Here are the top two reasons why this happens in climbing:
1. You aren’t trying hard enough. Yep, that’s right, you just don’t give it 100%. Most people simply don’t realise how hard they can try. Don’t believe me? It’s been proven time after time in muscular strength research. Get your average non-athlete and put them on a strength testing apparatus of your choice and tell them to generate their perceived maximum force. Add screams of encouragement – force goes up. Add some fear – force goes up. Think about it – there are lots of extreme circumstances in life that people adapt to handle, that would be unthinkable to the untrained person. Soldiers in wars can function around sights and sounds of death, whereas an untrained person would fall apart put in their shoes. A grim but real enough analogy.
Athletes are trained to know how to generate massive amounts of neural activation and send that like a lightning bolt to the muscles to squeeze out every last drop of activation. It’s no surprise the muscles are stimulated to adapt. Much time is spent in climbing coaching just trying to communicate the fact that often the strength for the moves is already there, it’s just being able to muster the level of effort to tap into it.
Think of something in life that gives you a little shudder of fear because it’s so hard for you or you know it requires so much effort. Apply that level of effort to every route you do, and you cannot fail to improve.
2. You are too heavy. Climbing hard demands a body composition that is skewed as far as possible (palatable) in the direction of light and strong. Carrying excess weight acts like a dampener on improvements made in other performance effectors.
Consider two hypothetical male climbers, one with body fat 9%, the other 25%. Otherwise they are identical. It takes both the same amount of training to achieve a 5% increase in maximum finger force output. For the 9% fat man, this is enough to destroy all of his current projects and throw him comfortably into the next grade at least. For 30% man, it might be hardly noticeable. The lesson? Be 9% man.