Dyno pain, dyno gain.

Some of us don’t have the optimal strength-to-weight ratio for rock climbing.  In fact, others might suggest that we should stop fighting nature and just stick to activities to which our bodies are better suited (e.g. ‘ground walking’).  I’d say I do pretty well for myself given my strength limits – I’m pretty comfortable climbing in the 6a+/6b range, and now and then I’ll tick a 6c by relying on good technique, flexibility and balance.  However, as anyone with my not-so-climbing-friendly body type will understand, a power move can be the soul-crushing determining factor that takes a climb from clean to red point (or no point).

When faced with a dyno, the muscularly-challenged climber has a few options:*

  1. Continue the jump-miss-jump-miss cycle until your muscles fail and you turn into a useless blog of flesh, thus ruining your chances of climbing anything other than a ladder for the rest of your rock/wall session.  Or better yet, allow your frustration to build until you’re forced to stop climbing due to a self-inflicted fist/rock contact injury.  Don’t forget to take out your frustration on your climbing partner!
  2. Find some other genius way to do the move that takes advantage of your own climbing strengths – slowly balance your way up to the next hold, bridge across to a side wall, take a super high step, etc.  Note that this is not always possible, but when it happens it has the potential to be very ‘interesting’ and entertaining for spectators.
  3. Admit (short-term) defeat, and switch to a climb with less powerful moves.

Now I’m as competitive as the next guy (moreso, in fact!), but I’ve recently realized that there’s no shame in going with the third option.  Dave McCloud may disagree with me**, but rather than continuing to flail for a dyno, each attempt more pathetic than the last, sometimes you gotta know when to fold ‘em.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that weak climbers should just give up or never try any hard power moves, but there’s a skill to knowing when you should keep at it vs. when you should call it a project and come back to it next time.  That threshold is different for everyone, so the skill is really in knowing yourself.

Thanks for the video, YouTube!

*Any other options that I haven’t listed?  Please let me know in the comments!

**In his book 9 Out of 10 Climbers Make the Same Mistakes, Dave McCloud says (and I’m paraphrasing here) that what separates a great climber from a good one is the extra 2% effort, trying that move one more time when anyone else would give up, etc.  I’m a big fan of this book and highly recommend it to climbers of any level.




Working a 7b+ route – power endurance seems as if it is the issue, as I can link all the moves to a specific point, rest, then complete the climb. Focusing on working stamina on hard routes for the next week or so will hopefully lead to me sending this route!


We got a lot of climbing in last week, possibly a little too much as my elbows were pretty sore by the end of the week! It seems to have paid off though, as I’ve managed to top-rope a technical, balancy 6c+ route at York that felt impossible last October, and almost led it last night. It’s really motivating to see these tangible gains every so often, as so much of the time, week to week it’s hard to see any noticeable improvement.

I’ve been thinking about the training I’ve done over the past few months – the first time I tried this 6c+ route it felt ridiculously hard – I seem to remember it taking me weeks just to link any of the moves. Now, having tried it on lead a couple of times, I only take one fall on the entire route. Much as I would love to pin down one specific part of training that has moved me on to this new level, I don’t think I can. Training over the past few months has included some fingerboard work (sporadic, and not particularly focused), some strength work in the gym (I’m not sure how applicable this is), some semi-regular core strength work, and regular work on a pull-up bar. It seems to me that the most useful training thus far has been the last two – regular pull-ups and leg raises on the pull-up bar, mixed up a little by using 3 or 2 fingers of each hand to hold on to the bar, and core work – sit-ups, roman candles, crunches, superman’s and planks and dishes (if anyone knows the more technical terms for these, please feel free to suggest them in the comments!).

It seems to me that some of my gains have been down to spending more time on this climbing-specific training, but not all. Right now, the most significant driving factor in my progression stands out to me as…climbing more, and attempting routes harder than my current grade. Since I first lead a 6b route, I’ve been working (on lead and top-rope), routes up to 7b+. Some of these attempts have involved dogging up a wall, working a single move multiple times, or working multiple moves without being able to link any of them. This is (at least to me now) an interesting observation – oftentimes in climbing, I think people are looking for a magic bullet, some magical training technique that is going to propel them to the next grade. My opinion on this is likely highly influenced by where I am with my personal climbing now, but the way to move up through the grades in climbing is simply to climb more, and climb harder. Attempt routes beyond your ability, and eventually they will be within your ability. Discussions on how you feel you make the periodic gains in climbing ability welcomed in the comments!

2012 Current Climbing Level

Jumping back onto the wall after around 15 days off for Christmas felt hard. The biggest loss seems to be in power endurance – something I feel I needed to improve anyway, but now definitely an area I will be making a concerted effort to focus on. I feel I’ve slipped back maybe half a grade – 6b+ routes felt hard at towards the top, and the pump was noticeable in a way I haven’t felt for a while. Training plan for the next few weeks to come in a post shortly!

Training on Overhangs

The closer I get towards leading at F7a, the more I notice certain physiological elements that need attention. It started with a feeling that I was lacking in finger strength – regular finger pull-ups and hangs from door frames have helped a lot with this. I then noticed I was struggling to hang small pockets, so focused on working routes that contained a number of them. All of this quite directed finger training has meant that I’ve been finishing training sessions with fingers that feel they’ve had a workout, but not much else. The area I feel I’m now lacking in is power-endurance – my forearms are pumping out far too quickly on sustained routes. To this end, we went to the Leeds Wall and jumped on the big overhanging routes there. It’s interesting to notice how the grades suddenly feel much harder when climbing a different style of route. The aim of cranking out some big overhanging routes is to improve both overall power, and stamina. We’ll see how the next few weeks pan out..