29

My girlfriend often complains that a route or boulder was created for tall climbers. In my experience that sometimes is true: I easily get a hold, she has to jump. However, Lynn Hill proved that a small climber can achieve wonderful, unthinkable things.

When looking at mixed gender bouldering competitions in Germany (like described in the Art and Science of Bouldering by Udo Neumann) girls easily manage the guys' problems, but with different techniques.

  • What are the advantages of short climbers?

  • How should short climbers train to compensate for their shorter reach?

  • 3
    Have a look at Ramon Julian Puigblanque & Hyunbin-Min they are both around 5'3", you should be able to find lots about the way they train. Watch some IFSC competition videos, see how the tall athletes move through a section vs some shorter competitors. – AM_Hawk Oct 15 '14 at 14:43
  • Not enough for an answer, so it's a comment: short climbers can use smaller holds because they may have smaller fingers (very small advantage); also some holds seem to have a "maximum weight" (no idea whether this is real or an illusion) so being light is an advantage. BTW being a woman helps in both regards. – anatolyg Oct 19 '14 at 20:59
  • You may want to read this too Top Ten Tips for Improving your Bouldering Grade – user2766 Oct 22 '14 at 12:25
  • 1
    For beginning climbers with little knowledge of technique, it is much easier for taller climbers to "hang out" from the wall, rather than staying close and conserving energy. – studiohack Nov 10 '14 at 19:05
  • Shorter climbers weigh less and tend to have a significantly better strength to weight ratio. Woman tend to have better technique because they don't have the raw strength men have. Technique, power and reach = Ondra. – alanh Mar 3 '15 at 22:56
25

As a disclaimer I'm 6'3" so this isn't from experience!

As a tall climber you're correct, I have a lot of advantages. Reach can be very advantageous, especially on bouldering.

In my experience the disadvantages of me being tall (therefore the advantages of being shorter!) are:

  • I have a longer reach but I also have longer levers. This means I find certain power moves more difficult.
  • Taller people tend not to be as powerfully built as shorter climbers so again I'm maybe lacking in sheer strength (to weight) sometimes
  • I find close claustrophobic moves difficult. My elbows and knees can get in the way. Shorter climbers often find these moves easier as they are in more natural positions for them

As a shorter climber you need to train for your advantages. So train for power moves. Use your lighter weight and shorter levers to perform dynamic moves. This also has the advantages of allowing you to reach the longer moves that you may struggle with.

Most important is technique. A climber with good technique will out climb any climber with worse technique, regardless of physical features. There are lots and lots of examples of brilliant short climbers The legend that is Joe brown was well known as a short powerfully built man.

I wouldn't say a shorter climber should train much different to a taller climber. A shorter climber will often simply need a different Beta to a taller climber, i.e. a more dynamic move to reach the holds, different foot positions, etc.

I'm a firm believer that the best training is climbing. So stick at it. Try some dynamic jump moves and practice them, use this to help you out of sticky situations. Work on your grip strength (dead hangs, etc.) but I would recommend this to anyone climbing short or tall.


tl;dr

I climb with a guy who's better than me. He's also a lot shorter than me. It really annoys him when I can just reach something that he can't. But 9 times out of 10 he'll climb stuff I can't. That is simply because he's better and height is almost irrelevant. So don't let height be a disadvantage. Keep practising and getting better and it will become less and less of an issue.

  • 1
    Good answer buddy! +1 for the point about not following exactly the same beta, "A shorter climber will often simply need a different Beta to a taller climber" – WedaPashi Oct 16 '14 at 7:12
  • 3
    I'm also 6'3", short people have way better balance when the footholds are too close to the handholds. They can stay closer to the wall when things get cramped. – ShemSeger Mar 3 '15 at 16:38
14

I am not a very good climber as such, and I am 5'7" only. I think I am dwarf enough to put in my experiences here: As you rightly said, being short can be very frustrating when you don't get to access a specific hold. There are a few techniques that might help a short climber do amazingly well.

  1. Realize that you may not be able to do exactly the same movements as a tall climber would do. So, try and look for intermediate holds, if you are climbing indoor in a local gym, or a bouldering station, try to climb through intermediate holds, often you can try using footholds as handholds. In case if you are climbing outdoors, you might want to find those hidden finger pockets or crimps that are not covered in chalk?
  2. Change your power building routines to improve arm pinch strength.
  3. Being short might help in being a bit more movable. Try and work out technique like rotating your torso to the left or right as much as you can, and a bit more, further. The more mobile you can be on the fall, the more you can reach, irrespective of the height.
  4. Try getting your leg higher. Being short, you just may manage to take your knees out of the way and find a higher foothold after an intermediate hold. There comes the flexibility. Practicing hand-foot matching is a best bet in such a case, where you put your foot just where your hand is, thats tough for a tall climber.
  5. Drop-knees are very helpful, where you can’t reach the next hold. Take your knee inward as you turn your torso sideways and into the wall. Sometimes, even extending your leg helps to balance your weight, which taller guys will struggle with.
  6. Practice dynamic moves. Add exercises like hanging on two handholds and footholds, with your knees bent in your Practice and Power building sessions.

More importantly, keep climbing, that helps!

