Good Habits that 5.12 climbers have

So for lack of a better title, this is maybe a “how to climb 5.12” guide that I wanted to write. Maybe, it’s more of a “how to climb stuff that is harder than you can currently climb” guide, too. Read on, oh fellow climber.

I guess many of you are thinking: this guy is professing to climb 12s through this article. Yes, in fact I have climbed/redpointed in the 12 range. I’m still working on 12+ but, for the moment, 12a/b/c seem all totally within my range. There you go, a healthy disclaimer that I’m, in fact, not a 13++,14+–+- crusher. Soon, maybe?

Back to business.

Unfortunately, there is no global truth that I have seen work for everyone, but really, there are some things that you can do to help yourself. Generally speaking, 5.12 is the start of a great world of hard climbing and so getting into it really depends on how much you want it. Secondly, having the right tools to get there is also important.

To continue on, here are the habits that I see people who climb 5.12 and above maintain. Obviously, asking people who climb hard what they do may be a better clue, but really, there is no substitute to just getting out there and figuring what works for you and what doesn’t.

Bouldering is a worthy tool


There are a lot of climbers out there that don’t understand a simple, zen truth: bouldering is climbing cruxes. What do i mean by that? Well, bouldering, believe it or not, is like climbing any route you want to do, but you just need to do the crux of the route and you’re done. Pretty silly to say that out loud and have it be news, since i know lots of people who “project” routes that they can’t do the crux on, or seem to fail repeatedly because they haven’t gotten it dialed. To me, this is basically just climbing, stopping, trying a boulder problem, failing, only to try it a few more times.

“Bouldering is climbing cruxes” -some monk, probably

Route climbing should not be like bouldering. Bouldering is the pursuit of hard moves, which you should already master before attempting a route. The routes I generally project are those I can do all the moves and then just have to stop because I’m too gassed after the cruxes. Then, it becomes figuring out if I can rest, how to rest the best and then dialing it in. Sometimes it also means improving my general fitness.

Again, if you can boulder V4 (pretty low in the grand scheme of things) you can find a route that is 5.12 that will be just as easy, move by move. Most 5.12a climbs have a crux, but nothing above V4/5 since that would just be too hard for the 12a rating scheme. Even so, I have found many routes that rely on mastering a series of V2/3 moves in a row without resting. Sounds pretty easy, no?

Climb more boulders, hone your crux skills, get yourself on a route and slay. Bouldering (and in a weird way, specialized training for hard climbing) is really what pushed climbing into the 21st century.

The more you climb, the better you will get

Another pretty incredible truth that seems to be lost on most people. New ideals of climbing have suggested that, to climb 5.12, all you really need is 3-4 days a week at the gym. I don’t mean socializing and eating clif bars but really getting into a groove and projecting or sending. The time you have at the gym is important and you should use it well.

If you struggle at not socializing at the gym, there are a few ways to overcome this:

  1. go during dead hours,
  2. bring music to listen to (and stick it in your ears)
  3. go with someone who is really, really psyched and pushes you when you start talking about that Honnold and his free solos

Setting goals for the evening, and in the long term, is really important too. Maybe you want to climb a specific route and work it. Maybe you will do some endurance work. Don’t let the number of people fool you, you can get a good burn almost any day as long as you are focused.

Climb with people who are better than you

The age old wisdom of climbing with people who are better than you is a very important truth. No one can see how hard you are failing better than someone who was in your exact situation before. Furthermore, climbing with people who are better than you has some really good perks.

  1. You can go and try stuff and feel easy about getting all your gear back (if you beg them to grab your draws)
  2. You can see them climb your project and see the beta
  3. You can ask them about beta and what they are doing
  4. They will naturally push you to try harder than hard

Honestly this can be very intimidating at first. You’ll see people warming up on your project and when you ask them about their beta they will give you vague answers because to them it’s barely hard. Witnessing people climb high 13s and 14s really shows that in comparison 5.12 is not a grade that should scare you.

“You want to get good? Climb with people who are good” -friend who climbs hard and also is better than me who i bribed with beer

How do you find people who climb hard? Go to spots where your project is the warm up. Socialize during your rest. Enjoy getting shut down on hard boulder problems. Talk to those who float them. Offer beer.

Maintain a lower mass to strength ratio

I guess time and time again I see one of two things: really strong guys who are insanely strong and go climbing and destroy gravity or guys who are skinny and crush because gravity doesn’t care about their puny mass.

If you’re like me and hate weight training and generally have a slight habit for the habitual laziness that comes with being a non-nomadic 21st century human, you probably don’t have time to practice doing one armed chin ups or generally being ripped.

Now, what’s the deal then? Do you need to be strong to climb? No. You need to be stronger than gravity is. Gravity is a very harsh mistress and will make you suffer if you don’t abide. In fact, as our sport is generally ruled by gravity, I would say she may be one of the many gods you should pray to.

“Some people like to climb hard. Others, to stuff their face full of nachos” -someone on mountain project

So if you are dedicated enough to turn all of your body mass into muscle, that’s good. But generally, the easiest way to improve endurance is to reduce slightly your caloric intake for a few months, shed the 15 pounds you have on still from that trip to College and eat better. Plus you may live longer and just feel better. But, again, nachos are delicious.

BONUS TIP: cardio is actually not bad (for routes)

So I was listening to an interview with Jonathan Siegrist on the Enormocast, and he said something poignant: his secret to endurance is cardio-work.

His secret. Isn’t that nuts? The guy who sent Realization (15a) and another handful of hard, enduro-based climbs, said to train cardio as he thinks this gives him an edge.

And i guess this thing can’t hurt. Note; john doesn’t seem to have too much extra keg going on.

