Being a short climber is hard.
It’s so much more than just having a lack of reach. Being smaller means the whole world is bigger to you.
You’re like a tiny ant in a world made for giants. What other people reach for, you have to scramble for.
Nothing is as easy for you as it is for them.
With all that out the way, yes, you can become a great climber even if you’re small. You’re going to have to approach climbing a little differently though, and that’s what this post is going to be about.
If you’re vertically disadvantaged, these five tips will be your salvation. If you follow them closely, you’ll soon be able to use the advantages of your shorter stature…
…and believe me, there are advantages.
1. Ignore the Grades
Yep, go ahead and completely ignore the grades.
“That looks like a fun climb,” you say, smearing chalk on your tiny hands, ready for what comes next.
That is truly the right attitude to have.
People seem to forget that grades are personal. They’re a way for you to track your personal progress, as well as identify routes of a consistent level of difficulty.
But the problem comes when people try to use grades as an objective measure of climbing skill.
Grades mean nothing. They’re only useful to identify which routes are of a similar difficulty.
So go ahead and ignore what difficulty the grades are meant to be, and, if you really want, you can use them to find new routes of around the same difficulty.
“Oh, I just finished a V2, and it was about right for me, so I’m going to try another V2,” you say. “I’m not going to get salty over the fact that my tall friend who sucks at climbing just breezed through a V3 and made it look easy,” you add.
Really though, I’d just recommend eyeballing it. Routes can be a certain grade for different reasons, and one of those reasons might be that they require a bit of extra reach.
Reach that you don’t have.
2. Learn to Jump
This one is obvious, but you’d be surprised by how many shorter climbers actively avoid jumping.
“I don’t need to jump,” you think defiantly, “I’m not that short!”
Trust me, if you’re reading this post, you are.
And that’s not a bad thing.
The reason for this is simple.
When a tall climber jumps, they have so much more inertia to counteract with their strength than you do. That is, it’s harder for them to start and stop moving because they’re heavier than you.
Granted, they have bigger muscles too, but what shorter climbers often overlook is the leverage advantage that they have over their taller compatriots.
This leverage makes it proportionally easier for you to make jumps than someone who is taller.
Use this to your advantage.
3. Use Your Legs for Dynamic Movement
This one is another extension of the principle abusing your leverage advantage.
However, you’re going to need to be flexible to be able to pull it off.
Luckily, doing this will train your flexibility in itself, so you should start doing this right away even if makes you a little worse for a while.
It’s one of those things where you get worse before you get better.
The principle of using your legs for dynamic movement is simple. You use your legs as high as your head.
“That’s crazy,” you stammer, “I thought I was flexible, but not that flexible…”
And yes, it does sound hard, but I’m not talking about throwing some ballet moves into your climbing. I’m talking about throwing yourself sideways so you can use your legs higher up.
This builds upon what I talked about in the last part. You’ll be able to use your light weight and leverage to your advantage, flinging yourself up the wall like it’s nothing.
Well, after enough practice, at least.
4. Train Your Lock Off Strength
In terms of improving your long term game, there’s nothing more important than working on your lock off strength.
If you can consistently lock off past 90 degrees, you’ll
In case you didn’t know, locking off is basically where you hold yourself still at the top of a pull up. If you can do this, and keep yourself pulled up with one hand, your other hand will be free to reach up for the next hold.
The real magic, however, happens when you can lock off past 90 degrees. This is like doing a push up on top of a pull up, and then holding yourself there with one hand.
This will single-handedly eliminate your reach disadvantage.
The only drawback to this, is that you’re going to have to be strong.
Start training negative reps, if you complement your climbing with gym work.
For everyone else, just start using lock offs in your climbs. Again, you’ll get worse before you get better.
Keep your eye on the big picture, train your lock off strength, and soon you’ll be like a tiny ninja, scaling walls as if your daimyo himself commanded it.
5. Master footwork
The entire point of footwork is to maximize the grip of your feet.
With smart footwork, even the most heinous of holds can become worthy supports, taking away a great deal of strain from your hard-working arms.
You can even push off the wall itself, in an absurdly useful technique called smearing.
Smearing is useful for short climbers in that it eliminates one of their most common complaints about indoor climbing centers: a lack of intermediate holds.
Sure, intermediate holds make a route easier. More places to grab means more freedom to take the route how you like.
However, a lack of intermediate holds can be a huge entry barrier for short climbers.
The smaller movements you can make on a route with intermediate holds might make it easier for taller climbers, but what is often forgotten is that these supposedly “small” movements are scaled up if you’re a “scaled down” human.
That means you’re going to have to treat routes with intermediate holds like a tall climber treats routes without them.
So, what to do if you’re left without intermediate holds?
Smear. Smear like your life depends on it, because if there aren’t any holds within reach, you’re going to have to improvise.
Use the wall. That is your new mantra.
Another footwork maneuver that’s particularly effective for shorter climbers is edging, for the simple reason that your feet are probably smaller.
Edging is already one of the most important footwork concepts in climbing.
You’ll be using it on practically every climb anyway, so it’s nice to know that you have a natural advantage on something like that, right?
In case you didn’t know, edging is where you use the inside edge of your foot to grip onto those holds which are absurdly shallow.
“Why the inside edge?” you ask? For the simple reason that your big toe is your strongest toe.
It’s also the toe you use for balance during your everyday life, so it’ll feel quite natural to use it this way.
Beginners often make the mistake of trying to smear the shallow holds they come across.
You’re not going to get nearly enough grip that way. Use edging instead, and make your pint-sized climbing life a whole lot easier.