Project Description

Charlie Manganiello and Alex Bridgewater: 5 Common Training Mistakes Climbers Make 

Date: September 9th, 2019

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About Charlie Manganiello and Alex Bridgewater 

Charlie Manganiello and Alex Bridgewater are both trainers at Steve Bechtel’s gym, Elemental Performance & Fitness, in Lander, Wyoming. They’re also both online trainers/coaches at They work closely with Steve Bechtel every day, and they’ve become stellar trainers themselves. They are both instructors at the Performance Climbing Coach seminars, and we have an event coming up in Murfreesboro, TN on October 4-6th, 2019 if you’re interested in upping your knowledge about climbing training.

Bio for Charlie from Elemental:

Coach Charlie specializes in strength and metabolic training, mobility coaching, performance climbing and skiing programming. Charlie believes that with simple programming, consistent effort and emphasis on technique and proper form, heavy strength training is transformational in how individuals are able to improve their athletic abilities as well as how they perform in the other aspects of their lives.

Charlie has been on the podcast before, talking about how to train for multiple sports in a year, and this is Alex’s first time on the show. After having spent a lot of time with Charlie at the Performance Climbing Coach seminars and when I stay with him in Lander, he kind of feels like a brother to me, so having him on the show was a treat. Charlie is super energetic, funny, a great athlete, and a trainer that any client could relate with – he’s easy to be around and he knows his stuff.

Bio for Alex from Elemental:

Coach Alex specializes in strength and metabolic training and performance climbing programming. Alex believes that each athlete can achieve progress towards their goals through focused technique coaching in combination with habit changes that use simple reminders and daily systems to improve our body awareness and intentionality around physical well being, nutrition and performance.

I’ve also gotten to know Alex over the last few years, and he’s a smart, funny, quick-witted guy. He’s passionate about climbing and a very effective climbing trainer, which you’ll hear in this interview. So obviously I like these guys a lot! Hopefully you will too.

I had them on the show to talk about the mistakes they see people making in their climbing training. Charlie and Alex have the privilege of working with clients in person and online every day, whether it’s in the Elemental gym or online through (Steve Bechtel’s climbing training website). They see it all, and they see it often.

We wanted to discuss the most common things they see people doing “wrong” with their training, and how you can avoid making those same mistakes (or correct them if you’re currently making them). I chime in a bit on this one as well because I see the same kinds of issues with my nutrition clients, whose training I often will consult on.

Charlie Manganiello and Alex Bridgewater Interview Details

  • What it’s like working for Steve Bechtel
  • Most common mistakes they see clients making
  • Not recovering enough
  • Decision paralysis: how do I train?
  • Having unrealistic goals
  • Not changing their habits to fit their goals
  • Training too short term to make gains
  • Overtraining
  • Other issues we all see in clients

Our Upcoming Performance Climbing Coach Seminar

Charlie and I, along with Steve Bechtel, Kris Hampton, Tyler Nelson, Mercedes Pollmeier, and Chris Heilman, will be teaching at the next Performance Climbing Coach Seminar in Murfreesboro, TN on October 4-6, 2019. You don’t have to be a coach to attend – you just have to have an interest in climbing training. Over the course of 3 days, you’ll learn about the following from all of us:

  • Program Design
  • Fundamentals of Strength Training
  • Athlete Testing
  • Sports Psychology
  • Mindset Training
  • Drills for Climbing
  • Optimizing Nutrition for Climbing
  • Mobility for Climbing
  • See the full schedule

If you’re interested in joining us, please check out the event on We’d love to see you there!

Learn More

Charlie and Alex Links 

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Please Review The Podcast on iTunes

Please give the podcast an honest review on iTunes here to help the show reach more curious climbers around the world.


Neely Quinn: Welcome to the TrainingBeta podcast where I talk with climbers and trainers about how we can get a little better at our favorite sport. I’m your host, Neely Quinn.

I want to remind you that the TrainingBeta podcast is an offshoot of a site that I created called It’s all about training for climbing and over there we have regular blog posts, we have climbing training programs for all different levels and all types of climbing, we have nutrition coaching with myself – I’m a nutritionist – and we also have online personal training with Matt Pincus. 

You can go to and find out more about all of those services and hopefully one or more of them will make you a better climber. 

Welcome to episode 132 of the podcast. A little update on me is that I’m going to make a podcast studio in my house which I’m really excited about. I didn’t even think about it but we have this house that we bought and we each have an office. Because we don’t have kids we have an office each and I’m just going to put some acoustic panels up and make it really soft and quiet in there and make it my studio, which I’m pretty excited about. Some guy on Instagram recommended it to me. I didn’t even think it was an option but it is so I’ll let you know when I do my first episode in there and hopefully the quality will be okay.

My second announcement is that I’m going to be teaching nutrition at one of the Performance Climbing Coach seminars coming up soon. That’s the Steve Bechtel seminar where people in the industry get together and teach people about climbing training. You learn everything from athlete management to program design, nutrition from me, psychology from Chris Heilman, mindset from Kris Hampton, and a bunch of nerdy science stuff and testing from Tyler Nelson, as usual, who will be on the podcast coming up soon. I know I’m forgetting somebody – oh, Charlie, who is the interviewee of this episode. He is there as well. If you’re interested in attending one of these events you can go to and it will be in Murfreesboro, Tennessee October 4-6 of 2019, just in case you’re listening to this sometime in the future. 

My last announcement is that we have a new article on TrainingBeta about Dan Mirsky’s preparation to send Fat Camp, which is a terrible name for a route, a 14d in Rifle. The reason that this article was really interesting to me is because I was kind of like, ‘What can I learn from Dan Mirsky who climbs so much harder than I could ever dream of climbing and sends stuff all the time and he’s so talented?’ 

