Cragmama "Not all who wander are lost…" JRR Tolkien


This just in: If you try harder, you can climb harder!  At first glance, this might seem glaringly obvious, but it was rather eye-opening for me a few weeks ago after my hubby (tactfully) pointed out that it looked like I “gave up before I even tried” on a route that was giving me trouble at the New River Gorge.  That statement prompted a very reflective and enlightening discussion on the drive home that caused me to develop a new mantra for pushing my limits on the rock.  And though simple, I’ve already seen improvements from it, so it seemed worth sharing!  Basically it all boils down to the mantra of TRY TRY TRY…

Slow and static does NOT always win the race...

Slow and static does NOT always win the race…

TRY SMARTER After replaying my efforts from the aforementioned route in my head, it was clear why it looked like I wasn’t trying, even though I had felt as though I’d been giving 100% – I was doing it all wrong!   I was so busy using my best “girl techniques” – getting my feet up as high as possible and locking off as low as I could,  that I’d forgotten about the most basic of strategies for long moves – moving dynamically!  I realized that as I’ve gotten stronger, I’ve been able to do moves in a more static and controlled way, and have gotten out of the habit of climbing aggressively.  So I did an experiment the next week in the gym where I picked out a few easier problems to run laps on, using progressively less and less holds – forcing my movements to get more and more dynamic.  After about 30 minutes my body was remembering how to move with momentum again, so I decided to tackle some harder problems that I’d been struggling on the week before.  I was shocked to send both rather easily on my first attempt!  Adding an extra “pop” at full extension easily gave me the extra couple of inches I’d been missing, and committing wholeheartedly to deadpoint moves (rather than always leaving room to bail) made all the difference.  In other words, TRYING SMARTER enabled me to TRY HARDER.   

You're gonna have to try harder than that...;)

You’re gonna have to try harder than that…;)

TRY ANYWAY:  Another TRY HARD strategy came to light on a recent bouldering trip.  I saw several folks working a very anti-Cragmama problem.  It looked so hard that at first I didn’t even want to try it.  As I got situated on the start holds, I couldn’t help but notice that the next hold was not only intimidatingly far away, but was behind me rather than above me.  I silently gave myself a less than 10% chance of making the move, but decided I had nothing to lose by giving it a whirl.  And lo and behold I made it all the way to the last move on my very first attempt!  I went on to send the problem about 15 minutes later.  Moral of the story – even if you’re sure you can’t do it, TRY ANYWAY!

TRY AGAIN A lot of times the “hard” part of a route is figuring out the right combination of moves for your body size and your skill set – and once you figure it out and practice it a few times, the actual redpoint run feels significantly easier.  You still have to execute perfectly, of course, but in your heart you can have confidence in knowing that if you do the sequence correct you will succeed 100% of the time.  But sometimes the best sequences are so difficult that even the best beta has a pretty low success rate, either because the route is at the peak of your limit, or because it involves a lower percentage technique, such as a dyno.  There’s a route like that for me at our local crag, and although I dont’ technically have a success story with it yet, I’ve already learned a good deal from it.  The secret to success on this route is going to come from TRYING AGAIN…and again and again and again, knowing one of these days I’ll stick the move the first time.  I’ve done the hard part (finding a sequence that works), but the TRY HARD strategy in this instance is to not give up – and to of course make sure I remember the upper section well enough so that I won’t blow the redpoint when I finally do nail the crux!

While it may sound a bit oversimplified and somewhat cliche, I’m thrilled with the improvements I’ve already seen from adopting a TRY HARD mentality.  It seems to have kickstarted a positive cycle – I’m trying harder, therefore I’m climbing better, which makes me climb more confidently, which allows me to climb harder.  So while it may be a bit cheesy, it seems to be working (at least for the time being), so I may as well stick with it!  Has anyone else been able to break through a mental or physical plateau simply by a shift in perspective?  If so, please feel free to share below – I’d love to get a discussion going! 




14 Responses to “3 Ways to TRY HARDER So You Can CLIMB HARDER!”

  1. If you don’t fall, you’re not trying hard enough. 😉 Also, I’m taking that “run laps using progressively fewer holds” thing to the gym with me! Thanks!


  2. Adam

    Falling outside, When you start to lead outside it can be scary to go one move further to get to the clip when you are far above your last. This was hard for me at first but then I took some falls ad learned to trust my belayer. After learning to do this I saw a significant increase in how hard I climb.


    • Erica

      Emily – Agreed! And let me know how the skipping holds practice in the gym goes!

      Adam – You bring up a very good point. Climbing past the bolt to get to a better clipping hold is definitely a “Try Smarter” strategy.

  3. Kerry

    Thank you! I needed this!!!


  4. Brian S

    I realized something like that this summer. My friend said, “you’re about to do something hard,” and I thought, “oh, he’s right. I better try hard.” It helped a lot! A reminder every now and then helps!


    • Erica

      Kerry – So glad you found it helpful, thanks for reading!

      Brian – You are right. It’s easy to forget sometimes that rock climbing is SUPPOSED to be hard! I find that somedays I’m up for “trying hard,” and others I’m not as motivated…

  5. Adam D.

    I have also found that trying hard routes have been a big affect on me when I try them with a big group of friends who your are sharing the beta with and are motivating you through the route. Then you get even more motivated by either seeing them send and then you get psyched to do the route.


  6. Christa

    I have a similar strategy, though I simply call mine, “say yes.” Within my circle of climbing friends, I’m generally the wimpiest and most fearful. I’ll often decline invites to try certain routes because I’m afraid of flailing and embarrassing myself in front of them. Then one day I realized, I fail at 100% of the routes/problems I don’t try. Might as well go down swinging. It hasn’t been a magic recipe for success, but I feel like it has made me a stronger climber. And sometimes it does work out. Yesterday, I tried a hard ice climb. I was debating whether or not to even rope up for it because I didn’t think I would even make it to the top on TR. I told myself, “just say yes” and surprised the heck out of myself when I battled my way to the top anchor.


    • Erica

      Adam D. – There’s definitely something to be said for the “group psych” phenomenon. I’ve seen many times firsthand that the “send train” really does exist!

      Christa – That’s such a good outlook to have. Worst case you fail like you assumed you would anyway (nothing lost there), best case you surprise yourself and succeed (definitely a gain!) Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  7. Can’t stress this enough: “… figuring out the right combination of moves for your body size and your skill set…”


  8. Couldn’t agree more with these three mantras. Great post.


  9. Megun P

    Good blog and mantras for sure.
    ‘Spose its down to mental training when you’ve exhausted the gym, aye?
    I definitely tend to overthink sequences or stress over grades.


  10. Kevin F

    Have you read Arno Illgner’s? book “The Rock Warrior’s Way”? great book for climbing.. & Life


    • Erica

      Christopher – Agreed, we can only work with what we’ve got!

      JD – Thanks for the kind words.

      Megun – You’re right, I think mental training is such a big piece of the puzzle.

      Kevin – I have read Warriror’s Way, though it’s been a while. The biggest point I took from that was the idea of total commitment – whether you go for the move or back off, be 100% about it…

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“Not all who wander are lost.” —JRR TOLKIEN