Romain Desgranges

Edu Marin

Nacho Sanchez (SAID Principle)

Edu Marin

Sean McColl

A Focus on Power (G├╝llich style training)
Warning: German subtitles and commentary (training starts at 3:36)

Markus Bendler

Urban Climber Mag: Why are you so ridiculously jacked up? You like a machine man.

"It might be because I don’t use my feet much. If I can’t figure foot beta, I just campus the move. Also, I get really psyched to get stronger in the spring and fall. I’ll lift weights before work, then train at the climbing gym at night. Supplements help a little. Oh, and I was raised by wolves."

Rich Simpson

UC: You train a lot. Is there a specific regimen that you follow? Or is it according to individual projects?

Rich: I do follow very strict regimes, specific to my current goals. By doing this I feel I'll achieve the best from myself, and, more importantly, give myself the greatest opportunity to succeed. When training I tend to do lots of campus boarding, as well as one-armed pull ups and core work. I also supplement specific exercises with general bouldering and climbing outside. Alongside climbing I enjoy running, which I feel benefits my climbing a great deal. A main key to success has been my ability to adapt well to hard training. I'm able to greatly overload my body and climb a vast amount without getting injured; I can put the hours in down the cellar and reap the rewards. I've also found that splitting a day's sessions up is a very good way of building power. I usually train for two hours in the morning and two hours in the evening, six days per week. As you can see it hasn't come easily for me, but my motivation, dedication and commitment has proved to be the key.

UC: Tell everyone about the "School Room".

Rich: The School Room is even more impressive than a fried breakfast. It is a renowned tendon-pulling, muscle-breaking torture chamber for climbers. Or in simple talk, a dusty, dimly lit, damp, old indoor climbing room situated in the heart of the British climbing scene, Sheffield. It's been around for about 12 years, originally built by the likes of Ben Moon and Jerry Moffat in their hey day, and is home to some of Britain's hardest boulder problems - albeit made of wood and resin.

Rich Simpson, Action Directe, 9a. Frankenjura, Germany. Photo: Alex Messenger

Many climbers have trained there with the hope of getting strong, including Malcolm Smith and Stuart Cameron. The School does have a massive history of British climbing tradition, and is very select and elitist in terms of gaining membership; the current entry requirement is four one-armed pull-ups or an incredible pair of breasts, although we are short of the latter members. Seriously though, it's a very good training room, containing four climbing boards made of plywood, overhanging by 15, 30, 40 and 50 degrees respectively. It also houses a very good campus board and a newly built "Moon Board" with the new concept of downloadable boulder problems and can be replicated anywhere in the world.  The current hardest problem 'Perky Pinky' Font 8b+, has been situated on the 50-degree board since day one and has only seen two ascents, ever. It was recently climbed by Malcolm Smith, and now repeated by myself. It's an astronomically hard problem that has seen off several world-class climbers, and seems to be the current benchmark for people aiming for the big bucks.

Dani Andrada

Andy Raether

28 Days of Training with Andy Raether (By Andy Raether)

Editor’s Note: Andy Raether, 22, tackles harder lines at a higher volume and at a faster pace than the rest of us. Nevertheless, you can use the principles Raether lays out below to turn your self into a lean, mean sending machine.

My training schedule comes as a result of eight years of focused effort. When I train well, I can redpoint climbs like Stockboy’s Revenge (5.14c FA; Rifle), an 80-foot limestone power-endurance route, but I can also tap raw power, say that required by the Rocklands’ roof The Vice (V13/14). Although the sends came a year apart, I used similar training methods in the month preceding both: namely, resistance, or climbing at sustained difficulty over technical climbing, three letter grades below my redpoint ability. I also used my gym’s 60-degree wall to maintain power.

During “The Month,” I climb at least four days a week; I do approximately 6,000 moves, 550 minutes of stretching, at least 150 one-arm pull-ups, and several days of cardio. After The Month, I’ll rest briefly (a few days), and then work the project in earnest. By applying similar volume principles, at several letter grades below your redpoint ability (i.e., if you redpoint 5.12a, then train 5.11b/c), you’ll see similar results.