His article was actually about overcoming a mental block. He was having really low confidence, he didn’t believe he could send the thing, and he actually had to take a season off from it and just completely change his mindset. He did and he has really specific tactics on how he did that and how he got back to a confident state of mind and how he carries that into projecting now.

I think this is applicable to any level of climber and anybody who projects things or, I don’t know, anybody who’s trying to send anything, either routes or boulders. You can go to and it’s on the blog right now. Otherwise, you can just search ‘Fat Camp’ or ‘Dan Mirsky’ and you should be able to find it.

Okay, moving on. Today’s interview is with Charlie Manganiello and Alex Bridgewater, two of my most favorite people. Charlie and Alex both work for Steve Bechtel at his gym called Elemental Performance + Fitness and that’s an actual gym in Lander, Wyoming. They’re trainers there. Steve has taught them a lot, they’ve done training to become trainers, and they also do online training at which is Steve Bechtel’s online source for training for climbing. They’re really well-versed in training for climbing and they also have the privilege of being with people on the floor everyday at Elemental and then also training climbers online. They see what people are doing right and they see what people are doing wrong with their training and where people are struggling. 

They wanted to talk to me on the podcast about the biggest mistakes that they’re finding people are making or the most common ones. We talked about things like not giving yourself enough time to recover, having unrealistic goals, not changing your habits to fit your goals, training too short term and thinking it’s going to give you the gains that you want, and overtraining. We talk about a bunch of stuff in between and I actually chime in quite a bit on this one – not quite a bit, don’t worry, but a little bit – because I end up talking about these same things with my nutrition clients so we had a lot of overlap in our knowledge base.

Hopefully you’ll enjoy this interview. I love them both and I was so happy to have them on. These guys really know their stuff and they’re also very relatable and super passionate climbers too, so here they are. Here’s Charlie Manganiello and Alex Bridgewater. I’ll talk to you on the other side. 

Neely Quinn: Welcome to the show, Alex and Charlie. Thanks very much for talking to me today.

ClimbStrong: Yeah, psyched to be here. Thanks Neely.

Neely Quinn: This format of the podcast is a little bit different from normal because I have two guests on, so you’re going to get to know their voices, but I’m just going to start with Alex. Alex, can you tell people who you are and a little bit about yourself?

Alex Bridgewater: My name is Alex Bridgewater. I am from Plymouth, Massachusetts originally. I’ve been living in Lander, Wyoming for the last three years or so and have worked at Elemental Performance + Fitness, the gym here in town, and ClimbStrong pretty much ever since I moved to town. I’ve been with ClimbStrong for that time and have been able to see it move forward to where it is today from where it started when I joined in. It’s been an exciting ride since my start and that’s brought me here today to what we’re doing right now. 

Neely Quinn: I’m interested to hear from both of you about ClimbStrong and Elemental and how ClimbStrong has grown and all of that. Why don’t we go to Charlie first and we’ll come back to that?

Charlie Manganiello: My name is Charlie Manganiello. I’ve been with the gym here in town, Elemental Performance + Fitness, since 2011. I kind of was a front desk guy who sold memberships and set in the little climbing gym that we have and slowly started to become a coach at the gym, teaching classes, doing lots of kettlebell certifications and strength coaching and then kind of rolled into ClimbStrong as Steve built that platform. 

I’ve been coaching at the gym, like a strength coach, for about five or six years now and been a coach with ClimbStrong for three or four. I’m one of the presenters at the Performance Climbing Coach and, as you all probably guessed, it’s all on strength. I also had the great opportunity to work with Steve and put out one of our new publications called Unstoppable Force: Strength Training for Climbers

Neely Quinn: So you guys both work for Steve Bechtel. My first question is: how is it working for and with Steve Bechtel? Everybody wants to know. 

Alex Bridgewater: Yeah, that’s a great question. I would say that from the perspective of somebody who knew absolutely nothing about training for climbing or strength training in general, or having a well-structured life, going from that position to somebody who teaches and coaches people how to train on an everyday basis is one of the most productive environments that I’ve ever been in. 

I think that that all stems from Steve and his wife, Ellen, and talking about that whole top-down mentality. They allow their employees, or the people who work for them, to be in this free flow informational environment where they don’t stand above everybody and dictate how things should be done. It allows for this learning process to happen for everybody that works for them. I think the support is what is really important so I would say for the people who are listening who are curious what it’s like to work for Steve, I would say that it’s a supportive environment, fast-paced, funny, nonrestrictive, but to that same point, we do also go into the gym every single day and work. 

Lots of times Charlie and I are in there at 5:30 in the morning and we don’t leave until 5:30 at night or 7:30 at night so it’s not like we’re just going in there and hanging around and coming up with ideas of new strength plans. We’re talking to athletes and writing programs and having meetings about what’s the latest topic that we’re psyched on. That’s how my experience has been so far and I don’t expect it to change. 

Neely Quinn: Yeah, it seems like he’s giving you guys an opportunity to learn a lot and become really good at what you do in a short amount of time because you get to experiment and learn from each other and actually do hands-on work.

Charlie Manganiello: Yeah, Steve is really good at two things. He’s really good at explaining really complicated things easily so you can consume them or understand them, and he’s really good at saying, “Hey, you’re going to coach this athlete,” or “You’re going to take on this class,” or “You’re going to start coaching.” 

Maybe a lot of people don’t know this but Alex was my first ClimbStrong athlete. I knew he was a high level climber and it was maybe the scariest thing I’ve ever done in the last four years of coaching. I was like, ‘Oh my god. This guy climbs 13+ and wants to climb 5.14. He’s way better a climber than I am. How the heck am I going to get him to sit down and talk training and do things he’s never done before?’

