5 Things About Climbing I Wish I Knew 5 Years Ago

Sarah Williams putting her lessons learned climbing into practice.

Sarah Williams putting her climbing lessons learned into practice. (Photo credit: Carlo Nasisse)

We’ve all had that moment in climbing where something finally clicks, either physically or mentally. For most of us, that moment came later in our climbing career – followed by that temporary moment of regret: ‘If only I’d known this when I first started climbing!’ Today Sarah Williams shares her list of 5 things she wish she’d known when she started climbing 5 years ago. While it might be too late for some of us, hopefully Sarah’s advice will inspire any newbies just getting into the sport!

Lesson #1: Try Harder Stuff

Any gym rat can tell you that grades are very subjective. You may be cruising V5’s but just can’t seem to pull the move on one funky V3, or you might put 15 attempts into a V6 and flash the V7 next to it. Just because you’re climbing V3 and projecting V4 doesn’t mean you can’t jump on a V5 or even harder.

Working (and falling) on the first long move of a pumpy V7

Sarah working (and falling) on the first long move of a pumpy V8 (Photo credit: Jeline Guiles)

To some people this is naturally obvious, as evidenced by that guy who is struggling on V2 but sees a girl climb a V7, and immediately feels empowered to give it a try (even if he sits there falling on the first move for a good 15 minutes). But others, like my younger self, are quite a bit more timid. I rarely tried grades above my limit for fear of being that guy who repeatedly falls on the first move of a climb.

But, if we never try hard, we’ll never improve. Sasha Diguilian wrote a really great article on this awhile ago. Getting on hard climbs helps us to learn the movements that we need to master in order to climb harder.

Example–I used to rarely climb roofs because I knew that I was horrible at them. But as I got better at vertical climbing and timidly, occasionally attempted a roof climb even 2 grades below my max, I often fell. By not practicing the movement needed to send roof climbs I was limiting my own ability. Which brings me to another point…Try, Try Again.

Trying the heel on try #???

Trying the heel on try #1. (Photo credit: Jeline Guiles)

Lesson #2: The 7 Try Rule

As I started to realize how much my fear of failing was impacting my climbing I came up with the 7 try rule. It’s pretty simple: if you fall on a climb, you have to try that move 7 times before you can walk away from the problem. So, you walk up to a boulder problem around your level. The first move is a throw to a sloper. You get on the holds, set up, go…..and splat, you’re back on the ground. You think to yourself: “Well, that’s a weird move, and it’s a really bad sloper, and I’m too short to make that long of a move, and I don’t like dynamic climbs–I’m a static climber so I’m just going to try something else.”

Now trying the toe hook on try #2

Now trying the far toe hook on try #2. (Photo credit: Jeline Guiles)

Don’t make this mistake! Try it six more times. More often than not you will surprise yourself with how much progress you can make if you just commit to working out the move 7 times. Cruxy moves often involve a learned body movement, and trying it just once won’t suffice. By walking away from climbs that don’t seem to be your style on first glance you’ll severely limit yourself, and the skill gap between your strengths and weaknesses will grow even wider.

No one is naturally great at every style of climbing; whatever your weakness is–pinches, dynos, slopers–you have to continually practice those movements to get better.

So what are you thinking about or working on during those 7 tries?

And now the close  toe on try #...

And now the close toe on try #… (Photo credit: Jeline Guiles)

Lesson #3: Focus on the Movement

About 2 years ago I was trying to stick an aaallllmost deadpoint, where my foot kept popping. My boyfriend (who was also a climbing coach at the time) told me to try the move while thinking about my left foot. My first instinct: “What does that mean?  What am I supposed to think about my foot? It’s location? The stylish climbing shoes I’m wearing?” But nonetheless I tried the move while realllllly focusing on pushing with my foot, and I stuck it for the first time after countless attempts.

This was seriously a turning point in climbing. The notion that you could use mental effort to focus on all the little motions that your body goes through while doing a difficult move was revolutionary.


Focusing hard on digging in the right toe to keep from cutting my feet. (Photo credit: Jeline Guiles)

Nowadays I am constantly thinking about these little movements while climbing, and when I implement the 7 try rule I am putting out at least as much mental effort as physical effort.

Okay, so I just fell on that throw to the sloper (see above). Was it because I didn’t hit the hold at the right angle? Where should my center of gravity be when I hit the hold and how do I move to get my center of gravity exactly there? Do I need to focus more on engaging my core? Is my body too far away from the wall? Do I need to put more power into my jump? Clearly there are a lot of questions to address to answer the simple question: why did I fall? That’s why you need 7 tries (at least) to fine-tune the movement.

So, what if I still can’t figure out this move?

Lesson #4: Ask for Help

As a beginner climber 5 years ago, I knew a couple other beginner climbers, and we would all try to help each other out with tricky problems. Working out a climb with other people at your level can be one of the most fun parts of climbing. But, occasionally asking a more experienced climber for help on something that you just can’t figure out is a great resource for improvement. I feel really lucky to have learned to climb on a team where there was a coach and plenty of people stronger than me to help me work through tough moves and tell me what I needed to do to improve. Even now, when I see someone cruising a move that I fell on I’ll ask them how they did it differently. And if I’m really struggling, I may ask someone to watch me and tell me what I’m doing wrong.

