/ Bouldering - Progressing through the grades

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StevenF - on 26 Nov 2013
Hello,

I am a beginner climber (10 months or so) and get to the climbing gym on average once per week. The rest of the time I spent in my normal gym doing weight training (which I have done for years).

I can climb all the "Green routes" in my gym which are labelled Font 5a-5b+, however the next grade up - which is Font 6a+-(?) - I find is a massive step up in terms of difficultly. It contains a lot of slopers and small pinches which I really struggle with. I can usually only complete one route of this grade, the rest are just far to difficult.

Does anyone have any advice on how to progress to the next level? I guess the answer is going to be to do more bouldering. Is there a way I could structure my training rather than just climb a route, rest, climb, rest and repeat?

Thank you.
AMorris - on 27 Nov 2013
In reply to StevenF:

Honestly, at the lower grades its all about getting your tekkers grounded and getting used to how to read problems and how to use hold, you are right that there is a step from 5+ to 6A but that will come as you learn how to position your body & feet and your finger strength progresses. By the sounds of it you are already set on the strength front, you just need the fingers to apply that strength to the rock. This may be a problem as I'd hesitate to suggest any training regimes that build finger strength due to the fact that you have just started to probability of finger tweak will be high. However, what id suggest for your fingers is, during every session (after thoroughly warming up) find a flat edge on a finger board that you can hang fairly comfortably for 5 - 7 seconds and do a few light repeating exercises (i.e. 7 seconds on 7 seconds off and repeat a few times, rest a few mins then repeat the set 2 times. Make sure its a flat edge not a jug, also make sure its not too easy nor too hard, you want to push yourself but not to the point of tweaking a tendon, starting training before 6A is risky IMO so take it slow.

Secondly, you could do circuits of problems that are at the top end of your range. When you do this, really think about where your feet and hips are as shifting these two around will shift your centre of gravity, try to climb as smoothly as possible with good technique and no foot sound.

Lastly just keep getting on 6A's! If you aint falling off you aint pushing yourself, some of em just take a delicate body position or a specific sequence. If I am struggling on a problem then the first thing I do is try and see where the best foot placements are and how I could shift my hips to make it easier for myself.

Apart from that, just keep climbing and you will progress naturally!
Simos on 27 Nov 2013
In reply to StevenF:

Bouldering helps but is not really necessary for 6A I'd say - good to do some bouldering though as it will teach you some other body positions, especially when you start doing overhangs.

I don't think as mentioned that you need any specific finger training etc to move to 6A - you will naturally get stronger as you climb at this level. If you could do a second session every week it will help massively but I don't really believe it's just about 'climbing more', it's about HOW you climb.

If you are finding 6As a big 'leap' my guess is that you haven't mastered the basic techniques and footwork enough. There are some 6As etc that need some strength but the vast majority can be climbed with proper technique I'd say - if anything you'll need more endurance.

Keep climbing a mixture of grades but you will need to keep climbing lots of 5s too - there is hardly any point in trying to climb 6As with bad technique in my opinion but some routes at the edge of your abilities are good as they will expose your weaknesses. Make sure you don't just focus at getting to the top but on 'how' you get there - if you felt some moves being 'hard' on 5s do the routes again and again but try to find other, easier ways of doing those moves.

Make sure you are always aware of where your body should be, what side you should be flagging, using drop-knees where possible and also learn to not climb too statically. One useful exercise would be to try and climb without ever having both feet on holds - by keeping only one foot on you will be climbing more dynamically and flag more.
Mehmet Karatay - on 27 Nov 2013
In reply to Simos:

> Bouldering helps but is not really necessary for 6A I'd say.

The original poster was asking about Font 6A, which is a bouldering grade...

I can see where the confusion with sport F6A easily comes from though. Apparently both grading systems have the same origin and diverged at some point, hence the similarities.

Mehmet
deacondeacon - on 27 Nov 2013
In reply to Simos:

Capital 'A' for bouldering little 'a' for routes :)
mattrm - on 27 Nov 2013
In reply to StevenF:

If you want to get good at climbing, then climb more than once a week. Also the weight training probably isn't helping as it's probably keeping you bulked up, which won't help. You need to be light, flexible and strong for the physical side of climbing.
RockSteady on 27 Nov 2013
In reply to StevenF:

I think one of the real lessons that I've learned from climbing is not to be too impatient for progress. Some gains come easy, some come slow. Use your weightlifting experience - when you first start an exercise you make quick progress as you make neurological recruitment gains, but to actually put on muscle and improve strength takes much longer.

Same approach for climbing.

I'd suggest a couple of things.

(1) If you really want to improve, start bouldering twice a week. If you have to ditch one of your weights sessions, so be it.

