Learn from Cameron Hörst’s strategic approach to working on his weaknesses, improving his endurance, and sending three 5.14d’s in a month!  

For most climbers out there, the 5.14 grade carries an air of mystique. It’s a gateway into the most elite ranks of sport climbing. You’d be hard-pressed to find a climber who doesn’t dream of crossing that threshold, while few actually achieve it. The road to ticking just one route at this illustrious grade weeds out all but the most committed. The select few climbers that do make it through don’t do so through luck or talent alone; they fight for every send. 

Cameron Hörst long ago earned his spot in the 5.14 club—by age 11, in fact! But earlier this spring, he unlocked a whole new level of achievement. He clipped the chains on not only one, but three 5.14d’s: Smoke Wagon at Mount Potosi near Las Vegas, Southern Smoke Direct in the Red River Gorge, and Zoolander, also in the Red. Not only that, but he completed all of them in just over a month. And while the sending itself may have happened quickly, that’s merely the tip of the iceberg. Everything beneath the surface took far longer to build.

Cameron Hörst on Smoke Wagon, a true test of his endurance training.

Cameron Hörst on Smoke Wagon, a true test of his endurance training.

Two of these routes, Smoke Wagon and Southern Smoke Direct, required Cameron to embrace his anti-style. Before this season, he’d largely avoided such long and pumpy tests of endurance. The key to breaking through any plateau, though, is working on your weaknesses. Cam knew that his relative lack of endurance would hold him back, no matter how much brute strength or power he possessed. There’s no getting around the extremely high levels of strength necessary to pull through crux moves. But the aerobic system can help offload some of the anaerobic strain. High aerobic capacity (endurance) stretches the limits of a climber’s anaerobic capacity (strength and power). This is essential on long routes that keep throwing punches all the way up and demand your hardest efforts even in the final throes. 

Endurance Training

Cameron Hörst employing his endurance on Southern Smoke Direct.

Cameron Hörst employing his endurance on Southern Smoke Direct.

So, Cameron spent the year leading up to these sends leaning into the areas where he’d historically fallen short. “The training goal for most of 2022 was to build out my aerobic system to make the most of my maximum power and strength,” Cam explains. 

He structured his training schedule around three main elements: 

  1. High-volume, submaximal climbing either in the gym or outdoors (two to three days per week)
  2. Maintenance of his current level of maximum power and strength, via bouldering in the gym plus exercises on a system board, hangboard, and campus board (once per week)
  3. Select outdoor projects that targeted his “anti-style”, a.k.a. long endurance routes (schedule depending)

After spending the majority of the year focused on endurance training, Cameron felt that his weaknesses had largely caught up with his strengths. “My aerobic system function had essentially reached a peak within the constraints of my current level of strength and power,” he reflects. He wouldn’t be able to see any further progress without raising the ceiling on his available strength and power. 

Power and Strength Training

For the remainder of 2022, Cam returned his attention to those factors. In practice, this essentially involved flipping his previous training routine on its head. 

  1. Maximum strength hangboarding (two to three times per week)
  2. Maximum bouldering on the Kilter Board (two to three times per week)
  3. Weighted pull-ups and one-arm pull-ups (twice per week)
  4. Maintenance of his current level of aerobic power via one power-endurance workout per week
  5. Maintenance of his current level of aerobic endurance via one high-volume circuit or route climbing session per week

The months of focus on endurance and aerobic capacity compounded on themselves over time for cumulative gain. Capping off that training with a return to maximum strength and power primed the abilities he’d already honed so well in the past. The combination of the two in these ratios helped Cameron calibrate his skill-set for these three proud sends. 

We might not all be on the verge of sending multiple 5.14’s in a season, let alone a month. But climbers of all levels can apply Cameron’s lessons to their training. When you reach a plateau, turn to your weaknesses while doing just enough to maintain your strengths. As the two begin to balance out, refresh your strengths. The new skills you gain along the way will take your old ones to even higher heights. 

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