I think Steve setting up systems has been amazing. I’ve gone full cycle at the gym as far as a transient kid from the east coast who was psyched to see what Lander was like and I ended up staying on to be someone who works full time at these establishments. What’s really cool about Steve is you’ll never get up before him, it’s hard to beat him to the gym, and he never sacrifices a climbing day, even when we have a ton of work to do. He very much practices what he preaches and also he’ll read a good book and buy an extra copy and put it on your desk. It’s kind of hard to fail in that gym because he’s constantly looking out after his staff and kind of leading the charge.

Alex Bridgewater: He makes you want to be a better person. It’s not just him. He is who everybody really knows as the face of ClimbStrong and Elemental Performance + Fitness but it really is everybody in the office and the gym. Steve, Ellen Bechtel, his wife, Emily Tilden, Amanda Sempert, Charlie and I, and the front desk staff, we all are one big family and work really well together. Just to circle back, that comes from the top down, you know? They instill a lot of belief in us so I think that allows us to move forward really well.

Neely Quinn: For sure, and having worked with you guys I know what the feel of it is. It is very much a family and it’s awesome. I love it.

The last question I want to ask about Steve before we get going is: because you guys work with him and because all of my listeners, or a lot of them, are accustomed to his philosophies because they’ve heard them so many times, would you say that you guys are all on the same page about things? Or do you guys all sort of practice differently with clients?

 Alex Bridgewater: I think for the most part when we’re talking about principles, we all live and die by the same philosophies but we all have different styles – that’s the way I would put it – in how we coach people. Whether it be remote coaching through ClimbStrong or in-person coaching that we do in Elemental, of course those all have different tones to them in their own right because most of the people that we coach in Elemental are not climbers. They could be high level athletes like high level runners or they could be the 60 or 70-year old male or female who’s just trying to be able to walk down their stairs everyday. I would say that we all have the same philosophies, we just come at it from different approaches. 

I tend to be the more, ‘Yeah, whatever. It’s cool. It’ll happen. No big deal.’ I think Charlie would say this for himself: he’s much more about ‘explain the whole thing’ or ‘be a bit more’ – how do I want to say this, Charlie?

Charlie Manganiello: Systematic?

Alex Bridgewater: Systematic is a great way to put it. Not that I’m not following systems but he just tends to be a little bit less of the free flowing style than I do. They both have their pros and cons. I’m not saying one is better or anything. To that point, we do talk about this in the gym a lot, how it is beneficial not only for us but for the athletes that we work with to sometimes take a step back and work with a different coach for a little while so that they can get a different style of coaching from somebody else.

Charlie Manganiello: If someone sees my workout, like Steve or Alex or someone else in the gym, they’ll know what I’m doing and they understand the workout, the sets and reps, and what the focus is. Like Alex said there’s a little bit of a style piece of different cues the coach uses. Sometimes, if an athlete has been training with someone for a long time, you kind of get the broken record feeling like a mom or dad talking where they’re not really listening. Say I train one of Alex’s athletes and they’re like, ‘Oh my god! I get it!’ and Alex is like, ‘I’ve been saying that for five years! Why are you getting it now?’

Alex Bridgewater: Totally.

Charlie Manganiello: The same thing happens to me. I love when I’m on vacation or I’ve got to have an athlete covered. I love when they’re under the direction of another coach but I think the only reason that works is because we’re all on the same page as far as we’re trying to make people have a better life. Sometimes that’s in performance goals like climbing but sometimes it’s literally being able to pick up their grandchildren. 

We can all have our own little style and communication to those athletes but what Steve doesn’t want – and what I think no one would want in any sort of work environment – is where one employee says the exact opposite in philosophy to that athlete that they’ve been getting from the other coach, which would be super confusing and would cause lots of friction.

Neely Quinn: Right. That makes sense. That’s a pretty good summary of where you guys are coming from which brings me to our main topic, or topics. What are we talking about today guys?

Alex Bridgewater: Charlie and I have been discussing over the last couple of weeks how we spend so much time with athletes in general. Not only that but we’re fortunate to spend a lot of time with a lot of different styles of athletes. We coach a lot of climbing athletes through ClimbStrong but we also, like I was saying before, spend a lot of time in the gym working with everyday life type of people who are coming in and they’re like, ‘Hey, I want to be able to pick up my grandchildren,’ or, ‘I want to stop holding the handrail when I walk up the stairs,’ or ‘I want to be able to go climb The Grand with my son.’ A lot of this experience allows us to see, from the back end of things, pitfalls that we see in athletes and what they’re doing either in their everyday sessions or their daily lives that may or may not be holding them back, whether or not they know it. Or, they can’t seem to step away from certain habits.

What we see as the most important things for athletes to be paying attention to – Charlie, I don’t know what…

Charlie Manganiello: I think it’s not for a lack of knowledge. Between ClimbStrong articles and publications and TrainingBeta and Power Company Climbing and Eric’s Training for Climbing website, everyone has access to thousands of different strength workouts, climbing drills, and if it was the case that they didn’t have enough information then we wouldn’t be coaches and people would just be doing their own thing and they would be fine. 

Where we come in or a really good friend or a training partner, is to call people on kind of their bullshit. When they’re not sleeping well or not eating well or kinda half doing a workout or doing too much of a workout or too many in a row, it’s more of trying to guide that athlete in a direction where we’re not only changing training habits but lifestyle habits. Is this really a goal or is this something you want to say you have done or be able to post on social media?

Believe or not – and coaches might be nodding their head right now or people that may be interested in coaching – it’s way more of a therapy session with a lot of athletes, more so…

Neely Quinn: I’ve heard that before. It’s crazy.

Charlie Manganiello: It’s really true and it’s not to say that all the athletes that we coach are crazy, it’s just that that’s the nature of an athlete. There’s just lots of factors and we’re all our own worst enemy. When we get the mind racing to do certain things we can really hamstring ourselves when we’re not picking some of that low-hanging fruit. 

I think a lot of people try to put more intense, complicated training to cover really easy pitfalls like maybe try one less beer a night.

