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“I Don’t Give Up On Boulders”: A Conversation With Matt Fultz

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In 2021, Matt Fultz, 30, had one of the best calendar years in American bouldering history—a fact that’s especially impressive since he spent the whole second half of the year too injured to climb.

Soon after sending his multi-season project, Hypnotized Minds (V16), in Rocky Mountain National Park in September 2020, Fultz and his wife, Hailey, hit the road. In Red Rock, Nevada, last February, he had one of the most productive 24 hours of bouldering on record, sending his second V16, Sleepwalker, after numerous days of work, then putting down Squoze (V14/15) in the same afternoon and Treiste Sit (V14) the next morning. He went on to do The Nest (V15) later that week. (Fultz recently released a short film about his time at Red Rock, which you can find below.)

He then spent the spring knocking down V14s and V15s in Joes Valley and Castle Rocks, Idaho. In early summer, after a long battle against the heat, he finished Nathaniel Coleman’s power-endurance monster, Grand Illusion (V16) in Little Cottonwood Canyon, then headed to Colorado, where he made quick work of his fourth V16, Creature from the Black Lagoon.

By that point, Instagram pundits like yours truly were leaning forward in their chairs, wondering how long it would take for Fultz to run out of hard boulders in the continental U.S. 

But then, in mid-August, his sending spree came to a screeching halt.

Climbing in Lincoln Lake, Colorado, on a Drew Ruana problem called Insomniac (yep, yet another V16) Fultz felt—and heard—what every boulderer fears: that telltale pop of a pulley.

For the last three months, he’s been staying with his family in Boise, Idaho, focusing on family and work—Fultz and Hailey run Off the Ground (OTG) Strength, a training and nutrition coaching platform for climbers—and “enjoying things that I might neglect when I’m focused on climbing hard.”

Climbing caught up with Fultz over Zoom. We talked about his strong season, his projecting processes, his approach to treating injuries, and why he doesn’t give up on boulder problems, even the ones he gets injured on.

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Climbing: You did four V16s in the last 12 months, and I know this is based on a number of factors, including style and body type and even the order in which you did them, but which were hardest for you and how do you feel they stack up against each other?

Fultz: That’s a great question. Hypnotized Minds is definitely a special one. I think that’s the hardest climb I’ve done so far. Just style-wise—how it fit me or didn’t fit me, how I had to change my training and my approach to climbing—it was important for me. When I sent, I hadn’t done competitions for a year, and one of the big reasons was that comps happen in the fall—that’s American comp season—but that’s also when Hypnotized Minds is good, and Hypno is not really a problem where training for competition-style boulders is going to help you. So, since my main goal for that season and for that year was to send Hypnotized Minds, I said, “I’m not going to have a comp season this year; I’m going to really focus and try and get this thing done because I think I can.” So that was a pretty special one for me. It also took the most work, the most number of days.

After that I think Grand Illusion was the hardest for me. After Hypno it probably took the greatest number of sessions, took the most work, and felt the hardest when I did it. But luckily that one went down in one season. Then, after that, I think that Creature from the Black Lagoon and Sleepwalker are probably about the same level. They took about the same number of days and they’re even weirdly similar in style. They fit me pretty well, too: underclings and good holds, but obviously very steep. Those are probably at the lower end for me.

Climbing: You recently released a short film featuring your sends of Sleepwalker, Squoze, Treiste Sit, and The Nest. The way the film works narratively, it seems like you worked really hard on Sleepwalker and then everything else kind of tumbled down in its wake.

Fultz: Yeah, I edited the video with that in mind because that’s kind of how it felt.

Fultz making quick work of Squoze, V14 (Photo: Hailey Franklin Fultz)

Climbing: Did you work on those other problems beforehand and then just ride the wave?

Fultz: Yeah, a bit. My process with Sleepwalker took about three weeks from start to end. Usually I would do a session on Sleepwalker, then the next day I’d either do a volume session on a different hard problem or go out and try to do a bunch of easier problems. After that it would be a rest day or two. Then I’d repeat it all over again: Sleepwalker, then volume, then rest. Some of those volume days were on The Nest or Treiste. In total, Treiste Sit took me two or three sessions, Squoze took me two or three, and The Nest took me three or four. But it seemed like after I did Sleepwalker, that snowball just got rolling. My confidence was built up, and now I could spend those fresh days on the climbs I’d been working on when tired. So, yeah, that’s kind of how it happened. I did all of those climbs within a week of each other. Sleepwalker and Squoze in the same day, Treiste Sit the morning after, and The Nest later in the week.

Climbing: That must have felt pretty cool.

Fultz: Yeah. That was a good day. Those were good times.

Climbing: You seem to really enjoy the process of working on problems—of having them feel impossible and then working on them until you’ve finished them. What’s your process like when projecting?

