bouldering wall than the lead wall though, because you tend to all be stood around looking at the same wall.
Sleepy_trucker - on 20 Feb 2013
In reply to butterfingerz:

I'm in a similar boat I think but I've not plateaued;

I got the book; "The self coached climber" which, though I've not been using it for long, I really recommend.

I'll not start re-writing the book but just to get you started;

Silent feet - watch your foot all the way to the hold, place it exactly where you want to with NO bumping, scraping or any other noise and without having to adjust it before you put weight on it. Concentrate on getting either your big toe or little toe on the hold and (where possible) in a place where you can rotate your foot on the hold from facing one direction to facing the other (180*) without it pushing itself off the hold (you'll find you need a gap between shoe and wall). All without lifting the foot off the hold at all.
tom_in_edinburgh - on 20 Feb 2013
In reply to duchessofmalfi:
> (In reply to tom_in_edinburgh)
> But did it work back at the original climbing wall?

The wall it did work was Ratho and I'd argue its grading should be pretty much benchmark. I think it was a bit more subtle than one centre being a soft touch it was more about different styles of route setting one of which was easier for me. Ratho has lots of space and high walls so they can make stuff harder by pushing endurance where Alien has lower walls so they make things harder by having a tricky sequence or having a big reach or finger strength test.

The other thing was after getting a bunch of 6a's and clearing the mental issue I've been playing on slabs and aretes and interesting looking routes at 6a+ and 6b that I don't expect to get rather than notching up more overhanging 6a's.

So I don't think I'm actually disagreeing with the other advice. I'm just saying it should be possible to clear the 5+ mental barrier with your strength a few simple tactics and then work on technique without being focussed on the grade

duchessofmalfi - on 20 Feb 2013
+1 for the silent feet exercise-

Also seek out climbs that require awkward footwork, awkward mantels and where you barn-door if you get it wrong.

Climbs where the feet only work for the correct body position are ideal.
butterfingerz - on 20 Feb 2013
Lots of great advice guys.... Thanks!
RockSteady on 21 Feb 2013
In reply to butterfingerz:

1. After 3-4 months indoor toproping you haven't reached a grade plateau, you just haven't learnt enough yet to continually progress using your existing skills, strengths.
2. Don't do exercises for strengthening your legs. I'd almost guarantee your legs are strong enough and fit enough for any climb you'll try. You don't want to make your legs bigger if climbing harder is your goal. You need to learn how to ure your legs effectively.

3. You've correctly identified that learning better technique will help. Where to learn technique? Watch how good climbers climb and copy them. Especially good when bouldering as you can try the same problems. Buy The Self-Coached Climber. Wish I'd read this when I was starting out. Also buy Neil Gresham's Masterclass DVD. Lots of technique coaching there.

4. Practice technique on climbs that are easy for you at the beginning of your session, as part of your warm up. Also, as part of your climbing, try climbs that are too hard for you - in the 6s. Learn how to do the individual moves. Don't worry about getting them cleanly in one go, just have a play on them and get a feel for what they're requiring you to do. Going back on to easier climbs this helps.

My 2p anyway.
butterfingerz - on 26 Feb 2013
Just as an update to this one guys, I smashed the 5+ plateau!

Warmed up on a 4, then did the same route using just my index fingers for balance, so no real wight on my upper body to teach myself how it feels using just legs.

Went onto a 5, doing the same thing.

Then though "sod it" got on a 5+ with lots of tiny crimps and not much else and I flashed it!

I went on to do 2 or 3 more 5+ climbs just to make sure it wasnt a fluke and smae outcome

To say i am happy is a bit of an understatement, as I am hugely competitive and failing just doesn't sit well with me....

Hands/ fingers and feet are all aching now though.... a good sign that i am using muscles that i would normally not use!

Anyway, thank you for all your help!

BoulderyDave - on 26 Feb 2013
In reply to butterfingerz: great news. Word of caution / encouragement. When I first started I would find that once I could climb one route of a certain grade then the rest would fall really quickly. Problem then was moving up to the next grade, this can be a painfully slow experience as it can take months to move from one to the other but with practise and determination it will fall in the end.

Sometimes a break and a change of wall can really help. I hadn't been to a venue I like for a couple of months and on Saturday found myself flashing all of their V3 boulders (a full grade step up for me). Could get near the V4's though

Enjoy the journey and keep training

craig1983 - on 26 Feb 2013
In reply to butterfingerz:

5+ thats full of tiny crimps?? some pretty evil route setters at your wall... a 5+ would be a jugfest at my local wall!
butterfingerz - on 26 Feb 2013
In reply to craig1983: It does vary and i think there is a lot of 5/5+ routes that shouldn't be the grade they have been listed as...

For example there is a 5 at my wall that goes over a slight overhang but is easier than some of the 4+ routes! the crux is slightly awkward but by no means difficult.

Hey ho.....

Thats why i did a few 5+ just to get into my mind that i CAN do it. Not expecting to be able to hit a 6 yet though....! Few months maybe!
Dandelion - on 26 Feb 2013
In reply to butterfingerz: Not sure if this has been mentioned - read through and couldn't see it. I'd suggest you watch any women climbing that you can see and if possibly climb with them when you can. Obviously there are strong women around but most will have had to make their initial advances from learning technique. I have very weak arms and shoulder (can't do press-ups, let alone pull-ups, which I don't boast about and am working on) but I climb 6a after about 14 months (when I began, 4s were beyond me). I had lots of good advice from a friend which helped but the main thing was that if I wanted to climb anything other than a 3, I just had to learn technique.

One thing I had to learn, which might also apply to you, was how to learn: I had very little awareness of where my body was precisely, or of how I was moving through space. It made it very hard to act on advice at first - I coudln't feel or imagine moving any differently from how I was. This has improved as I've focused on it, over time, but I think yoga did also help because it made me more aware of my balance and centre of gravity. Some people are apparently naturally good at reading a route (working out how to use the holds, or even seeing them outdoors) but if you're not, it will come over time, and this helps a lot too. You can then get more out of watching others because how they do it seems less like magic or sheer talent and easier to feel as you watch, and to remember and apply.
ti_pin_man - on 26 Feb 2013
some good advice. I've found climbing regularly at three different walls is definitely a good way of getting a cross section of different types of problem. Use the grades as indicators rather than definite statements of difficulty.

my nearest wall has lots of small hold technical climbs and I struggle on these but perservering has meant when I climb with mates at walls with more strength routes I usually manage more than they do as my closest wall has made me improve footwork and balance to get anywhere. Then I take some of that strength work back to my usual wall and it helps with the overhangs a bit.

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