How to Deal with Frustration in Climbing

Very few sports have that constant ability to push oneself as climbing does. There is always a harder route to send, a more difficult boulder problem to crush. Whenever we climb, we are pushing ourselves. We strive to reach the utmost limits of our physical and technical capabilities, continuously exploring ways to enhance and refine them.

But sometimes we fail, and frustration kicks in. We blame ourselves, our strength, our body shapes, and our technical abilities.

Experiencing frustration is unpleasant, yet an inevitable aspect of climbing. It has become ingrained in the climbing culture, primarily due to the imperfect grading systems we use.

don’t compare yourself to others

The adage “Comparison is the thief of joy” holds particular significance in climbing. As physical attributes such as strength, endurance, and reach frequently play a decisive role.

If you’re short, you will often have to figure out another beta. Forcing you to work harder than your taller climbing partners. Adding moves, forcing deadpoints, and exerting more strength. A climb that feels like a 5.10 to them, might feel like a 5.11 to you. Or a V3 boulder problem feels much more like a V4-V5 with all the beta adaptations you had to make.

If you’re tall, you might find yourself getting wrecked by your shorter partners on certain routes. Their smaller frames allow for more endurance, they have tiny fingers allowing them to shove more of them in pockets or crimp holds you couldn’t dream of crimping.

At the bouldering wall, some gym bro in rentals with zero experience might campus your project. Or the tall guy climbing for the first time might make the hard 6b+ slab problem look like a cakewalk despite his lack of technique or experience.

Does this mean these are better climbers than us? Heck no. But is it frustrating? Oh yes.

💡 Read also: short vs tall climbers – is rock climbing harder for short people?

Remember that grades are subjective

It’s crucial to bear in mind that grading in climbing is subjective. Someone added that grade, based on their perception. A grade that might feel like a V1 to you, could just as easily feel like a V3 to someone else.

This holds exceptional truth in the early grades, where reach or strength can offer a massive advantage.

After introducing some taller friends to climbing, I noticed they were quickly starting to keep up with me at the bouldering gym. Despite their lack of technique, they had no problem sending problems close to my max grade after just a couple of months of climbing. Especially on slab and vertical terrain, their obvious reach advantage became massively clear to me.

Where I have to lunge for a hold dynamically, they simply reached. Slab problems that I couldn’t dream of sending because the footholds are too high, weren’t out of the question for them. Luckily for my ego, they were miles behind on the overhangs where my strength-to-bodyweight ratio and efficient climbing style proved to beat their reach and inability to keep their feet on the wall.

This felt frustrating at first, but I realized that just because something is easier for them, it doesn’t mean that they are better climbers than me. Or that they have somehow surpassed my technical abilities in a couple of months. I accepted that whenever I climb with them, I would have to work harder to send the same grades.

I could perceive this with frustration, or I could accept it, and understand that every time I have to work harder, I’m learning more.

When we go indoor bouldering, many of us are training for the outdoors. We are there to improve and hone our skills. Don’t let subjective grades ruin this fun for you. Some climbs might feel easier and some might feel harder or even impossible.

Ignore the grades and climb to improve as a climber, not send more grades.

don’t climb with toxic people

Oftentimes we get frustrated with the people we surround us with. As previously stated, my taller friends hold an advantage in our indoor bouldering gym. It’s crucial to pay attention to how your friends employ their advantage.

If you have a climbing partner who has more reach than you but often tells you to ‘just reach’ for the next hold, clearly failing to see their advantage, you probably shouldn’t be climbing with that person. They will only bring you down.

Similar to how I shouldn’t be toxic toward my friends for being unable to do a compression move. As climbers, we possess varying body types and unique sets of strengths and weaknesses. Failing to acknowledge our advantages is unfair to our climbing partners. Don’t let climbers do this to you.

If you have a friend who makes fun of you for not being able to send something, stop climbing with that person.

The guys I referred to earlier know when they have an advantage. Sometimes they are surprised to see how much more I move my feet than them. I’ve told them how much longer I had to train to climb the same grades they are currently climbing. How I had to learn to incorporate smears and deadpoints to reach the same holds.

These guys aren’t toxic. We have fun on every climbing session. Even on slabs, the terrain I’m worst at, they are supportive and help me solve the short person beta.

not every climb is for you

Just because something is within your grade-range, doesn’t mean that route or problem is destined for you. Don’t let your self-worth be determined by your inability to send something. You are still a good climber when you can’t send something 2-3 grades below your maximum.

Sometimes climbs are simply not destined for us. They might require a level of reach, flexibility, strength, or endurance that we do not posses. It’s totally okay to say ‘this climb isn’t for me’ and move on.

Don’t mistake that for me saying you should use this as an excuse for every problem that isn’t within your style though. We should still practice our anti-styles!

make climbing about climbing

We love climbing don’t we? Just us and the rock. That zen-like feeling you get high on a route, not a worry in the world. All our stress is gone in that moment. We are thinking about our next move, not the chores we still haven’t finished or that work deadline that is creeping closer. Chase that feeling. That’s why we climb. Not to send subjective grades that might frustrate us.

projecting might not be for you

Not everyone enjoys the grind of projecting a route or boulder problem. Projecting is frustrating. Devoting innumerable hours to the same route may be rewarding for some, while for others, it can be an exercise in frustration.

Just because most climbers project at their limit, and are constantly seeking a way past it, doesn’t mean you have to do the same. Climbing encompasses more than just projecting and should be appreciated as such.

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