My goal after The Month is an 18-bolt 5.14c open project near Eldorado Springs Canyon that challenges my technical abilities and power endurance (PE). Thus, I need to maintain (but not increase) bouldering strength and increase route fitness.

Whether at 5.11c or 5.13c, training high-intensity PE (e.g., a challenging bouldering circuit) one day a week, and then regular PE (e.g., resistance climbing) three days a week, will yield incredible results. Rest at least one day between each session, but don’t limit your training to the gym — use the crags, as well.

Training PE
The Treadwall, a vertical treadmill with medium-sized holds that can tip as steep as 45 degrees overhanging, has taken on a prominent role. I’ve taken my lead from European climbers, who love their Treadwall mileage.

I climb on four “routes,” each running 150 moves total, with a 20-second rest (pressing “stop” while on the wall) every 40 moves. I follow this up with 10 to 20 minutes of passive rest (i.e., off the wall) between each route. Sans Treadwall, you can achieve the same mileage via long traverses on a bouldering wall or by running lead laps at the gym.

On days when I favor power over endurance, I’ll boulder relatively nonstop (two to three hours) in a gym, at anywhere from 40 to 70 percent of max power, on roughly 30 problems. This constitutes my “high-intensity” PE training. Although I try to make each problem unique, I often “two-scoop” the same problem to accumulate volume. This approach effectively maintains power while increasing PE.

I give as much attention to recovery practices — icing, massage, electrical muscular stimulation (E-Stim), and diet — as I do to training itself.

E-Stim sends electrical pulses through specific muscles, making them lightly contract (i.e., flinch) and increasing blood flow, thereby flushing out lactic acid, a by-product of PE training. The Euros, like Dani Andrada, use E-Stim often — it’s more efficient than, say, solely resting or light massage. I use an E-Stim unit ($300-1,000 online; visit daily for 30 minutes.

I average 3,000 to 3,500 calories and a gallon of water daily during The Month. For each meal, I ingest “good” fats, like olive oil; a source of protein, like chicken; and a healthy carbohydrate, high in dietary fiber and with a low glycemic index, like lentils. I graze on healthy snacks (granola, energy bars, fruit, or carrots) during the day to keep a constant level of energy.

Carlo Traversi

The Crash (By Carlo Traversi)
    Two days before sending The Game (V15)...

"The last month has been rough. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for the life that I live, but my mental state hasn’t been in top form. After 9 years of dedication to the sport of climbing, I’ve become very accustomed to the cyclical nature of progression. Throughout each year there are high’s and low’s in strength, flow, and motivation. The waves are inevitable regardless of how we try to fight them. In the last few years, I’ve brought a lot of my own attention and focus to the cycle, and have done my best to cope. Luckily (or unluckily), my yearly finger injuries in the past have more or less defined the low points. Injuries force abnormal amounts of rest, hinder the furthering of one’s limits, and generally put a serious damper on motivation. The whole body recovers during this time, and when the injury is healed, motivation spikes and progression continues. However, this year was an odd one for me. From early April of 2010 until the end of the year, I suffered zero injuries, motivation was at abnormally high levels, and the progression in my climbing was obvious to myself in an extremely rare way. Everything clicked and kept clicking. The high point of the cycle seemed unreachable. Understandably, this inspired a peak in confidence in myself and my abilities on rock. This carried over into all parts of my life, for better or worse. I became blind to the cycle, and set myself up for something that I hadn’t yet experienced. Sometime in the first week of February 2011, I crashed. And it was a big one. Without warning, my body went into complete system failure. It felt like my body was entirely rejecting rock climbing. Or at least that’s the best way I can describe the feeling. I know what bad days are like, and this wasn’t one of them. This was a month long string of failure. Regardless of how hard I tried to push through, everything continued to feel very wrong. And so I succumbed to the obvious mental side effects of such a fall. My confidence as a climber dwindled to nearly nothing. And I pretty much stopped climbing for the whole month. ABS Nationals came and went with a disappointing result and I spiraled into a dark hole of anti-psych. I began questioning the future, who I was as a climber, and tried my best to ground myself to the original ideals that inspired me to take up climbing in the first place. I had fought the cycle, and the cycle won. It’s easy to become addicted to the power and control found in high end bouldering, and the loss of it all resulted in a unique set of withdrawals. The cure to it all slowly became obvious. I had to be completely alright with the fact that I might never climb “hard” ever again, or if I couldn’t then I might as well quit. Coming to a definite realization was a very grounding process. Obviously, I wasn’t about to quit. So I spent a lot of time focusing on the things I really enjoyed about the sport aside from the difficulty. All the things I have taken for granted in recent years became apparent. The amazing community of people that exists in this sport, the camaraderie, my friends, being outside in amazing locations, are all things that I’m very lucky to have in my life. And I don’t need to climb “hard” to have them. With new found clarity, the frustration subsided. Time off allowed my body the rest that it needed, and I’m happy to say that I’m back. Fresh, new, and with a better outlook on everything. Of course, I will continue to try and push my limits, but it’s no longer my foundation for success.

