How to climb 7a: 10 tips from Steve McClure

Posted by Peter Burnside on 14/10/2016
Fancy a 7a project in Thailand? Get that flight booked!

Dream of climbing 7a but think you’ll never reach that level? Get a grip! With a little hard work and some secret beta from top sport climber Steve McClure, you’ll be clipping the chains on your project in no time.

There’s no doubt that a 7a climber is a very good climber indeed, but don’t be disheartened by the number of youths who sail past this grade in what seems a matter of minutes. Remember, grades are subjective and a steep 7a up a long overhang likely has many big holds that lightweight youngsters can easily haul themselves up, but experienced grit slab dancers might find themselves get shutdown on.  

Equally, a technical wall climb 7a on tricky limestone might be a breeze for any experienced outdoor climber, but one that the indoor 8a onsighter would struggle to find any holds on!

What it comes down to, in your quest to find improvement, is being able to pick your battles and not to compare yourself to others. It’s all about self-improvement and how to give yourself the biggest advantage against your project. With that in mind, here’s Steve McClure’s 10 secrets to climbing 7a.

1. Fancy footwork

Don’t forget that footwork is key to setting up for your arms. You might be able to pull yourself up indoors, but you won’t get away with it outdoors.

Practice accurate foot placements by trying to land your foot on an exact spot first time, even on massive indoor holds – keeping your eyes on the spot until you’ve engaged helps. Being accurate will help massively when outdoors where footholds are smaller and less grippy than indoors.

2. Sun’s out, guns out

Some strength in the upper body will be needed too – 7a is no pushover. If you find yourself struggling on steep climbs, ask yourself: is it because of lack of strength?

To get strong, do some indoor bouldering a couple of times a week. But remember to keep the difficulty up – don’t just do a load of easy problems with your mates. You need to be failing and falling off occasionally.

3. Stop the steep

Outdoors that is. If you want to climb outdoor 7a, then select a climb to project and then keep your training specific to that.

Don’t spend the winter training on a 45-degree overhanging board getting crazy strong only to find out the 7a you’ve been dreaming about in Spain is actually a vertical and extremely technical climb covered in tiny side-pulls.

WATCH: Steve McClure crushing sport routes at Malham on BMC TV

4. Steely fingers

Fingers are important, too! 7a routes often have small holds and your fingers will need to be conditioned enough to hold onto them.

Hunt down the vertical routes with small holds indoors to train on, and even consider a bit of finger-boarding. It’s probably not yet time for foot-off campus training, but a little finger-intensive work will go a long way to crushing that last tiny crimp holding you back from the chains.

5. Select your time to shine

Conditions often impact the apparent grade of a route massively. If your crimpy wall climb is basking in 30-degree sun, all the holds will feel like grease covered glass compared to when it’s in the shade.

Make a plan with appropriate times to try your route, and be prepared to adapt if the overcast day suddenly turns bright. If you’re only focused on one particular route, perhaps even wait the conditions out until they turn perfect.

6. The British baguette slump

Boy do I love those brie and chorizo baguettes, but feasting on a mountain of food between climbs will shut you down instantly – overloading your digestive system leads to lethargic siesta feelings and a slump. Lunchtime slowdown is one of the most common issues I see us Brits suffer from, but at least it’s one of the easiest to fix.

If you really love the baguette and can’t do without, simply chop it into four bits and eat them over the course of the day. It’s great because you get to eat all day long and still climb hard.

7. Maintain recruitment

While everybody knows about the importance of warming up, the need to maintain recruitment – being able to pull hard on small holds – is often overlooked. After an hour or so of climbing, recruitment drops off – even if you’re still warm.

Think about your route: if it’s hard and tough on the fingers from the get go you’ll need to prepare yourself. Find some small holds and do a few six second hangs a few minutes before setting off. Recruitment returns quickly and skipping this step could cost you higher up.

WATCH: Steve cruise the mighty Choronzon E10 7a on BMC TV

8. Rack smarts

Dieting to shed weight is a tactic used by many to send their project, but what about all those things hanging off your harness? Carrying 20 quickdraws for a route that’s only 10 bolts long can add over a kilo! And let’s not forget about all the other junk many carry up sport routes: extra belay plates, mallions, slings, penknives, and prussic loops!

Sometimes some of it may be worth taking, like an extra krab in case you get shutdown and need to lower off a hanger, or a prussik for when you’re on a massively overhanging multi-pitch route. But if you’re just going for a normal redpoint burn, there should be absolutely nothing on your harness at all.

9. Sleep is for the strong!

It’s not very often that performance climbing tips feature sleeping, but proper rest and recovery has a huge, and often forgotten, influence on performance. Besides being able to pull hard, it also effects your happiness, mood and thus motivation and drive – anyone with new kids knows about this.

If you’re camping, stack the odds in your favour and invest in the comfiest sleeping mat you can find; it’ll make a huge difference to your sleep and allow a decent recovery to your sore and tired muscles. Sleeping on a thin mat leaves me feeling like a train-wreck the next day,

10. Forget your weaknesses, for now

While working weaknesses is essential for improvement, leave that for another day. Instead, stack the odds in your favour again by playing to your strengths. Hunt down a climb that suits you the best – choose crags and areas that are similar to what you like to climb.

When breaking into new ground you could even go one further: choose the soft options, those ‘low in the grade’ routes. Although, this does run the risk of it getting downgraded at some point! 


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