Training for Intermediate Climbers
So you like climbing a lot! You've fallen hard for the boulders or sport pitches and you dream about over-the-head heel hooks and rose moves. By this point you're probably fairly strong physically. You should have been doing a lot of basic finger strength conditioning in the past few months and years to allow you access to tinier holds and longer training sessions. Now you will want to continue improving your general physical strength while also focusing more on technique.
The key to the next level of climbing success is reducing the amount of physical work you need to do to get to the top of a climb. You do this by improving your technique. Think of every modification to your style as a way of minimizing the effort required. Use your largest muscles to do the most work. Don't underestimate the benefits of a tight core. Move with purpose. Your body is an orchestra and each climb is a symphony. All of the parts need to be working together in perfect harmony. At first you will need to think about your style consciously. But with enough repetition, your improvements will become subconscious and this is when you have achieved a true mastery. It's impossible to do everything perfectly the first time so focus on one competency in each session.
Especially if you started climbing as an adult, make sure to keep up the hangboarding sessions. You may also begin to venture into the world of the campus board. Take it easy. You should look at the hangboard as a physical therapy tool, not a strength one. You should not feel tired after a hangboard session, but you need to keep your tendons and ligaments gently working to build up a durable strength in them.
Hand and Foot Specificity
Every time you adjust a hand or foot it requires energy. The rest of your body has to tense up to hold an awkward position as you wiggle your fingers or bounce your leg. Try to place your fingers and feet correctly the first time. Think about how you need to push or pull on the hold you're moving to. Plan for the entire movement, from the time you grab it to the time you let go of it. A good exercise is to climb a challenging climb for you but do not allow adjustments. Your hands and feet are superglue: once they touch a hold, you can't remove them until it's time to reach for the next hold.
Most rope climbs have rests on them. You're probably not lucky enough to have a no-hands rest just before the crux of all your projects, but you should be familiar with the different kinds of rests you can find on climbs and you should be looking for them and milking them for everything they'll give you. Rest before you're tired. Sequence out your climb and identify two or three rests along the way. If you're lead climbing, try to clip from rests. You should have a few one- or two-shake rests on each climb, and then one or two longer rests.
Learn New Moves
Drop knees, rose moves, can openers, and toe hooks are not usually necessary to get to the top of easier climbs. But they will make the climb easier! Often times in the beginnings of our climbing careers we move up the difficulty ladder by simply gaining strength in our climbing-specific muscles such that we are able to simply power through the most difficult sections of a climb. Watch strong climbers (IFSC World Cups are a great resource) and take note when they do something that looks strange to you. Look for opportunities to use your new moves, even if at first it feels awkward and forced. Eventually you will get the hang of where certain moves help and where they make things more difficult. Experiment.
Tuck Your Hips
You will want to make sure you have good hip flexibility to be able to keep your hips into the wall and therefore to keep your weight over your feet. Practice deadpoints and dynos to make sure you're using your strong legs as much as possible. Do frog stretches to open your hips, search on YouTube for hip-opening sequences and feel free to be a "weirdo" and start stretching everywhere and always.
Your Feet Are Hands
Especially in bouldering at this level, you will need to start thinking of your feet differently. Much unlike walking, you need to use all surfaces of your feet to be a strong climber. Toe hooks, stepping on the sides of your feet, and rolling your toes around a hold will all become useful pieces of your repertoire. You can use your legs to hang onto a roof even better than you can use your arms. Toe-hooking down low to keep your hips glued into the wall can be very helpful.
Sink Your Heels
Your achilles tendon is a great spring. You can generate a lot of power just from your ankles. Make sure you're relaxing your ankles and dropping your heels on every step. And as you move up off a foot your ankle should be fully extending. Take a day where you focus only on keeping your ankles dropped throughout every climb you do.
Sequence the Climb
As climbs get harder, the sequence becomes more important. Holds get smaller and so you can't match every time you get your sequence wrong. Look a few holds ahead and think about which hand you want to have on that hold. Then work your way back to your current position. Don't forget about holds that are below your hands. You may want to re-grab an older hold in a different way-- as an undercling or sidepull perhaps. Use your thumbs where you can. Sequence out every move of a new climb before you get on it. After you've climbed something, don't be afraid to try new things if you suspect it might improve your flow up the wall. Try placing your feet in different places for moves. You'll see that it's not always best to get your feet as high as you can. Especially on smaller handholds and vertical walls, having lower feet will help you to keep more weight on your legs. Bouldering tends to be more sequence-specific and rope climbing more forgiving. So if you're a rope climber, take a few sessions bouldering to force you to focus on the sequence. Downclimbing routes will also help you with sequencing as you will need to remember which holds came before the ones you're on now. Always try to grow your dictionary of climbing moves because you never know when you'll need to pull one out!
Find Your Style
Some people climb more dynamically, some more statically, some very slowly, some very fast, some with an excessive number of knee bars. As you probably know by now, no two people will get up a climb in exactly the same way. We're all different! Getting better at climbing means figuring out what your personal strengths are and making sure that you're taking advantage of them. Find ways of grabbing onto holds that use your strongest grips. Identifying your strengths will also help you to discover some weaknesses and therefore to inform your training plan.
Step outside your comfort zone. If you're a boulderer, put on a harness and train some endurance. If you hate slopers, find a slopey climb and force yourself to figure it out. You might find that you actually love crimps or hand jams or mantles or slabs or whatever it is you've been avoiding, and at the very least you'll be a more rounded climber.
Work on Your Head Game
The fact of the matter is that climbing is dangerous. People do take bad falls and get hurt, and it's important to be able to recognize when you're putting yourself at risk for injury. Practice falling, make sure you're comfortable with being in the air. Maybe take a tumbling class if you have the opportunity. If you boulder, get a group of friends and work on your spotting technique. Make sure you climb with people who pay a lot of attention to where the crash pads are. If you lead climb, work to be a better belayer. Help your friends identify not-so-great belaying techniques even if it's a bit uncomfortable. If not for your own safety, do it for the next person they belay. Call people out when they step behind the rope. Clipping can be particularly anxiety-inducing. Make sure you've practiced clipping a lot off the wall. Hang a quick draw somewhere near your work station and occasionally clip a piece of rope throughout the day. Make sure you're comfortable with both hands, clipping in all directions (with your thumb, pointer finger, from behind, etc.). It's better to clip from above the bolt than to clip from below. Try to avoid putting the rope in your mouth. Falling is part of climbing, make sure that you climb with belayers and spotters you trust. Be the best belayer and spotter you can be in return. Knowing when a potential fall is dangerous versus when it's just scary will help you to push yourself more. If you can be confident that you won't be injured in a fall, you'll be more likely to go ahead with the move. Practice safe falling!
If the only reason you're climbing is that you want to be the first person to climb 10a, you should probably find a new hobby because that isn't a sustainable motivation. It's great to set goals for yourself but make sure you're enjoying the process. Set abstract goals for yourself in addition to grade-based goals: "Improve my heel hooking," "Give softer catches," "Become a pinch master." If you're a gym rat get outside every now and then to remind yourself the origins of your sport. Get comfortable with cleaning anchors, hauling gear, identifying weak bolts, etc. It's very possible to climb 8a without doing 3-hour hangboard sessions twice a week or projecting the same climb for a year. Enjoy the movement, the freedom, the process. Enjoy the people you meet through climbing, acknowledge the ridiculousness of our shared pursuits. Enjoy the beautiful places climbing takes you and respect the crags you visit and the communities you pass through.