When I started climbing, I was pretty much a regular bumbly. I went through season after season of little to no improvement, without really understanding why. Every time I flirted with a breakthrough I wound up injured and right back where I started. I assumed that all those people climbing 5.12 or harder were simply genetically gifted, born with elite finger strength. I was a pretty decent athlete. I wrestled in high school, and made it to the Quarterfinals of the State Tournament my senior year, so I had a decent amount of upper body strength, good body control and balance. I ran cross country and track in college. I knew how to work hard, and how to follow a training program. Yet when it came to climbing, my ceiling appeared to be mid-5.11.
Me as a bumbly, c. 1996
When I graduated from college I moved to Albuquerque, NM, and finally got my first climbing gym membership. When I first entered the gym I struggled to climb V1 boulder problems, but after a few weeks I was shooting up the grade scale. I remember how proud I was to climb my first V4, then a V6, then POP! There went the A2 Pulley in my left ring finger. Hmm, a minor setback, but I was young and my body healed quickly. Three months later I was back at it, another V6 in the bag. One day I went to repeat the problem just for fun. POP! There went the A2 Pulley in my right ring finger. Bummer. That summer, the same story again. I worked my butt off to get back to where I was, and then seemingly without warning I re-injured my left ring finger.
Finger strength is less of an issue now:
Enough was enough. I had never been so frustrated. Three consecutive seasons ending in serious injury. On the advice of my brother Mike, I picked up a copy of Dale Goddard & Udo Neumann’s “Performance Rock Climbing”. I read it cover to cover in no time flat. The metaphors in the book spoke perfectly to me. This is what I was searching for. Long story short, in the ten years since I first began following the concepts in that book I’ve gone from a limit of 5.12a to 5.14c. From three pulley tears in a little over one year to zero in over ten years of doing moves much harder than those that previously resulted in injury.
That’s not to say I haven’t had setbacks; I’ve had plenty, and I’ve learned a tremendous amount in the process. But the point is, I’m not a genetic freak. I didn’t climb 5.13 when I was nine years old or go from zero to 5.14 in less than a year. I have a good work ethic, but basically I was a pretty average climber for a long time. Then I started training. I didn’t become an expert overnight, but with a lot of trial and error, a lot of research and networking, I’ve learned a tremendous amount, and the results of these efforts have far exceeded my wildest expectations. Many others have had similar results. I personally know three other climbers that have elevated their game from Gumby-hood to 5.14 following the same basic program that I follow, and many, many others that have made it to 5.13. It takes some time, some hard work, and perhaps some sacrifice, but I believe firmly that any climber willing to put forth the effort can see huge improvements with the proper guidance. I hope to share some of that insight here, and if you’re willing to give it a shot, I think you will be happy with the results.