Alex Bridgewater: Yeah. We talk about this all the time, like the perfect set and rep scheme for some strength session is not going to change the fact that you only sleep four hours a night, you know? So many people look for those tangible things that they can say, like, ‘But I do three strength sessions a week.’ Okay, yes, but you drink six beers a night and you only sleep four hours and you don’t drink enough water, blah blah blah, down the line. Those are the hardest topics to discuss with athletes. 

It’s easy to have a conversation, a very black and white conversation with an athlete about, ‘Yes, you go into the gym, it’s going to take you 45 minutes. You do three sets of 10 reps of this exercise,’ right? But what about when the athlete eats half a cake a night, you know? Maybe that doesn’t necessarily affect them negatively in the moment but you could say, “Okay, this is something that we can take care of right away.” They’re like, ‘No, I like my cake.’ ‘Okay. Do you really want to get in shape to climb El Cap or do you want to eat cake?’ 

Those difficult conversations are what we really spend a lot of our time doing and they’re the ones that most need to be had with a lot of athletes. I would say these are the common training mistakes or common mistakes made in the world of training that athletes are making.

Charlie Manganiello: I also think it’s worth pointing out that these are kind of extreme examples. Not extreme examples but examples that are closely related to drinking and eating cake. I think it’s worth saying that we’re not saying that if you cut out beer and cake and just have an amazing diet that you’re going to be fine. It’s also not to say that we’re perfect. I drink beer. I eat cake. It’s the relationship and the timing of that, where if you’re building up for some big performance or some big goal that you’re stating to your coach or to yourself then there’s going to have to be some give and take with some habits that might be holding someone back. It’s not necessarily going to be more training.

I think people often obsess over, ‘I need the perfect workout for my specific goal.’ Everyone kind of feels so unique in that way. I think people almost get what you might call decision paralysis where they’ve got all these answers or these things they could do for a workout and they just don’t think it’s perfect enough. Really, if they had just started a month before on the most simple, basic plan that they kind of scoffed at, they’d be four weeks ahead of where they already are just by trying to still figure out what they want to do. 

Neely Quinn: Right, so that’s a big one it seems like, having decision paralysis and not knowing what to do so you do nothing. 

Alex Bridgewater: Or they do a little bit of everything. They’re like, ‘I do a different workout every single day. I’ve never done the same workout once in the last six months.’ It’s like, ‘Well, then we’re not as focused as we need to be.’

Neely Quinn: So that would be another one: not having a plan, just doing all the things.

Do you guys want to go through some of the main ones that we might have time to talk about today? Or list them off first and then we can go through them?

Charlie Manganiello: Oh sure. Let me list off some of the ones that we’ve talked about. I guess we kind of got into a little bit but do you want me to just list them all?

Neely Quinn: Sure.

Charlie Manganiello: 

Not recovering enough. That is speaking to whether you’re in a training phase or a performance phase. 

Having unrealistic goals, because they don’t match an athlete’s behavior. 

The simple idea behind habit change, so doing something that you know that you need to do that you’re not doing yet.

The obsession with perfection.

Athletes losing focus during a session, ie putting their workout online before they’ve even finished it.

People hanging onto outliers. We all know a vegan billionaire who can climb 5.15 but it doesn’t mean you have to be a billionaire and a vegan to climb 5.15. That’s just a funny example. 

Neely Quinn: [laughs] That is so random.

Charlie Manganiello: People have various climbing goals, like we’ve heard in the climbing community where it’s like, ‘Oh, I’m just a boulderer. I’m just a sport climber,’ or the boulderer who goes to sport climbing and everybody is like, ‘Oh man, are you just going to stop bouldering?’ ‘No, I’m balancing my various climbing goals where I’m changing between a little less bouldering to work on some long sport endurance-y route and vice versa.’ 

You can have it all, you just have to plan for it. You can’t be trying to train all those climbing goals at the same time.

Then people thinking way short term. That is speaking to people who are, right now in August, training for their September 15th send of the hardest thing they’ve ever done. They’re thinking way too short term and the body unfortunately just doesn’t adapt that quickly.

We’ve made this analogy on the podcast a million times, but the training I did today is the training I’m going to use a year from now.

Neely Quinn: Right. In your experience, and I’m kind of more interested in the climbers as opposed to the non climbers because I know that in my own practice as a nutritionist, I used to work with the general public and now I only work with climbers. It’s for a reason. They’re so motivated. Basically, you tell them to do something and they’re going to do it. I don’t know if that’s your experience but I do want to hear more about the problems that you see with your climbers. Maybe that’s going to be more of the ClimbStrong clients. Do you guys agree with that?

Charlie Manganiello: I think all these bullet points also attach to all the climbers as well, it’s not just our ‘civilian’ athletes.

Alex Bridgewater: Lander civilians.

Charlie Manganiello: Yeah, I think these bullet points hit it all and I think what you just said, Neely, is kind of a plus and a minus with climbers. They’re so unbelievably motivated that they can’t stop themselves from adding a little bit more to their workout. 

Neely Quinn: And sleeping a little bit less.

Charlie Manganiello: Yeah, exactly. I think that motivation – I would say 90% of the time I’m trying to get my athletes to do less.

Alex Bridgewater: Yeah, it’s the flip side for sure.

Neely Quinn: Let’s talk about that one because a lot of times that’s what I’m talking to my nutrition clients about, because I also talk to them about their training. Let’s talk about that. What are the most common things you guys see and how do you get people to stop?

Alex Bridgewater: I would say that one of the most common things that I have run into is that I’ll get on the phone with somebody and they’re like, ‘I didn’t feel as tired as I used to feel,’ or ‘I didn’t think that this was enough so I just doubled it. I just did double.’ Or, ‘I was only supposed to climb for 40 minutes but I was feeling really good so I climbed for two hours.’ 