I also have a new project! It’s in Boulder Canyon and it’s called The Game." (Carlo sent two days later)

UC: How'd you train for it (Jade)?
Carlo: I’ve been doing really wide lat pull-downs, because the crux move is really extended for me, and I wanted to be able to pull down a lot more than my body weight. I haven’t climbed on any crimps, really. I haven’t done any training finger-strength wise.

UC: What are your plans for the World Cup in Vail?
Carlo: I’d like to make finals. In the past, I’ve trained a lot for the World Cup, and I tend to overtrain for comps. This year, I only train when I’m psyched. As long as I go into the comp with a really high level of motivation, I think I’ll do well whether or not I’m in the best shape.

Yves Gravelle

Chris Sharma
"Things can never be just right, yet they are just right to teach us about life. Another mellow day at Chironico. Time and time again I’m getting shut down. That’s life! In Zen they talk about keeping a beginner’s mind and experiencing each moment fresh and completely open without the hindrances of expectations and regret. The expert’s mind thinks it knows everything and therefore sets up extra standards that are not really necessary. It’s difficult for me to have a beginner’s mind in climbing because everyone, including myself, expects me to be an expert. Just spent two more days in Switzerland and now we’re back in France."

"The Swiss climbers seem very friendly and open, which is a much different feeling from the rest of the population, who cringe when they see strange-looking people like us. I woke up a half-hour ago and am sitting in the morning sun, sipping coffee on the porch, trying to regain my composure after the activities of yesterday. Jorge and I have really been getting into running. For me it’s a very new experience, and it makes me feel very healthy. The feeling of all the blood in my body being flushed and cleansed is refreshing. We guessed we ran six miles, and for me that was the most I’ve ever done. The run felt like the main activity of the day, and I was fully satisfied with that. But plans to meet some friends at Claret forced us to head out climbing. I really didn’t want to climb, but when I arrived it was five in the afternoon and the temps were really good. Warming up was so-so. I got very pumped and fell off a 5.13a. After I chilled for a bit, I considered trying a 5.14a just to the left, but I wasn’t into the idea of projecting, so ... I didn’t project it, I on-sighted it! It was really strange being in tune with the rock and myself, strange because the route felt so very, very easy."

"The whole time I was waiting for the crux to come and then I found myself at the anchor. Some may say that such an on-sight is impressive because it’s hard. But for me the part that was impressive was that it wasn’t hard. It was pretty effortless. It was quite bizarre, and I’m so grateful for this experience and to touch the spiritual side of climbing. It was nice to have a brief taste of the oneness of subject and object, and see how everything melts away to exist and function perfectly. Another day in the life of life." 

