12th January 2019

If I can climb 8a, so can you.

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

Face Race 7a+ (top section), a brilliant route and one of my first at LPT

I first started climbing around 20 years ago, although nowhere near as regularly as I do now and well before I moved to North Wales. I used to buy Climb and Climber magazines religiously, gawping at people climbing great routes in great places, and had a vague understanding of grades without having much to equate them to, especially sport grades, I was only interested in trad.

For many years trad was all I was into. For someone climbing VS on a good day sport was hard. I remember one day at Hedbury many years ago, after a session getting my butt handed to me, I threw down my tatty collection of draws and shouted “Sport is crap, I’m never doing it again!”

Oh how times have changed! I will never stop being a trad climber, it’s the most complete form of climbing in my mind. Normally onsight, the head game, the fear, the adventure, the places it takes you, it’s so special. That said, for the time being at least, sport climbing is my main focus, it’s what I train for, it’s what my holidays revolve around and it’s what I obsess about, interestingly my trad climbing has undoubtably improved because of this though – but that’s another blog!

8a was a grade in a different stratosphere to where I was operating. I knew people who had climbed 8a, but not many. That didn’t bother me, I didn’t have much desire to climb that hard, or at least I thought I didn’t, mostly I just didn’t think I’d ever be able to. So what changed?

Well before that, let me give you a brief timeline of my sport climbing progression. Like someone who’s been on a diet and worked out sharing their very personal pictures as a before and after shot on instagram, I find this quite cringeworthy and strangely personal, but here it is:

falling off rock climbing slate wales

Falling off Heading the Shot (7a+) after the crux

March 2010 Know What I Mean Pal, first 6a
Jan ’12 Lili Marlene Direct first 6b
Dec ’15, St Vitus’s Dance, first 6c+
Dec ’15, Mynd am Aur 7a (slate)Jan 16 Heading the Shot 7a+ (slate)
May ’16 Jerusalem is Lost 7a, first non slate 7a
Dec ’16 El Oasis first 7a o/s
Dec ’16 Dale Duro Negro first 7b
Aug ’17 Empire not my first 7b+ but so good
Jan ’18 Happy End first 7c
Jan ’18 Bricopaco first 7c+
Jan ’19 La Pantonera first 8a

So from 6a to 7a took 6 years of climbing but no training or sport focus, but 7a to 8a 3 years – perhaps could’ve been quicker with less work but that’s life.

What changed to make me want to climb harder then, especially on sport? Well partly getting dumped by someone and an attitude of “Well I’ll show her!” Then that winter I went to Spain for about a month on a sport climbing trip and was hooked, climbing with mega psyched people and being immersed in the whole scene of redpointing and falling off being completely normal was very far from my trad world of on sighting and for the most part avoiding falling off (by that point I’d climbed a few E3s and E4s, taking the odd fall of course, but more often shouting take well before). That coupled with the fact that where we were didn’t have much below 7a anyway, made me realise I can climb harder than I think, and far more importantly, I want to.

Benchmarking my finger strength on the Beastamker

Benchmarking my finger strength on the Beastmaker – before I knew about shoulder form

Returning from Spain I got some coaching from Paul Smith (www.facebook.com/rockandwateradventures/), which is probably more accurately described as bench marking and training advice. Now I’d been climbing indoors for years, saying I was training. No, just no. Climbing indoors for fun isn’t training. Sorry to break that to you if you thought it was. Of course you’re still getting some benefit, but don’t kid yourself, training is far more than that. Again, it’s the subject of another blog (probably one I’ve already done!), but suffice to say I started going to the wall much more often – shock horror even when the weather was ok outside, and properly training specific targets, be that finger boarding, campussing, 4x4s, etc. It’s also worth mentioning a couple of apps I use – the Beastmaker app and also the Lattice app has been an awesome motivational tool.

I started bouldering too having had minimal interest in it over the years I got pretty hooked ticking a few local classics which I found massively useful (The Minimum 7A+ taught me about big moves, Ultimate Retro Party 7B taught me about heel hooks and giving absolutely everything and Left Wall Traverse 7B taught me about trying flipping hard for a lot of moves in a row). I’ve even looked at my diet – unusually compared to most people I had to up my calorie intake, as well as looking at what I eat pre warm up and pre climb, I’ll be honest I didn’t have a clue what foods have many calories or that I needed to keep my glycogen stores topped up.

