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: The 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.