"It’s quite interesting to be, once again, so involved and wrapped up in climbing. At this same time last year I was in Japan on a Buddhist pilgrimage. Climbing was the furthest thing from my mind. I really considered ending my climbing career and becoming a monk. But now I feel able to discover climbing in a new light. At the same time, however, I see how pursuing climbing can be very selfish and totally blow the ego up. It’s so hard to keep a free-and-humble, open-and-fresh approach without taking on an attitude of self-importance. I see how I can become obsessed with accomplishments, numbers, image, and the whole bag of worms. Attachment to these things can bring much greed, jealousy, anger, and blindness to the needs and feelings of others. I think this pursuit of hard routes is dangerous indeed, and I need to be more careful. I pushed myself to the very limit yesterday."

"Yesterday I climbed in Buoux for an American television show called “Livin’ Large”. That was a horrendous day. Well, I shouldn’t say it was that bad, but it did throw me for a loop. Being interviewed by these people who have no idea about me except for what they’ve read on the Internet made me feel as if I were on trial. I’m really uncomfortable with the whole idea of the media trying to give a very limited take on who I am. These journalists are trying to fit me into this mold of an “extreme athlete,” and even before they’ve met me they know how they’re going to portray me. They would prefer it if I was loud, obnoxious, and cocky; to them that’s an easier personality to sell to the mainstream audience. Oh, man, I need to chill out. I’ve been feeling uptight lately — really on edge, impatient, and angst- ridden.

I need to remember to breathe and live within the bigger picture. I need to stop saying I, I, I! This is one aspect of me that climbing brings out: an inflated sense of self. I shouldn’t blame it on climbing, but when all I am doing is based on self-gratification, it becomes harder and harder to think of the needs of others, act in a selfless way, and feel content. This is something that takes constant attention. I need to keep on trying. I got totally shut down at the World Cup event in Italy. The last difficulty World Cup I competed in was five years ago when I was 16 and I won the comp. This time I didn’t even make the finals. Perhaps my ass is getting too heavy. Oh well, enough of feeling sorry for myself — it’s good for me to get slapped around and humbled. I was impressed by the level of the climbers and how tuned in they were for competitions. For many of them competition is their life. I felt a bit out of place, but as soon as we left the comp and went bouldering in the alpine valley of Val di Mello everything seemed to come rushing back into place. It felt good to be back in nature and just climbing for the love of it; away from man-made structures of plastic that just don’t inspire me the way nature does. I got my wish to go back to Dreamtime. It’s great being back in Cresciano. This time we’re camping in the boulders, which adds a lot to the experience. We rarely have to get in the car; we’re always outside in nature.

How bad could things be when life is based on such a simplistic itinerary? Just wake up, make coffee, start warming up on some close-by boulders, and have a slow breakfast. When the sun makes it over the hump of the mountains, it’s time to walk to the amazing waterfall and smooth granite slabs to have an ice-cold shower and relax. After that I go climbing for the day, or at least try to. Sometimes, though, the boulders are too hard to climb, so I just work on them. Particularly I’ve been working on Dreamtime. I’ve directed a lot of energy toward understanding Dreamtime. It’s a beautiful piece of stone that requires beautiful climbing. It’s an epic climb. I’ve worked it relentlessly for two days and have been so close, falling off the last move. I feel like I should have done it by now, but I suppose it’s still teaching me things. Obviously I haven’t completely understood it yet if I keep falling; I guess I need to just keep trying. Yesterday started with a slow, relaxing morning and a very peaceful dip in the waterfall. I came to Dreamtime and cruised it. It felt the way it’s supposed to feel, finally."

"During this trip, climbing has provided an interesting window into people’s perspectives. I’ve met some really happy climbers and some really unhappy ones, too. I’ve met climbers who climb for their ego, and climbers who are passionate about life from the bottom of their hearts and bring that to climbing as well. The strongest climbers aren’t always the happiest or nicest to be around; neither are some of them coming from the purest motivation. Climbing another V17 is not going to save the world!

This activity of “rock climbing” is merely one of many ways to exist, pass the time, and evolve and grow from one moment to the next. That’s all."

Chris Sharma (Climbing Mag 2003)

 Patxi Usobiaga

"I have not taken a rest day from climbing in more than three months. I’d like to jump out of the bed shouting out my happiness and starting the new day with energy, but it’s Friday and I hardly have the strength to drag myself up. Every day during the week is training for World Cups and international events; the weekend is for rock—onsights and projects. But the problem is, when I am so tired from training, I can’t climb my hardest on rock. But right now, so close to the start of the World Cup, the weekends are not important—it is the competitions that I am focused on. I have to be in shape for that one day, one route, no chance for errors. I have to be perfect."