12

As a girl 167cm tall (5'7") I'm on a shorter side of climbers spectra. I believe that while sometimes not being able to reach a hold can mean a no-go on a route, there is plenty of situations where being short gives you the edge:

  • Shorter body means shorter levers. This comes handy in steep overhangs and in any other situation that requires a lot of body tension to place as much weight as possible on your feet.
  • Being short means that often you can place your feet high. This can be great advantage while getting out from the overhang or where footholds are limited. Often when I can't reach to a hold I try to step up or alternatively try too heel hook high - a solution impossible for longer climbers, who will be too compressed in such position.
  • Smaller hands, that usually come together with short size, hold better on crimps and in finger holes. Where other people can only use two fingers, I can often put in three, which can be a game-changer. What is a larger finger-hold to my taller friends can become a comfortable full-hand hold for me.
  • If the wall has big structures (cavities, positive protrusions, chimneys, short horizontal overhangs) you might be able to fit comfortably where others have to squeeze and even find good resting spots where others are cramped.
  • Less weight always helps and is especially advantegous on mediocre intermediate holds.

There is a few things you need to practice in order to benefit from short-climber advantages. Being stretched is essential for placing feet high and strong core muscles allow you to place weight on your feet both while stretched and compressed. Also, you should get comfortable with "funny" moves increasing you reach, high heel hooks or figure 4 being an example.

However, there are also disadvantages which cant't really be overcome:

  • If there is no intermediate holds, no additional footholds and no structure you can rely on, sometimes you will have to jump.
  • On the vertical, balance-based routes I find it often impossible to find leverage to jump, especially where I'm already stretched.
  • Smaller hands perform worse on slopers as well as on some pinches.
9

Not much advantage being a short climber to be honest.I'm probably the shortest around, I'm 5'1" male @ 120lbs and getting stronger in my mid 30's. I can solve most problems, but not all reachy problems with no intermediates. Be creative all the most, no different than your daily life. Its what life has brought to me is to think outside the box. Sometimes I can surprise myself.

How should short climbers train to compensate for their shorter reach?

I train on weakness. That's everything because I'm never good enough. Call it DRIVE or motivation.

  1. mental psyche, nurture your self competitiveness
  2. flexibility and dexterity - you need to be light and fast
  3. strength - everything, upper, core, legs, hands...including dead hangs
  4. anything that has to do with balance
  5. throwing and dead points
  6. footwork - your other 2 hands
  7. Time on the wall - without injuring your self!
  8. luck

Master athlete ref: Jule Worm 5'2" & Alex Pucchio 5'3"

Be great

8

Okay, I'm 5'4" and female. I have small hands and feet, and am very flexible. For my fellow short people, the best advice I got is from this very helpful website from Tiffany: Tiffany's Climbing Tips for Short People.

And, cross train with yoga. Tall people have a harder time touching your toes. But if you can touch your toes, you can turn a hand hold into your next foothold. Good luck!

8

As other people already have mentioned here. In general, it is a disadvantage to be tall. If you look at height-performance profiles in rock climbing, they are generally downward-sloping (meaning the taller you are, the lower you performance on average). See the following graph I created (the first graph look at male climbers while the second considers females):

Height and Climbing Performance among male climbers

Height, Body Mass Index and Climbing Performance Among Female Climbers

This has been derived from a large sample of mostly regular climbers but not necessarily elite climbers (registered at the climbing website 8a.nu.

I have looked into the role of height here and here which seems to be mostly due to the larger weight of taller climbers.

Dave MacLeod writes about the topic of height in his nice book 9 out of 10 climbers make the same mistakes. He points out, in addition to other arguments which already been made, that taller climber develop an unfavorable slower and more static moving style.

  • 1
    The interesting fact to me from the second graph is that it looks like there is an almost linear relation between BMI and performance, regardless of height, except for that weird dip at high BMI for people ~170cm tall. – Gabriel C. Dec 20 '18 at 14:46
  • @JamesJenkins, thanks for the comment. Yes, there should had been a "disadvantage". I changed it. – Arne Dec 21 '18 at 9:31
  • @GabrielC. Yes, I think that is indeed interesting. There are much more male climbers than females in the database and the algorithm is quite data-hungry. So there is a lot of smoothing involved due to the number of observations (the corresponding graph for males looks less smooth). But in general, a linear relationship seems to be a good proxy for the relationship between height, BMI and rock climbing performance. – Arne Dec 21 '18 at 9:31
  • I'm less interested by the relation between height and performance as it's something you have no control over. Of course there's a link between height and mass, but generally, the only factor you have control over is your mass. This tends to suggest that an inspiring climber should not workout for muscle gain at all, and go on a caloric deficit diet to be as lean as possible. This is what intrigues me the most from that graph. – Gabriel C. Dec 21 '18 at 14:21
4

When you say short, I'm assuming your girlfriend is probably about my height which is 5'0. I boulder with my boyfriend who is about 6'. It is very frustrating watching a taller person walk in front of me and effortlessly reach a problem that I was just popping a vein to reach. As a shorter person, we will be forced to learn better technique, flexibility for higher feet, and to build core strength to make dynamic moves. It's a rocky start but after a year, I became more aware of my body and started surprising myself with what I can do. I also am blessed because my boyfriend encourages me and reminds me that I am doing great. I just remind myself that some goals are unreachable at eye's view but after patience and failing, there is a chance of succeeding and that's what climbing is about. I hope your girlfriend continues trying, it's a fun journey!

4

Not mentioned yet: shorter people probably have smaller hands, hence shorter fingers. Shorter fingers have more crimp strength. This creates a disadvantage for sloper terrain, though.

2

Look at the average heights of the worlds top climbers and very few of them are over 6ft tall. Being tall is an advantage when you start climbing but the harder it gets and the smaller the hand/foot holds get the more advantage there is to being small and light.

I'm 6'2" and weight 85kg so moves with high feet push my weight further away from the wall than a smaller climber.

At the end of the day, everyone whinges about how its easier to be whatever they are not. Its easier to persuade yourself that its easier for others than to realise that they are either stronger than you or perhaps have better technique than you.

protected by Charlie Brumbaugh Feb 13 '18 at 16:31

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