(Probably the hardest moves I’ve ever done!)

On that note though don’t get me wrong, you still have to climb outside to be good at climbing outside, but I’m naturally weak so need that indoor training to get my stats up to the point of being physically capable of climbing a certain grade, and yes there are stats such as how much extra weight you can hold while hanging a 20mm edge.

The title of this blog alluded to the fact that you too can climb 8a. I’ve just said I’m naturally weak, and for sure I’m inherently a lazy sod, the thing is I really wanted it. I’m not ashamed to say grades motivate me, I love a great looking line, I love an amazing setting, I love brilliant company, it’s all super important, but to me a lot of the time grades matter. I can still enjoy an ace 6c or a compelling E1, but I love trying things at my limit. I love the redpoint process too, thankfully…

“I can’t hold those holds – I can hold the holds but I cant move from them – I can do the moves but cant link ‘em – I can link ‘em but how on earth am I going to clip?! – I can link sections and clip but I can’t do it in a oner – Oh crap, I know I can do, now the pressure is really on (without a doubt the single hardest thing on the 8a I’ve just done was controlling my self inflicted pressure induced nerves) – Eventually you clip the chains.”

sport climbing course

Empire of the Sun, maybe the best 7b+ in the UK

Redpointing (working a route) is pretty fundamental to pushing your grade, it’s a completely different mindset to on sighting and it’s not for everyone, but embrace it and honestly your grades will go up – even your onsight grade. 

So what’s stopping you? Can you motivate yourself to train 3 or 4 times a week? Can you commit to climbing trips? Do you (don’t underestimate this one!) have an awesome climbing partner to project with? Do you have the psyche to stick with it? Do you simply have the time (I’m very well aware that I live a pretty easy life doing what I love for work and play, living near world class climbing, a great wall and not having many other commitments)? 

Get some coaching. Set goals. Train hard. Try hard.

It’s not easy, but honestly, if you want it enough, you can climb 8a.

Check out our Facebook and Insta feeds to see what else we’ve been up to. There’s also other blogs on my site about some specific training stuff, performance preparation etc.

Jez Brown 8a Chulilla

8a, done. But just one doesn’t make me an 8a climber…

3rd August 2017

And breathe….

The summer season has been a busy one, my busiest yet, which makes me really happy, but a little tired!

July was a bit mad, only 3 days off – not something I aim for, I normally like to achieve a better work / play balance, but I’ve had an absolute blast at work!alpine preparation north Wales

The work numbers:
61 days teaching / coaching lead climbing
15 days working on Mountain Leader courses
14 days directing our Single Pitch Award courses
11 days teaching roped scrambling & alpine preparation
5 days running Mountaineering Instructor Award refreshers
5 days working with a school group
4 days DofE work – I used to shed loads of this!
4 ML refresher days
4 SPA refresher days
2 Self rescue for climbers days

The personal numbers:
89 routes (up to E4 trad, 7b sport)
72 sessions down the wall
6 days of continual professional development courses

Phew!

It’s not all about the numbers though… All our clients have been flipping ace and made each and everyday a pleasure. We’ve had people from 18 (Lewis getting his first trad leads) to 69 (Jeremy training for the Matterhorn), and courses from the navigation stuff through to people wanting to take their climbing grade to the next level. We’ve had wet days with water running down our arms in the mountains, we’ve had scorching days slapping on the sunscreen whilst climbing on sea cliffs, an amazing variety of weather, location, people and courses.

We’ve had some great feedback too, which it’s a real privilege to receive – check out our testimonials page.rock climbing improvers course

I’ve got another two very busy weeks, and then I’ve got two weeks off for climbing, to try and put some of this training to good use. After that we’re pretty busy right up until the end of November, after which it’s off to Spain for a month or two for some (hopefully) sunny sport climbing.

Massive thanks to everyone who’s been part of this year so far!

We do still have some space for bookings, so check out our courses or give us a shout.

As usual check out our Facebook and Instagram pages for more regular updates.

mountain leader refresher course north Wales

I remember the days of trying to climb something at my limit, be it indoors or outdoors, where my warm up would consist of an espresso, waving my arms around a bit, climbing an easy route, then wondering why I got pumped out of my box and climbed terribly.