"It is so hard on my body to climb so many days with no rest. As the week comes to a close I feel very tired and the skin on my hands is suffering more and more. This exhaustion means that I am doing things well, however, and motivation gives me the power to continue.

When tiredness punishes me I remember how lucky I am for being able to do what I like most in the world: climb. Climbing is perfect, it is what gives meaning to my life. From the beginning of the year I plan what I want to do and where I want to get, and every day, whether it rains or not, I do my best to get it done. Sometimes it’s hard, I don’t deny it, but doing things well gives me the tranquility and happiness that I need to face up to my challenges. I am happy because I want to be, because I take the necessary steps to make it happen. I am happy because I enjoy climbing, and I enjoy climbing because I am happy. For me it is that simple.

Every day after breakfast I like going to the market, having a cup of coffee and trying to fix the world amongst fruits, vegetables, fresh news and village gossip with the lady greengrocer and my fishmonger and number one fan, Guillermo, who always keeps the best fish for me to replenish my energy. After the market, I go training at the climbing wall. Today I will train for only five hours—my skin will not take anymore than that. I will boulder, campus, training board and do longer circuits with and without my weight vest. I am always training power. I have very good endurance, but my power always needs to be greater. Today will be a hard finish to a hard week of training, but in the end I will be better and stronger."

Brian Antheunisse
V13 Workout From Hell

Tri-sets – the most effective training tool I have ever used.

This old workout, first constructed by the champion American competitor Timy Fairfield, passed down to an equally successful Jon Cardwell, and taught to Dallas, TX native crusher Ryan Roden, has turned everyone who uses it into a V13+ rock climber. The workout is similar in concept to the new popular mainstream workout program P90X, both of which utilize a phenomenon called ‘muscle confusion.’ Throughout the span of a tri-set, you do three different sets of workouts working out three different muscle groups. This variety of workouts ‘confuse’ the muscles, and seems to prevent the body from adapting to the same exercises over time, resulting in continual improvement without any plateau-ing. These three workouts that compose a tri-set include a push exercise, a pull exercise, and a hang exercise. Once finished with this single tri-set, you start over using a new push, pull, and hang exercise. A good complete tri-set workout should take you about three hours, where you do four to six tri-sets.

Here is how a tri-set workout is laid out:

• 5-10 minutes Push: A fairly difficult workout involving your opposition muscles like triceps and pectorals. This workout should be intense enough that it should last 5-10 minutes, and you should have a hard time completing it without resting. I, for instance, choose something like muscle-ups, or flies (both done on gymnast rings).

• No more rest than a short water break.

• 5-10 minutes Pull: Again, choose a difficult workout that is quite a feat for you to finish without much rest. This workout should revolve around your lock off and/or explosive pull muscles. My pull workout would include campus laps on a boulder problem, typewriter pull-ups on some gaston crimps, or one arm pull-ups/one arm negatives.

• No more rest than a short water break.

• 5-10 minutes Hang: These are a little more straight-forward. Again, pick a exercise that you can barely continue to do for 10 minutes without someone yelling and screaming at you to not let go. A hang here can involve anything from repeating two hand hangs on crimps for a little while, or one hand deadhangs on slopers, etc. Hangboards obviously help this exercise run smoothly. My favorite hang exercise is one handed deadhangs on crimps just good enough to where you can open hand crimp for about 5 seconds before failure. Then maniacally repeat until 10 minutes is up.

• Rest about 10 minutes, then repeat using new workouts that are similar, but still working slightly different muscle groups. Do this continuously until you have completed about six tri-sets.

If done properly, this workout should take you about three hours to complete. Afterwards, your fingers should feel permanently stuck in the crimp position, you shouldn’t be able to lift your arms over your head, and you should be trying to hide the tears you just shed in the bathroom during one of your 10 minute “rest” periods.