A lot of that can get put back onto ourselves as coaches and potentially having not explained the reasons behind those, like the reasons why we program the way we do, but for the most part we’re pretty good at talking about it. I would say that we are constantly trying to fight this idea that people are trying to chase the feeling of being fatigued and that that’s how they feel when they’re trying hard outside or performing so that’s how they should feel when they’re in the gym and they’re training. 

Really, what we’re trying to do is train people to never get fatigued. When I get on the phone with athletes and they’re like, ‘Yeah, I just doubled the session and I feel great,’ it’s like, ‘Well, a big point that we’re missing is that that’s going to eat into your recovery time, right?’ We program these sessions to be such that you should theoretically be able to recover and do a really good, solid session maybe even the next day. Or, say you do one in the morning and you have all day to recover then you could do one in the evening. It really just depends on the athlete.

Steve has spoken quite a bit about a four-week program. A general four-week program might take him six weeks but it could take me three weeks to do because I recovery differently. I would say that one of the biggest things, to circle back, is athletes tend to over-program for themselves and double up on what they’re supposed to do, thinking it will have double the effect or it will work faster. Like Charlie said, that’s just not how we adapt. It’s not how the body is.

Neely Quinn: It is hard to make people understand that, especially because a lot of us are coming from backgrounds where we’re like, ‘Well, if I do doubles and triples for three hours at the gym, that’s going to build my power endurance.’ Why isn’t that true?

Charlie Manganiello: We’re also fighting Climbing Magazine and Instagram posts from high level coaches or athletes and what other people are doing in the gym. It’s also in the general fitness industry where we’re just fighting the sexy, provocative workouts because they look cool, they feel really hard, you sweat really good or whatever people want to say about them, and people can’t let that go. 

It’s almost like this pretty big cultural thing that coaches are trying to educate their athletes on constantly because all they want to do is chase this feeling of, ‘I feel pumped on a route and I fell off because I was pumped so if I get more pumped I’m going to, in theory, get less pumped’ which we know just isn’t true. I can’t tell you all the physiological reasons. You can get Tyler Nelson on here to talk for five hours about what happens at a muscular level but we just know it doesn’t work. 

When athletes come to me, I try to let them talk as much as they can during the initial consultation because I want to hear what they want and I want to hear what they expect and whether it’s going to be a good fit. When we co-create or try to co-create some kind of plan in the beginning, when we run into these roadblocks where it seems like you’re overtraining or overdoing it a little bit, I remind that athlete that they came to an organization that has an expert in the climbing coaching field. Why are you still doing the same thing you did before you came to me? I think that’s really hard for people to let go and I think that’s a really hard conversation for me to have because I’m not this end-all be-all, and no climbing coach is. We get it wrong sometimes or we might not get it exactly right but we’re trying to have the best interest in the athlete but also trying to have them reach their goal. 

I think the biggest thing for a coach to do and something we really try to do at ClimbStrong is there are some simple numbers that we can test. If the numbers are staying somewhere around the same we know we’re not getting worse but hopefully we’re getting somewhat better. The numbers don’t lie. Instead of just talking to an athlete until you’re blue in the face, we can be like, ‘Hey, see? Look at these numbers. These are actually better than when you first started a month ago,’ or two months ago.

I think the two biggest numbers that we could potentially test, or anyone could test, is if anyone follows Camp4Human Performance with Tyler Nelson, it’s definitely on this amazing upswing of technology that’s available. You have the ability to test in your own house if you want to. A lot of gyms have these crane scales or Tindeqs or the Exsurgo gStrength thing, which is obviously the top notch and it’s pretty expensive, which puts out some crazy numbers as far as milliseconds per the time you hold onto it. 

If you pull on a Tindeq or some sort of crane scale you get some number on a 120° angle at your elbow when you pull. Say it shoots out 130 pounds on your right and 128 on your left. If you go through a cycle of training and those numbers aren’t going up then what you’re doing isn’t working. If you go through some training and you’re like, ‘God. I don’t believe in this. This is stupid. I feel like I should be doing more,’ and at the end of the month your numbers go up, what does it matter? You’ve done better or you’ve climbed a harder route or the route that felt really hard now feels really easy.

Another one would be a muscular endurance test where you can get on a campus board, have your feet on a kickboard, and just go up and down on rungs as long as you can until you fail. Then you’ve got some elapsed time, whether that’s a minute or 1:30. You can test that number after your endurance phase and if that number goes up then it doesn’t matter how you felt during all those workouts prior. If the number went up the number went up and you should just keep going with the program.

I think we don’t want athletes to just blindly follow us. They should respect the fact that we’re here to help them but we also need to have some numbers to prove that point.

Alex Bridgewater: I think one of the biggest things that can be a factor in a coach/athlete relationship or a pitfall of an athlete is their own ego. It’s being able to let go of what they think is right and how they think it should feel and trust in the process a little bit. Be able to give in to a process or a system that has been proven time and time again to work on numerous athletes and let it work its magic for a little while. Give it some time.

I think that’s also one of the biggest pitfalls we see: they’re two weeks into a cycle and they’re just like, ‘Oh, this isn’t working. I don’t feel good at all. I actually feel worse than when I started.’ Okay, it’s been two weeks. We have to allow for some adaptation, you have to give these sessions some time, you have to understand that certain sessions may take 8, 10, 15 sessions to feel some adaptation from them so not quitting too early is definitely a big point to note.

Neely Quinn: Trusting the process.

Charlie Manganiello: People want the magic bullet and it just doesn’t exist.

Alex Bridgewater: It does not.

Neely Quinn: So there’s no magic bullet, even though we all really want there to be. It’s about finding a coach or finding a program and sticking with it and then testing results to see if it’s working. I think that’s where it’s hard to figure out how to test things. These strain gauges are great but not everybody has them. Any words of advice on how to know? Like, how long do you have to wait in order to figure out if something is working and how to test it if you don’t have a strain gauge?

