How To Rock Climb Better: Specific Tips for Intermediate Climbers

Max Lurie is an AMGA certified Rock and Alpine Guide, as well as an accomplished alpinist. Max has been climbing since 2004 and traveling to the world's greatest mountain ranges in pursuit of his passion.
Written by
Max Lurie

When it comes to how to rock climb better, there are some basic things that we can all benefit from, work on or improve to get better at rock climbing. 

If you ask any great athlete or musician or performer, about major achievements in their career you will likely hear about them “being in the zone”. We have developed many terms for it, the zone or flow state, but it is always described by the individual as doing something incredibly challenging or complex without feeling taxed at all. 

This is from years or decades of practice at a specific task so their bodies can perform it while their mind focuses on more and more minutia as they improve over time.

Most of us aren’t Olympic athletes or Grammy-winning musicians and that is why those people are so special. We might not be at the most elite level of climbers, but the good news is that it actually makes improvements easier to obtain!

By following the advice in this article, no matter what your goals are, you will see an improvement in your climbing performance.

How To Rock Climb Better By Focusing On The Fundamentals

You’ve been rock climbing for 6 months or maybe 6 years and hit a plateau. 

It happens, but how do you break through it? 

One thing to remember is that the Yosemite Decimal System is not linear. 

This means that the difference between a 5.8 and 5.9 is significantly less than the difference between 5.11a and 5.12a. 

So progress will naturally slow down as you learn how to rock climb better by doing harder grades. This just means that the amount of effort you put forth into your training and climbing has to be proportional.

By understanding some fundamental principles and focusing your training you will still be able to progress. The following topics can serve as a great reminder or might be new information. Remember, pushing our limits is hard. By definition.

Photo of man rock climbing in Colorado

Physical Training For Rock Climbing

There is a ton of information out there about how to rock climb better and it can be slightly overwhelming. Here are the cliff notes (pun intended). 

There are three types of physical exertion when climbing: Power, endurance and power endurance. 

Power is defined as the single most challenging move you can successfully do. 

Endurance is simply how long can you can rock climb. 

Power endurance is what’s the longest sequence of continuously strenuous movement you can make. 

To continue making progress and improve your rock climbing skills, Isolate and train all three on a 4-6 week cycle to see the most improvement. And don’t forget to always listen to your body.

Rock Climbing Techniques Matter

While strength and physical conditioning are great, they can only get you so far when it comes to learning how to rock climb better.

We’ve all seen the shirtless gym bro pulling themselves up the wall while screaming like Adam Ondra. It isn’t sustainable. Sure it might look impressive to the uninitiated, but having good body position and using your feet is critical for all climbing. 

Training technique is more challenging than physical training because it isn’t as straightforward. 

The best way to learn how to rock climb better is to improve your technique and challenge yourself to climb different styles and on different types of rock.

How Intermediate Rock Climbers Can Take Their Skills To The Next Level 

Rock climbing is hard. That is partly why we enjoy it so much. If it was easy, we would get bored pretty quickly. 

There are lots, often too many, things to focus on all at once while we are climbing. This is often why we fall off. Because we ignored or didn't pay attention to one of the following items listed below.

Below are some tips specifically for intermediate climbers who feel they’ve hit a plateau or not progressing fast enough to help you learn how to rock climb better based on your current skill level.

Photo of woman rock climbing in Colorado

Tip #1: Rest Your Way To The Top

Even if you don’t feel pumped, never skip an opportunity to shake out. 

No one ever fell off a route because they were too rested. Preventative maintenance is better than trying to recover mid crux. 

By holding back the inevitable pumped feeling it allows us to climb with better technique and thus avoid getting further pumped. 

If a route is truly sustained, try a quick shake out as you go to grab the next hold.

Tip #2: Use Your Feet For Upward Progress

Your arms, forearms, and fingers may be strong, but your legs are stronger. 

Using your arms for upward progress is very tiring. By pushing with your legs, you’ll engage your core muscles and have a better body position. 