(2) Will be technique more than anything holding you back at this stage. Read The Self-coached Climber if you want to understand lots about technique and training for climbing
http://www.amazon.co.uk/Self-Coached-Climber-Movement-Training-Performance/dp/0811733394

(3) Split bouldering sessions: Some session where you're focusing on doing a lot of different problems that aren't too difficult for you (and doing them twice if you feel like you could have climbed them better on the first go) paying attention to your technique - foot placement, hip positioning, pace etc. Other sessions where you focus on those Fb6As you can't do. Practice holding the positions. Practice doing the individual moves. Once you can do all the individual moves on a problem it's a matter of putting them all together.
StevenF - on 27 Nov 2013
In reply to AMorris:

Thanks for your reply. You're right, my finger strength is what's holding me back (as well as my technique). I can do pull-ups, muscleups and ring muscleups etc but when bouldering my finger just fail while doing hard routes. I had starting doing the finger hanging exercise you suggest - though I did it at the end of my session. I was thinking of buying some metolius rock rings which I could use in the gym 3 x per week or so.

P.S I am referring to bouldering routes, that's why it's in the boulder section :) On a climbing route I can comfortably climb 6a+
Alun - on 27 Nov 2013
In reply to StevenF:
> I had starting doing the finger hanging exercise you suggest - though I did it at the end of my session

Just be very careful with finger hangs. It is easy to injure yourself.



Ramblin dave - on 27 Nov 2013
In reply to StevenF:

> Thanks for your reply. You're right, my finger strength is what's holding me back (as well as my technique). I can do pull-ups, muscleups and ring muscleups etc but when bouldering my finger just fail while doing hard routes. I had starting doing the finger hanging exercise you suggest - though I did it at the end of my session.

Do it at the beginning - or at least, as soon as you're warmed up. Doing stuff that's really hard on your fingers when they're already quite tired is a good way to tweak tendons.

For getting better on smaller or crappier holds, consider working on it during your warmup. I normally warm up by finding a quiet bit of wall and "rainbowing" around on whatever holds. I generally start on big handholds and small footholds (to get some blood flowing to my hands while practising precise footwork) and then progress to smaller and slopier handholds, making it easier by using bigger footholds and smaller moves if necessary. The idea is to get used to what the grips feel like and what sort of body positions work with them while I'm climbing well within my limits, and hence to build up habits and instincts that work on hard problems as well...
seankenny - on 27 Nov 2013
In reply to StevenF:

Really, it's probably footwork and body positioning that's holding you back. Tommy Caldwell only started fingerboarding recently and he's climbing 8c and up.

Have you tried talking to better climbers and watching them do the problems you can't do? People are usually happy to give advice. Also, are you giving the problems a really good go? I don't mean just one or two tries and onto the next problem in the circuit, I mean getting properly stuck and giving it plenty of tries over many sessions.
StevenF - on 27 Nov 2013
In reply to RockSteady:

I think you're right, I'm probably just expecting too much too quickly - a second day will effectively double my progress. I'll have a look at the book and try some of your techniques the next time I'm bouldering. Thanks for your reply.
robin mueller - on 27 Nov 2013
In reply to StevenF:

Reasonable advice given so far. As you say, you'll probably see the fastest improvement if you can do more than one day a week.

That aside, I noticed on your profile: "I'm now trying to go at least once per week in order to progress to outdoor climbing as soon as possible."

No reason you can't go outdoors right from the start, just pick a venue with lots of bouldering at easier levels. If you can get hold of a bouldering mat, the whole experience will be more friendly.
UrbanSteve - on 27 Nov 2013
In reply to StevenF:

The Strength you gain from the gym doesn't help that much with climbing, especially if you train to build muscle.

To climb, lean efficient muscle is required and not just the bigger muscle groups like Bi's, Tri's, Quads etc. You need all muscles to work together from the big down to the small stabilizing core muscle.

To climb harder problems you need to climb more and only supplement this with gym work.

Be very careful though as tendon, on average, are 6 weeks behind muscle on strength and need time to catch up. To keep blasting through the grades will lead to injury, FACT. Don't expect too much too soon. You're 24 so your tendons will be fully developed now and will need careful management to avoid injury.

Good luck buddy and stick with it.
StevenF - on 27 Nov 2013
In reply to robin mueller:

Hi Robin - I should probably update my profile, shouldn't I! I had did some outdoor climbing this summer at a local crag (although I was only seconding the route) and I really enjoyed it. Looking forward to getting back to the crag when the weather improves.
StevenF - on 27 Nov 2013
In reply to seankenny:

I really wish this forum had a muti-quote function!

I actually watched a Tommy Caldwell video a few weeks ago and he said exactly that; he had only recently started fingerboarding and said it was helping him a lot.

