Progressing Through Rock Climbing Ratings

Why is it so hard to progress past a climbing rating of 5.10?

Hi Mike,

When I first stared climbing I improved pretty quickly, but now I am stuck at the 5.10 grade. Any suggestions?


Mike says:

Your question is one that nearly every beginning rock climber will eventually ask themselves. Why do I hit 5.10 and cannot progress to 5.11? The answer is two parts:

1) It’s all in your head.
2) You just need to climb more.

Here’s why:

1) A lot (if not most) of climbing is mental. How many times have you been on lead and are 4 feet above your last bolt or piece and are freaked out only to top rope the route later with ease? Do you ever tie in, rack up and look up at the chains and feel your palms start to sweat, you all of a sudden need a drink really bad, and your stomach starts to do flips inside you? It is all in your head. Get a drink, take a deep breath, exhale slowly and get on with it!

2) I could take a bit of time here giving you a specific training schedule, diet plan and dietary supplement list to help you climb past your toughest redpoint, but here’s the real secret. If you want to progress beyond your particular “wall” you just need to get on a tough route and work it. It may take a hour, or two or however long.

One time I was working on redpointing a route at my favorite crag. I had been climbing 5.10’s for years and I wanted a challenge. I found a really nice 5.11, a dihedral route that overhung slightly. I tied in and scared as can be climbed up and clipped the first bolt, then the second bolt. Ah, the point of no return I thought. I got up to the thin finger crack and started up the overhang scared that I would fall. I gripped the holds tighter and realized I was going to fall. Take! I yelled and came off.

I soon realized that I was just too scared to fall off the overhang and rapped down another route to retrieve my draws. I came back time after time to get to the same point and fall. I finally cheated and grabbed a draw above the crux, climbing to the top. It wasn’t bad above the crux, it wasn’t too hard below. I worked the route a few more times and finally nailed the redpoint. I recently went back and did it again bagging it the first try. I felt like I had busted through the invisible 5.11 ceiling!

So it is with your nemesis route. I have come to realize that the best way to climb better is to climb more and at your hardest level. Professional climbers get to be the best because that is all they do – climb. For a weekend climber, pick a tough route and climb it. You may not nail it the first or second or even third time, but with some patience (and a little luck) you’ll get it. I know because that is how I did it.

Now it’s your turn – ask me a question eh?

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