I strongly advise doing this with a friend, because if the motivation is not there, it’s very improbable that you will have had the motivation to successfully complete this workout. You may want to plan out all four to six different push, pull, and hangs prior to starting the workout so it runs smoothly with no time delays. Also, I strongly advise you to do this workout no more than one time per week. This probably won’t be difficult to accept seeing as how most people are sore for three to four days following their tri-set workout.

Magnus Midtbo

Ben Moon

By Wills Young
Fingerboard Basics, with Ben Moon

Fingerboards (AKA hangboards) are simple training devices: long, flat pieces of plastic or wood covered with hand holds (crimps, pockets, slopers, pinches, jugs) and bolted above a door or to a freestanding support. To train, climbers hang from fingerboards, with the ultimate goal of increasing maximum finger strength.

The British climbing and training legend Ben Moon trained fingerboard-style in the early 1990s: he’d do one-arm hangs on blocks of wood screwed to a beam. He’d reduce weight by gripping a suspended bicycle inner tube — a makeshift bungee — with his free hand. Today, he designs his own training equipment (and clothing; see for both) — and he still has shockingly strong fingers, even off the couch. Moon has climbed V13/14 (at age 40), and has climbed and trained with a topflight crew, including Jerry Moffat, Malcolm Smith, and Richard Simpson. In other words: he knows a thing or two. And he believes that finger strength is a key to climbing harder. “Ultimately, it’s your fingers that keep you in contact with the rock,” he says. So it’s no surprise that Moon has designed his own fingerboard and believes training with one will benefit any climber.

There are many ways to use a fingerboard. For this article, I spoke with Moon, to get his timetested tips and a sample routine that’ll get you cranking. 


Focus on the Fingers: Avoid using a fingerboard to perform large numbers of pull-ups; instead, focus on the fingers by hanging rather than pulling. “For someone who hasn’t done this kind of training before, I’d say keep it really simple,” says Moon. “Oneor two-arm dead hangs are mainly what I’ve done.”

Do it Right: “Compared to pullups, hanging puts less stress on your joints,” says Moon… “If you do it right.” His advice: don’t use a true “dead hang” position, but a tensed posture, as though about to initiate a pull-up, with your elbows slightly bent. Keep your fingers in a position about halfway between open hand and crimp, too.

Space Your Workouts: Don’t begin any workout on the board unless you’re feeling healthy and well rested. Even a short fingerboard workout can leave you needing two to four days off, depending on age and fitness level. A halfdozen of these sessions will give big gains, even if spaced through your climbing season.

Stay Hydrated: Dehydration makes tendon or ligament injuries more likely and lowers your performance, so come to a fingerboard workout prepared. Start hydrating the day before your workout, as it’s almost impossible to make up the loss once you start a training session.

Warm Up First: Raise your pulse with 20 minutes of aerobic exercise (jogging, cycling, jumping rope, or whatever gets you going). Then do some light arm work (for example, three sets of pull-ups on the largest holds available, at two-to-three-minute intervals, and at 30 to 50 percent of max effort). Take five, and then begin in earnest.

Use good form: As with weight lifting, you should perform fingerboard exercises in total control — no jerking, swinging, slipping, shifting, or straining, all of which will put you at serious risk of injury. During your training, “aim for about 90 percent of maximum effort,” says Moon.

Stop Before Failure: These exercises are to increase peak strength, not endurance. Quit while you’re ahead and train again a few days later. Split the workout into separate days, if necessary.

Remember to Rest: “The most important point is to feel strong every time you do an exercise,” says Moon. “You just rest as long as it takes. It might sound strange because maybe you’re only hanging for five seconds, but you could easily need a three-minute rest after that!“


Following is an example outline for a 35-to-50-minute fingerboard workout. It is designed to work with most fingerboards, using generic hold sizes (half joint, or pad, through one and a half joint, or pad). Remember, the intensity of all these exercises should be the same: five to eight seconds at about 90-percent effort — this means you should stop hanging about one second before failure. If you need longer than the suggested rests, that’s fine, too. You may need weights to increase resistance and/or bungees to reduce resistance, according to your ability. As you get stronger, you can either add a little weight, or move to a smaller hold.


