5.14! What does it take?

Recently, a lot of you guys have been asking me what you can do to become better climbers. As someone who strives to always get better, smarter, and stronger – I have spent a lot of time asking the same questions. Am I training right? Eating right? How much have I improved this season? Will I ever climb 5.14?

It’s not easy. Unless your name is Adam Ondra, climbing is something that takes an exuberant  amount of hard work. Those people who don’t take it seriously, end up plateauing at that magic number, 5.9. This is because, beyond this grade, climbing becomes very technical, and requires some sort of sport-specific adaptive cultivation.

Do you think Chris Sharma started climbing 5.14 from just climbing once a week at a climbing gym? It was a conscious decision he made to get better, and having the tools and knowledge to accomplish what the mind has proclaimed. As a young climber, pushing through the grades, I feel the same way. I am at a level where I need to make a cognizant choice to climb at a 5.13 or even 5.14 level. I’m starting to set routes that challenge me. I need to stop climbing at grades I know I can climb (5.12+) and start climbing things that are beyond my limit. This is where the magic happens. And here are some tips to make that 5.14 grade, turn into reality.

  • Treadwall: treadwall04The most important part of training for climbing is climbing. This amazing piece of kit allows you to do that, on an exponentially grand scale. Want to climb El Cap in a day? The only way to do it in your New England garage, is the Treadwall. Sure, 5 grand is a big chunk of change… but think about it, what would you pay to have a “big wall” in your back yard? This is your only chance.
  • Diet: Climbing is not weight lifting. It is not running. There aren’t many nutrition and diet books out there on climbing. And most of the ones out there for other sports, don’t translate well over to the vertical world. As climbers, we eat Goo, Clif Bars, Protein bars, trail mix, and oatmeal. It can get pretty disgusting. One thing I’ve found that helps me, is to switch to eating one meal a day. Back in the 70’s, this is what climbers in Yosemite would do, and they were way more jacked than you. The science behind this is complex, but the theory is, if you have one giant meal a day, the muscles that you used for climbing, use all of that food energy to get stronger. I have been doing this for 3 months now and have had huge results.
  • Limit Climbing Outdoors: Climbing outdoors is great. It’s one of the best ways to climb. But it is so much more involved. You have to pack your pack, drive to the crag, hike in, gear up, rope up, lead a route, make an anchor…. annnnddddd…. now its 3:00pm and you’ve only been up one route. If you want to get strong, sacrifice the outdoors for a year, and focus on spending time at the gym climbing routes, and running laps.
  • Cruxes: I always find that for me, the crux on a route is the hardest part. It’s usually a very hard move that spits me out like an olive pit. It can be exhausting boinking up a rope, or having to reclimb part of a route, just to try the crux again. Instead, try to recreate to crux at a gym, or inside at your home wall. Mimic the angle, and the holds, and climb it over and over until you have it dialled. I have done this for my serious projects, and firmly believe I wouldn’t have sent without it.
  • Legs: When people first start climbing, they think that they need a lot of finger strength and big biceps. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The most important part of your body when you climb, is your legs. The stronger your legs are, the less weight you put on your fingers. When you see Chris Sharma dynoing from a hold, 70 feet above the water, it’s not his fingers or arms he’s using to propel him to the jug, it’s his legs! Do squats and leg presses, and really tone those thighs. Your hands are only used to keep you on the wall. You shouldn’t have much weight, if any, on those fingers.

Whatever you do, make sure you really commit. Climbing isn’t easy, so don’t treat it like a game. This is work. This is your life. This is why we climb!

Shred on, Wes.

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29 thoughts on “5.14! What does it take?

  1. Eat once a day? how about eating good food, veggies, all day. then making sure that you get protein within an hour after you finished climbing. beans and peanuts have protein. I’m also sceptical about the leg exercises, but maybe that is because i spend all of my time hiking to objectives with my heavy pack and not pulling on plastic in the gym. to climb 5.14 you have to be dedicated to training, and that is general boooooooorrrriiiiiiiinnngggggg in my humble opinion. better yet, stop worrying about how hard you climb and go outside and have some fun.