Fultz: Learning to really project hard boulders was a big ah-ha realization I had a couple of years ago. Two or three years ago, I might have tried a problem for a couple sessions, but if it didn’t go down in that time, I would say, “You know, maybe I can do this, but I need to get stronger first.” Hypnotized Minds was helpful in getting me past my mindset, but there were a few others, even before that, where I started just telling myself, “No, I’m just going to get this thing done.” And I’d figure out all the moves and then just keep going back. My realization was that hard bouldering, hard projecting, is like manual labor. It’s about showing up and working it down to the littlest tiny bits and then piecing it all together. It’s like Daniel Woods spending more than 50 days on Return of the Sleepwalker in a season, just going back day after day. You can’t send it unless you show up, and you’ve got to keep showing up, you’ve got to keep building those specific strengths in those specific muscles. That was the realization for me. With Hypnotized Minds I was just like, “I’m just going to keep going back. It doesn’t really feel that possible to me right now, but I’m going to figure it out and I’m not going to give up on it until I do it.” So, yeah, I just don’t really give up on things anymore.

Climbing: What does a typical session look like when you project?

Fultz: It depends on where I am in the process. If I’m still figuring out the moves, I’m probably doing a lot of climbing. I’m trying to figure out how to link the sections more efficiently. Does this foot work better than that foot? Does this position work better than that position? How am I grabbing these holds? Where’s my wrist position? Where’s my pinky versus my index going to be? It’s important to figure out all the little minutiae for each section. But once I’m ready to try from the start, I might only be giving the climb three or four tries during the day, depending on the problem. If it’s a longer problem, I’m going to make fewer attempts and take longer rests; but if it’s shorter, I’ll give it more attempts. For example, something like the Grand Illusion (V16), it’s 25 moves long, so I really only had three or four good tries from the start each session, whereas on Sleepwalker I could make six or seven good attempts from the start.

Climbing: How do you manage the mental and emotional aspects of projecting?

Fultz: That’s something that’s really tricky and I’m really still working on it. I have some mental cues; I’m always trying to reframe things in my mind. I try to reframe negativity into positivity. You can take opposite situations, but still make them positive in your mind. For instance, if I feel like I’ve eaten too much before my session and I’m feeling heavy and full, I can try and reframe that into “I’m fueled and I’m powerful.” Whereas if I’ve under-eaten and I’m a hungry, I can reframe that into “I’m light and fit.” They’re the opposite situations, but you can reframe both of them in your head into something more positive.

But when there are things within my control, and they’re bothering me, I try to fix them. As simple as that sounds, if it’s in your control, then fix it. If you’re hungry, go take a few bites of something and fix it. If you’ve got a split and it’s hurting, take the time to file it down, tape up, whatever you need—but try to fix it. 

Climbing: In your interview in the Nugget Climbing Podcast, you talked about how you only climb with one shoe—the Madrock Drones—because you didn’t want to overthink it and constantly be using shoes as an excuse. Do you give yourself excuses?

Fultz: Well, so that’s another complicated subject. I don’t love excuses, but I think sometimes they’re necessary for the mental component. I’m a big conditions guy; I’m ready to say, “It’s not my fault, it’s the conditions.” And sometimes you have to tell yourself that, and sometimes it’s true, but it comes back to what’s in your control and what you can change. For instance, if you’re not climbing well on crimps in the heat, maybe that also means you need to train crimps more often, that you need to expose yourself to more crimpy climbs. That’s something that’s in your control that you can change. But it’s a balance for sure.

Climbing: I noticed on your Instagram that you had a video of you trying to link Jade into Blade Runner. Did that ever go for you?

Fultz: No. I tried it in 2020, when I was out there, and I had a good link, I fell on the last move, so I was like, “Man, next year, that’s going first session.” But then this year I went back and did Creature from The Black Lagoon, which I was really excited about, and then I tried the Jade link. I went up once and it was really warm. I had a good link or two but didn’t get back up to my high point. So I was like, “Yeah, I’m going to do a little more training on some boards and come back and I’ll be able to do it.” So I did a little more training, and the finger started hurting, and I got injured, and now I’m here. That’s kind of how the season went.

Climbing: How’s the healing process going?

Fultz: It’s always slower than I wish. But this is my third or fourth pulley injury, and I’ve learned a few things from the previous ones, so things are going smoothly. Still, I always wish I could be on the boulders trying my best.

Climbing: In your Instagram posts you talk about how your finger was sore, but that you tried to push through it, and then it “exploded.” What did that soreness feel like? What were the warning signs?

Fultz: It’s weird because nine times out of 10, when I feel like I have a slight pulley sprain, I just decrease the volume and intensity for a couple weeks and it goes away. That’s what I did this time. But then after a couple of weeks it felt better one day, and I decided to push it, and that’s the day that it decided to tear. It went from a grade one, or even less, to a grade two or three.

Climbing: When you cut back on intensity, what does that look like?

Fultz: I cut go down in both grade and volume. Usually, when I’m healthy, I’m trying to climb four, five, sometimes six days a week. If my finger isn’t feeling good, if I have soreness or swelling in the joints, I’ll just climb two or three days a week.

