Goal: 8a

What is Goal: 8a?

Goal: 8a is a process, designed to offer structure to a training regime by offering a tangible and definitive end goal. This end goal then defines everything within the training; from the type of holds and the moves to how much focus goes on stamina, dynamic power, so on and so forth. The Goal: 8a.

Where did this come from?

I have always been awful at training. I know my weaknesses but the idea of “strengthening my core” for example, leaves me very quickly distracted and straying away from any schedule put in place. The only times where i have successfully trained have been for a particular climb. Carnage 7b+ at Bas Cuvier in Font is probably the best (and possibly only) example of a period where i would go for a dedicated training session on a regular basis with a specific task in mind.

We all need goals in order to achieve and for me at the time of it’s inception, 8a was a feasible but still very challenging goal. I’d climbed 7c+ in the past, albeit two years previous, so this was a realistic goal. Throw in the added allure of a new number grade and it was the obvious aim.

So one day, having lacked motivation for a little while, i got an A3 piece of paper, wrote down several stages to move me in the right direction, and plotted my path to greatness. They went something like this.

Stage 1: Find the right climb

It’s often said to train your weaknesses but for this, i was going to need to play to my strengths. I know that goes against general consensus about the point of training but for me, at this moment in my life, building psyche again was a major factor. The wrong time would be incredibly difficult for me to put the time and effort in.

So i scoured the guidebook, looking for any climbs at 8a. From cover to cover, i went through every page and scanned every climb. Looking for a definitive grade made life easier and eventually i came out with eleven options.

Next, i narrowed down the list. First port of call was to remove any climbs that either didn’t suit me or weren’t conducive to my lifestyle. Diesel Power for example, is a roadside problem and is not a dog friendly venue, meaning any time i wanted to take Tess, it wouldn’t work. Likewise, when the description in the guidebook for Momentary Grip stated, “a hard compression problem” i knew it would take a monumental effort to work those muscles. It had to be local (Fedw Fawr was out as it was too far away to work regularly) with a reasonable walk in and somewhere that would inspire me. The idea of sitting in Parisella’s Cave didn’t appeal and the forest crags just aren’t in condition often enough so this narrowed the options again.

Next was to speak to other climbers operating around that grade. A friend at the climbing wall proved invaluable and within one conversation, we eliminated all bar two options. This wasn’t to say it would be one of these two for certain but it was probable.

Stage 2: Scope it out

All the discussion in the world wouldn’t help until i’d actually been to go and look at it properly. My two options were The Menace at Sheep Pen and Sway On at Gallt yr Ogof. Purely and simply because the walk in is easier, i headed to the latter first.

Four moves, fierce crimps and video beta meant i was psyched and set to put this in place. This would be my goal, and hopefully will soon enough be my first 8a.

Simply having a look wouldn’t be enough, though, and i’d need to have a go first. So it wasn’t until i’d dragged the pads to the crag that i’d properly be able to commit to it.

Once i’d tried it though, the game was on and it was time to move on to stage 2.

Stage 3: Train those moves

Now i knew the holds, positions and moves, i could begin to plot my route to greatness. It so happened that on that first session, i mistakenly left the dog lead behind so on the next day, returned, armed with a ruler and a compass…

Replication Training is something that has happened for decades, although possibly not under this term. It works quite simply by the climber replicating the project somewhere more convenient than the crag – an indoor wall for example – in order to practice the moves either after nightfall or during a bad spell of weather, as examples.

I’m in the enviable position of being able to set myself an accurate replica in the climbing wall at work; hence the measuring. That said, for anyone not in that position, a local systems board can often work just as well. With Carnage again, all those years ago, it was on the systems board at a local wall that my replica lay and had the added advantage of being able to work the opposite moves too.

It is worth noting that it is customary to make the replica slightly harder, and stories abound as to climbers doing this. For me, a carbon copy will be hard enough to start with and i don’t want to get totally shut down before i even start! I can always make it harder later.

Stage 4: Succeed

I’m a long way from this and i’m sure there will be stages 3.1 through to 3.999 but in essence, stage 4 is to climb 8a. It really is as simple as that. How long that takes, only time will tell.

Will I be a failure if I don’t succeed? No, i’ll be a failure if i don’t try. There is a caveat that this may be the most stupid idea i’ve ever come up with but even at the early stages, i was a lot more enthused and keen to get out than i had been in a long time.

If, after a suitable amount of time, i find it’s not working out then fine, and that’s something i need to keep in mind. Still, anything that helps me get stronger, better and keener is definitely a win.

Does this mean the list is dead?

The List was a different way of keeping enthused, getting psyched to try harder climbs and motivating me to keep moving in the right direction. Surely by having one definitive end goal would remove the need for a selection of projects?

The crucial part of the List is variety: a range of grades, a range of conditions and venues, always something to go at. So no, the List is not dead and back when i was searching for my shortlist, i also had a corner of the page with a selection of grade-7 projects to re-ignite the List that had gone awry since we moved house in November 2017.

Continually falling off the same problem for the next however-many months/years would very quickly become dull so tying the two philosophies together will be important to stay motivated.

The One-In-Five Rule

When it comes to training, the majority should still just be climbing. In the excellent training guide Gimme Kraft, even they suggest 80% of your training should be by climbing. For me, this could be a session indoors, on the replica problem or even ticking fresh problems off the List.

It is that fifth session that will be dedicated to Goal: 8a. One in every five climbing sessions should be deadhangs, campusing, working the specific muscles required for that end goal.

And there lies the plan. As with anything of this nature, there is no way of knowing how successful it will turn out to be but one thing is for sure: whether i am writing a post one day about my excitement of finally being in the 8a club or not, this is likely my best chance. And whether it works or not, it’ll definitely get me out and improving.

Antagonists and Symmetry

There is one other factor that must be taken into account when undertaking training in such a focused way and that is the effect it will have on the other muscles and the rest of your body.

For generations, climbers focused on getting stronger fingers, or stronger shoulders and then realised they were coming away with other problems, like poor posture or trashed joints. Now, there is much more focused on working antagonists: the muscles that oppose the ones you’re using.

I’m not a personal trainer and strength and conditioning training is – as i’m sure you’ve figured out – not my area of expertise, but in a nutshell, i think of opposites. If i’m doing some work on my shoulders, i need to put some time into strengthening my pectorals as well.

In much the same way, systems boards used to replicate a problem will, if used on their own, result in a lop-sided climber. Imagine you spend all your time locking off the right arm and reaching with your left, the muscles on each side of your body will develop differently.

The beauty of a systems board is it’s symmetry. Most will be relatively similar, if not a perfect mirror image. This allows the user to replicate the same moves but on the opposite arms and keep the body in balance.

It is important to remember this and actually put it into practice. While short term damage may not be forthcoming, long term problems are easy to come by and very tough to shake. If you’re unsure, please seek further advice from a professional health expert.

Now it’s Down To You.

Remember this is just a model – and an untested one at that – that i’ve employed for my own climbing. I’ve published it here for others to freely copy and adapt but of course the training itself is now down to you.

Every project will be subtly different, every climb ever so slightly unique; after all, that is part of the beauty of climbing! The crucial thing is to arm yourself with knowledge. Reading up on anatomy is incredibly helpful to understanding the needs your project will put on your body. Read up, think it through and train hard. Your route to your route has just begun.


To see the updates on this project, check out the related blog posts here.

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