And yes I try the problems several times. Yesterday I tried a problem around 10 times before finally nailing it. I love boulder problems that I have to work at, because it feels so good when I eventually complete them.
StevenF - on 27 Nov 2013
In reply to UrbanSteve:

I know lifting weights doesn't transfer over to climbing (probably the opposite in fact, due to weight gains etc), I just love doing both and want to continue doing both.

I suppose I am just being impatient. My technique and finger strength will improve with time the more I climb. I just have that "itch" to climb the more difficult routes. It's especially frustrating that I can climb ALL the route all my level but find the next level up SO difficult!
ayuplass - on 27 Nov 2013
In reply to StevenF:
I was in a similar position in that I could all easy grades in one go but none of the next grade above.
The things that helped me were climbing more often and asking/watching people doing the problems I wanted to do. Most people will happily show you how to do a problem and you can pick up their footwork and body position from that. Some people will be better at coaching, keep talking o people until you come across someone who likes to support and encourage you!
I found my route reading and sequence let me down so if someone showed me how to do it I was more than halfway there.
You're probably strong enough to do the next grade, that's not what's stopping you.
Also - learn how to work a problem. Break it down, do the first bit, last bit and middle bit (rainbow up to reach the last moves if you can). Know when to rest in between attempts.

Does your wall have group improvers coaching? Try that
alooker - on 27 Nov 2013
In reply to StevenF:

Well done for starters. On the next circuit (problems of the same colour) you mention you can only do one - are the ones you can do of a similar style at all? Slabby/overhanging/big holds and big moves/small crimps and technical?

The most satisfying way to progress is by working on your weaknesses, you see the biggest gains this way. To climb 6A you don't need to be doing training like fingerboards/campusing etc, this will lead quickly to injury if you haven't been climbing for very long.

Work on your technique, the usual drop knees and flagging, placing your feet precisely and confidently etc but also conciously think about how your centre of gravity moves as your climb and how it is supported. Find a boulder problem that you can't climb but seems possible - then try and alter how you use the hand and foot holds and how you place your body. You'll be surprised at how subtle changes can make a huge difference.

Watch good climbers and see how they position their body, how they use momentum and the techniques they employ. Climbing 2-3 times a week should be enough to progress at a modest rate. Once will see you plateau quickly, or at least I feel like I would.

Lastly, it's bouldering - if you aint falling off you aint doing it right!
MischaHY - on 27 Nov 2013
I have two words for you - CLIMB MORE. Fingerboarding and other specific strength training exercises are not something you need or are ready for at this stage in your climbing, and you will injure yourself very quickly. My advice, lay off the weight training and start putting in at least 2-3 decent climbing sessions a week, you'll soon see a massive improvement.

I'm serious about avoiding the fingerboard, rupturing tendons is horrible and painful, and takes ages to heal. To put it into perspective, I'm bouldering Font 7b and have only recently started using fingerboards etc as a supplement to my climbing.
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StevenF - on 27 Nov 2013
In reply to ayuplass:

You definitely have a valid point. I have seen myself fail on a route 5 of more times and then complete is straight away after watching someone else doing it. I certainly lack vision, but I know that will come in time.

Unfortunately my wall doesn't run any training/coaching sessions. Thanks for your input!
StevenF - on 27 Nov 2013
In reply to alooker:

Thank you! I have done 2 of the "Harder" routes before, which start at Font 6a+, the ones that I have been able to do were a lot more technical and I footwork becomes so much more important. As I said above it's crimps and slopers I really struggle with, I'm not too bad with 2 finger pockets (as long as I'm not there for long).

I get a lot of fun out of failing at problems as well, but it would be nice to complete it after many, many tries! :)

Thanks for commenting.
StevenF - on 27 Nov 2013
In reply to MischaHY:

I knew someone was going to say that and your exactly right :) I do need to climb more but I don't want to give up my weight training. I enjoy it too much (as well as being happy with my physique), ideally I would love to manage a good mix of them both. I could possibly squeeze in another day of climbing with a 2 day climbing, 3 day training split.

I hear you regarding the fingerboard, I have heard a lot of horror stories with people starting far too early. I will wait a while before I start any serious work using the fingerboard, lets say.... until I reach Font 7b? ... I wish ;)
seankenny - on 27 Nov 2013
In reply to StevenF:


> I actually watched a Tommy Caldwell video a few weeks ago and he said exactly that; he had only recently started fingerboarding and said it was helping him a lot.

If he can get by without it until now, so can you I'm sure.

> And yes I try the problems several times. Yesterday I tried a problem around 10 times before finally nailing it. I love boulder problems that I have to work at, because it feels so good when I eventually complete them.

