Round 80

Q: I can generally onsite 11c/d, but I have huge issues breaking into 12a. I don’t feel like it is a strength or technique issue, yet I am totally stuck. Any insight you could give would be awesome. Thanks, –Zach (Minnesota)

A: Hi Zach, Your assessment is probably accurate. Breaking into that next level is almost always a matter of the mind. Everyone’s got different issues, but it usually comes down to a complex blend of increasing confidence, self-directing relaxation, amping up your “go for it” on a route, narrowing concentration, and improving fear management, among other things. Many climbers aren’t even conscious of all these intangible but immensely important issues. So your goal this season should be to open your mind and search for these little “hurdles” that you need to overcome. My new book, Maximum Climbing, is a very in-depth discussion of these subjects with specific mental training strategies to help you reach the next level…and beyond! Check it out at

Q: What can you tell me about a nutritional supplement called HMB? –Greg (Illinois)

A: Hey Greg, HMB is an (expensive) supplement that has been shown to improve strength (and support hypertrophy) in very hard-training athletes. While it might be of some use to a hard-training climber, I’m not convinced that you would really see the difference. As will all supplements, you really have to test it out and decide for yourself; but in my opinion most supplements aren’t worth the coast. The exception is whey protein and a high quality sports drink (like Accelerade)…which are probably the two best supplements a climber can take to support performance and recovery. Hope this helps!

Q: Hi Eric, I have been climbing on and off for about a year. When I started I quickly progressed to the level where I am now (V2/V3 bouldering and 6A on top rope). I am now quite stuck at this level and seem unable to progress. I realize my technique is probably at fault and I am trying a number of exercises, that I have read about in your and other books, in order to improve. Although my technique has improved I am concerned that it may be my finger strength that is holding me back. So, my question involves finger strength benchmarks–how strong should my fingers be to progress to the next level. At least this way I will know if my finger strength is the problem so I can focus on improving it. –Dave (United Kingdom)

A: Hi David, With only one year experience, you certainly need to work on strength, technique, and your mind! Think big picture and don’t fall into the trap of thinking that doing one thing will get you to the next grade. As for finger strength benchmarks…well, there is no easy or perfect benchmark. But the number of fingertip pull-ups you can do (on a 3/4 inch or 19 mm edge) is a decent place to start. If you can’t do any that’s certainly poor; doing 5 to 10 such pull-ups is good, doing 15 or more is excellent. As for training your fingers: While some fingerboard training might help you, I think regularly bouldering is the best thing to do since it will also develop technique, feel, and mental skills. So try to boulder a couple days per week, and get on roped climbs one or two days per week (endurance training). Hope this helps you out. Good luck!

Q: I’m 57, 6’0, 170lbs, with solid technique and no visible fat; I can do about 17 pull-ups max, 100 crunches with 30 lbs behind my head. My goals are modest (I think) to be able onsight an indoor 5.12 (about 25% of the time). Failure for me is less about pulling moves than about pumping out. I’ve been more or less at a plateau for years. Right now, I’m starting to train to increase my overall power (and hopefully my endurance) by beginning with 5 sets of weighted hangboard pull-ups to failure on climbing days (after my session). Once I can do this, increasing the weight injury-free for a few months, I’ll build an HIT wall. Does this seem like a good plan? I’m grateful for your advice, books, and inspiration. –Mark (California)

A: Hi Mark, Everything you mention sounds good to me. Just be careful with the weighted pull-ups, since overdoing it could lead to shoulder, elbow, and/or finger problems. Remember, if endurance (getting pumped) is your biggest constraint on climbs, then the weighted pull-ups aren’t the solution. The one thing you should add is some “interval climbing” as outlined in my books. Do multiple “burns” on an overhanging wall lasting between 2 and 4 minutes each, with only about a 4-minute rest in between. Begin with 3 burns per session and build to 6 total burns. Do this twice per week for 8 weeks and you will discover a huge improvement in your endurance. Let me know how it goes!

Q: Hey Eric, I’ve read a lot of things of yours and have really come to like and enjoy your perspectives and insights into all things climbing-related. I fell and broke my ankle while leading a 5.8 route at Looking Glass Mountain in North Carolina a few weeks ago (fell only about 15-20 feet, but I either caught a horn on the way down or had my ankle in a crack when I fell). The incident as a whole has really knocked my mind hard, and I keep asking myself questions such as “what did I do wrong?” and “was this preventable, and how?” While I have come to accept some things about my abilities and mistakes that I may have made on the climb, I am more afraid, than anything else, that this incident will discourage me of ever wanting to tie into the rope and climb again. I do not want that to happen. Do you have any thoughts or tips about getting back into climbing after an injury such as this? I really want to learn from this event, and while I realize it may be a while until I am physically able to climb again, I am trying to focus my mind on learning from this event and moving on. Thanks.

A: Hi Pete, Sorry to hear about your fall. But I do think all your feelings are normal, and I’d be more concerned if you didn’t feel this way for some time after the injury! I’ve hear from many climbers who have had similar situations. Heck, way back in 1981 (my 4th year climbing) I took a 40-foot lead fall and somehow badly broke a bone in my thumb–this required surgery and 4 months downtime, during which I had to think things through. Anyway, don’t be too hard on yourself; but do learn what you can from this situation, and then put it behind you. I suggest you ease back into gym climbing or sport climbing or top roping for several months to get back your confidence and poise. The last thing you want to happen is to become a tense, tight, apprehensive climber—that’s no fun! I really can’t express much more in this short email, but I know that you will find my new book, Maximum Climbing, to be very helpful, as it deals with the cognitive aspects of climbing. Good luck, and please do let me know how it goes next year.