You can try harder!

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about climbing… that shouldn’t come as a surprise to any of you! But more specifically, I’ve been thinking about what the differences between climbers who tend to have higher success rates (or reach their potential more) versus climbers who tend to struggle to make successful ascents (sending/clipchains/topout/etc…)

We all know that climbing is more than just raw finger-strength and forearm endurance. If that were the case then all we’d have to do to win at climbing would be Max Deadhangs and Fingerboard Repeaters till the cows come home. But as a climber I am constantly being challenged across a wide spectrum of areas from the technical to the mental to the physical, and although I have my own weaknesses, the issues I see other climbers facing at the crag are rarely the Physical, and yet this is what everyone is talking about! It’s the elephant in the room, and it ain’t me!

I’m going to start off talking about “Trying Hard”! Seems a simple enough concept to execute – when you feel like you’re about to fall off, just try harder to stay on! But amazingly that isn’t the case, and so many climbers I see are falling off, or in some cases letting go, because they feel they can’t give anymore… Well you know what I say to that?

Trying F*CKING hard on “Something for Nothing” (8c/5.14b) at Malham Cove, Yorkshire – Photo Credit: John Thornton

BULLSHIT! You can try harder! J

We all have a friend whose said they’re off, when actually they’ve managed to hold on for another minute or so on the same holds before finally letting go. This is for sure a mental dilemma over a physical one and a rare sight to see amongst more experienced climbers, but I’ve even seen very skilled professionals working supposedly at the top of their game NOT giving it 100% to their performance.

When I was a young competition climber I can remember many instances when on the wall, getting to that feeling of pumped, not wanting to fall off but also feeling like “trying” was also a hard thing to do. I was battling with the mental pressure of competition, the emotions of not wanting to fail for myself (and possibly for others back then) and also the natural discomfort of being tired when it would be so much easier just to let go… and then I would do just that. I gave up early because the mental pressure got to me. It took many years to become better at dealing with it, but I did, and here’s how I did it.

One More Move

Those 3 words became my inner mantra. I knew that what was holding me back was my mind. The prospect of failure was too much for my mind to handle, so I needed a way to block out the negative thinking. Focussing on those 3 words meant that I didn’t think about failing, and instead just focussed on moving upwards. IT WORKED!

Positive Mental Attitude

Before even getting on the wall I needed to change my attitude to climbing. This is something that has taken many years to condition myself to, but these days I feel I am in a better place than ever when it comes to my attitude to hard climbing. I had to take the focus away from the “Goal” and direct it to the “Experience”. When I only focussed on the goal of success, the pressure was laid down and suddenly I’d feel nervous; however when I focussed on simply “Trying Hard”, (the goal itself was to try hard, not necessarily to get to the top) I performed a lot better, and felt better for it too!


I have often wondered how some people can work so hard for their entire lives and they make it seem effortless. My Dad is one of those people. He gets up at 5am, is at work by 8am and leaves work at 8pm and does the same thing everyday (even weekends sometimes). FUCK THAT! But how does he do it? Well I think it’s conditioning… He’s done it for so long, that it’s easy now. Well, I think I’ve inadvertently applied the same principles to trying hard. I don’t find it that difficult to try bloody hard on a climb; in fact I quite enjoy it. I love the feeling of being pumped, fighting for every inch on a wall, my fingers peeling off but somehow managing to snatch and grab the next handhold, and the next, and the next, all the way to the chains!!! Just look at my face in this picture and tell me I’m not trying my hardest!?

To conclude, I think most climbers don’t try nearly hard enough, which is an ironic statement as many climbers train their asses off, and yet give less than 100% to the performance… If we want to make the most of what we’ve got, then we need to be able to unload the weight of self imposed pressure, unlock the shackles of our mind, and let our bodies do the talking.


  • Kenny

    Great post Robbie! I’ve been climbing for over 20yrs but I think I’ve only learned to try really hard in the last few. Just today I surpringly sent a 7c+ (which is a big deal for me being a 45yo beer lover), but it was all about just trying the fuck hard. I didn’t have it sorted and I almost took when the kneebar didn’t fit properly and I felt fucked but I just kep going and thought I’ll fall off trying and I did it by the skin of my teeth! So shit yeah, trying hard works. Thanks for the post.

    • Robbie Phillips

      Hey Kenny,

      Thanks for the comment and that awesome story 🙂 Thats sick you got your 7c+ tick, well done man! I had the same thing on “Bat Route” (8c) at Malham a couple of weeks ago. Sketched my way through the boulder crux (I hadn’t go through this before), got a rest afterwards, sped through the next pumpy section to the next rest, got it back again, sketched my way through the next section again, got another rest and then sketched my way to the top! hahaha I sketched my way from start to finish, but I know plenty of climbers who would have given up at the first crux feeling the way I did. Trying hard is as much a skill as placing your feet on the wall with precision – it needs honed 😉 Sounds like you’re doing it well now though! Keep going mate!


  • Rodrigo

    I agree with you. I can see People Who try Hard at the gym but they don’t do the same on the Rock even myself, I train Hard but I don’t have a performance at the same level when I climb. Why? All is inside us, we have to free our minds in that way our bodies can be free of the chains of fear, doubt, confort and empower our system with the learning process wich step by step configure our capabilities to achieve our long term objective: to send(sorry if I made some. Mistakes but I don’t write in english for a while) it sounds funny but: you have to believe you can do it.

    • Robbie Phillips

      Hey Rodrigo,

      Thanks man for your comment! You’re spot on 🙂 It’s funny because I see some people who struggle to try hard outdoors, but train hard indoors, and vice versa. Lots of reasons for this, but as you said, it all stems down to whats inside us. If we can free the mind, then we can free the body too 🙂 Brilliant comment man!

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