Set Goals, keep track

I wont lament on about this as it is simple: be goal oriented. Some people say, “I want to climb 5.12,” and yet do nothing but whine when they can’t. Isn’t that funny? I think it’s funny. They really should consider the life of a comedian because it’s funny.

It’s like wanting to take a vacation but not booking time off, not saving and not planning only to realise your words don’t permeate the aether and materialize a vacation for you.

( Replace “Vacation” with “Sending a hard project” and “booking time off, saving and planning” with “training, training and climbing.” )

Again: if you want something, set little goals and big goals that you can work towards.

Need more help? Try starting a grade pyramid. Track all the grades you have done. Now within each level of the pyramid put the routes you have sent in descending order, grouping the same grades together. Now, you should have a picture of what you have climbed. If you see you want to climb 11c for example, but have only 2 11b sends and 2 11a sends, maybe strengthen your base by climbing more in that range.

Why? Climbing is a group of complex and independent skills. Each route may test a handful of skills. However, the 11a you did probably doesn’t have the same skills required as other 11a’s. Don’t believe me? Try slab climbing or crack climbing your current sport climbing grade. I dare you.

Rid yourself of the psychological factor

It is not the author’s duty to assess every situation and some falls are more serious than others and so read this not with the idea “oh, falling is now safe because some internet blog said so,” but with the idea that falling is a part of hard climbing and that you should fall (if it is safe to do so) when working hard projects.

Okay, now that we have that disclaimer (the one you just read and agreed with before accepting it) above, lets talk about the elephant in the room: the fear of falling. For people who have started rock climbing, eventually some will become fearful of an aspect of falling during a climb. Whether it be about falling and hurting yourself or falling and embarrassing yourself, well, that’s on you to figure it out. The general fear of falling is a hurdle that most possess and so it’s really important to address it.

“He boulders V10 but doesn’t want to fall on lead, it’s messing with him” -friend about another friend who had some unresolved issues even though he was able to send in the 12 range (not his true potential)

So what’s at stake when you fall from a sport climb? Well, not much, especially if you make sure to follow some special rules:

  1. Make sure all your gear is really solid (even in sport climbing)
  2. Make sure the fall is clean
  3. Make sure you rid yourself of toxic ego and try the move

By toxic ego, I mean the ego that keeps you from trying because you are scared of falling and blowing it in front of your friends/cute girl-or-boy-or-whatever/strangers.

For further reading try The Rock Warrior’s Way by Arno Ilgner. It’s a good book about how you can improve your head game.

Avoid injury and pre-hab as much as possible

i hate this picture so much. But hey, you don't have to be part of group a or b
i hate this picture so much. But hey, you don’t have to be part of group a or b

Here’s the thing: if you’re injured you can’t train to your max potential. So what’s the general idea? Don’t injure yourself.

Now this may conflict with my idea of trying really hard (next point) but really it doesn’t if you think about it. Climbing is pretty predictable. When something hurts, you should lay off. Take a week off sometimes and eat food to let your body recuperate. Generally this is pretty easy.

So, every time I’ve heard of someone busting a pulley it was due to some uncontrolled hard move that blew them out of the water. Also, generally it was due to them being stronger than their ligaments and not training the specific movement (e.g. pockets, monos, tiny crimps or whatever).

So, basic instruction before leaving earth? Here’s the B.I.B.L.E. for not injuring yourself:

  • don’t try too hard on pockets (especially monos) until you feel strong and have done many of them on easier terrain
  • open hand crimping has less stress on the pulley, and should be used over closed hand crimping
  • lay off as soon as something starts feeling tender
  • rest often and eat a good diet rich in omega-3 oils and vegetables (anti-oxidants, vitamins) and drink plenty of water
  • tape if you think something feels tweaky or weak
  • stretch and massage your fingers

Start with that. The real reason I’m mentioning this is that injuries suck and take the fun out of climbing. They also prevent you from trying hard. Finally, in most cases, there are warning signs that people ignore before injuring themselves.

Try really, really hard out there

Okay, now let’s get to the real words: try hard.

Try hard.

Stop pretending. Stop making excuses why you don’t want to try that hard route. Get on it. You’re scared? Of what? If you’re sport climbing, c’mon son. If you’re doing some scary 5.13/X route then be careful. Oh, you’re not? You’re clipping some bolts or 3 ft off the deck on a boulder problem? Your gear is bombproof and at your feet?

Try. Hard.

Stop thinking. Try. Hard. Dammit.

(Bring your stick clip.)

Remembering that 5.12 is not difficult

Finally, this is the last bullet point on my list of things to do when attempting the grade. Many people have climbed 5.12, and many will continue to climb in that range. Are you a special snowflake that cannot do it? No. You are the same as everyone else.

Europeans started this website called, and for those who don’t understand what it means: it means that 8a is the level that most people generally tend to strive for. Most people being those who have a job (like you) and climb on weekends (like you) and have to commit to it (are you?).

Did I mention that 8a is 5.13b? a full grade and a letter higher than your measly 5.12a? Euros are incredible people and know that this isn’t totally unattainable. 8a just means harder, not impossible. It means more training, more time, more effort.

The internet is a great tool. Here’s something that I’ve learned through using it: there are literally thousands (if not tens or hundreds of thousands) of people who have climbed 12a. Mountain Project, sendage and 8a confirm this. Go see. See how many people do 7b onsight. See with your own eyes that it isn’t hard.

I’ll leave it at that. It’s just not that hard. You can do it. I’ve seen out of shape, 50 year old men do it. I’ve seen children aged 8-12 do it. I’ve seen people with physical handicaps (yes, this guy blasted a 5.12 at my local crag with one hand) do it.

It’s not hard.

Go and get it,




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