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This story originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of our print edition.
The ability to crank out multiple sets of one-arm pull-ups, claim global competition titles, achieve “60 Minutes” airtime—these are just a few of the things that separate professional climbers from the hangdogging weekend warrior masses. But perhaps the most important difference is a pro’s knowledge of and experience with best practices for training. We tapped eight professional pullers from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds to compile a list of the best training advice for all of us regular folks. These tips probably won’t land you free shoes or climbing trips, but applying a few of the suggestions to your own rituals and routines might just be the key to breaking through to that next level of climbing.
Will Mayo, 43
Achievements: Mixed climbing ascents up to M14, dozens of first ascents, offwidth sends up to 5.13
“Regardless of whether you’re training to prevent injury, to remedy an existing injury, to increase strength, to increase power, or to increase endurance—or all of the above—the overarching goal is to create a greater ability to climb. Regardless of your specific objective, the most important element to any training regimen is that it must not cause injury. Far too often, friends have decided to “get in shape,” only to tweak their knee running 10 miles off the couch or tear their rotator cuff doing weighted one-arm lockoffs after a month’s hiatus from the gym. It is imperative to start by building up your base and be in tune with your body. If it hurts, don’t do it, regardless of what anyone else says. Every body is different, and each individual is the sole pilot of his or her ship, thus bearing the lone responsibility to discern the difference between good and bad training pain and act accordingly.
Moreover, if you are injured, then do something about it! Shoulder hurts? Don’t mope around complaining about it, get a deep tissue massage, or go see a doctor or physical therapist. Elbow tendonitis? Don’t tape it up and keep playing impotently on plastic; instead, go to the weight room and do some curls, get dry-needling—do whatever it takes, but be proactive. Cross-train as much as you train climbing-specific exercises, especially during injuries. Doing so generally equates to quicker healing, better overall fitness (and thus increased climbing performance), a general sense of well-being, and a reduced likelihood of future injuries from more well-balanced musculature. Of course, training is about pushing yourself and increasing intensity and duration, but if training causes injury, it has destroyed its purpose entirely.”
- Want to take your climbing to the next level, check out our 9-week Climb a Grade Harder: 5.12 and Beyond online training program by coach Justen Sjong and pro climber Nina Williams.
Sean McColl, 27
Achievements: Multiple Lead and Bouldering World Cup titles, second ascent of Dreamcatcher (5.14d), V13 flash, American Ninja Warrior champion
“To feel strong during competitions, I like to train at a really high volume with minimal resting. This way, when I get five minutes to rest in competition, my body is conditioned to recover in far less time. This high-mileage, low-rest approach can also help you maximize small rests you find on a longer sport or trad route. It teaches your body to regain strength as quickly as possible. I also train in shoes other than my favorite sending shoes, so I feel like I have an added advantage when I compete or go for the send in my preferred shoes.”
Paige Claassen, 23
Achievements: Multiple 5.14 ascents, including Just Do It (5.14c) and Grand Ol’ Opry (5.14b/c)
“My favorite exercise is what I refer to as ‘10 Minute Abs.’ I choose 10 floor ab exercises (crunches, leg lifts, etc.) and do each for one minute, without resting. I make it a habit to do this after every training session. At the end I try a plank variation I call ‘The X,’ where I slide my hands and feet wide apart to bring my core as close to the ground as possible and hold for as long as I can. My record is about six seconds—that’s how hard it is!”
Mayan Smith-Gobat, 36
Achievements: Women’s speed record on the Nose (5:39), first female linkup of the Nose and Half Dome, trad ascents up to 5.13+, sport ascents up to 5.14
“For a very long time I never trained indoors and gained all my strength through redpointing hard routes outside, which is the best type of training. Now, when training indoors I focus on working my weaknesses and keeping my body balanced enough to stay injury-free; that means working oppositional muscles and doing stretches and exercises to open up tight parts of my body, especially hips and shoulders.”
Chris Schulte, 35
Achievements: Hundreds of first ascents up to V14, The Big Island (V15) in Fontainebleau, France
“Everybody should regularly practice downclimbing. Moving down instead of up will increase trust in your feet, improve your overall footwork technique, and force you to look for unique, unintuitive sequences. It also requires full-extension muscle contractions, which will strengthen those small stabilizing and balancing muscles that are crucial to climbing.”
Sasha DiGiulian, 23
Achievements: First North American woman to climb 5.14d, 3-time U.S. National Sport Climbing Champion, Reigning Pan-American Champion
“Listen to your body and rest. Only push yourself when you are properly motivated and your body is prepared to work. If something feels tweaky, stop training and find the source of the issue. One training day lost is nothing compared to two or three months for a popped pulley.”
Steve House, 45
Achievements: IFMGA-certified mountain guide, dozens of alpine first ascents in mountain ranges all over the world, founder of Alpine Mentors training program for young alpinists
“Take a long view of your capabilities. It’s great to have a big goal, but let it stay there on the horizon while you focus on immediate process goals. The process goals are the steps you can take in the near future that bring you closer to your big goal; without them, you will lose motivation and the big goal will remain a dream.”
Anna Stöhr, 27
Achievements: 2-time European Champion, 4-time Overall Bouldering World Cup Champion
“Before World Cup season, I train in the gym with an exercise I call ‘Flash Sessions.’ I’ll build five problems that I can feasibly flash and try to climb them one after another without resting. I repeat the process three times, resting only a few minutes between rounds. It somewhat creates a more rigorous version of the three-round World Cup format and helps me gain some much-needed endurance in a short amount of time.”