Other than a fingerboard, you’ll want some or all of the following items:

Pad/cushion — Very useful if the holds are hard to reach. Do not drop from the holds! Always release by touching the ground first.

Five- or 10-pound weights — You may need to add weight to increase resistance. After adding about 15 percent of your body weight, move to a smaller hold to increase difficulty, rather than adding more weight.

Harness or waist belt — You’ll need these to hang weights. See above.

Bungee cord — Tie knots or loops into a bungee and hang it from the center of the support structure, just under the board. This will allow you to push down (straight armed) and decrease resistance when needed.

Timepiece — If you can count to five, you won’t really need it, but it’s nice to have around to see how long you’re resting, and to know how late you’ll be to your date.

Chalk & Brush — As for regular gym climbing.

Stereo — Mask your screams and get pumped up with motivating tunes, like the Top Gun soundtrack or Bette Midler’s “Wind Beneath My Wings.

 Tommy Caldwell
A Day in the Life

Adam Ondra
Onsight Training

John Gill

SGPT: How did you develop your training that allowed you to do one arm front levers, one finger pull-ups, one-arm pull-up on a half ledge? What did your training consist of to achieve these remarkable feats?

JG: Much of what I achieved in bodyweight stunts grew out of my rope climbing and still rings work. The one-arm pull-up is obvious, but the lever position also came naturally as part of the rope climbing technique, so I never had much trouble learning the front lever or even the one-arm version. Incidentally, I did a one-arm front lever on the middle finger of my right hand, but don’t have a photo of that. It wasn’t really that much more than the one hand version. I wasn’t the first to do this. The finger feats came with a little practice. Nothing very scientific – I just tried them until I got them. When I was at the University of Chicago in 1958, a fellow climber told me Hermann Buhl – the great German climber – had been able to do a one-finger pull-up, so I worked on the stunt for a week or so on the high bar in the gym, taking my time and not straining, and got the move. I was in the gym a lot because I helped Coach Bob Kreider with the mens’ gym team. While there, I managed to do a rings move, an Elevator – a slow pull from an inverted hang to a handstand – that would later be given a D rating, when that rating didn’t exist. At the time there were only A, B, and C moves. I also speculated that one could do a front lever on the rings with the body at the level of the rings. I could pull into it for a half-second, but couldn’t hold it. Years later it was done by a Russian and named a Victorian Cross. You can find it on YouTube.

SGPT: How often did you train for climbing/bouldering?

JG: Much of the time in the South I exercised in the gym two or three times a week and climbed one day on the weekend. In Fort Collins, from 1967 till 1971, I bouldered or climbed perhaps three times a week, and did a few bodyweight moves when I couldn’t get out on the rocks. I never liked to climb or exercise hard on consecutive days; my body simply couldn’t take it.

SGPT: Did you have a special diet or pay attention to nutrition?

JG: Lots of protein, not much fat, and vitamin pills. Fruit, but not too many vegetables. Tuna sandwiches for lunch for forty years!

SGPT: You are known for some amazing free soloing of highball boulders?  How did you develop your mental strength to overcome fear to top out these problems?

JG: In fact, what is called highballing was not a part of the game. Although I soloed some, I always drew the distinction that bouldering was all about pure movement without risk. The soloing I did was an effort to explore without equipment: free-solo-exploration. I reached my limits in 1961 on the Thimble, but continued soloing longer climbs until a few years ago when my shoulder arthritis became too painful. Back in the 1950s it was exciting to do this sort of thing, a new kind of climbing activity for me. I soloed quite a bit in the Tetons, usually on unnamed projects – it was illegal to solo in those days!

SGPT: Do you meditate or practice affirmations before or during these hard climbs?

JG: No, not on the longer hard climbs. In bouldering I meditated both before and after sessions, at times, and also practiced repeat problems as a form of moving meditation, as I did long easy rock climbs. At one point about 30 years ago, I experienced the sensation of weaving in and out of the rock while on a favorite 700 foot granite tower climb. I discovered that the instructions Carlos Castaneda gave for the Art of Dreaming worked well for me.

