Grit and Burl: Maybe it’s time to take training seriously

Campo 4 Comp Lucas Scott PhotoThe comp might’ve been a bust for me, but at least Lucas Scott got a rad photo of my desperate efforts. #braidbeta

A little more than a year ago, I wrote a post about one of my many mental battles. I wondered if I was cutting myself too much slack by keeping expectations low at the crag.

A stronger and more experienced friend assured me that I was overthinking things but pointed out that, if I did feel a little slumpy, “picking objectives and outlining the path to them is a sure fire way to success.”

I read that sentence and kind of shrugged. I knew he was *probably* right, but surely I could become a crusher without anything so stuffy as specific goals and a training plan.
So I just kept climbing, daydreaming, and attempting to absorb the powers of the greats through YouTube binges and Crux Crush interviews. I slowly progressed past the V5 mark and toward V6, strengthening my shoulders and bettering my head game by climbing a lot of routes in styles I enjoyed. When the lady climbers I most admired talked about their own training plans, I shrugged some more: Sure, they train, but I’m not on that level yet.

Well, I think I really am. I don’t even think there is a level. Climbing with purpose and cross training are probably beneficial no matter how long you’ve been scurrying up walls.

I wrote in my last post about the frustration I’ve felt trying to get back in shape after two months off from climbing. After competing *very* poorly at Campo 4, I decided I needed to be more mindful about getting strong again. I started entering the gym with a written plan and focusing my efforts on developing specific skills, rather than throwing myself at anything that looked fun.

Then I sprained my ankle and couldn’t climb for a week. I decided I was not having any more of this sedentary off-day nonsense and started hitting the weight room for the first time since P.E. class in college. I brought along a notebook, and it has since become my training log.

That’s right: not only am I working to improve my climbing in an organized and intentional manner, I’m logging my workouts and eating habits. I fell off the wagon this week after getting food poisoning — I really can’t catch a break — but I’ve already had some small breakthroughs at the crag and on plastic.

I’ve been listening to the Freakonomics series on self-improvement, and my favorite episode so far is “How to Get More Grit in Your Life.” In it, psychologist Angela Duckworth addresses personal grit. She explains that this “stick-to-itiveness” is an important characteristic in high achievers of many kinds. Gritty people push through unpleasant short-term experiences in the pursuit of bigger long-term goals. And although they may seem to have special abilities, grit is really something anyone can develop.

I think it’s time for me to develop my climbing grit. I will always climb because it’s fun, but I know the satisfaction of pushing past my body’s limits will be well worth an increase in my focus and discipline. What’s more fun than putting down new grades?

A flashback to slightly stronger days. Photo cred to Mackenzie Taylor Photography

So here are those objectives, Brian, about a year late:

Long Term Goals

These are my biggest climbing aspirations. They shape the shorter-term goals I have for myself.

Send a V10 by age 30. I think this is totally doable. I have seven years to gain the strength and technical ability to climb V10, and hopefully my smaller goals will get me there.

Get AMGA certified, also by age 30. I don’t necessarily want to *be* a climbing guide, but I want to be able to be one. Maybe that sounds dumb, but it’s just a thing I want to do.

The biggest obstacle to this goal is that certification is an expensive process. But I will also need to undergo Wilderness First Responder training and, well, learn to trad climb before I’m even eligible to apply.

This Year’s Goals

I’m pretty sure I can pull these off before the new year.

Send a V7. This seemed more doable a few months ago, but I have faith that with focus and psych it will re-enter the realm of possibility.

Send a 5.12. Maybe my sport climbing expectations should be higher, but I will probably never be as grade-intense about routes as I am about problems.

Do 12 pullups with good form. I know a lot of climbers think pullups are a waste of time, but I truly believe in their core-strengthening power. I also just like feeling like a mega-strong lady hulk.

Become proficient in using the major climbing knots. The Figure 8 is generally sufficient for my current purposes, but there are many knots that are more useful in different contexts. The more comfortable I get with them now, the more easily I’ll transition to situations where my safety actually depends on their proper use.

Three-Year Goals

These are things I want to accomplish by the end of 2018.

Send a V8. Logical.

Become comfortable leading 5.8 trad. Gotta keep things measurable and realistic!

Become comfortable leading multi-pitch routes. By “become comfortable,” I mean “become enough of an expert to confidently teach these skills to newbs like the one I currently am.”

Get certified in First Aid and CPR/AED. I want to be useful in emergency situations.

Five-Year Goals

Send a V9. Again, logical.

Get WFR certified. Again, I wanna be useful in emergencies, but I’ll also need this to get my guide certification.

Be a crusher in Patagonia, France, Italy, Spain, Thailand, and Japan. Maybe Korea too. This goal doesn’t have much to do with getting stronger, but travel is an important part of my climbing daydreams and motivation.

The Short-Term Plan

Eat well. I think I’ve really been underestimating the connection between what I put into my body and how well it can perform physically. I’m good about generally avoiding “unhealthy” foods, but I need to focus on really eating the right things for muscular rest and recovery.

