Crusty Corner is a monthly column written by Climbing Editor Matt Samet, a climber of 30 years. When he's not at the gym or the rocks trying to stave off the inevitable performance decline of middle age, you can find him in his basement playing Xbox.
There’s a strange ritual you might have noticed at your local gym—you bump into someone you haven’t seen in a while, and one or two sentences in to a conversation they start telling you why they aren’t (or won’t be) climbing well that day. “Yeah, just haven’t been climbing that much.” “Not really warmed up yet—just stopped in to do a few pitches during my lunch break.” “Shoulder’s been a bit cranky—tweaked it on a gaston.” “Just got back from a month surfing in Bali after a month skiing in the Alps after a month opening a new art gallery in SoHo—the guns are little flabby.” “The Russian Mafia broke all 10 of my fingers when I refused to pay protection money for my chain of porno shops…so, you know, crimping has been tough.” And so on.
For me, this never made sense. I got into climbing to get away from competition, to not have to care or even talk about hogwash like this.. Is climbing not supposed to be about bettering yourself, about seeing how far you can step your game up compared to you? It’s never occurred to me to offer much of an explanation for how well or poorly I might be performing. My thinking is, I don’t care, so why should you? If someone wants to waste their precious gym time following me around like a lost puppy to see what I fall on or telling me what they won’t be sending that day, that’s their lookout. I’m just there to get flamed and get gone. Some days that happens more quickly than others.
Still, the “excuse game” is a fun diversion: It keeps the tongue moist and jaw loose, and saves you from having to look at your smartphone between burns to pretend you’re important enough that people e-mail you constantly. With that in mind, I’ve come up with the Top 5 Honest, Ironclad Excuses for Climbing Poorly at the Gym. These puppies are steeped in irrefutable truth, and are the kinds of things we’d be telling each other if we were really being honest.
1. “I suck at climbing.”
This is a good starting point. Just admit it: You ain’t that good and probably never will be. All the pull-ups and kettlebells and tire-flings in the world aren’t going to change that. You flow like a Terminator thrashing through a sea of twisted rebar, your feet contact the wall with a resounding boom loud enough to trigger earthquake-swarm readings at the local seismometer station, and you oscillate between scared and gripped, with an occasional stopover at “abusive” when you berate your belayer for the aforementioned shortcomings (to which you will never admit). Kinda harsh, right? Well, shit, you said it—not me, friendo. I’m glad you’re finally being honest about your skills. Now we’re getting somewhere. And, hey, you’re in good company: Most of us suck at climbing, myself included.
2. “I’d usually be burning you off or keeping up with you, but today is different and I need to let you know how abnormal this is so you don't forget your lowly stature in the pecking order.”
It’s important to let any pretenders to the throne know when they’ve overstepped their boundaries, so that they don’t get any wild ideas like getting better or stronger than you permanently in the future. Just for today, as a show of good faith, you can let them burn you off, but only if they are made aware that this is a one-off because you are not on your A game. It is your magnanimous gift to the climbing community. Hell, you’re practically the Mother Teresa of rock-gym ego philanthropy at this point. Bravo! Huzzah!
3. “I'm out of shape because I’m lazy and let myself get out of shape.”
We’ve all been there, and there’s absolutely zero shame in this. As I’ve learned, no 5.whatever c/d overhanging sport-cling feels better than ice cream tastes, nor is any 5.whatever+ sandbag death chimney more comfortable than your couch. The older you get, the truer this becomes and the less you care—or can be expected to care—about climbing hard. So be a creampuff, and let you do you. I applaud your bravery. In fact, I’m not that far behind you (cough-cough, pass the Double Stuf Oreos, cough-cough).
4. “I’m insecure.”
No explanation needed, really.
5. “Something bad happened in my life to prevent me from climbing—but it wasn’t tragic enough that it would be gauche to use as leverage in my self-constructed game of one-upmanship with my peers.”
And finally, the old sympathy card. Someone stole your favorite Hello Kitty fidget spinner out of your gym bag? One letter grade, at best. Great-aunt Sally run over by the Resurrection Express shuttle bus down at the local mega-church? That’s probably two letter grades. Beloved pet gerbil Francis killed in a garbage-disposal “misunderstanding?” Milk that shit—that’s good for at least four letter grades off your usual limit. The greater the tragedy, the more traction you can plausibly get. Though if it gets too grim—“My entire extended family drowned in a molasses truck turnover out on I-17”—you’re going to lose your audience, who will surely be wondering what you’re doing at the gym that day when you should be at a funeral or home howling at an indifferent God into your pillow.