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 in track and 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 initially 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.