Charlie Manganiello: After I said that I was like, ‘Oh man, we’re going to get a slew of comments on, ‘How do you do this? What are the numbers? I don’t have a strain gauge test or a crane scale.’ The process just needs to be that you need to stick with something long enough to see some sort of adaptation happen, whether that’s a climbing skill, a heavier pull, whether that’s a higher grade you’ve climbed, a longer time on some sort of interval that you’re dong, it all comes down to actually writing stuff down from the beginning and through the entire process to the end so you can have some sort of synopsis of whether what you did actually got better.

The crane scale stuff is really cool and all those numbers are awesome. I know some people really like to geek out on it but it’s not essential. It’s not the end-all be-all where we have to just be totally attached to it.

Neely Quinn: So anything they can do, like any improvements that they’re seeing means that something is working.

Charlie Manganiello: Well yeah. Usually, when somebody has a program offline or a coach that’s giving them some sort of program, there’s some sort of summary of what that program is. If you didn’t get stronger or more powerful or have more endurance then the program didn’t work or you didn’t do it all the way through. If you didn’t complete the task of what was set in the beginning or the program promised then you have to be honest with yourself. Did you actually do all of the things and not bad stuff and do some wonky things with the actual programming? Then just move on. You got better. It doesn’t matter if you have a crane scale or not, just move on to the next thing.

Alex Bridgewater: If athletes don’t have access to a crane scale or a Tindeq – a Tindeq is just a cheaper version of the Exsurgo crane scale. It’s $80 or something like that and you just download the app – you can also do a 20-mil edge hang for time and see the improvements on that. Test that at the beginning of the month. Or you can download this app called Jump Power and all that does is just measure your vertical leap, your standing vertical leap. You can test that month to month and see gains or improvements on that. 

Those are just super simple ways to do it on your own, right? It doesn’t have to be this totally complicated thing and that’s what we’re really striving for, like really dumbing down and simplifying this process for people so that they can do it. We know that the more complicated things are, the less likely it is to happen.

Charlie Manganiello: What’s really hard, too, is this isn’t a one-size-fits-all podcast for all athletes because we have athletes that need that structure because they don’t have it already and then we have athletes where I’ve been doing an IC – an initial consultation – with the athlete and they say, “Hey, I’m going to send you my current training plan.” It’s 50 tabs on an Excel spreadsheet. Every single number they’ve ever put on their fingers. You’re just like, ‘Woah. You literally could gain 20 more pitches a week if you were off your Excel sheet.’ It’s so true.

I think what people can take away from this is you need to look at: are you in front of your computer spending more time inputting your data? Are you a person who stays away from some specific training on a hangboard and you’re just like, ‘Yeah man, I’m just climbing outside. It’s cool’? You just have to decide what kind of athlete you are and where you’re leaning on either end. There’s definitely some middle ground there and I think if we can just strive for more simplicity for the Excel nerds like myself, sometimes I need to back off that and just trust the process and spend more time climbing outside. And vice versa, the people that don’t have any baseline or no numbers, they don’t really know what they can or can’t do. They need to work on that a little bit so they can actually see some progress through some sort of baseline number.

It’s not like the end-all be-all. It just depends on where the athlete is at.

Neely Quinn: Cool. I want to get through some more of these topics so the one I want to talk about next is doing too much. I want to bring up two of my clients as examples and see what you guys think.

I have one client who is a 5.10 climber and she is training, or she was training, six or seven days a week including hangboarding, climbing, running, all the things. She’s got all the signs of overtraining. The first thing that I told her to do was stop training for a week and she felt better, obviously. 

The next client I want to bring up is competing in Youth World Championships next week and she also trains six days a week and sometimes she’s doing two sessions in one day. She can handle it. She’s not overtrained, her mood is good, she’s performing really well, and all the things are fine.

I think there’s obviously a continuum of where we all are as athletes and how trained we are and how much we can handle. I think that people just don’t know where they are and who they are, really, and how much they can handle. This one athlete who is a 5.10 climber is like, ‘Yeah, this is what I need to do to get stronger,’ but it’s not. What are your thoughts on that and how often do you see that?

Charlie Manganiello: We see it a lot. What’s the age difference on those two examples? Obviously that one is young, or younger.

Neely Quinn: Yeah, she’s 17, the Youth World Championships, and then the other one is 41.

Charlie Manganiello: Exactly. The unfortunate circumstance of father or mother time is that a 41-year old athlete just cannot handle that kind of training volume six or seven days a week. There are some older athletes that might be able to build up to some kind of capacity to do that or some level of that but yeah, it depends on so many different factors and we see it so much where most athletes that we have aren’t professionals. Actually, all of them. They have work, they have families, they have other real life stressors in their everyday life and people forget that stress is just stress to the body and it’s not like a specific workout stress that your body reacts to. It can be a bad night’s sleep, it can be a stressful day at work, that all goes into how much you can handle training.

If you’re a normal, average American like Alex and I, we work 40-50 hours a week, we have our other extracurricular activities, we’ve got our families, we have to do food prep and do regular chores around the house and life tasks. There’s literally only so much training you can do, not only in an hourly standpoint as far as your day and your week but also in your body’s ability to actually handle that training. 

I think people latch onto the Adam Ondra hangboard program and people forget that he’s a professional climber and he eats, sleeps, and breathes climbing and he has the opportunity to take midday naps and have nutritionists feeding him all this amazing food and just do it full time. He’s got it all taken care of. People just have to understand that the Adam Ondra program is for Adam Ondra only.

Alex Bridgewater: I would say that a conversation to be had with the athlete who is climbing 5.10 is: ‘We’ve got some good news for you. You just need to climb more. Yeah, okay, maybe you need to do some basic strength training a couple times a week and maybe some basic hangboarding but these very simple sessions are going to elicit some adaptations for you to build strength on and improve on but really we just need to you to climb more than you probably are already climbing.’ It’s worth going, ‘Why are you running?’ 

