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7 Trade Secrets That Will Make You a Better Climber

Written by Cliffs Designer Choon Lee

You’ve been climbing for a few years and you’ve reached a plateau. Now what? 


I was fortunate enough to get the opportunity to ask two of The Cliffs’ very own phenoms, Emily Varisco, Head Coach at The Cliffs at LIC, and Jeiel Serrantes, Head Routesetter at The Cliffs at Valhalla, with a combined whopping 29 years of climbing experience, for their most valuable advice. After very little to no coercion, they spilled their goods. Below are the compiled 7 trade secrets that are bound to turn you from an average climber into Adam Ondra. 

1. Breathe.

“Staying calm is a huge part of being successful on the wall and it begins with a simple breath and a relaxed face,” states Varisco.  “Many climbers, regardless of their experience, forget to breathe on the wall.” 

Breathing! Biohackers from Wim Hof, who climbed Mt. Everest barefoot, to Laird Hamilton—world-class big wave surfer, and renowned trad climbing all-star, Hazel Findlay, all do it in their own way. Breathe intentionally on the wall. 

If you need a drill, Emily suggests the following for your warmup routine: On 10 boulder problems or 3 routes, exhale every time your hand connects with a hold. By exhaling, you will naturally have to inhale. Emily advises that creating this habit early in the session will set you up for success as you progress to harder climbs.

2. Practice precision and make minimal adjustments.

“If you hit a move correctly every time, you set yourself up for the next move,” says Jeiel. Precision of movement is essential, because minimal adjustments equate to less energy wasted while on the wall. “If you get into the habit of being precise, your form stays intact and you have more ability to be energy efficient on the route, without compromising the following move.” 

The art of precise movement can be practiced with a handy drill known as “quiet hands and feet,” where you traverse (climb horizontally across the wall) and try not to kick the wall while placing your hands and feet precisely. Emily adds, “accuracy in foot placement as well as deciding which footholds are most effective is something that should be practiced regularly.” 

3. Footwork + hips.

Simply put, “footwork is everything,” Emily affirms. “If you place too much of your foot onto the foothold, it will not allow your foot to pivot as you make a move. Being able to turn your hips in as you make a move creates a huge advantage, especially in shorter climbers.” On that note, Jeiel emphasizes the uncommon common knowledge that is ancient wisdom, “where your hips go, your whole body goes.”

4. Thumbs.

Humans have thumbs, and it’s time to put them to good use in climbing instead of just scrolling through your Instagram feed. It’s important to “always use your thumbs in a certain way,” Jeiel tells me. Your thumb can be used for every hold, so it’s your job to find that optimal spot for it.


5. “Climb with people better than you, that’s it.”

– Jeiel Serrantes. Enough said.

6. Box technique.

One of our golden nuggets comes from elite boulderer and sport climber Dave Graham: the “box technique.” Serrantes, a known box-techniquer and V10-climber summarizes, “you have to find the best position for every hold. Since every hold has an optimal angle, it’s about getting your hips in position to hit that angle as early as possible.” 

7. Repeat climbs.

So, to tie all this advice into one pretty bow, repeat your climbs and “make an effort to repeat them perfectly,” Emily states. “Progressing in climbing is all about becoming proficient in as many different kinds of moves as possible, but if you only do each move once, you aren’t really learning anything about them. Once you’ve figured something out, repeat it, and repeat it again, and again, until the movement is perfect and comes naturally.” To implement this into a routine, Jeiel suggests “trying for 15 minutes of ‘perfect climbing.’”  

So there you have it. Pure gold, straight from the calloused and beautiful hands of The Cliffs’ finest. While we all know that change is hard to implement and old habits die hard, we’re also trying to grow as climbers. The evolution of your “climbing game,” is never linear but it’s important to always keep learning. 

Give yourself a transition period to make these habits sustainable through incremental efforts. For example, create an alarm that reminds you to practice Emily’s breathing warmup for 1 week, or go sit next to that strong climber acquaintance and nonchalantly session with them. Try these trade secrets out for size. We’d love to hear your stories on how you’ve implemented them into your climbing routine and if you’ve made some sending progress.

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Originally posted 2020-01-24 09:37:10.

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