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Lattice: How to Become a 5.12 Climber

5.12 climbers generally share certain strengths and skills that aspirants to the grade often need to consciously train.

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5.12 is a big grade for most climbers. It’s an aspirational level of performance for many reasons: some of the best lines in the world start kicking in at this grade, and many climbers will say it’s almost impossible to progress beyond it without consistent training. Even outside of the USA, the rough European grade equivalent of 7a and UK trad level of E5 are seen as rites of passage in any serious climber’s journey. 

At Lattice, we’ve spent the last decade studying the data, habits, and approaches of climbers at all levels. And we’ve found that while 5.12 is in some ways no different than any other grade,  5.12 climbers often share certain strengths and skills that most climbers aspiring to the grade will need to develop. In this article, we’re going to show you where you’re best focusing your time and what training habits are the biggest bang for their buck. 

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Strength for 5.12

Train beyond the boulder grade. For every grade there is a rough baseline of strength that you’ll need to pull the hardest moves when you’re fatigued. Many 5.12a’s and 5.12b’s have cruxes that are no harder than V2 or V3, which feel easy when you’re working sections but hard when you’re tired. Many 5.11 climbers fall short because they don’t train strength beyond the difficulty of the hardest moves of their 5.12 projects. If you’re looking to dominate at 5.12 then move your baseline to V5 or V6.

  • Your max boulder grade should be at least two to three grades above the crux moves of your project

Boulder with specificity in mind. These days almost everyone understands the benefits of bouldering in the gym for strength improvements. However, it’s common for climbers to ignore the specificity element of bouldering strength training, and the reality is that not all ‘boulder strength’ is equal. If your project is on a 20-degree overhanging wall with half-pad crimps all the way, then training on juggy roofs is not going to be as useful as you hope—even if you do gain strength in that style. Match your training to your project(s) and you’ll see rewards. 

  • Your bouldering strength is terrain and hold specific. Make sure that your bouldering ability at your chosen grade matches the style of your project for the best transfer. 
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Power endurance for 5.12   

Match your project duration. Most climbers start completing some form of power endurance training as they progress through the 5.11s, even if it’s in the unstructured form of having a few attempts on their current gym project. Unfortunately though, gym climbs are often much shorter than outside projects, and consequently the ‘time on task’ doesn’t represent the demands of the goal. 5.12 power endurance will become a reality surprisingly fast if you measure the time that it takes you to climb your project outside and then they train at that exact duration on your gym laps. In many cases this might mean doing two or three continuous laps on a route. 

  • If your project takes 16 minutes to climb, then your power endurance training will be more effective when the exercise sets (at the right intensity) also match this time. 

Train with pace In mind. One of the most common mistakes that we see intermediate climbers make with their power endurance training is climbing at a pace that does not represent what they do on their project. We’ve watched countless climbers over the years blaze through amazing looking power endurance training cycles only to fail on their outdoor projects, where their pace of climbing is two to three times  slower (sometimes more!). If you’re looking to hit 5.12, then video yourself on your project and find out how long it takes on average to complete each move or section. You might just be surprised how long you pause to shake or lock off or move your feet into efficient positions. 

  • Time how long each move takes on average for your project. Once you know this, make sure that your training matches that level of pacing. 
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Endurance for 5.12

Build a bigger base. One of the fastest ways to develop the endurance capacity for 5.12 is to do a lot more mileage than you think. Most climbers can get through 5.10 and 5.11 by simply trying hard lines, putting the time in, and seeing it through. This means that there’s a good chance you’re not doing multiple laps on climbs, either inside or outside. A 5.12 climber who climbs at the gym twice a week should be looking at somewhere between 200-400m (650-1,300 feet) of endurance mileage; that means if your gym’s walls are 50 feet tall, you’re doing 12-25 pitches. 

  • Your endurance base is directly correlated to the amount of mileage that you put in. Treat this part of your climbing a bit like a runner or a swimmer, with all ‘miles in the bank’ counting towards your progress.  

Go easier than you think. The drive to hit that golden grade of 5.12 can be an alluring one, and as a result many climbers push too much of their endurance work into that ‘just in control and very pumped’ category. Contrary to popular belief, endurance can be built through extremely easy, high-volume climbing well below your endurance threshold. For most, this will involve climbing at six to eight  grades below your onsight/flash limit. You should be able to talk comfortably all the way through your reps and sets and should not feel notably pumped—much like going for a slow jog.

  • Base endurance training should be performed  at a much easier intensity than most climbers think. You do not want any form of pumped forearms!
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Common mistakes to avoid

Once you’ve got your training basics above sorted—and this is by no means an exhaustive list—you should also pay careful attention to the list of mistakes that we commonly see climbers make when planning their training. Many of those stuck at 5.11 would have a high chance of instantly (let’s say within two months) progressing a full number grade if they got these things right. 

Never taking a deload week. One of the first things we do with a training program is schedule consistent weeks of ‘relative rest’ roughly once per month. What we mean by relative is that the loading (volume, intensity and frequency) of the plan in a deload week should be around 50% or less. Most climbers hate resting properly, but they wouldn’t if they realized what a huge difference it makes! 

Doing endurance training at the end of a training cycle. This is generally the wrong way round! We do appreciate that climbers often fail on their project, panic, think “Oh no I’m not fit enough!” and then cram in some endurance work at the end. Unfortunately this is almost complete self-sabotage, since basic, high-volume endurance work results in reductions in high intensity power endurance output and also tends to decrecruit the fingers. The result: you end up feeling weaker. 

Not giving enough time to refine power endurance. If you’ve prepared well and done your base endurance capacity work, then you should realistically give yourself at least 8 weeks to train peak power endurance output. Sure, you may feel significantly better—and able to make progress on your project—after just 4 weeks, but there’s a very good chance you’ve got more in the tank. Be patient and keep pushing.