Breaking Performance Plateaus – Part #2

This is the second in a three-part series on how to break through a performance plateau.

If you climb long enough, you will eventually find your progress slow or stop. Here’s the second step to breaking through this ceiling and opening up a whole new level of performance.

Crack climbing at Wall Street, UT.

2. Expand and refine your climbing skill set

Climbing is a vertical dance, so what could be more important than refining your movement skills? The goal of every serious climber must be “constant, never-ending improvement of technical skills.” This is absolutely true, regardless of the grade at which you climb—in fact, the harder the climb, the less you can get away with sloppy inefficient movements. High-end ascents demand near-perfection. While perfect is unattainable, it’s in striving for perfection that you will become excellent. Here are three tips to guide your striving…

Make learning new skills an intention, rather than a chance occurrence, by going climbing with the goal of learning something new. Climb on as many different types of rock, wall angles, and areas as possible to build diverse skills and true climbing expertise. Get on routes that will force you to learn new techniques or to practice substandard techniques (crack, roof, slab, steep fall, or whatever) Sure, you will struggle and it might even make you look bad in front of your friends, but who cares? The goal is to elevate your technical skills, not your ego!

Use randomized skill practice to expand competency. Climb several very different routes back-to-back in order to mandate recall of many different motor programs. For example, send a techy face climb, followed by a steep jugging route, followed by a thin slab line, followed by crack or corner route, followed by a gymnastic power line, an so on. Forcing yourself to execute such a wide range of skills in a short time frame will solidify and multiply your technical capabilities.

Aspire to dominate at a climbing grade. Focus practice on routes at or just below your maximum difficulty and resist the urge to constantly project beyond your ability level. When working a route, resolve to find the best way to do a move or sequence and resist the urge to just thrash up the route and deem that acceptable. As a practice method, climb a route several times to identify the proprioceptive cues (the distinct feeling of doing a certain move) that will guide you to the most effective and efficient movement.