Climbing: The acute injury happened on Insomniac, right? Can you describe it?

Fultz: Insomniac is kind of a linkup. You do the first part of Wheel of Wolvo, and that gets you right to the start hold of We Can Build You, which is V14. So I got through that first section into the rest, but I was not really prepared for the rest of it. I mean, I’d done the moves that day, so I knew what was going on, but it was my first try from the start. The crux of We Can Build You revolves around grabbing this little crimp-pinch and doing a big throw to the lip. So I grabbed that and then I set up and started swinging for the lip and that’s when I felt the pop.

Climbing: Once you injure a finger, what does rehab look like?

Fultz: This time I took two weeks off. I did some lifting but no body weight stuff. I didn’t want to irritate it with deadlifting a heavy bar. Luckily, I was able to hang on a bar without pain, so I could do pull-ups. With the worst injuries you can’t do that. I think the most important thing when you’re injured is to just do what you can. It’s kind of surprising how psyched you can get about recovery, about recovery goals. I create new recovery goals and sometimes I get just as psyched to meet those as when I send a project.

After two weeks off, I started doing easy sessions, followed by as much rest as I felt like I needed—usually three days. I’ve been slowly increasing volume from there, and increasing intensity as needed. It’s been mostly sport climbing, and that’s been fun since sport climbing isn’t really an area I’ve experimented much with. It’s been fun to gain that fitness and feel what it’s like to have endurance. I’m also slowly increasing bouldering. I’m just getting to the point where I can climb on a Moonboard and, at this point, most sport climbs are within limits for the finger.

Climbing: When you’re in that recovery process are you trying to make sure you don’t feel any pain at all in your finger?

Fultz: Yeah, I mean, that’s where it gets kind of tough. We can resist a lot of pain—people can. Personally, I’m good at talking myself out of pain. I’ll be like, “Oh, that wasn’t that painful; I can try again”—or I’ll be like “Well, it hurts, but maybe this is just making it stronger,” when in truth that might not be reality. When it comes to finger injuries, a good rule of thumb is probably “If it doesn’t feel good, you probably shouldn’t be doing it.” I definitely have to remind myself of that pretty often.

Climbing: How’s the business going—OTG Strength?

Fultz: It’s going awesome. We’re loving it. My wife, Hailey, is the nutrition coach for our clients. I coach the training side. Most of our clients do both concurrently. I prefer it that way because if you’re going through my training plan, it’s pretty intense, and it takes adaptation; I want to make sure our clients are also fueling themselves correctly. We make an exception for people who’ve convinced me that they’ve got their nutrition dialed, but in general it’s important to me that if you’re going through this training, you’re also recovering correctly. Because when I write your program, I’m assuming you’re recovering—that you’re getting the right amount and quality of protein, carbs, and fats, and that you’re getting the right amount of sleep in between your sessions.

Climbing: I will say, that’s the hardest one for me: sleep.

Fultz: Me too. I’m a big fan of naps.

Climbing: What’s next for you?

Fultz: I’m feeling pretty strong again. I’ve climbed 5.14 and V13 in the gym. So I think the next step is to get some volume in outside—to get used to rock again. I’d like to get back on the road, hopefully after the holiday season. By then I should be healed 100 percent, and it gives me some time to get back in shape.

Climbing: Any destinations in mind?

Fultz: I’d love to go to Tahoe. I heard they had a pretty bad spell of weather, but I’d like to go at some point. I haven’t spent much time there. Also Bishop and Red Rock this winter. Red Rock for certain. I’m not too sure about the spring since we don’t know what travel restrictions will look like, but I’d like to go abroad if I can.

Climbing: I didn’t know you had anything left to do in Red Rock.

Fultz: [Laughs]. Well, there’s Return of the Sleepwalker.

Climbing: Have you tried that much yet?

Fultz: I have. I tried it with Daniel Woods when he was working it. And, yeah, it’s hard. [Laughs]. But what makes it hard isn’t the moves individually—though they are really difficult—it’s just an insane link. You’re doing a V13 just to get into the start holds of Sleepwalker. But it’s not just doing a V13 into a V16, which, yeah, is really fricking hard. The problem is that all the moves feel kind of the same. They’re all really hard on your biceps. They’re really tick-tacky. You’re pressing really hard on the feet. And it’s just exhausting. The moves on Sleepwalker feel different after you’ve done the first section. You feel like 40 pounds heavier. So, yeah, that’ll take a lot of work. But I’m excited. I don’t have any expectations. It’ll be a fun challenge.

Read More: Interview with Daniel Woods about Return of the Sleepwalker

Climbing: Are you going to go back to Insomniac for revenge at some point? Or is that one doomed by bad memories?

Fultz: [grins]

Fultz: I don’t give up on problems. 

Read More: How Matt Fultz Became on of the World’s Best Boulderers