Beginner Climber Outdoor

Self Assessment & Goal Setting for Intermediate Climbers
(5.10s on Lead or V3 for bouldering)


DON’T COMPARE. Just be your best version of yourself.

At this point in your climbing you will need to start setting specific goals. “Get better” is NOT specific.  Are you training for a trip?  How should you structure your training to meet your goals? What are the training priorities?  What climbs shut you down and WHY?  What does life outside of climbing look like?  What time of year should you rest or train hardest?  What’s at risk of injury for your body type?  What is your climbing style and what are the things you avoid?  Are you training for bouldering? Trad? Sport? Alpine?

While you CAN choose any or all of the above, it will decrease your progression toward harder grades if you choose to be a generalist. If your goal is to have fun playing outside while improving skills in climbing, EXCELLENT!

At the intermediate level, your priority is technique. It’s a tremendous help to have a coach look at movement, strength, lifestyle aspects like sleep schedule, nutrition, hydration, cardiovascular fitness for recovery, and compensation for injury.  This is the level that I spend the most time on as a coach.  It’s cleaning up all of the bad habits you picked up trying to lead up to 5.11 or throwing yourself up a V6.

I recently met Lynn Hill, Stone Master, (and personal hero for me)!  This is what she had to say to me on climbing progression and injury prevention:

One of the biggest points I would stress is that climbers use good technique at all times – even when tired, which is hard to maintain. Good technique is efficiency, proper alignment, breathing, proper amount of muscle exertion (as opposed to over-gripping), and of course, the right mental state.”

Lynn is currently working on a subscription-based video series to teach just that! Did I mention this 5’2’ pioneer, climbing warrior is my hero?!? Check her out!

I can’t emphasize the number of finger and upper extremity injuries I see at this level because of lacking leg strength and footwork. Climbers tend to set goals for improved finger and arm strength because of the injuries in these areas. This is symptom management. It isn’t addressing the cause of most injuries at this level.  The injury source is actually a need to incorporate hips, posterior spine, and trunk muscles into climbing.  BE MINDFUL of HOW you climb, not getting to the top in any way possible.  You have made it this far, pushing grades, now let’s clean it up a bit to get to the next level.

Take a moment to watch other climbers.  There are so many styles, sizes, and shapes!  Watch what others do well. Watch how bodies move differently from yours.  What goals can you make to emulate them? Are you static and graceful?  Are you powerful and dynamic?  How is your balance?  How do your old injuries effect your climbing?

Put thought into what you have accomplished. What are the things that make you love climbing?  What were your proudest successes and WHY?  Have a coach assess you for areas of improvement.  Honestly, not harshly, consider current level of cardiovascular fitness, past and present injuries, mental skill, technical skill, experience, and strength.

Recommended goals for intermediate climbers:

  1. Find a mentor. Make sure they aren’t an a$$#o/e 
  2. Contribute to a crag clean up or outdoor project this year. Clean up after yourself, inside and outside.  Leave a place better than you found it.  Think home and globally.
  3. Budget your time. Staying healthy is an investment. It means commitment and consistency with workouts. Delegate hours for sleep, nutrition, hydration, climbing, strength and conditioning, social and relationship time, and mental health.  Limit time with the things in your life that are a detriment to your climbing (i.e. alcohol, caffeine, sugar consumption, processed foods, tobacco, road rage, folding socks,  social media, and arguing with your cats).
  4. What injuries need to be addressed to climb consistently and  WITHOUT pain?  Don’t confuse “common” with “NORMAL”.  You may know many climbers with shoulder pain or pulley injuries.  That doesn’t mean you should expect it.  Nothing you do at this grade should hurt. Hard is OK. Pain is not. What does your posture look like?  Are your shoulders rounding forward?  FIX IT. NOW. Before it causes a problem.
  5. Technique before grade. Make a skill list to master based on your self-assessment. I highly recommend a coach to assess you as well.
  6. Reassess every 4-6 months, or as you feel you are making gains. If you are still not improving, it’s time to contact a coach!

To obtain the most accurate result, it is essential that you score each question according to your most recent experiences on the rock.  Pause for a moment and review recent climbs to determine the correct answer for each question.” Eric J. Hörst, Author of “Training for Climbing”

Eric has been developing a self-assessment tool for decades. Check out Eric J. Hörst, ‘Training for Climbing’ for a very user-friendly self assessment tool.  I have also developed one for use in my clinics that I will share in a future post.


Looking to keep yourself accountable as you work on progressing in your climbing? Contact us at ATHENA where we specialize in injury prevention, massage therapy, strength training, climbing assessments, core training, and sports nutrition. Follow us on social media at Athena_massage.

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