Climbing 5.14 is a lot easier than you think—unless you already climb 5.14, in which case you know that that statement is complete, utter bullshit. But that doesn’t mean that the average climber who is desperate to tick the benchmark grade won’t do something as stupid as click on a blog post titled “How To Climb 5.14” and actually believe that therein lies revelatory information that will actually, magically, fast-forward him toward what was once the pinnacle of climbing difficulty in 1985.

Today, there are more 5.14’s than there are whack emcees. And every day, more of them are put up. Statistically, your odds of climbing 5.14 actually increase every day even if you do nothing at all.

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But this isn’t what we want to hear. We want to be proactive. We’re Americans, dammit! You think Manifest Destiny was some kind of abstract Zen Koan? Hell no. Roll up your sleeves, cock your glock and carve yourself a slice of that sweet American Pie, baby. We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock; we grid-bolted the fuck out of it!

I would imagine the type of person (you) who would click on an article titled “How To Climb 5.14” would expect to see some detailed training map, complete with micro cycles within macro cycles within super-macro cycles; questionnaires about personal weaknesses and solutions about how to address them; detailed nutritional plans that transform simple items of food into confusing numerical units, such as glycemic indices and calories, ultimately leaving you confounded about the most basic human function: eating food.

Do we really need to be told how to do this?

Apparently, from the number of fat-asses out there, we do.

Today, there are more 5.14’s than there are whack emcees. And every day, more of them are put up. Statistically, your odds of climbing 5.14 actually increase every day even if you do nothing at all.
Nutrition is one of those things that we have made into this really complicated business, with snake-oil salesmen touting their own brands of overly complicated trademarked diets. But ultimately, eating healthy is a pretty simple thing that can be reduced to three “don’ts.” Don’t eat if you’re not hungry. Don’t eat past the point of being full. Don’t eat shit that doesn’t grow in nature. Done.

I am beginning to think of many of the climbing training plans out there as being overly complex in a parallel way. Some of the training-for-climbing books out there make my head spin. Do we really need to be told how to climb? Or how to run? Or how to train for either? Climbing—like running, like walking, like eating, like breathing—is one of our most basic, primal functions. I wonder if, by focusing too intently on achieving so-called peak periods of fitness with overly complicated micro/macro cycles and periodization, we are actually distancing ourselves from the act of climbing itself.

Climbing 5.14 is really just a matter of getting on a 5.14 and climbing on it until you do it. In some ways, the rest will figure itself out. Still, there are some basic, elemental things that we can all “do” to become 5.14 climbers. Here are my tips:


Climb with 5.14 climbers. If you only climb with people who climb 5.9, you’ll be climbing 5.9 forever. If you want to climb 5.14, climb with people who climb 5.14. This is probably the single most important thing you can do for yourself if you want to improve your redpoint grade.

Eat healthy. Climbing is a strength-to-weight sport, and to improve from your current level you need to either increase your strength or decrease your weight. Of course, there are problems with only focusing on doing one of those things, and especially with taking either one to the extreme. Only increasing strength will add muscle bulk and ultimately be counterproductive. Only decreasing your weight will lead to a whole host of health problems, even death in extreme cases. Neither one is the solution; rather, both must be focused on in conjunction with each other. You probably know what you need to work on. If you can’t hang onto a full-pad crimper, you need to get some finger strength. Solution: keep climbing! If you have some extra rolls of fat hanging off your belly, you could probably stand to lose a few pounds. Solution: keep climbing (and eat healthy)! Getting exercise (climbing) and eating well is really all it comes down to.

Pyramid up through the grades. The only way to become a better free climber is to focus on project-style redpoint climbing. Some call this “grade chasing.” Some call it “boring.” Whatever you want to call it, picking a route that’s hard for you and sticking with it until you redpoint it is the tried and true process that every 5.14 climber has had to go through in order to achieve their success. An entire book could be written on this process but, like with everything else, it’s really pretty simple. You have to build up to it. I recommend redpointing at least four routes of one grade before bumping yourself up to the next grade. So, four 5.12a’s before going to your first 5.12b. And so on and so on until you get to 5.14. For all but the most naturally talented climbers, this will take between five and ten years of effort to begin to climb in the upper 5.13s and lower 5.14s.