Sleep 8 to 9 hours a night. Rest is another aspect of training that I neglect. Although late-night Netflix may put me into a trancey zombie state, it’s not a replacement for quality sleep, which I know from experience works wonders for my climbing.

Lift weights or do yoga on non-climbing days. The focus of these workouts, for now at least, is to efficiently strengthen my core and correct muscle imbalances. Pushups should not feel harder than pullups!

I may also run on days when I just don’t feel like going to the gym, or when my muscles need a real break. Rest days ≠ Netflixin’ lazy days.

Be intentional at the climbing gym. The occasional climb-everything-I’m-likely-to-send sesh can be really fun, and it’s good to experiment with different styles beneath your limit. But the gym, for me, is a tool to improve my outdoor climbing. I want to concentrate on working specific weaknesses while I’m there, thinking critically about beta and making micro-adjustments to benefit my outdoor climbing instincts.

Right now I have all the time, motivation, and physical resources that I need to get jacked. Now that the internet knows what I’m committing to, I’m totally accountable. I’ll post updates on Instagram as I sweat and sleep toward greatness, and in the meantime I’ll embrace the process and enjoy the adventure.

Will you join me on the quest for grit and burl? What are your goals for the season/year/decade? How do you feel about training? Share your thoughts below!


7 thoughts on “Grit and Burl: Maybe it’s time to take training seriously

  1. -I will be joining in the ‘quest for grit and burl!’-
    Strength training has been such a game-changer for me. If anything, I wish I had started earlier. Everyone’s climbing and training journey is different but for me strength training will be an *integral* part of pushing my limits and preventing injuries (and, of course, I need to get rid of my boulderer slump).

    End-goal: double-digit bouldering (8-10 years)
    (With many, many, many short-term goals in between–Including some general fitness goals such as the ability to do *dips*)

    P.S. Love your blog posts! Here’s to mutual-motivation!


    1. Yayee!! 😀 Yeah, I think weight rooms get a lot of *scoffs* from the climbing community, but weight training definitely helped when I was doing it regularly before, and just a few gym workouts have already made a big difference in my abdominal strength. If nothing else, it might remedy my Climber’s Hunch…


  2. Hey, I’m also aiming for V7 this year! V11 is my 5 year goal( a bit optimistic, I know). I mostly do bouldering so my endurance is not great. I am planning on do an endurance session once a week and maybe do more sport climbing.

    When it comes to training, nutrition, and understanding how your body works, I really really recommend Scottish climber Dave Mcleod’s books. He’s only written two books, but they really are essential read.

    Was this your first comp? How did you find it? I really enjoy comps, even though I don’t perform very well in them. They are just fun and it’s a great motivation to push yourself a lot further than you normally do in your regular sesh.


    1. Hey Chris, happy to know you’re also on the V7 journey ❤ we can totally do it! I'm also more of a boulderer and quite lacking in endurance. One more thing to work on… But it's a little easier for me to get out sport climbing at the moment so hopefully the endurance will just come on the weekends. #fingerscrossed

      Dude I totally started one of his books a couple years back! Never finished it, aha. I think it's called 9 Out of 10 Climbers Make the Same Mistake? Should probably get back to it…

      Campo 4 was my third comp, a pretty small local one like my first two (except in Ecuador instead of my hometown). It was fun, but my downfall was probably climbing too hard earlier in the week without enough rest. I was surprised at how well I focused, but it may have been my inner frustration/rage manifesting into something useful aha. Hopefully I will redeem myself in the future ❤

      Keep me updated on your climbing progress! We can mutually motivate. I think V11 in 5 years is totally doable 🙂


      1. You are lucky to live in a great place with suitable climate for climbing on most days and plenty of crags relatively nearby. Quite the opposite here in Scotland, where “summer” are those couple of days in the year when it’s not raining. 🙂

        9 Out of 10 Climbers Make the Same Mistake is Dave’s first book. That’s very basic. His second one focuses on injuries and how to prevent them or treat them. It’s great to understand a lot about how the body works and it’s very useful if you want to create a good training plan. It’s like a summary of an anatomy textbook explained in a way people can easily understand providing climbing context.

        Ahh that sounds way too familiar. Rest days are the hardest part of climbing for me. 😀 It’s just so hard to resist when you have the time and the conditions are perfect. I try to keep busy with other stuff like yoga, hikes, and mountain biking (which would probably be amazing where you are).


      2. Yeah, I do feel pretty lucky right now 🙂 or blessed, or something. Gosh, I’d be so down without regular outdoor climbing ops. But indoor training can get you really strong!

        Ah okay. I should probably check them both out, then 🙂

        I definitely want to get more into hiking! And yoga. Always yoga. Mountain biking in theory sounds awesome, but I also fear I may lack the reflexes/coordination to do it safely haha. Will probably try it out at some point just because it seems like such a challenge.



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