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.
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.”
Achievements: Multiple 5.14 ascents, including Just Do It (5.14c), Grand Ol’ Opry (5.14b/c), and Dreamcatcher (5.14d)
“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!”
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.”
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.”
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.”
Achievements: IFMGA-certified mountain guide, dozens of alpine first ascents in mountain ranges all over the world, co-founder of Uphill Athlete
“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.”
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.”