SGPT: What climbs stand out in your mind as ones that you remember the most?

JG: None you would be aware of, I’m afraid. The most rewarding period in my climbing career was after the age of fifty, after I had given up bouldering and gone back to long, modest solos. One route near Pueblo was a 700 foot ridge and tower I called Captain Winter’s Route, after a Disney movie of the 1950s. I put in over 20 miles soloing that climb, doing variations frequently. There is a nearby tower I also did many times. The area in which these formations are located is beautiful and isolated and I very, very rarely encountered anyone out there climbing. It was my private preserve – lovely smooth granite domes and towers in rugged, wild terrain. Spectacular experiences there.

SGPT: Was the Groove your hardest problem?  What type of effort was required to complete that climb?  Any special training?

JG: I don’t know what would be considered my hardest problem. I suspect that would depend on the person asking the question. It may have been hard for me, but easy for them. Or vice-versa. From the 1950s through the early 1970s I rarely ever spent more than a couple of hours working on a single problem. Then Jim Holloway and a few others arrived on the scene and began devoting what seemed to me to be enormous amounts of time and energy to individual problems – or moves, even. Days, weeks, even months. This was a turning point in American bouldering. I decided to try this approach on something very challenging and see what I could do, at the age of 40. I found the Groove near Pueblo on private ranch land and worked on it for an hour or so at a time over several visits, until I finally did the crux move. I did not like this kind of approach and considered it an unnecessary obsession. The problem has been repeated using holds out to the side, and that makes it much easier, but I stayed right in the groove itself – essentially an eliminate problem –  locked into an overhanging gaston, springing from that to a small hold on a lip above.  Holloway repeated it, but I never heard of anyone else. But it is very obscure and access is an issue, and at most it is perhaps V10 or V11. I don’t think I would have been capable of anything more difficult. Much of the time I spent on the small rocks was focused on the kinaesthetic experience, rather than pure difficulty. Times have changed, however, as they have for artistic gymnastics; pure difficulty is an almost exclusive goal.

SGPT: Your known for being more than a climber, but an incredible strong athlete/gymnast.  Can you tell us more about how those two converge into one athlete?

JG: Brad, in the 1950s there was a certain image men aspired to. I was a skinny beanpole with no athletic experience, and I saw climbing and gymnastics as a way to become more manly and confident. These days androgyny would dictate staying thin and light to climb the hardest test pieces. But that would not have been appropriate in 1954! So, within a couple of years I had put on 40 pounds of muscle and been assured no one would kick sand in my face! Hey, it felt good...

SGPT: Talk about the outdoor connection with bouldering.  Why not just train in a gym and build up strength and leave it at that?  What drew you to the outdoors and bouldering and what was your connection to newly found stone?

JG: There were no climbing gyms back then. Even so, I would have avoided them. For me, the outdoors and a certain amount of wilderness was necessary. I did spend time at gymnastics, of course, but being in the wild was a strong motivator for my climbing. I have memories from half a century ago, high up on the smooth granite walls of Cascade Canyon in the Tetons, utterly alone with the wind gently rustling my shirt, searching for a possible route, putting together hand and footholds with the sheer rock dropping nearly a thousand feet to Cascade Creek. The colors, the vast exposure, all part of the package.

SGPT: A famous photo of you depicts you training on a wooden pull-up device next to a small trailer.  Could you tell us the idea behind that device, how you built it and the types of training you did on it?

JG: That was a wooden exercise frame I built for practicing suspended bodyweight moves, while a graduate student at Colorado State. What you see in the photos on my website was what I did. I would watch Jack Lalanne on TV, then go out and do my thing. He was a great motivator!

SGPT: You’re known for your kinesthetic style of climbing which requires a ton of core strength.  What are some methods that you developed to build your core to that level of strength?

JG: Simple: 20 foot rope climb for speed starting in a sitting position, and the still rings. That’ll do it.

Sonnie Trotter


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