Pushing Through Plateaus

     Plateaus are never fun. For the past year, I’ve been stuck climbing around the same grades: V5-V7 for boulders and 5.11c-5.12a for sport. It’s easy to become discouraged when every route or problem you attempt either seems too easy or nearly impossible and being continuously shutdown on a route you thought would be a walk in the park makes it more difficult to stay motivated. Sure, you can channel that frustration into developing a new training regimen or set of routines that may help you progress, but if you don’t see the results you were hoping for, that moment where expectations fall short of reality further perpetuates the downwards spiral of frustration.

     What drew me to climbing was the feeling one gets in being able to overcome moments of stark discouragement and frustration. As a result, I’ve learned able to embrace defeat and failure as part of the learning experience. It’s hard to put into words how it feels when you train your body to move in a brand new way; how, over the course of projecting a route, something goes from nearly impossible to easily achieved. To my non-climbing friends, I call it “leveling up”, gaining the prerequisite skill and experience to progress to a higher degree of difficulty, and doing so in a clear, hierarchical, and linear fashion. What’s unique is that, as climbers, we can feel that moment when everything clicks. You learn more about yourself and surmounting self-imposed limitations when you can physically feel yourself getting stronger. However, when you hit that eventual plateau and the linear progression you were accustomed to dissolves, how do you stay motivated to climb and work through your frustration?

     My answer has always been to remember that climbing is a lifetime sport. Just as there are teenagers sending 5.14, there are retirees that can do the same. I’ve been fortunate in having several partners over fifty that’ve been climbing for upwards of twenty years. The dedication they have surmounts their desire to rack up the numbers and most would rather climb a lifetime at 5.10 than to flame out after one hard 5.13 redpoint. Anytime I get stuck, I try to remember those who took ten years to climb 5.12 and the fact that their persistence, rather than training volume, is what got them there.

     The beauty of our sport is that the best way to train for climbing is simply to climb. While we may always be looking to progress and climb as hard as we possibly can, just because this year V6 seems impossible doesn’t mean it’ll always remain so. So, if you’ve been stuck in the same place like I’ve been, remain calm! You can hit the hangboard, start some new weight training program, maybe even try a higher protein diet and a new cardio regimen. But, whatever you do, make sure to keep climbing; because there’s a lifetime of routes out there to enjoy and it’d be a shame to miss out.