• JoJo

Repeating the 9c Strength Test

About six months ago I had a crack at the latest craze in the world of climbing YouTubers.


The 9c strength test.


In case you’ve forgotten about it, here’s a link to the blog post about my previous attempt.


What is the 9c Test?


The test consists of 4 exercises that assess specific strengths that help you to climb hard. These are:

  1. Finger strength – maximum weight you can hang from a 20mm edge for 5 seconds

  2. Pulling strength – maximum weight you can hang while completing 1 pull-up on a bar

  3. Core strength – how long can you hold an L-sit or front lever

  4. Endurance – how long you can hang from a bar

You get a score from 1 – 10 for each exercise, giving you a total score out of 40. Your final score corresponds to the sport climbing grade you are (theoretically) strong enough to successfully climb.

Simple as that.


For reference, my bodyweight is 60kg.

My original score was:

  1. Max finger strength = 2 points (bodyweight plus 10%)

  2. Max pull-up = 1 point (bodyweight)

  3. L sit = 3 points (30 second with bent knees)

  4. Hang = 3 points (1.5 minutes)

Total: 9 points = sport climbing grade 7a As a bit of motivation and because I thought it would be interesting, I decided that I’d take the test again after 6 months to see what effect (if any!) all my training was having. So, in this week’s blog post I’ll take you through my second attempt at the 9c strength test and discuss my thoughts on the results.

Take Two – My Prediction


Last time I predicted my score (reasonably accurately) and planned to do the same again this time. However, I’ve never followed a training plan like the one I’m currently following before so had no idea what kind of gains I could expect to see.


I was genuinely concerned for my fragile little ego when the time finally came to retake this test. I have been training extremely hard lately and was worried about how this would affect my motivation going forward if I didn’t demonstrate the kind of improvement I was hoping for.


Let’s just say I was hoping to be reassured but was also preparing to be underwhelmed.


Max Finger Strength


Some climbers appear to find fingerboard sessions extremely boring but I find them oddly relaxing and invigorating at the same time. I just stick on a true crime podcast or an episode of Coronation Street and get those digits working.


I started a little below my previous maximum by adding 4kg to my body weight to give my fingers a chance to warm up. From there I went up in roughly 2kg increments and maxed out at 12kg, which is double the weight I added last time I tried this test.

I could have added a smidgen more weight but in order to get another point I’d have needed to jump up to 18kg and that felt a long way off.


So, I decided to call it a day there.


Ego status update: gently reassured


Exercise 1: Max Finger Strength 20 mm crimp (5 sec)

1 Point = 100% (bodyweight)

2 Points = 110%

3 Points = 120% (bodyweight plus 12kg)

4 Points = 130 %

5 Points = 140 %

6 Points = 150%

7 Points = 160%

8 Points = 180%

9 Points = 200%

10 Points = 220%


Max Pull-Up


Pull-ups have long been an intimidating exercise for me. I place some of the blame for the shoulder injury I suffered last year (blog post about rehabbing that here) on poorly performed pull-ups. Good form has, therefore, been my priority rather than maximising weight.


With that excuse out of the way, let’s move onto my result.


Once again, I started below my former maximum weight to warm up into the exercise and added weight in roughly 2kg increments. Bodyweight felt fine, 2kg felt fineish, 4kg felt like a fair bit of effort, and 6kg finished me off!


Not a huge number of points in the grand scheme of things, but another clear increase on my last test result.

Ego status update: firmly reassured


Exercise 2: Max Pull-Up (1 rep)

1 Point = 100% (bodyweight)

2 Points = 110% (bodyweight plus 6kg)

3 Points = 120%

4 Points = 130 %

5 Points = 140 %

6 Points = 150%

7 Points = 160%

8 Points = 180%

9 Points = 200%

10 Points = 220%


L-Sit


Core is one of my favourite areas to train. I derive a great deal of joy from the feeling of exhausted abdominal muscles and knackered obliques. This has come in handy as my core training has progressed from 5-minute core, to mixed core, and eventually graduated to the horror that is extended core.

Extended core has tested the limits of my dedication to planking.


Thankfully it does seem to have produced some positive results. I managed the 10 second L-sit reasonably comfortably (relatively speaking) but couldn’t quite reach 15 seconds. I got to 12 or 13 before eventually having to admit defeat.


I’m very pleased with a 1 point increase and even more pleased that I nearly managed to jump 2 points on this exercise, especially considering the fact that I couldn't even hold this position for 1 second 6 months ago.


