The Magic Bullet.
I get this question all the time. ALL the time. Mostly from beginners and climbers who can't seem to break out of the plateau they hit after doing what they always do stopped working.
So how do you get better faster? There's a simple answer. You don't. That is, not unless you make some drastic changes and stop doing what you're doing, which essentially boils down to caring about climbing BETTER.
Just this week I was asked, "How do I climb harder problems?". My answer (I'm not the most understanding to dumb questions when I'm training) was, "Stop trying to climb hard problems." After the mix of embarrasment, hurt, and "Wow, this guy is an ass!" faded from his face, I offered one more bit of advice. "Spend your time in here learning HOW to climb. Climb the easier problems perfectly. All of them. After that, the next level will come easy."
Of course, he went right back to flailing on the first moves of every hard problem in sight.
My advice, of course, was specific to his situation. If you're a beginner, or if you're even relatively new and have been climbing less than 2 years or still don't regularly climb V5 or 5.11 (and by regularly I mean that you do it consistently outside... sending two V5's in the gym this month doesn't constitute consistently), then there really is a simple answer. You need mileage. Lots of it. Learn as many movements as you can. Stop spending all your time only trying to climb the hard problems in the gym. But that's an art in itself, so we'll save that for another post.
For those of you who are climbing 5.12 or 5.13, and have been at the same spot for several years, there really is a magic bullet.
A year ago I would have told you that constant self-reevaluation was the bullet. I'd have been wrong. It's one thing to know that you're weak in an area, but it's another to actually work on it. REALLY work on it.
Most of us evaluate ourselves regularly. We know we suck at slopers, so we gravitate toward crimps. Or we know we suck at steep, dynamic climbing, so we spend all of our time climbing tiny holds on a barely overhanging wall. We write detailed training plans, and then do whatever we feel like in the gym. We spend entire gym sessions telling everyone who will listen that we've decided to start working on focus and time management.
Good job continuing to suck at something.
The hard part is letting go of the ego involved and forcing yourself to work on those weaknesses. You might even have to do it in front of people. You may, God forbid, have to fall off of something "beneath" you. However, if you do it, and do it right, you'll enjoy a bit of the same growth you used to see every session.
Simple, right? Well, not exactly. Beware the simple path, for there are hidden dangers.
1. Don't go too hard.
There is a better time and way to learn these new skills. Learning new skills while under extreme stress isn't the way to go. If you're climbing V6 crimp ladders, but can't do a V2 compression problem, don't just throw yourself at a V6 sloper line. You'll teach your body even more bad habits by flailing all over. I'm sure I've used this analogy before, because I love it... professional baseball players don't take batting practice with full speed pitching. The speed is reduced so that they can focus on the mechanics of the stance, the swing, and the follow-through. Start off working on your weaknesses on easy problems, where you can focus on really learning the techniques and subtleties involved.
2. Don't quit too soon.
Once you've successfully used a new technique, don't just assume you've mastered it and move on. You still suck at it. It takes thousands of repetitions to make a movement become automatic, and maybe more still to be able to see when to apply that new skill instead of the other hundreds of options. Keep at it. Forever.
3. Don't go too long.
Eventually your weakness can become your strength. It happened to me with local endurance, and it took way too long for me to realize it. I loved being the endurance monster in the gym, even though my power was pitiful. Be looking for it, and switch it up before it happens. Constantly reevaluate!
4. Don't exclude your strengths.
No training plan that focuses on only one aspect of your sport is a balanced one. Spend time every session working on your weaknesses, but also spend time improving your strengths. There is no hard and fast ratio of strength to weakness that you should employ, rather you should feel it out for yourself. If you're having fun working on your weaknesses, do a little more. If your outdoor project is more like your strengths, do a little more of that.
5. Ignore the voices.
When you're in the middle of your training, and a group of guys is projecting something you've dialed in, ignore the desire to crush it casually in front of them. It isn't doing you any good, and it isn't doing them any good. Chances are, you were one of those guys. Or still are.
This climbing thing isn't easy. If it were, it wouldn't be any fun. Frankly, part of the fun lies in the complexity of this beautiful sport. That complexity isn't easily solved, and there are far more facets than you can initially see. It can get overwhelming. Might as well start learning them now.