So you've been climbing for a few months (or a few years). You're super psyched that you just got to the top of your first 20 (or 22 or 26 or whatever). Sure, you had to hang three or four (or ten) times to get there, but you did it and now you're ready to move on to the next grade, right? Not so fast...
During several of my last few times out at Bronkies, I've seen too many ambitious beginner-to-intermediate climbers falling into the same grade-chasing trap I fell into during my first years of climbing. This perspective was captured perfectly in a recent post to the forum:
"When I started in August I was climbing 18/19 and with a push you might have got me onto a 21. This weekend I'm going to Fernkloof and will be working a couple of 24s, and not too scared to attempt leading them either."
For those of us with an inherent competitive spirit (whether competing with others or ourselves), pushing climbing grades can be as addictive as heroine. My experience and that of many others demonstrates, however, that pushing grades too quickly is a path to performance plateaus, frustration, and injury. While one's current climbing regimen of pushing maximum grades in each session might have enabled one to advance three grades in a mere three months, such gains are not sustainable in the long-run. I personally progressed from 5.7 to 5.10b in my first year of climbing (top-rope). One year later, 5.11b (top-rope). Three years later, after lots of intense training, cursing at plastic and rock alike, and plenty of tweaked fingers chasing my elusive 5.12 dreams, 5.11b (lead). And I promise you that my experience was not unique among my peers.
What enabled me to escape my cycle of performance plateaus and injury, as well as restoring a full measure of joy to the experience of climbing, was a complete shift in paradigm. While I did not start ignoring climbing grades, I started focusing not on increasing my maximum redpoint but on onsighting as many fun, classic climbs upon which I could place my callused fingertips. I did not abandon my 5.12 projects, but I did remove them from their rarefied pedestal so that I could focus on increasing the volume and variety of climbing instead of the intensity. In my training sessions, I attempted to introduce as much variety as possible: mixing in endurance laps on steep overhangs, circuit bouldering, slabs (which I had previously ignored); mixing up my climbing venues and types of rock; and mixing up my climbing partners. Furthermore, I vowed that I would not add any new projects of a certain grade until I had redpointed at least 4-6 climbs at the previous grade. Before long, despite having substantially less time for training due to life intruding on my climbing, I started ticking off some of those projects I'd had for years and found myself enjoying the process all the more (mothers no longer have to cover their children's ears when I'm climbing).
Without knowing it at the time, I had stumbled into many of the tried-and-true practices preached by climbing's top coaches: route pyramids, the value of variety and volume to improve technique and kinesthetic awareness, and the critical importance of a having the right attitude (a big part of which is choosing the right partner[s]). You'll find a lot of great information on these principles, and others such as periodisation, movement training, and proper nutrition, in any good book on climbing training. I personally feel that Hunter and Hague's The Self-Coached Climber
is the best book out there on climbing training (http://www.kalahari.net/books/The-Self-Coached-Climber/632/29278848.aspx
), but there are other great resources out there as well (I know that trad ace Dave McLeod is working on a new book, too). Amazingly, I found The Self-Coached Climber
at my local library in Polokwane, which saved me from forking out more than R300.
I assure you that slowing down on pushing the grades (i.e. consolidating a grade by red-pointing four or more of a given grade before moving on) will make your fingers, your rope and other gear (repeated falls on the first few bolts of a sport climb are terrible
for your rope!), your partner, and you much happier and injury-free.