Why push your grade?

A friend recently commented that she thought climbers can be too obsessed with grades, pushing themselves and how this held no attraction for her. The idea of constantly trying to improve would reduce her enjoyment of climbing. There was also a suggestion that pushing your limits might increase the chance of injury.

While I acknowledge that it is true some folk are obsessed with grades and improvement for improvement’s sake, there are many different reasons for wanting to improve. I will however state my reasons. It has nothing to do with ego or being competitive. It is simply that I enjoy the challenges of bouldering. I enjoy the movement and linking together sequences of movements. It is a joy to watch really good climbers make a hard sequence of moves look effortless and almost artistic. It makes me think “that looks fun to do”. You may enjoy watching the movement on display here

I enjoy the lessons I learn from falling off. Analysing why is always helpful. I often ask questions like

Which way was my body position causing me to be pulled?

How can I counter this to make the move easier/ less strenuous?

How can I position my body to get closer to the next hold?

Was I approaching it in the correct way?

Would it be easier to move back from the hold, reposition my feet, then move closer?

 Did I use the hold in the best way?

Was I holding too tight?

Getting better allows me to experience different things and employ different techniques – like a double toe hook (below). This is where the reward lies for me.


Does improvement increase the risk of injury?  Well, you will fall more and that’s always an injury hazard, especially if your feet are higher than your head. However knowing how to fall will reduce the likelihood of this happening, as will having good spotters and exercising good judgement about coming off on your terms. You can also choose a safe route to break a new grade. Image

Heel hooking an unnamed project


Below is a photo of Chris after sending his first ever 6a (La Narine , Roche au Sabot, Fontainebleau). Note, it is low ball with a good landing. He also had spotters (out of sight) above and below.



There is also the risk of training injuries, as you try to get stronger or more flexible, and there is something to be said for listening to your body – something I’m very bad at – “of course I can do this heel hook and  knee bar with a torn meniscus – OUCH!”.  Campus boards should also be treated with caution.  Gaz Parry on one of his TCA training sessions recommended not campusing  (on boards) unless you are easily climbing 7s. Campusing on jugs is much less damaging.

I also still enjoy easier routes. Especially if I have to think my way throught them – there’s always something to learn no matter what the grade. My favourite route at Font recently was not my hardest. It was one that required some nice footwork (below). There is a video of me sending it which I’ll post when I work out how without creating a youtube account for it 🙂


Unnamed route at L’Elephant, Fontainebleau

Having said all that, I am definitely not saying that you must do things this way or that way. This is just my personal attitude and response to a friend’s comment. I hope it generates some discussion and thought about your own climbing and opens up new options for you. Feel free to join us sometime if you haven’t already done so.Image

Paul working out a sequence on the fun that is Magic Bus, Buthiers, Fontainebleau by torchlight

This entry was posted in Bouldering, Climbing, General, Indoor climbing and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Why push your grade?

  1. helenmelone says:

    I do think there has to be a certain level of ability in this although I do like the questions you ask yourself. What do you do when it seems impossible to improve and you get worse the more you try?

  2. billysands says:

    You could try getting someone to watch you and see if there is something about your technique you are missing. If you can identify the problem, you can train to fix it – whether it is strength or flexibility. It may also be a question of how you read the route, so you could practice reading easier routes. It may also be that you just have to push yourself harder.
    Watching others do the route may or may not help, as your physical dimensions, strength and flexibility may determine the best way for you to tackle a route. Today, Chris just reached past three holds Louise needed on a problem.

  3. jo says:

    I strive to improve each time i go bouldering because for me, i get enjoyment and satisfaction out of improvement. I agree with the reasons for wanting to improve and enjoy the discussions on body positioning etc when working through a problem. I do feel that there can be too much emphasis on grades at times though. For me, I get a sense of achievement when i complete a problem that i had to work hard at. it doesn’t matter what the grade is, if i struggled on it and worked on the moves and in the end managed to link it up, i call that a success.
    Grades can be so arbitrary at times. Many a time i have watched people reach for a final hold which is a half a foot out of my reach when i am in the same position they reached from. in order for me to complete the problem, i may have to throw in a few extra moves (sometimes the extra moves feel terribly precarious and i wonder whether the person grading it would have given the route such a grade had he/she had to do it the way i did) – so what may have been a straightforward route for a tall person, can involve some technical moves for somone a foot shorter. And of course, the opposite is true, there are routes that suit shorter people (although they are harder to come by!).
    So for me, grades are a guide, what i aim for is a sense of satisfaction and knowing i have tried and put in a good effort. When i leave TCA and can’t tie my laces because my fingers are knackered – that’s an indication of a good session 🙂

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