Looking out the window at the drizzle means one thing, no two. Firstly, no excuse not to go down the wall for some training and secondly no excuse not to write a blog about something… Normally my blogs are super easy to write, this one’s a bit more complicated, requiring more thought, but here we go, just bear in mind this is a massive subject, so this is really just an overview – the internet is full of great articles, and some utter rubbish as well.

For years I was kidding myself “off down the wall to get strong” I’d say, rubbish. Is going down the wall with a mate and doing a few routes training? No. I’m not saying it’s pointless, it’s great fun and you’ll get some benefit, as you will from any climbing, but don’t kid yourself it’s training. Sorry about that.

Rock climbing improver course

Time in the wall pays dividends…

Do you need to train, and more importantly do you want to train? If you’re happily climbing a grade and going to a climbing wall is just your way of ticking over when you can’t get to a crag then great, keep doing what you’re doing! If, however, you’re trying to improve your grade, think about what’s stopping you succeeding.

  1. Being let down technically, or can’t work out the moves? Consider working on your technique first, if you haven’t done a massive amount of climbing, this will be a key limiting feature. Before training any aspect of your climbing, you must have a decent technique. It could also be your tactics, are you using the holds in the correct sequence? (Correct for you).
  2. Getting scared? Don’t we all! But we can work on managing this through various techniques this will probably include falling off practice when appropriate to try and get more comfortable with it. The psychology of it all is vast subject in it’s own right.
  3. Arms get pumped silly on climbs when you’re not actually finding the moves very hard, for example on sustained but non cruxey routes? You’re lacking endurance.
  4. Not strong enough to hold the holds? Get stronger!
  5. Unable to do the individual moves even though you can hold the holds? Not enough power.
  6. Not able to link hard moves, even though you can do all the individual moves? This indicates a lack of power endurance.

It’s important to understand a few key words when giving the above points some thought.

  1. Endurance, this is the aerobic capacity of of your muscles, specifically in climbing your forearms (local endurance). It’s the ability for you to keep climbing without getting too pumped (ie. solid forearms that can’t grip any more), which is when your forearms can’t get enough oxygen in them.
  2. Strength, by this I’m talking about contact strength – holding that hold. When we talk about strength, we are talking about a static force, i.e. hanging from a hold, nothing more, so a stronger climber can hand off a smaller hold than a weaker climber (relative to their weight).
  3. Power, doing something with that strength you’ve got! The product of strength plus movement. Think of a boulderer climbing a steep, short, sharp problem, they are using power.
  4. Power Endurance, this is linking hard moves together without your arms giving up. Thinking back to endurance being aerobic, power endurance brings in the anaerobic process as well so to train it you need a good base of all the above.
climbing holyhead mountain e4 katana

Some success, Katana (E4) at Holyhead Mountain

How do we train our weaknesses? With hard work! Remember you’ve got to want to do the training, so have a think about what motivates you. It could be a particular route or grade, it could be to burn off your mates, or to make the most of that upcoming trip to the Costa Blanca – whatever it is, use it.

Before anything, warm up! You need to prepare your body to perform, get the heart rate up with some jogging, star jumps etc, do a bit of mobility stuff to get your muscles and joints moving and do a bit of co-ordination work as well. Then move on to some EASY climbing or bouldering.

  1. Endurance, low intensity mileage. Example, doing laps at the wall, 4x4s at a level that makes you moderately pumped, but no more. If you get to the point where you’re feeling very pumped to the point you might fall off then you’ve moved in to the anaerobic phase which is not what we’re after.
  2. Strength, if you’ve not done a lot of climbing yet, embrace bouldering, this will do wonders for your strength. If however you want to train strength specifically and you’ve been climbing a while already then the finger board is hard to beat. But, there’s a bit of a warning here, finger boards are brutal on your fingers, I’ve already mentioned warming up but feel the need to re-emphasise it again! Do a good 30 minutes of bouldering or climbing before getting on the board, and if you’re under 18 seek some advice first as it has the potential to mess up your long term finger development. That said they are massively useful, repeaters on a Beastmaker or similar will improve your strength. My top tip here is to download the Beastmaker App for your phone and start easy.
  3. Power, campus boarding is one choice, and will undoubtably improve your power, like fingerboarding it’s intense so remember that warm up. You’ll see campus boards in every wall but they probably only become of use once you’re bouldering about 7a / V6 or above. Personally I prefer to boulder to my limit and have only ever used a campus board to benchmark my progress, this involves boulder problems near my limit and resting in between each go for a few minutes to recover properly, before doing another one. Using bouldering to train has the advantage of being more enjoyable and allows you to work on technique at the same time.
  4. Power endurance, so you’ve got a good base of all the above? Now you can work on power endurance! Remember back to endurance and 4x4s, for power endurance we’re going to be doing 3x3s, but instead of being at a moderate pump level, we now want to be at a higher pump level, by the end of each set of three you want to be at our absolute max, a move or two from falling off, or falling off very close to the top. We can also achieve a similar result from bouldering. Choose some problems a couple of grades below your limit and aim to repeat an individual problem 3 times, you should be failing or close to failing on your last go, rest and repeat.
sport climbing costa blanca