Asking Jeline (from Climb On, Sister) for some beta 

Asking Jeline (from Climb On, Sister) for some beta. (Photo credit: Jeline Guiles)

These days, I know many of the climbers at the gym, so I never feel embarrassed to ask for help. But when I was first getting started, I didn’t know that many people so I never felt comfortable asking one of the stronger climbers for advice. But to my younger self I would encourage you to Just Ask!! If someone just cruised your project as their warm up it’s okay to ask for advice. Most climbers are willing to share their beta and help out a newbie. I have never asked for beta from a stranger and had someone turn up their nose at me and walk away. And when I get asked for advice from a new climber I’m usually flattered that think I’m strong enough to seek out beta from and always happy to help.

The last thing that I really struggled with, basically up until a year or two ago, was fear that other (stronger) climbers were watching me. So the last thing I would say is:

Lesson #5: Nobody is Watching You

Okay, that probably isn’t true. Often times people will watch you climb things at a gym. But if they’re really staring at you throughout your whole climb, it’s probably because they’re falling on that problem and want your beta. Everyone at the gym or the crag is there to hang out with friends and climb, just like you–no one is there just to people watch. Maybe someone sees you falling on your climb, but I can guarantee that they’re not sitting there laughing at your fall. Every strong climber knows what it’s like to be brand new, or projecting V2, V3, or V4.

Remember why you climb

Never forget to have fun while you climb! (Photo credit: Jeline Guiles)

I used to be terrified to climb my projects on a wall with other people that I didn’t know. But that fear was just plain crazy. Even if those unknown climbers were working on the hardest climb in the gym, that also happened to be on that wall, they were for sure not going laugh at or criticize me for falling on my V4 project right next to their V10 project. Most likely they were focused on figuring out their own problem and were only looking at me on my project to know when they could safely get on the wall. And one last little tip: if you’re working a project next to people who may seem (but are probably not) intimidating, it can help to make small talk with them about something unrelated to climbing, just to break the tension. And never forget to have fun!

Thanks Sarah for sharing your climbing lessons learned! Check out Sarah’s original post and more of her great tips, motivation, and amazing climbing trips on her blog: Climbing (Miss)Adventures.

Climb on! ~Cate

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14 thoughts on “5 Things About Climbing I Wish I Knew 5 Years Ago

  1. Jess W says:

    This is awesome advice. I, like most climbers, some times make goals that are some what unrelated to actually sending. One of my recent goals was to NOT worry about other people and what they are doing and may be thinking. It’s hard to forget about them, but at the end of the day it’s really going to help you send.
    Recently I was trying a problem “above” my level, the first move, for a shorty like me, is practically a dyno… A guy saw me attempt the first move and fall, he then told me “Thats not even the biggest move on the problem… so…” I just looked at him like a deer in the headlights and got back on. I gave not a sinlge crap what his stupid opinion was. Plus, he feel off the move too and was much taller than me.

  2. kstar says:

    sarah and sacha’s advice to try problems and routes above your limit is really good but also might betray only that these two women have incredible potential and happen to be held back by self perception. while this advice is valuable for the small percentage of climbers to whom it applies, i can certainly say that i’ve tried climbing .14c and .14d and it hasn’t opened a whole new world to me (one in which i am a world class climber, easily dispensing with such routes). a lot of people have a very keen sense of their limits, and have to struggle against these in a very physical manner (i.e. not hamstrung by only by the mind).

    either way, this was a nice post and i like to see the collaborative network between these groups!

    • blustery says:

      I am going to have to disagree with you here. I think that trying things above your limit is THE BEST advice they gave. Of course everyone is going to have a different rate of success, and some people do have more natural talent. However, you will never progress as a climber by climbing the same grade over and over and over. The only way to get better is to go outside of your comfort zone. This applies both physically (trying a move above your limit allows your muscles to develop) and mentally (learning to believe you can do whatever you put your mind to). It is not going to turn you into a magical 5.14 beast overnight, progression is a long road. You can only walk it by trying and failing.

      • Taavi says:

        In think it’s important to mix the two approaches. Personally I occasionally try that V6/V7, even though I can reliably only climb V4, but at the same time, I make sure I climb ALL the V4s in the gym. That way I don’t end up just climbing the style I’m best at and spend most of the time working my weaknesses.

        • Rosie says:

          I like to have both projects, and impossi-projects. eventually the impossies turn into projects and it gives me extra confidence for my onsight climbing days (sometimes you just want to get to the top of something!)

  3. Caroline says:

    Great Article! The part about not being intimidated by stronger climbers or people watching you was helpful for me…I struggle with that.

  4. […] you haven’t read this post by crux crush about 5 things they wish they had known five years ago, you should. While reading that article, I thought to myself, “hey, damn, that seven rule is […]

  5. CC says:

    great article. thanks!

  6. […] Ejercicios de Pesas Específicos para Escalada. 5 Things About Climbing I Wish I Knew 5 Years Ago | Crux Crush. […]

  7. Thomas says:

    why is everyone so focused on grades? Climb the wall/rock. Have fun, learn new skills, our persons do not need to be classified by a subjective system of numbers. Learn good, safe technical skills. Then rock it out!

  8. […] READ IT HERE: 5 Things About Climbing I Wish I Knew 5 Years Ago […]

  9. Amanda Smith says:

    Arkansas!! I freakin’ love the bouldering here.

  10. […] you haven’t read this post by crux crush about 5 things they wish they had known five years ago, you should. While reading that article, I thought to myself, “hey, damn, that seven rule is […]

  11. Robert says:

    Great article. I’ve only been climbing for two months and have been limiting myself to levels I thought are within my abilities. I work on V3’s and V4’s most of the time. Lower ratings for warm up. Rarely attempt V5’s as my perspective has been, get the V4’s wired, then move on. Think it’s time I step up my game. ;o)

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