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 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. I have now climbed some 8a's)
Here’s my take on it anyway!
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!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.
3. 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.
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!)
4. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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!
7. 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! (I have now...!)
So what’s stopping you climbing 7a?
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