Update: road from 7a to 8a (5.11d to 5.13b)

A while back I posted that I was contemplating trying to go from 7a to 8a in a single year. I decided to go for it! I divided the year into 3 phases: mental, tactical and physical. I just wrapped up the first phase and climbed my first 7b (5.12b) - very proud! I thought I’d post an update of my progress here, and of course I’d be very interested in getting some tips :slight_smile:

In this video I show the send of the 7b, and explain why I’m doing this (long story short: my hips are badly damaged and I may need to quit bouldering, so I’m on this adventure as the ultimate way to force myself to enjoy sport climbing - and so far it’s working haha).

I started on January 1st. At that time I could send most 7a/v6 boulders at my gym and the ones I tried in Albarracin, but I couldn’t red point 6c (5.11a) in the gym or outdoors. This was partially due to endurance and tactics, but mostly due to fear of falling (which turned out to be mostly a fear of losing control).

So, after putting in about 20 hours of dedicated mental training (to overcome the fear of falling as well as learn how to climb relaxed), I managed to send my first outdoor 7b.
Working on the mental part made a huge difference, not just in terms of climbing grade - I also enjoy sport climbing so much more now!

Some other stuff I noticed: I managed to send a technical 7a a week after the 7b. I was using this route as a way to practise tactics. I noticed it had a juggy pocket that I couldn’t use as a rest the first 2 times I tried it. But I kept looking for different positions and experimented with breathing and then suddenly the 3rd time I was going bolt to bolt I managed to relax and get energy back! After this I gave it 1 red point attempt and immediately sent it. Being able to relax and get energy back was a game changer, and I have no doubt this was 90% mental.

In the next phase I will focus on tactics and strategy. I spent 1 weekend practising this in a 7a and 7c route and I feel like I already learned a massive amount. I have no doubt I’ll be able to red point the 7c after I improve my tactics and strategy.

I also notice I’m having a LOT of fun now that my mindset is to learn rather than to send. I can be in any route and just enjoy the process. In the 7a, I decided to try a red point attempt because I felt I had learned most of what I could learn from that route. If I wouldn’t have sent it, it would have been OK and I would’ve started working the next route. After all, my goal this year is the 8a - everything else is a learning experience to get me there :slight_smile:

Over the next few weeks i’ll also be exploring some 8a’s; there’s a short vertical compression one (Merlin in Ettringen), a pumpy cave one (Glucose in Modave), a heavy overhung one (Déversification in Grotte du Brotsch), a bouldery powerful one (Yahoo in Bomal) and long technical one (in Berdorf) that I will try to explore. Although I’m getting better, I still have trouble estimating what I’m capable of and what I’m good at. For bouldering I have a pretty good idea, but things seem to be different for sport climbing.
Anyway, I’m really enjoying the process, I’m learning loads about myself and starting to appreciate sport climbing more and more :slight_smile:


Great work @AmirNickname ! That sounds like a big goal, but seems like you’ve done a good job of breaking it down and learning important things (and getting sends!!) along the way.

I’m also working on my mental game sport climbing, because I know that’s where I’m largely holding myself back from getting my “sport and boulder grades to match up”. Inspiring to hear your progress, and I’m looking forward (or telling myself I am) to getting in some more mileage on ropes this season to get more comfortable.

1 Like

Thanks! I’m very happy I decided to start with mental skills, it just everything so much more enjoyable. And 20 hours of dedicated mental skills training really isn’t that much in terms of investment, if you think about it :slight_smile:
Good luck with your goals!

1 Like

Nice work @AmirNickname! Everytime I switch from training in the gym to sport climbing it feels like I need to reinvest time doing practice falls and remembering how to relax on lead. Even if I’ve been lead climbing in the gym, it just doesn’t translate.

I think mental training always pays dividends and I’d encourage you to keep progressing it as it seems your bouldering level (depending on how sustained the 8a you choose is) will probably line up pretty well with your goal.

In 9 out of 10 climbers, Dave McLeod talks about thinking of practice falls in the thousands. When I decided to work on fear of falling that was a real mind shift just realizing that it would be a multi year process that would require lots of consistency.

An exercise I really like from Espresso Lessons (I think—I know it’s a warriors way exercise!) that relates to giving up control is having your partner tell you when to fall. Obviously requires a thoughtful partner, but if you’ve got someone you really trust that could be super helpful!


Thanks! I will definitely take your advice and try to keep progressing with the mental game!

That exercise where the belayer tells you when to fall can definitely help for a lot of people! I’ve been recommending it to a lot of friends. For me it wasn’t enough; I needed to learn to try the next move even when there was a risk of falling. I had the tendency to grab and pull at max power to make 100% sure I would stick the next move, or bail if there was a chance of falling… Now I have much more of a flow when climbing, because I accept the risk that I could fall at any point.

By the way, I always try to quantify things. I did the Eric Hörst self assessment in December and again after the mental phase. Huge difference! It just goes to show even something as hard to pin down as mental skills are totally trainable.
Self assessment before

Self assessment after

1 Like

@AmirNickname good job deciding it was a loss of control and not simply a fear of falling. That’s missed way too often in my opinion. I see so many climbers take practice falls over and over, only to say take when the climbing gets a little desperate.

I hate taking practice falls. You can’t pay me to take one. Falling is fucking scary. But if I’m trying to onsight something, I’ll absolutely skip bolts and go for it.