Only 10 times? That's barely getting started!
Sempafi - on 27 Nov 2013
In reply to StevenF:

I changed what I did in the gym to help build muscle for climbing
Basically did
Bent over row
Dead lift
Squat
Wide grip pull ups
Clean and jerk
Snatch
Standing sideways lean
Dips
Leg raises
Air cycling
Calf raises
Box jumps
All really good for core and back strength and explosive power. My climbing has progress very quickly and I live on the over hangs trying different holds I learn something new every time
douwe - on 28 Nov 2013
In reply to StevenF:

Keep working the harder problems, best way to progress IMO.
A trick which works well for me with problems I find difficult is breaking the problem in 2 parts. Do the last part first so you know you can top out; now you 'only' have to do the first part to be able to finish the problem.
Offwidth - on 28 Nov 2013
In reply to StevenF:

6A is quite hard, it normally involves easy UK 6a moves or a more sustained UK 5c sequence: the sort of climbing found on low to mid extreme routes; more than half of all climbers never climb this hard consistently. Yet Beware! Some indoor walls are plain wrong with their grade labels, so to climb 6A in some walls isn't hard, but in the odd contrary wall (Nottingham Uk6a, as they used trad grades, springs to mind) it can be even harder!
Steve nevers on 28 Nov 2013
In reply to Offwidth:

> Yet Beware! Some indoor walls are plain wrong with their grade labels, so to climb 6A in some walls isn't hard, but in the odd contrary wall (Nottingham Uk6a, as they used trad grades, springs to mind) it can be even harder!

Very true. One local wall is seriously overgraded in their bouldering area, what is meant to be 6C/+ is more like 5+/6A. Bizarrely their route grades are more on the money.
SteveRi - on 29 Nov 2013
In reply to Offwidth:
Indeed, I was quite chuffed to be getting up some big V grades after a long lay-off and finger strength that of a misbegotten kitten. Yeah, right.
robin mueller - on 29 Nov 2013
In reply to SteveRi:

Finger strength of a badly conceived kitten???

You must know something about kittens that I don't! ;-)
Alex1 - on 03 Dec 2013
In reply to StevenF:

As stated above it's all about fingers, technique and also core strength. Watch a good boulderer and see how efficiently they move. Stay away from overhangs and work on climbing on smaller holds and slopers on vertical or slabby problems. This forces you to use your feet and fingers. Personally I wouldn't recommend deadhangs, fingerboards, rock rings or anything like this as you can get all you need at the moment from climbing (just avoid the jugs and the steep stuff). This is even more important if you're heavy as the risk of injury is much higher (a 60kg guy has tendons of a similar strength to an 80kg guy but puts 75% of the force on them).

Your climbing aspirations are up to you but if you wanted to make rapid improvements you will have to change your build a bit. If you're into weightlifting chances are you're carrying far too much muscle and the weight of this will hold you back. For context a lot of good climbers will work hard to keep weight as low as possible and even the really powerful boulderers will be a lot closer to 70kg than 80kg.
Simos on 04 Dec 2013
In reply to Alex1:

Good advice but don't fully get the point on avoiding overhangs - if anything it was only when I started doing overhands that I realised how bad my technique was because I was finding it impossible.

No matter how strong one is you just can't keep climbing overhangs without good technique and engaging your feet and core, otherwise you are off the wall or get pumped like crazy in no time.

I do agree though that after a few months for the body to adjust, it's probably a good idea to start avoid doing only 'juggy' routes - given that you hit the gym and are probably strong, I would guess it'll be even more important to resist the temptation of just doing pull-ups on jugs :)
as646 on 04 Dec 2013
In reply to StevenF:

I was in a very similar position to you not too long ago. I started climbing just over a year ago, generally climbing 4-5 times per week. When I got to about 6A, I felt I wasn't really progressing as fast I would have liked. When asking for advice on how to get better, I was told that I really needed to work on body positioning and footwork.

I completely disregarded them as it was obvious to me that my technique was fine, clearly I simply wasn't strong enough. I then spent a lot of time doing weighted pull-ups, fingerboarding, and spending lots of time on a moonboard.

Suffice to say, the main issue wasn't that I wasn't strong enough. I finally realised that all of this wasn't really helping that much and really spent some time watching other people climb, and doing more stuff on tenuous footholds that required exact body positioning, and trying to replicate the way the really good people climbed. I feel like I have much greater body awareness now, and I found it gave me far more results that simply trying to get stronger.

I now climb about 7A indoors, 6C outdoors. I'm starting to find that it's only now that I need to start working on my finger strength. Though saying that, I weigh about 85kg so that probably isn't helping any. I'm very lean and very little of it is fat, so there isn't a whole lot I can do about it in the short term.
Alex1 - on 05 Dec 2013
In reply to Simos:

The comment about avoiding overhangs is that men (particularly if they've got arm strength from the gym) tend to gravitate towards overhangs as big steep juggy problems are fun. However this tends to encourage poor technique (lots of swinging) and doesn't build finger strength. A thin slab forces you to learn these things regardless of how many pull ups you can do, overhangs at the same grade can often go down to brute force.

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