Sending Tips for Short Climbers

Learn how you can climb hard no matter your height...

By Jasmin Pillai

I hear the familiar crash as I hit the mats after a dramatic lunge upwards. I missed the hold. Next time I try I need to give it a bit more oomph! Another person with comically long arms and legs from here till next Christmas approaches, getting onto the boulder problem I am working… they casually reach past two holds, skip the crux and top the problem. What the heck???

Sometimes being shorter than the rest can be disheartening when it comes to climbing. For a large portion of my life, I have been the shortest among my climbing groups. Maybe my neck would do better if I used belay glasses to look up at people! Jokes aside, it is extremely rare that I would find myself looking down at someone while standing and chatting. It isn’t all bad though! A few years ago in an interview I said,

“Working out the moves of a route is very fun, especially when you know you’re doing it with more style than anyone else because you’re short and have to do things differently to the taller folks who are doing one big move when you’re having to do three, using tiny intermediates and drop knees and other crazy stuff!”

The way I describe climbing as a short person in this excerpt gives the impression that I thought it was my superpower. Looking back, it probably was, it was also why I developed to be such a dynamic climber. 

Here are some tips for harnessing the superpower of being a short climber:


Use higher feet: The less legs and arms you have the easier it is to get your feet up high! Wherever possible, use this to your advantage.

Flag or drop knee: If there are no high feet, flag your foot in the opposite direction to which you are moving; this forces your hips and shoulders to rotate inwards to the wall, putting your body in a position for maximum reach. Drop knees tend to work in a similar way, choosing between a flag or a drop knee depends entirely on the feet available to you and the direction you are moving in. 

Climb on your toes: If you are on your toes you always have the option to point them to give you a few more centimetres to reach something (wearing stiffer shoes helps with this). You can also pivot more easily which gives you the option of using momentum if you need to jump.

Learn how to smear: If you find you need a higher foot and there isn’t one available, you can try smearing on the wall (i.e. pressing your feet against the wall for leverage). This can help balance you, extend your reach and can be as good as a small foothold on slabby terrain.


The more flexible you are, the closer you can get to the wall… the closer you are to the wall, the further you can reach! As mentioned above, getting high feet when you need to reach something is extremely useful, but you also need to practice engaging your hips in that range. Hip mobility drills can help you loosen up your hips, and you should practice moves that require rocking over onto high footholds and twisting your hips into the wall; practice on the easier moves and increase range over time.


You can probably get away with doing a fair bit statically, but as you go up in the grades this may become more difficult. Most routes in gyms (and the grading system in general) are tailored to average-height people, which is understandable, and your reach might just be too short to do some moves statically (i.e. slowly and with control, without jumping or throwing yourself).

Deadpoints: Deadpointing is going to the next hold with momentum. Your feet may stay on the wall or cut, but there is never a point where all points have left the wall. Deadpoints are especially useful because a fair bit of your climbing power comes from your legs. Pair that with a high foot and you will be able to reach way further in comparison to statically stretching upward, especially if your lock of strength is a bit lacking.

Dyno: Using a dyno is probably a last-resort decision. You will be using your legs for power, as with deadpointing, but a dyno means your hands and feet will completely leave (a nice little taste of what it feels like to fly!) as you jump from one hold to the next. Assess whether your launching holds (feet and hands) are good enough to leap from, and whether you’re able to latch onto the hold you’re aiming for with momentum, i.e. when you’re moving. If you try to dyno to a sloper with no lip on a 45 degree overhang the chances are if you do reach the hold, you will slide right off with no opposing force to keep you on. Get on the wall and feel out the holds, using other climbs to get up if you need to, and then try, try again!

You will need to sharpen your precision for dynamic moves, but that just comes with practice (as most things do).


Climbers love to spray beta at anyone on the wall; this can be useful or detrimental. When trying to flash boulders or climbs, it is better to go with what feels natural to you because it is possible that someone taller than you will do something completely different that could be harder or that you may not be able to execute. Being aware of what you can and can’t do will make you a more confident climber. If you are not following someone else’s beta you may become more aware of the other options available to you; maybe there is a crimp that you could use, or a higher foot, or a drop knee you can throw in. It also helps to learn beta from other climbers the same size as you. Observe the way they complete a move or troubleshoot together.

Try different things rather than getting stuck using beta that may not be suitable for you.


Start training your fingers to hold onto the things that no one else wants to! Finger strength is a one-way ticket to improving your strength no matter what your size. However, if you are on the shorter side then it gives you more options when you’re looking for a hold to use. The more positive holds will be the most chalked up; this makes sense because people will take the easiest way up for them, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t other holds that can be utilized. On my outdoor projects, I have found many holds that nobody else would even imagine using because they didn’t need to, but it was that hold that made my send. Indoor climbing is slightly trickier, because there aren’t always more options available. Although my route-setting colleagues will kill me… my advice is to go for the footholds if there is no other way.


It’s very easy to give into the “I’m too short, I can’t do this” mentality. I have fallen into that hole plenty of times, and it is honestly the most limiting thing. If we fall reaching for something, we need to ask a few questions before a final ruling that we are too short. Is it a strength thing rather than a reach thing? Did I fully commit to going for the hold (because fear holds us back more often than not)? Have I applied the techniques I have learnt to combat a reachy move (higher feet, rotated hips, and shoulders into the wall to promote maximum reach)? Is the next hold feasible to deadpoint or dyno to? Did I use enough momentum?

If you’re struggling to figure out if your height is the limiting factor (or you need to give yourself a reality check), try actually measuring the distance you’ll need to reach. You can do this by down-climbing the move or, for a visual tool, grab one of the longer boulder brushes and measure yourself against it, then hold it up against the move in question. More often than not, you will in fact be able to reach the hold, and you have to admit that the only limiting factor is your mind (which is incredibly freeing).

NB: If a climb or boulder problem is beyond you, it is okay to give it a rest and come back to it… or never go back to it again if you choose! Forcing yourself to do something over and over again while becoming more discouraged can have adverse effects like mental blocks. Find a balance between pushing your limits and stepping back to rest and just have fun – keep things light, we climb because we enjoy it!


Being short doesn’t make one a better or a worse climber, it just means you need to use different tools than someone who may be taller than you. We compensate for our height with more technique and pure power, which is pretty damn cool. It’s interesting to chat with tall climbers and ask what they struggle with and how they get around it. We all have different weaknesses, but for every weakness there is a strength too!