Sample something way too hard for you. Every now and then, go and get on something WAY above your head. If you are currently climbing 5.13a, spend one weekend getting on a 5.13d or 5.14a. Maybe only do one or two working burns on it. Obviously you’re not trying to do all the moves, or link them all or redpoint the route any time soon. But I have found that doing something as audacious as getting on a ridiculously hard route will help you begin to wrap your head around the idea of one day climbing that hard. You might see that the holds aren’t that bad, or most of the moves aren’t that hard. The best way to defeat fears is to first face them.

Pick routes that are hard for you. Yeah, you could get by just picking routes that suit your strengths, redpointing those and avoiding anything that doesn’t suit your strength or style. There’s certainly something to be said for that. But I think it’s better to pick routes that are your anti-style. If you are strong, but lack endurance, pick power-endurance routes. If you are weak but can hang on for a long time, pick bouldery/powerful routes. Trust me, it’ll take you further in the long run.

Don’t shortcut the process. There are no shortcuts. There is no real simple way. Climbing is a lifelong process of slowly improving and trying to make progress. You have to enjoy that process in order to not burn out or get too discouraged. But if you stick through it, slowly, amazingly, some pretty extraordinary things will be achieved. Climbing 5.14, after all, is easier than you think.

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  • Ben Eaton

    Good read. Both with climbing and running, I have never been able to adopt those anal training regimes that are so specific that it makes your life not fun. I believe that everybody is different so it requires a bit of difference for everyone to reach the same result. This means that precisely following Mr Know-It-All’s training plan won’t guarantee you success. To excel in a sport that requires so much from the body, we need to be able to read our own bodies, finding out what it requires to accomplish the task. Your suggestions for upping our climbing game are great. They leave room for each individual to still figure it out themselves.

  • Arnor Heidar Sigurdsson

    Great post, Andrew, thanks!

    Interesting theory about climbing 4 problems of your top difficulty before working on the next grade. Do you think the same could be applied for bouldering? That is, climbing 4 V9s before you try climbing a V10 or do you think the equivalent number would be higher of them since the problems are shorter?

    • Andrew Bisharat

      No, I don’t think it would work for bouldering, primarily because of the reason that you state (problems are shorter), but also in a large part because I think that bouldering ratings are too subjective (i.e., complete bullshit) to really be useful anyway. I know a guy who did a V11 before doing a V7 because he was tall.

      • Arnor Heidar Sigurdsson

        interesting. thanks for the response.

        btw when it comes to bouldering, what do you think of doing a whole ton of easier problems (onsight level or a grade above) vs projecting endlessly.

        I’ve been thinking that with doing easier problems you clock a higher number of total moves..

        thanks, keep up the blogging. it’s very enjoyable

        • Andrew Bisharat

          I think that it’s really important to spend periods of time working strictly on technique. If you climb easier problems but don’t focus on honing proper technique, then you’re just doing some kind of cardio workout that won’t help your climbing in the long run. The best thing that bouldering does for climbers is it gets us really really freaking strong. So I think that it’s best to spend at least 50% of the time working on hard problems that take between 10 and 50 tries to do. Spend the other half of the time honing technique on easier problems and moves, but do it consciously

          • Arnor Heidar Sigurdsson

            I forgot to say thanks. This is roughly what I’ve been doing lately, but I should probably focus even more on trying those harder problems. I’ve probably been leaning a bit more to the side of focusing on technique on less challenging problems as of late.

            Thanks for the advice

  • James

    This article gave me a huge erection.
    I want to skullfuck 5.14. Thanks for the tips on how to gangbang the grade.

  • Sender

    I think the last bullet point is where most people fail. I’ve watched a ton of people start training regimens only to stall out after a few months when they haven’t magically jumped a grade or two. Sometimes I find myself falling into the same trap, but if I stand back and look at the progress over a period of years (vs. weeks or months) I gain a ton of perspective.

    Thanks for the great article!

  • Austin Sherwin

    Super awesome article! Thanks for the tips, I will definitely be sharing it with some friends. I totally agree. The first year I climbed, I made it to about 5.10b/c level, but just didn’t have the diligence to get any stronger, now I am climbing 5.12a’s and a lot of the newer kids that see me climb always are amazed but all it really comes down to is going at least 3 times a week no matter what and never missing. Eventually you will start to improve as you challenge yourself. Oh and yoga made a huge difference but I think that was just cuz I am a tall scrawny kid with no “bouldery strength” Thanks again.

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