Wings of Freedom, 7a+ onsight, Spain. Photo Bennett Barthelemy

This is such a complicated subject. You’ll want to train all these different elements in phases, but we have to keep on top of them all. If we focus entirely on endurance, you’ll be stumped when you come to a crux section on a sport route, if you focus solely on power you’ll run out of gas hanging around placing gear on a trad route.

Don’t forget to rest. All this training requires your body to rest and rebuild to get stronger & fitter.

Remember I asked why you’re failing on routes? We also need to consider what we are looking to achieve from our training, maybe that’s linked to what’s motivating us. If you’re aim is to onsight The Strand, E2 at Gogarth then you’ll need endurance just to keep on trucking, if it’s to redpoint your a cruxey 7a somewhere then it’s probably power endurance you’ll need.

Well done for making it through that lot! Hopefully it’s useful and gives you something to think about. I get such a buzz from succeeding on routes that I’ve had to work hard to achieve that it’s easy to stay motivated to train and I enjoy the training itself, and that’s super important I think. If you don’t enjoy the training, even if it’s type two fun, it’ll be hard to keep doing it, week in week out.

Lastly, remember this blog is just a bit of an overview, this is, as I’ve already said, a massive subject… If you’re going to get training, get as much knowledge as you can, whether that’s reading stuff or seeking advice from a climbing coach.

Get training and smash those goals!

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Grades are just arbitrary numbers and yet we get so hung up on them. I’ll happily admit I’m motivated by them and they provide goals and targets for me to work towards.

Type “how to climb 7a” in to Google and you’ll get plenty of results, the top one being by Steve McClure, the man who’s just climbed 9b, read it, it’s good.

Unlike Steve, I don’t have many grades in hand when I climb a 7a! My best onsight is only a grade harder at 7a+ and my best redpoint is 7b+, this year is the first year I’ve put some proper effort in to trying to push my grade and I’m about to start working my first 8a (nb. working is a long way from succeeding..!)

Here’s my take on it anyway!

focus on the climbing technique

Martin on a 7a+, Oasis sector, Chulilla, Spain

  1. Want it! Whilst it may be an arbitrary thing, 7a does seem to represent the stage at which you need to start wanting it a bit more, if you don’t it’s going to be hard to move on to the other points in my list. We’re all different and I’m sure most of us know someone who can jump on a 7a and onsight it despite being hungover and with a belly full of greasy Pete’s Eats breakfast! No excuses though, you either want it enough or you don’t, and it doesn’t matter if you don’t! Climbing any grade can be fun and is better than kayaking…
  2. Tekkers! Concentrate on your technique, because whilst 7a’s need some strength etc, you’ll need decent technique. These can be drilled indoors or outdoors, but when you’re climbing comfortable grades, make sure you’re climbing as well technically as possible, then that’ll begin to flow in to your climbing when you’re at your limit. Watch some footage of top climbers, they’ll look like they’re flowing up the rock, no sketchy footwork!
  3. Climb lots, you’ll need mileage on the rock. Think of your total number of routes at each grade leading up to 7a and we want a stable pyramid shape. When you’re putting in the time getting this mileage, concentrate on climbing with the good technique as mentioned above, use your feet properly, think about your body position etc.
  4. Benchmarking my finger strength on the Beastamker

    Benchmarking my finger strength on the Beastamker, my shoulder form is much better these days..!

    Train. I spent years going to the climbing wall thinking I was training, I wasn’t! If you go to the wall and just mince around doing a few routes, that isn’t training. It’s still useful, it’s mileage isn’t it, but think about what you’re trying to achieve. Training is a massive subject, about which there’s shed loads written (even how many moves you should be climbing per week to climb a particular grade, or how much weight you should be able to hold hanging on a finger board), but have a think about why you’re failing on routes, lack of endurance, lack of power, lack of strength, lack of power endurance, these will dictate what areas you need to work on. Consider getting some outside advice on this, personally I needed to be told by someone else what I needed to work on, despite having a reasonable amount of knowledge on the subject.