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    • Why are you giving advice about something you don’t do? Obviously eating veggies and some protein didn’t make you climb 5.14. Wesley here, speaks from the experience. I think I will keep to once a day meal and lots of squats to get me there. Long outdoor trips sound boring.
      When you watch Sharma videos, does he ever hike longer than 10 minutes to the crag? NOO! Why? Because no one gives a flying Fk about that chosspile in the woods. Obviously it is not as fun as pulling a 5.14 move. So keep hiking, and let Wesley do his thing. He is a very famous and knows what he is talking about. I have not seen an interview with Anonymous anywhere, so go away bro.

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  2. Dear Wes, just wanted to let you know that your blog has become very famous in Australia – when I asked my local climbing gyms staff for tips on my second visit, all they said was “read rockclimbinglife.wordpress.com”. After adding “.au” on the end and not finding anything, I figured out they meant a foreign website, and now that I’ve found it its even better than I thought it would be! Keep up the great work!!

    Anyway, my question is about grades – you keep mentioning 5.12, 5.13 and 5.14 but my local gym in sydney uses a colour grading system – green, blue, black, red, yellow and sometimes these multi-coloured ones that must be projects or something since I can’t even figure out how you’d even start them. From your descriptions I think the greens must be about 5.9 (they’re really easy – I can usually do them after only one visit to the gym) and the blues must be the same as 5.12 (they are nearly impossible), but I might not be translating properly. I overheard a visiting seppo climber say that Aussie climbers are “pathological sandbaggers” (which was a nice compliment I thought) – maybe that would help with translation?? A comment or even a full artifle on how your “five full-stop end-of-sentence” grading system compares to the Australian colour grading system would be bonza!

    Thanks! Keep up the great work!
    ozzycrusher

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  3. I’ve down a careful analysis and found that people who tend to “send” the hardest climbs at my gym have their shirts off – this makes sense! Less weight means you don’t have to carry it up the wall. Noticed too there’s lots of grunting; I believe this is because using the diaphragm helps circulate lactic acid from pumped forearms.

    I personally don’t climb outside like you suggest, why would anyone trying to hit that 5.14 do it out in nature? They aren’t even taped to show what they’re rated!!

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  4. Wes, your blog gets better everyday, but I have a few questions. 1- Is English your first language? If not, that would explain a lot! 2- Have you ever climbed anything ever? If not, that would explain a lot! 3- Are you mentally delinquent? If so, that would explain everything!

    Thanks for the tips, keep up the good work.
    ME

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    • I can answer on Wes’s behalf I am his friend from the gym.
      1. No
      2. No
      3.Yes

      Please have some respect.

      Keep on keeping it real Wes

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      • I have no respect for you, your “knowledge” or your ability (unless this entire blog is satire, then I love it)!
        If you are sincere YOU’RE GONNA DIE! I hope I am there for it.
        DIE MOTHERFUCKER!

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  5. Wes. I don’t know you and I don’t ever want to meet you. I do want you to know that I am offended and hurt that you wrote on your blog that I don’t work hard at climbing. I do, in fact, work very hard at getting better, although I do not follow a single piece of advice you have written.

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  6. I so agree about the food and the legs. Why even train on climbs that use your fingers? It just teaches you to overgrip and not use your legs. I got a stair climber at my standing desk at work so I can train my legs for climbing all day. Then one day, I ate 3 huge burritos at lunch. That evening, I went to the gym and set my own 5.14, then sent it the very same evening! I haven’t climbed 5.14 outside yet, but that’s mostly because I don’t have time to set my own routes outside after the 5-10 hours it takes to carry a climbing pack into a crag, and because everything outside is sandbagged. But not for long. I’ll be bolting new 5.14 sport routes up old 5.8 trad routes in no time once I get Wes to teach me how to use the drill.