It was pretty simple really, my warm up routine was lame, pointless really. Sure, these days my warm up might be a bit different depending on whether I’m jumping on a low stress E1 after work, or headpointing an E4, or redpointing that 7c, again, but I’ll be doing a warm up of some description for sure.

rock climbing warm up

Not quite the warm up we’re after…

Before we go any further I hate the phrase “warm up”, there’s so much more to it than that, so lets call it Performance Preparation – thanks Paul Roberts!

Today’s the day that the route’s going down, the grade is irrelevant (warm up before everything), it’s at your limit though, how are we going to best prepare ourselves?

  1. Rest well, and eat properly. Turning up hungover, tired and hungry isn’t going to work, well, not for me! Be fuelled up and hydrated, I then like to eat little and often through the day otherwise I get sleepy.
  2. Bring a good belayer you trust implicitly – can’t stress this enough.
  3. Make sure conditions are good, if the rock is greasy and your crux move is a smooth sloper, it’s going to be hard to succeed, go somewhere else if need be.
  4. Get your body ready to perform. We need to get the heart rate up (cardio), get your muscles and joints mobilised, and get your body well coordinated so your foot goes where you want it to and your hands hit the holds right first time every time.
    Cardio – think star jumps, running, skipping
    Mobilisation – such as lunges, gentle shoulder rotations, hip twists (I use a Theraband)
    Coordination – turn your brain on with simple exercises like rubbing your tummy and patting your head in different combinations, stand on one leg with your eyes closed and touch the tip of your nose with the tip of your index finger, things like that.
  5. Do some easier climbing (don’t underestimate them though), maybe a couple of routes, maybe some bouldering or traversing, depends a bit where you are, just remember it’s very hard to perform at your limit straight away. This will get your body and brain working, and your muscles recruited
  6. Look at the route, get all the info you can from the ground, where’s the rests, where do you need to climb fast, where’s the gear / clipping positions, where are the key holds etc,. If you’ve already worked the route, still do this to reacquaint yourself with it and run through those sequences. Visualise the moves, visualise yourself doing them, visualise yourself successfully at the top.
  7. When you’re tying in and getting your shoes on, get your mind in the right place if you haven’t already. This varies for everyone. It could be a happy song, it could be visualisation, it could be you going quiet, it could be you having a laugh with your belayer. I have a few things depending on my mood. Be positive.
  8. Once you’ve started that route, give it everything, absolutely everything, if you shout “take” instead of slapping for that next hold you’ll never know if you could have made it! Give yourself every chance.
redpointing at Torbryan

Putting the warm up to use, Laura working a 7a at Torbryan

There’s two results available.

  1. Failure, well that sucks, but what did you learn? The rocks not going anywhere, rest and have another go, be that on the same day if you’re fresh enough, or another day if you’re not.
  2. Success, yes! Enjoy the moment! I often struggle to make that moment last as there’s always another project to be done. Don’t forget to think why it was successful, we have to learn from our successes to keep achieving our goals. Don’t forget to thank your belayer!

Give yourself every chance of success!

The aim of this blog is to give you a bit of an overview, there’s a lot more to be said on each point!

If you feel like you like to push your grade, check out our Rock Improver courses…

As usual, you can catch up with what we’ve been up to on our Facebook and Instagram pages.

sport climbing castle inn

When it all comes together

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.
  5. The head game… Think of the brain as a muscle. Like all muscles it needs training, often more than your guns! Normalising falling, getting your head in the zone, dealing with nerves. We have to embrace the “fear” and work with it. Maybe even a bigger subject…
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 normally prefer to boulder to my limit and mostly use 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 one option is to do 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.

The above methods of training are just a tiny handful of ideas, the list of training methods is virtually endless. I’d check out the Lattice Facebook page and app if you’re inspired.

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. Some people will phase their training to work towards a specific trip, other like me try and spin the plates of all the areas. There’s pro’s and con’s to both.

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 a cruxy 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!

If you feel like you need help or a push in the right direction, check out our performance climbing courses…

As always, check out the Facebook and Instagram pages!

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 – 7a was a big deal for me.

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 bit harder at 7b and my best redpoint is 7b+, this year is the first year (2017) 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..!)(2nd nb. 2018 – I’ve done 7c+ but not 8a, yet!)

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?

Take a look at our climbing course page, or get in touch for some bespoke coaching.

As usual, check out our Facebook and Instagram pages for what we’ve been up to.

The Mau Mau E4 slate trad

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