  5. Get a belayer you trust. I can’t emphasise this one enough, you need to have zero doubt in your head about being caught when you fall off (see below), you need slack exactly when you want it and the right amount of encouragement when you want it. Trust needs to be earned. It also helps if they’re available whenever you are (thanks Laura!)
  6. Screen grab of me on my successful redpoint of Face Race, 7a+ on the Orme. Such a sharp hold on the crux

    Screen grab of me on my successful redpoint of Face Race, 7a+ on the Orme. Such a sharp hold on the crux

    Fall off, again and again and again. The head game is massive and falling off lots will help it. If you slap for that final hold you might hold it, if you don’t try you’ll never know, if you’re scared of falling you won’t slap… Fear of falling saps energy, makes you climb poorly and will hold you back. When I’m climbing laps indoors I never clip the top lower off, just jumping off once I’ve got the top hold, so I’m falling off a minimum of 16 time during my laps session. I used to practice random falling to build up the belayer trust but I don’t need to now, I just climb hard (for me) stuff until I fall off. Go for that next move, that one more move, every time! Bear in mind I’m talking about training here, not redpointing a route, we need to conserve our energy sometimes. Remember though, poor falling off practice could make things worse, so give it some thought and don’t do what I saw the other day – people taking their first ever lead falls on a vertical arete (hard to land well, you’ll bang your shins etc) and then not high enough up the wall so the belayer was almost kicked in the head and the climber getting quite close to the ground.

  7. onsight 7a+ costa blanca jez brown mia

    Onsighting Wings of Freedom 7a+, Spain

    Performance Preparation. Mine used to consist of an espresso and an easy climb or two and that just doesn’t cut it. I remember chuckling to myself seeing people running around, doing star jumps, getting a theraband out and so on, now that’s me, every time. Again this is a massive subject but think about getting the cardio going, mobilising the joints and muscles and getting your co-ordination kick started, then get on some easy stuff for a bit to recruit your muscles. This happens at the beginning of the session and also before each climb when I’m outdoors. Part of the performance prep is route reading, spotting the rests, clipping positions, particular moves, where you’ll need to move fast and visualise yourself doing it and succeeding.

  8. Mike busting out the theraband to help tick the mobility section of performance prep.

    Mike busting out the theraband to help tick the mobility section of performance prep, he still took a whipper off Left Wall, E2 5c!

    Don’t be afraid of failing and always take the positives. You want to push your grade? It sucks but sometimes you won’t get it. Take the positives though, it’s so important! Many years ago I threw my sport ‘draws on the floor and shouted “sport is sh*t, I’m never climbing sport again”! These days, to be honest I’m usually smiling when I fail, something will certainly have gone well or I’ll have learnt something about my climbing or the route itself and it motivates me to try harder!

  9. Have fun, what’s the point otherwise?!

Reading that won’t make you climb 7a, sorry. Reading that and giving each point some more thought might do… Each point could be an article in its own right and you might need to do some further reading or even get some outside help, but maybe it’ll be worth it. There are also other things to think about, such as nutrition, self discovery is all part of the journey, and there’s a lot that’s applicable to pushing your trad grade too.

One day I might write a how to climb 8a blog, but we’ll have to wait and see on that one!

So what’s stopping you climbing 7a?

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The Mau Mau E4 slate trad

Laura, who’s spent countless hours belaying me, following up The Mau Mau, E4 6a

21st March 2017

Brits Abroad!

I’m really looking forward to my Alps trip this summer, it’s always one of the highlights of my year and I’m also looking forward to running a few Alpine Preparation Courses here in Wales to help other people get themselves ready.

It’s prompted me to write this very tongue in cheek blog about how to spot a Brit abroad in the Alps!

Here’s my top 5 tips for spotting us lot in the Alps.

alpine preparation course prep

Nooooo, black softshell, crap helmet and white sunnies, the horror!

  1. Rock camouflage, well firstly you may struggle to spot us at all! Think about what colour clothes you’re wearing and how they’ll look on Instagram. If you’re old skool Brit, you’ll be mostly in blacks and greys, shunning the Euro Fluro look. When you’re in Chamonix, treat yourself and go shopping for some yellow trousers and a bright blue softshell (don’t forget your credit card). However, avoid the white sunnies unless you’re a wannabe Mountain Guide.
  2. Text book climbing calls, even though you probably can’t spot the Brits, you’ll definitely hear them! SSSAAAFFFEE, OOOOOFFFF BBBEEEELLLLAAAYYYYY,
    alpine prep course euro

    Better colours and better sunnies at the top of the Rebuffat-Pierre route, 6a+ on trad gear.

    TTTTTAAAAKKKKIINNNNGGG IIIIINNNN, TTTTHHHHAAAATTTTSSSS MEEEEEEEEE, WWWWWHHHHHAAAAATTTTTT IIIIIISSSSS TTTTTHHHHHAAAAATTTTT YYYYOOOUUUUU…. You get the idea. Build up that solid climbing partnership and you’ll minimise the unnecessary shouting, you won’t destroy the peace and the French won’t be doubled up laughing at you (maybe).