I like to think my arms are for balance and my legs are for upward progress. If you build a solid foundation with your feet and body, you won’t have to hold on as tightly. More of your weight will be on your feet.

Whenever moving your feet, you always want to be looking at them. This will increase your precision. 

Being precise with your feet will allow you to trust them more and put more weight on them.

Tip #3: Read The Route Before an Attempt

Do yourself a favor and look at a route before attempting it. 

Walk around and look at it from several angles. Identify any obvious rests. Where do you think the crux might be? Even phantom mime some of the movement while on the ground. 

This will help your body remember what to do while you are on the wall. 

Tip #4: Train Your Weaknesses and Play to Your Strengths

There are lots of different styles of climbing: stemming, crimps, roofs, cracks, compression, slab etc… Everyone has a different style of climbing that they prefer. 

We can generally climb the hardest grades of our preferred style. Inevitably there will be a route that has multiple styles. Make sure to still train the styles you feel less comfortable on so that when you encounter them they aren’t a show stopper. 

By being a well rounded climber of all (or most) styles you will feel more confident. That will be reflected in your climbing.

Tip #5 Have Fun!

Alex Lowe once famously said, “the best climber is the one having the most fun.” 

Trying hard routes can often be frustrating. But don’t let that discourage you, enjoy the process. 

Hard climbing is only about 10% success or less. Find a route that inspires you. Something that you find visually aesthetic or the movement really intrigues you. Don’t be afraid to move on from something if it isn’t fun anymore. 

I’ve certainly walked away from far more routes that I haven’t climbed than ones I have. 

Photo of young man climbing in a Canyon

Frequently Asked Questions About How To Rock Climb Better

One of the things I like most about rock climbing in general is how many different ways there are to enjoy the sport. 

How to rock climb better can take on many different forms. It can mean improving your understanding of technical systems or climbing harder grades. 

Learning a new style of rock climbing can also make you a better climber. 

If you are a trad climber, spending more time sport climbing will help you get more comfortable making hard moves above gear. Try bouldering to improve power. Learn how to trad climb in order to access more terrain. Plenty of options for exploration exist.

How Do I Learn To Rock Climb In The First Place?

Unlike other sports or hobbies, learning how to rock climb better doesn’t have a set progression. Which can be frustrating. 

However, the best way for a beginner to learn is in a gym environment where the most variables are controlled. 

After that or for someone looking to get outside with their climbing skills, hiring a certified guide is the best approach for a variety of reasons. 

To explore this topic more I wrote an entire article about it. Check it out below. 

Read: How to Learn Rock Climbing In Colorado

Will Practicing At An Indoor Rock Climbing Gym Help Me Climb Better Outdoors?

Most definitely. 

The best climbers in the world train at a gym religiously. Just be careful of overdoing it. 

Muscles grow faster than tendons and ligaments which can make newer climbers prone to finger injuries if they climb too often without adequate recovery.

Is Hiring a Guide The Fastest Way To Begin Rock Climbing Better?

Yes. Hiring a professional to mentor you on anything will always be better than learning on your own. Especially a dangerous activity such as rock climbing.

I explore that topic in a separate article linked below.

Read: What To Look For In a Professional Rock Climbing Guide.

What Are Some of The Best Rock Climbing Venues In Colorado For Intermediate Climbers? 

Colorado has some of the best rock climbing in the country. 

Some of my favorite venues are Eldorado Canyon State Park, the Flatirons, Clear Creek Canyon and Boulder canyon. 

Everything from beginner single pitch sport climbs to challenging multi pitch trad routes. 

These venues also boast a variety of granite, gneiss and sandstone within a 45 min drive from Boulder.

I’m Interested In Hiring a Guide To Rock Climb Better. How Do I Get The Most Value From The Instruction?

That is a great question and the answer is different for everyone. 

It all depends on what your goals are. For an in-depth overview of how to get the most from a guided rock climbing experience from a professional guide, check out the blog post below. 

Read: 4 Tips for Making The Most Out of a Guided Rock Climbing Experience

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