Ego status update: chuffed


Exercise 3: L-Sit

1 Point = 10 sec L-sit (bend knees)

2 Points = 20 sec L-sit (bend knees)

3 Points = 30 sec L-sit (bend knees)

4 Points = 10 sec L-sit

5 Points = 15 sec L-sit

6 Points = 20 sec L-sit

7 Points = 5 sec Front Lever

8 Points = 10 sec Front Lever

9 Points = 20 sec Front Lever

10 Points = 30 sec Front Lever


Hang


The pain this test induced in my forearms was still fresh in my memory 6 months later. I was not excited to do this again. I’m the living embodiment of all the jokes that sport climbers make about boulderers.

I tried, oh how I tried, but I couldn’t quite crack the 2-minute mark. Last time I just scraped over 1 minute 30 seconds, whereas this time I gave up around 1 minute 50 seconds. There’s definitely an improvement there, but I couldn’t cling on long enough to get another point.


Endurance is stupid anyway.


Ego status update: firmly kept in check


Exercise 4: Hang from bar (or jugs on a Beastmaker, as we don’t have a bar)

1 Point = 30 sec

2 Points = 1 min

3 Points = 1.5 min

4 Points = 2 min

5 Points = 2.5 min

6 Points = 3 min

7 Points = 3.5 min

8 Points = 4 min 9 Points = 5 min 10 Points = 6 min

Total

  1. Max finger strength = 3 points

  2. Max pull-up = 2 points

  3. L sit = 4 points

  4. Hang = 3 points

Total: 12 points = sport climbing grade 7a+

40=9c/5.15d

39=9b+/5.15c

38=9b/5.15b

37=9b/5.15b

36=9a+/5.15a

35=9a+/5.15a

34=9a/5.14d

33=9a/5.14d

32=8c+/5.14c

31=8c+/5.14c

30=8c/5.14b

29=8c/5.14b

28=8b+/5.14a

27=8b+5.14a

26=8b/5.13d

25=8b/5.13d

24=8a+/5.13d

23=8a+/5.13c

22=8a/5.13b

21=8a/5.13b

20=7c+/5.13a

19=7c+/5.13a

18=7c/5.12d

17=7c/5.12d

16=7b+/5.12c

15=7b+/5.12c

14=7b/5.12b

13=7b/5.12b

12=7a+/5.12a

11=7a+/5.12a

10=7a/5.11d

9=7a/5.11d

8=6c+/5.11c

7=6c+/5.11c

6=6c/5.11b

5=6c/5.11b

4=6b/5.10d

3=6b/5.10d

2=6a

1=6a/5.10b


Conclusion

I felt more and more pleased with myself until the final exercise, which cruelly knocked me back down to earth. This was followed by a small tantrum and a brief chat with myself that concluded with me typing “endurance is stupid anyway”. I then stacked up the weights for the photos I’ve used in this post and reinflated my ego before finally totting up my final score and feeling like all the effort I’ve put in over the last 6 months deserved more than increase of one measly ‘+’.


It’s been a fun ride.

Now I’ve had a cup of tea and a chocolate digestive biscuit and processed some feelings, let’s see if I can come to a more measured conclusion about this result.


I was just a few seconds away from getting 1 more point on the L-sit and the endurance test so although I fell short of the 7b grade band, I was ever so close. If there was a 7a++ option, I’d be firmly in that category.


And I can’t argue with the numbers. I have made clear progress in the last 6 months and having some proof of this right before my extremely short-sighted eyes is reassuring.


One of the things I’ve struggled with recently has been the lack of obvious checkpoints on the way to my ultimate goal of climbing a 7a boulder by the end of 2021. I have the final goal at the end of the road in mind but I’ve found it hard to pick out the signs and landmarks along the way that tell me I’m heading in the right direction.


I’ve ticked off more 6c+ boulders in the last few months than I ever have before and I can feel my body getting stronger. Unfortunately, I’ve also been doubting my progress, being unfairly critical when comparing myself to others, and questioning whether bucking my usual rule of not setting goals attached to grades was such a good idea after all.


Although sport climbing grades don't translate exactly to equal bouldering grades, retaking this test has provided a valuable stopping point along my road to 7a. I’ve got out of the car, stretched my legs, taken in the view, checked the map, and concluded that I haven’t got lost and accidentally ended up in Pontefract. There’s still plenty of miles to travel and I’m sure the journey will continue to test my emotional suspension, but I feel rather more confident about arriving at my intended destination than I did before I redid this test.


I realise that’s a lot of emotional mileage to come out of 4 simple exercises. The truth is that I feel emotional about this goal. I haven’t invested this much energy or tried this hard at anything for a long time. Aside from the physical training, I'm also being challenged by the mental baggage that comes with caring about and committing to something. It’s a different kind of strength to hanging off bits of wood by your fingertips but it’s equally as important.

Almost as important as cups of tea and chocolate digestive biscuits.

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