How I Broke Through My Climbing Plateau

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This is a pretty personal post to write and really made me reflect on my past few climbing seasons and analyze what has changed, what has worked and what hasn’t.

Breaking through my plateau didn’t happen overnight but it did happen with some dedicated hard work. I went from climbing v5/5.11d to sending v8/5.13b in two seasons. This certainly wasn’t just luck.

Keep in mind that everything I write about is purely my personal experience and while it works for me, might not work for you. Take everything with a grain of salt, experiment on yourself and have fun!

#1 I Started Running

This has been a huge game changer for me. Growing up I was a competitive swimmer and water was second nature. While I did play some soccer when I was younger, running never felt second nature the way swimming did. I decided I needed to start working on my weaknesses in order to improve as an athlete.

Running has never felt easy to me, sure there are people where running barely feels like any exertion but that’s not me! I always feel like running is much more of a mental game than a physical one. Rarely do my legs give out before my brain does. “Just give up, this is so boring!” But in order to push those thoughts aside, I have to stay strong mentally and focus on my goals.

One of the things that running has taught me is that nothing feels as hard as running. So, for me personally, climbing isn’t as challenging, therefore removing difficulty as an excuse! I also often find myself thanking running for giving such great endurance on longer routes and a shorter and improved recovery time.

I generally run 2-4 times a week and love to trail run. If I get a larger block of time, that’s where you’ll find me! I also mix in some sprints at least once a week to keep my fast-twitch muscles happy and increase my ability to recover under pressure.

Most of my runs fall under the shorter mileage category, I typically like to run 3-4 miles and usually won’t go over 8 miles. This is just what my body responds most positively too, and what works for me!

#2 I Get Outside as Often as I Can

Literally, I get out if I can. I have a membership maybe 3 months out of the year during the winter when the weather is the worst but other than that I make the effort to get outside.

Here in the PNW we are blessed with so much amazing and accessible climbing. While it’s not always more convenient to get outside, I make sure it’s a priority. Climbing outside will always make you a better climber outside. Make sense? Climbing indoors makes you a better indoor climber it just depends what your goals are.

Since I want to climb harder outside I prioritize getting out as much as possible. This means planning ahead, climbing in less than “ideal” conditions sometimes and a whole heck of a lot of time and energy spent getting some real rock climbing in.

Not only do I get to spend more time in nature outside, I get to really learn how to climb on each type of rock. Granite, basalt, sandstone and limestone all climb very differently and constantly exposing myself to these different rock types gives me a ton of experience.

When I prioritize climbing outside I feel much stronger going into the upcoming season. Instead of having to relearn how to climb outside a couple times a year after a heavy streak of gym sessions, I find myself getting back into the groove much, much easier.

#3 Put in the Effort

This one may seem obvious but trust me, it’s not. Climbing is hard. It’s hard psychically and it’s hard mentally. Not only do you need to be on top of your game physically to climb hard, but your mental game needs to be in check too. I could be wrong and this is just my opinion but I think climbing is at least 80% mental.

Let me explain a little. Physical strength is great and obviously useful, but what if you knew beyond a doubt that you did everything you could to prepare yourself for the route you are working on, the upcoming climbing season or trip you’re taking. If you have the confidence to know that you gave it your all, I guarantee you’ll find yourself climbing better and without reservation.

If you’ve given it your all, put in the effort then the other excuses can fall away and you’re left with yourself and the rock. And that can be a beautiful thing!

#4 I Started Believing that I Could Climb Harder

This right here is probably one of the biggest keys to success I’ve ever learned. Self-limiting behavior and talk like telling yourself you’ll never climb that route or project pretty much nails the coffin shut. Instead, try opening up to the possibility that it can be done, but that it will take some dedicated hard work.

As I stated in #3 climbing (in my opinion) relies heavily on a strong mental game. Sometimes just having the confidence in myself and knowing it is possible to climb as hard as I want makes me try that much harder to figure out tricky sequences or large moves.

To be extremely honest, I also watch pro-athletes who are similar build and height to me climb. This is incredibly motivating because it makes me realize what actually is possible with dedicated training and motivation. Being of a shorter stature, I can easily let myself get down and give up on a “big move” because it’s just “too reachy.” This defeatist attitude gets no one anywhere.

Instead I really try to remind myself that while the move might be big is is highly possible I can do it. I just need to find out the body position, level of power needed and psyche to make it happen. Seeing shorter climbers like Alex Puccio, Sasha Digiulian and Michaela Kiersch make me super psyched and make me forget that I’m 5′ 3″.

I also started to shift my mindset when I would watch males climb routes or boulders. It is easy to write off routes or boulders when you watch taller men climb. I realized that I was cutting myself off from the possibility before even trying! Instead, I now watch, take beta and tips where I can and keep my mind open. I likely won’t climb the route the same way a taller male does, but that doesn’t make it any less of a send.

#5 Climb with a Partner Stronger than You

Who do elite level athletes train with? Other elite level athletes! If you want to level up, find someone who is stronger than you and watch how they move, prepare and put the work in.

It can be extremely motivating to climb with a psyched and strong partner. I love climbing with my fiancé because he pushes me to get on routes I might not have otherwise. He believes in me when I have doubts and knows how much potential I have. This has been a huge part of my successful seasons the last few years. Without have a psyched partner I doubt I would have gotten outside near as much.

#6 I Cleaned up my Diet

I have eaten fairly clean for the last few years – I cut gluten and dairy out 7 years ago and have experimented to find what foods work the best with my body. During these last 7 years I have learned a ton. Which foods make me feel awesome and consequently which foods don’t make me feel awesome.

I decided a while ago that climbing was one of the most important things to me, and that getting better at and progressing in climbing was equally important. I want to push my body and limits to see what I’m capable of – my diet just needed to match this goal.

During the last few years, I have been working to eliminate added sugars, processed foods and nutritionally-empty foods from my diet. I often catch myself asking if the food I’m about to eat will have a positive or negative effect on athletic performance, and if it does have a negative effect I typically reach for a different food choice.

Does that mean I eat squeaky clean 100% of the time? Definitely not! I just make sure I truly want a food before I eat it and that either it will help my athletic performance or make me happy to eat it. For me, it really helps to think of my “future self” and ask “will I be happy or feel good later if I consume this food?” This typically works wonders for me, causes me to slow down and really get to the root of my decision making and generally leads to healthier choices for me.

Want to learn more about diet and climbing nutrition? Lucky you, I wrote an eBook all about the topic! Filled with information about diet, lifestyle and supplementation, Paleo for the Outdoor Athlete is something I am proud to have produced. Complete with recipes, easy to follow charts and tons of education information I am happy to have this out in the world. Snag a copy here!

I hope you enjoyed this post!

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1 Comment

  1. I have always been a strong believer in #5! Also, #4 is so crucial. Number grades can be intimidating. All of a sudden you’re shut down before you even get on the climb. I have found that hanging draws or plugging gear on stuff I maybe can’t finish while having a plan B to get the gear off helps release some anxiety I have about trying something harder. I normally make it to the top anyway… but maybe just not as clean on controlled as I want it to be. Thanks for sharing.


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