  3. Being slooooow, we’ve got a hard won reputation for being slow, we plod along, faff on belays and abseils as well as being far too polite to other climbers. Get on with it!
  4. Carrying too much, one of the reasons we’re slow is we carry to much crap! When you’re stood in the Midi lift queue take a look at the French Guide’s pack next to you, I can pretty much guarantee it’ll be half the size of yours. I do hope you’re not carrying a sleeping bag “just in case”?!
  5. Getting up late, if you’re not first in the lift queue you’re late. Chances are you’ve eaten too many burgers in Poco Loco and then drank too much over priced beer, pressing that snooze button on your alarm about twenty times. Next thing you know you’re planning to do the Cosmique Arete over two days…
  6. All the other things! Chest coils that are far too tight, or massively loose, not remembering how to put crampons on, getting lost, massive rack, etc… We’d love to hear your telltale signs!

Be efficient, be fast, have fun and pretend you’re French.

Our Alpine Prep Courses are slightly more serious, but we still make sure we have a laugh, as well as covering loads of stuff to make you slick and safe.

Check out what we’ve been up to lately on Facebook and Instagram.

alpine climbing, preperation courses

Enjoying Alpine climbing in boots and some slightly rock coloured trousers..! Halfway there!

I shouldn’t get so excited by rock shoes but… well the whites are just flippin brilliant! When Five Ten discontinued these, there were some pretty unhappy people, there was even a Facebook group called “Five Ten – Bring back the Anasazi Whites!”. I loved them, they fitted my feet perfectly so that even fitting them quite tight I found them comfortable (I took size 11, compared to my street shoe size of 12).

Imagine my excitement when I heard that Five Ten were bringing them back! They were coming back last year, but the release date seemed to slip, I think partly due to a change or two that they made not being met with enthusiasm by their sponsored climbers. I’ve been delaying buying a new pair of shoes until they were re-released and so I was very happy to see my local store, V12 in Llanberis put a Facebook post up yesterday with a new delivery of Whites, boom! Perfect timing with a few slate routes on my to do list.

With a day on the slate planned, this morning’s first port of call was V12 to pick myself up a pair, turns out I wasn’t the first person to buy a pair either! They are pretty expensive, the RRP is £130, I think V12 are going to sell them for £115… Yesterday I’d been working on Slug Club Special E4 6a on the Seamstress Slab, so I thought this could be the perfect test for them.

five ten rock shoes

Might have an addiction…

The new Whites seem to fit exactly the same as the old ones and again I’ve gone for an 11. They are fairly narrow, very stiff (new design means they should stay stiff for longer) and the heel is pretty precise but like the old one, does pull into my Achilles tendon a bit – this softened up nicely on the last one so I expect these will do the same.

These shoes really do edge well, like amazingly well. My old ones are fairly rounded now and are a bit rounded on the edges these days, but I still love them on limestone sport and anything I want to be really precise on. But for now the new pair are going to be slate only shoes. I tried Slug Club in the older ones and the newer ones and was pleasantly surprised that the new pair were sticking really well to a couple of quite smeary holds that I thought they struggle with fresh out the box, as expected their edging performance was superb.

The only of differences seem to be the eyelet rail construction, gone is the orange piping, they say the rail is welded on, whatever that means, the tongue seems to be made out of a really stretchy material and is nice and comfy and the laces are different (sad as this sounds that is a shame because the old ones were kind of ribbed(!) which made them stay done up well.

Did Slug Club go down? Well sort of. The moves are steady enough, but the first bit of gear – the spike at about 6 metres feels pretty high! So I, like many people I guess, did it with the spike of metal preclipped, I decided the risk of broken ankles wasn’t worth it and I don’t expect I’ll be rushing back, great fun all the same.

Five Ten Whites Review 2017

Happy face!

I always buy Five Ten shoes, they fit me well and the rubber is ace. Currently, as in the photo, I have:
Whites x 2
Velcros x 2, one for wall, one for trad
Hi Angles for bouldering and steep sport
Greens, quite knackered but great for smearing
Vertical Miles, old but comfy for work

Compared to:
Old Whites, virtually the same
Velcros (10.5), Whites much more precise fit, stiffer
Greens (11.5), similar fit, Whites have a far better heel, stiffer.

Whites then, they’re brilliant, buy some if you want a really precise, stiff shoe and you have a relatively narrow foot. They never seem to have held Steve McClure back…

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A chilly day in North Wales for an SPA refresher course!

We started off at Lion Rock, before heading over to Union Rock, then running away to the Beacon climbing wall!

Carol was with us refreshing her skills and we covered loads!

I had a tired training session at the wall after, just about struggled up a 7a which I’m pretty happy with considered my energy levels were low 🙂