This running conversation comes up all the time and it’s like yes, we understand that running is not going to improve you as a rock climber but if you like to run, if that’s your meditation or whatever, you don’t necessarily need to take that away from your life. You just need to understand that we’re always talking about compromise. Going running for 15 miles during a session is definitely going to take away from your ability to recover from any other session that is specifically for climbing. 

To circle back to the beginning, having to talk to that athlete and going, ‘You just get to have fun! Let’s focus on some skill-specific work. We’re going to focus on your ability to root through your feet or heel hook or whatever, we’ll just focus on one specific skill for the next four weeks and develop that and see where that takes your climbing.’ Inevitably, it will improve them as a climber because it gives them some direction rather than just going into the gym and training six days a week campusing and doing these 45-minute hangboarding sessions and doing dumbbell snatches and all these things. Yeah, they might help you but what’s really going to help you is the skill of climbing. 

We’ve always got to go back to the fact that climbing is a skill sport and how many years do you have under your belt of climbing skill? If you’re climbing 5.10 you still have a long ways to go in terms of improving your skill level so that just goes back to climbing-specific work. To me, that’s much more fun than going into the gym and lifting weights in whatever manner you were going to do, right?

Neely Quinn: For sure, I just feel like if I were somebody listening to this, I would still be confused about ‘What do I do?’ If you’re a 5.11 climber, because that’s somebody we haven’t talked about yet, and you’re training five or six days a week, what are the signs that people need to be looking for that they’re doing too little or too much?

Charlie Manganiello: I think the signs we’re looking for are/the two biggest things I’m probably going to see in that example athlete is that they’re training ‘in the middle’ too much. It’s not low enough intensity and not high enough intensity so they’re trying to do problems on the minute at too hard of a grade or they’re trying to do route 4x4s or they’re trying to cram their training into one session and they’re not mixing between high intensity and low intensity stuff like really easy days and limit-level days or projecting days. They’re kind of stuck in the middle ground. 

I think also that same athlete is trying to cram all their training into one month or several months in a row where they just can’t stay away from the climbing gym. They feel like if they don’t climb for a day they’re going to lose a full letter grade or a full number grade in their boulders. I think if people can step away, pick two or three sessions they really enjoy, and step away from the climbing gym on all the other days their body will literally be able to recover so they can actually do something harder. I think they’re just constantly under-recovered and they’re surviving their workout till their next workout till their next workout and it usually leads to injury, staleness, plateau, or just straight-up burnout like, ‘Climbing sucks. I don’t like this anymore.’

Neely Quinn: Exactly. So that’s one of the signs that I see in people. They’re tired, they’re moody, they’re unmotivated, they’re craving sugar all the time, and they’re not getting any better.

Charlie Manganiello: Where we really see this is the athlete is not sure of what phase they’re in. What I mean by that is there’s a training phase for most athletes and then there’s a performance phase. You eventually have to turn the training off to then do the performance that you wanted to do, whether it’s climb a certain grade or climb a certain boulder or do this big wall or whatever. People tend to – that same athlete will tend to – continue to train at this super high intensity and still try to perform. 

Very generally speaking, there should be some form of training build-up where your body is kind of breaking down a little bit and it feels mentally challenging and it’s hard. It’s kind of that training feeling that we all know.

When it’s October first and the conditions are good, believe it or not ladies and gentlemen that are listening, you might have two rest days back-to-back. Believe it or not, it’s crazy. People tend to freak out when you say that but take Monday and Tuesday off and you’re going to try to redpoint this thing on Wednesday and then right after your Wednesday projecting session you’re going to get on the hangboard, do some maintenance-level strength that people have all heard Steve talk about. You’re going to take Thursday and Friday off and then you’re going to try to send the thing on Saturday. You’re going to do that for four weeks and it feels crazy for people and yes, you’re going to start to get weaker at the end of a cycle like that but you’re trying to give yourself the best possible chance to do what you set out to do. People just won’t let that go.

I can even say in my own training that I still struggle with this. I preach this stuff to athletes on a daily basis and on a weekly basis and I still have a hard time letting go of that training feeling. People just fall in love with that feeling and think if they let it go for just a second they’re going to lose it all. It just doesn’t work like that

Neely Quinn: Right. One of my main climbing partners is amazing and he’s really strong but he was working on this 14a for three seasons. We had this conversation and he was like, ‘Well yeah, I train on Monday and Tuesday and then I go try my project on Wednesday.’ He had one rest day and I was like, ‘Well obviously that needs to change,’ but he’s a high level climber. He did change it and he sent the thing and now he does 5.13b, c, d’s really quickly, partly just because of the rest. I think that’s a big mistake a lot of people are making and it’s really low-hanging fruit.

Alex Bridgewater: I would say, to go back to what you were asking before, how do you know as an athlete? How do they know or how are they going to know if they’re doing the right thing for their training at a specific level if they’re a 5.10 climber or a 5.11 climber? That’s what you were asking before, no?

Neely Quinn: Yeah.

Alex Bridgewater: To go back to what Charlie was saying before, is the training working? Are you getting better? If you are then what you are doing is working but another way to look at it is how often are you getting injured? Do you find yourself injured once every three months? Once every three weeks? Those kinds of frequencies of injury are something to pay attention to and can often be overlooked, right? You go, ‘Okay, I’m a 5.12 climber. Every three months I sustain some kind of some level of a finger injury.’ I would say that probably means that you’re training too much, too often. Cutting back there would be a really important thing to pay attention to. I think that’s definitely a good indicator: how often are you getting injured? 

You can look at other athletes and go, ‘That person is never injured. They seem to manage their health really well,’ and they’re probably in a stage where they’ve got their training down to a T for themselves. You just have to be self aware and self critical of what you’re doing for yourself and not worry about, ‘But Adam Ondra is doing this.’ It’s like, ‘Okay, but Adam Ondra is not you.’ I just wanted to make the point that paying attention to your injury rate is an interesting and effective way to look at how much and how often you’re training.

