Over the past four years Myles Crossley has been on a journey—a journey many climbing indoors today would love to make. He stepped out of the climbing gym for the first time and began climbing on rock. Since then, he has steadily moved through the grades from Font 7a (V6) to consistently climbing Font 8a (V11) in the UK and abroad.
Like a lot of climbers from my generation and certainly most before, I got into climbing through what might be viewed as the more traditional approach. Our parents would teach us the ropes at the more minor venues, the esoteric crags where crowds are few but you can always find a bomber top rope anchor. Dads would get frustrated because we couldn’t do that lay-back and we consistently cried the words “I want to come down”. But as the years rolled by we started to enjoy the craft of climbing. We learned the nuances of our sport and our apprenticeship was almost complete.
Climbing has evolved significantly since then, with a dramatic rise in the popularity of indoor bouldering. It is highly likely that indoor climbing will overtake the more traditional outdoor climbing within the next few years, if it hasn't already. It is this evolution in our sport which prompted me to explore Myles’ journey from indoor punk to outdoor beast in a comparatively short amount of time. As part of the project I photographed Myles during a training session and he talked me through his journey from Font 7a to Font 8a
It feels like such a long time ago that I climbed Dolphin Belly Slap, Font 7a, and it was. In terms of my level of climbing I didn't feel like I was anywhere near as experienced as I am now and I still don't feel super experienced. It felt pretty hard when I climbed Dolphin Belly Slap, it was maybe my second time outside climbing and I was only used to climbing inside. I couldn't see any colors for my hands or feet, it was basically just one massive grey thing of gritstone. At that time anything from Font 6a (V3) to Font 7a (V7) felt desperate. That first year was just a massive learning curve in terms of being able to adapt to rock and being able to understand climbing in general. When you’re climbing indoors a lot, you are limited in how you can do problems. There are only so many holds and so little space to move between each sequence, but outside there is so much freedom, it kind of kicks your ass. I think if I was to climb Dolphin Belly Slap now without having any knowledge of the moves, I would find it much easier because I understand how to move on rock.
The first couple of years since Dolphin Belly Slap, I would generally climb maybe three to four times a week, one day on and one day off basically. Rob Haigh took me under his wing and showed me some exercises, core work and shoulder stability. I did a couple of years of this and at the time I didn't really have a clue what I was doing. It was the first time I ever did any form of conditioning. I thought if I stick with this I will get stronger and better, and I did. Looking back, I can see I didn't really understand movement as well as I do now. I hit a stumbling block after a couple of years and I realized I had to apply a more climbing-specific intensive training routine.
I spoke with friends whilst at the crag and asked how the bloody hell they do stuff. You know, it was these little conversations with people, telling me, "You can get as strong as you want but the best way to get better at climbing is to climb lots". I kind of accepted after a few years that I needed to climb as much as I could with as much variety as possible. I realized after adopting that approach I was better prepared to do something harder. I kind of kept the linear progress of doing the exercises but I didn't prioritize it as much, I started to prioritize the climbing more and focus on my weaknesses.
Most people that climb outside a lot are going to very good at doing moderate to hard stuff. Where as I find if you’re climbing at an indoor wall a lot, it kind of hinders you when climbing outside, especially on grit, because it's so different. You’re just not used to being so delicate when you’re climbing, you see the holds and you pull on them and it's as simple as that. I think the transition can either be really hard or really easy depending on your own strengths and weaknesses.
After the first four or five years I was getting to the point where I felt like I wasn't making as much progress as I wanted. The training had definitely made me stronger, but to get better at climbing you just have to do more climbing. Be smart about it. I don't do the same thing all the time. I'm not doing any of the stability stuff I started years ago because I don't feel the need to. I think that will stay with me for a long time. I do quite specific exercises now that I feel will maximize my climbing strength. I work a lot of different angles on one arm hangs and I do a lot of TRX work where I’m holding positions like flys and planks. I'm trying to tailor these exercises to the more intensive side of climbing which now makes my climbing feel a lot more efficient. Upping the intensity of training and shortening the length has helped a lot too, I don't feel like I'm getting burnt out.
My idea is to find out what's the easiest way I can get up a problem. That's essentially the same way a super weak person would do it, without needing to pull as much. That's kind of my ethos at the moment. When training I’d be gunning for it, trying to get as strong as possible, and quite often I would campus moves when I didn't need to. Where as now I think, "Right, I do need to put this foot on".
I never used to warm up that well when climbing inside. I would just pull on some good jugs and climb up and down a few times, then I would feel pumped but warm, so then I would just then go and pull on some dirty monos. But now I have learnt to warm up properly and stretch properly. I like to try and do as much stuff at the wall as I can before I climb, like mobility and posture work. Variety is key: Don't do the same thing over and over again, even if it's inside bouldering all the time or a set of projects all the time. Climbing is so good for personal growth, I think even going to other walls is better than wasting time on one problem at the wall; go and climb a whole set of new problems at the same grade, even if it is at a different wall.
Yorkshire based climber, photographer, writer, alpinist