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  7. Hi Wes! I’m surprised at all the jokey answers. All of us want to climb harder. You’ve offered us some good advice. Lets’ all discuss it sensibly!

    One thing that confuses me. I’ve noticed that the climbing grades are higher in some countries than others. For example, I read about a guy who regularly climbs “7b” in France, but can only climb “6a” in England!

    I guess the brits are just a lot stronger?

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  8. WTF dude – get strong by not climbing outdoors as much!!!! I kinda get where you were going with that, but come on bro….for real.

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  9. Treadwall? Have you EVER seen anybody stronger than a 5.8 climber on one of these things? No.

    Limit outdoor climbing? Stick to the gym? Why oh why would you do this? That’s like abstaining from real sex to get better at jerking off.
    “You have to pack your pack” – with the same things you’d bring to the gym plus some draws, food, and water.
    “hike in” – warm up
    “gear up, rope up, lead a route” – All things you’d do in a gym…
    “make an anchor” – A draw on each bolt…5 seconds.
    “annnnddddd…. now its 3:00pm and you’ve only been up one route” – I’m usually DONE by 3pm. Get an earlier start and spend more time climbing instead of fucking around.

    “I always find that for me, the crux on a route is the hardest part.” – That’s the DEFINITION of crux. For me, bananas taste like bananas!

    “The stronger your legs are, the less weight you put on your fingers.” Not true in the slightest. It’s correct (usually) to say “the more weight you put on your legs, the less weight you’ll have on your fingers”, but that has nothing to do with how strong your legs are. Body positioning is 95% of what your legs do, and that can only be learned from climbing. If you really want a leg workout though, try hiking to the crag…

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  10. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE keep climbing in the gym and telling yourself you a 12+ climber.

    You are absolutely right climbing outside is a real pain in the ass! I hate Yosemite and Zion. I can’t stand the Winds and the Bugaboos. Geez, there is like dirt and sun and stuff. No way! Carrying a pack? That’s for rookies.

    Dude, Really. Bro. your blog is hilarious! I just hope no one takes it seriously.

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  11. Hi, i think much of the “Yosemite-diet” orgins from severe lack of money. in the time when climbers didnt pretend to be broke. and i guess they also got severley malnutritioned. Climbing today, and climbing somwhat 30 years ago, or more. is different in both amounts of climbing over period of time and who was climbing. nowdays we climb more, faster and safer. wich makes it draw a crowd of ppl that arnt of the same caliber as the “old guys”.

    Fred Ut og stein på

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  12. This article is bad all the way through. I climb 5-6 days a week and climb consistently at 5.13+. I can tell you now that eating one big meal a day will screw up your recovery. One big meal a day?? Seriously??! Did he mention snacking? I eat five meals a day, not that I’d recommend going to the extreme like me. I burn calories fast, however everyone should be eating bananas, taking fish oil and eating at least 10 grams of protein before and after working out. I consume 40 grams of protein and 1000+ calories after working out usually. Working out 3-5 hours a session will easily burn the calories. The only situation in which you’ll want to not eat a lot is if you have weight to lose. However a lot of climbers who climb 5.12+ I’d say don’t need to lose weight.

    On to the point though, NEVER, only eat one meal a day. Your body needs more calories than you could possibly consume in a single meal.

    Also, this looks like a fucking ad for a tread wall. Cough* waste of 5 grand. If you want to climb 5.14 you should focus predominantly on bouldering. Technique is of course very important however, at that level you need massive pulling power. You’ll need to climb at bare minimum V9 to climb 5.14a and that’s assuming you’ve got pretty good technique, you’ll most likely need to climb V10 before climbing a 5.14a. Bouldering is a much better way to build an explosive powerful build and the majority of 5.14 routes will require you to have a lot of power.

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  13. To my previous post, idk if this is a troll post but a lot of people I presume would fall for it. There’s a lot of people less educated at climbing and would mis interpret this article. Don’t fuck people’s climbing up.

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