How To Climb Tall, Even If You're Small

For many of us, climbing in the gym is just practice for the big show of climbing outside. The gym is where we put in mileage on the wall to get strong. And I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been in a climbing gym and seen the same thing: a girl, or a group of girls, throwing themselves at a boulder problem that they are just not going to ever do. It’s not because they aren’t strong enough or skilled enough—usually they are. They can’t do the move or moves because they cannot reach between the holds. The handholds are too far apart; the feet are too low for their height. Climbing gains are held back simply by large moves and colors of tape. But there are ways to get around that. Here are a few tips for getting those moves done:

1. Use intermediate holds. If a move is too big for you at first, add a hold to pause on and help you get to the hold you want to get until you’re strong enough to complete the actual move. This will also help you figure out where your feet need to be for that move.

2. Use open feet. This is another great way to get around those large moves. Sometimes it’s not that the hand holds are too far apart, it’s that the foot holds may be too low, or put you in an awkward position. Tone it down and try using the feet you need to complete the move. As you get stronger, slowly transition into getting your feet back on those taped footholds.

3. Core is king. In climbing, like many other activities, our power comes from our core—our abs. The stronger our core, the easier it is to keep our feet on the wall and make those big moves. My favorite way to build core is by doing the plank exercise, and all variations of the plank. A strong core will also help give a little extra oomph when you have to jump to that out-of-reach hold.

Think of your time on the boulder problem or route the way you think about a traditional workout. Sometimes the reps and exercises need to be scaled back a little until you build fitness and strength. And, when all else fails, just blame the 6’4” routesetter.