Neely Quinn: Yeah, I think that’s a good point.

We’ve covered a lot about not recovering enough or doing too much so it seems like we all just need to listen a bit more to our bodies and maybe consider that resting three days a week is – I mean, in my opinion, 2-3 days a week should be rest for most people. Sleeping is also super important and I want to draw the contrast that with the woman who was 41, she was sleeping like 5-6 hours a night and it wasn’t good sleep. The 17-year old was sleeping 9-10 hours a night. That’s a huge difference.

Charlie Manganiello: I’m saying this anecdotally but I think there’s all these articles and books out there where we hear about sleep. Sleep maybe actually is the magic bullet that everyone is looking for. If you do the 7-8 hours you’re in bed sooner, you’re probably eating a little less food, you’re probably drinking a little bit less, you’re feeling a little bit more rested, you’re getting up a little bit earlier, everything is functioning at a better level and by sleeping more you’re giving yourself less opportunity to do the habits that aren’t beneficial for a performance goal.

Neely Quinn: I would even increase that to 8-9 hours. That would be optimal for most people who are working so much. We just need a lot of sleep for the amount of stress that we have.

Alex Bridgewater: This is an interesting thing for people out there to note: if you’re getting less than six hours of sleep a night, you are waking up and operating with testosterone levels of a 50-year old male. If you’re 25 and you’re not getting the amount of sleep that you need, you should consider that the next time that you decide to go to bed at midnight.

Neely Quinn: Exactly, and caffeine can’t make up for your testosterone levels. 

Alex Bridgewater: No, it can’t.

Charlie Manganiello: There’s also a bunch of research out, too, that people say, ‘Oh, I’ll catch up on sleep on the weekend,’ or on Friday or whatever. It doesn’t work like.

It’s funny. I was just having this conversation. I was having my general check-up or whatever and the PA that I see kind of jokes like, ‘Okay, I’ve got my soap box thing this year for you.’ He’s read this book called Why We Sleep, I think it’s by Doctor Matthew Walker, and I haven’t had the chance to read it yet. I’m excited to read it but he was pulling out all these crazy stats. You cannot catch up sleep. There’s no such thing as catching up on sleep. You’re just sleeping for longer that one night. You can’t restore the things that you lost or the recovery that you lost from that night before. That myth was totally debunked.

It’s crazy – the percentages on whether you get 6.5 versus seven hours is just insane. It’s the magic bullet, it seems like.

Neely Quinn: Yeah, I agree. Cool – I’m glad we’re all on the same page about that. Not recovering enough is no bueno.

The next thing maybe we can talk about is having unrealistic goals. Do you guys want to chat about that?

Alex Bridgewater: For sure. I would say that one of the things that we see within the athletic community that we deal with is having large goals. Let’s just be clear: having a large goal is a great way to keep yourself motivated and something to keep in the back of your mind as to why you do what you do every single day, but we want to be realistic in terms of what the behaviors are that the athlete is doing in the timeframe that they’ve given themselves to achieve this goal. 

The biggest example, and we use this all the time, is people wanting to free the Free Rider. ‘I want to have freed the Free Rider.’ That kind of goes back to this whole idea of talking about people’s ego and wanting to have said that they have freed the Free Rider but nobody really wants to put in the work that it takes to climb 30-some odd pitches in five days or four days, right? 

When people come to us and they talk to us about that, if they’re saying, “I want to free the Free Rider in October but I’ve never really climbed on granite before and I have only actually been trad climbing three times,’ those are these big outliers for us to go, ‘Okay, I definitely want to help you climb the Free Rider. My job is not to tell you that that’s out of your reach. My job is to tell you: okay, well we can get you to start climbing on some granite a little bit more and maybe plug some more gear, learn how to use those squeezy things.’ Then maybe say, “A year from now or two years from now? What’s your timeline? If it’s October I can say you should maybe think about going and looking at El Cap,” right? I’m being serious. I’m being really candid. Being up in those areas is really scary. 

Let’s make it more applicable: ‘I want to climb 5.13 but I’ve never climbed 5.11.’ It’s like, ‘Okay, we’ve got to climb 5.11 first and then 5.12. You’ve got the eye of the tiger.’ That’s hard for some athletes. They just don’t believe in themselves and then we get these athletes who believe too much. They get to see too much of the possibilities and so we just need to be able to pull them back and help them understand that, ‘We’re going to make these intermediary goals for you along the way,’ these checkpoints along the way, and help them achieve those so that they can keep looking at this long-reaching goal of freeing the Free Rider. Have them understand that climbing on granite is our first choice and then the more you climb on granite, then we’re going to try to climb 5.12 on granite, right? Then we’re going to climb 5.12 on gear on granite. All these steps to note that you don’t get to just go to bed and wake up the next day and go and climb the Free Rider. It takes effort. 

People need to understand and athletes need to understand that these goals take effort from people. It takes time. I’m speaking from experience, right? Charlie alluded earlier to the fact that I was his first athlete. I hit up Charlie and I was like, ‘Hey man. My friend invited me to go free this route on El Cap but I’ve never even trad climbed before!’ I was that person who didn’t understand that this shit takes time. You don’t just get to be The Dude, right? I had to learn the hard way so I think I feel compelled to speak from experience as far as, ‘Oh yeah? We want these lofty goals but we have to put in the time and we have to change our behaviors.’ 

That’s the biggest thing. Can you put down the alcohol? Can you put down the drugs? Can you go to sleep a little earlier? Just to refer back to what we were talking to. If you’re not willing to do that stuff then I don’t know if I can help you. 

Neely Quinn: Yeah.

Charlie Manganiello: I think it’s people not respecting the process or the stepping stones that got people to where they are. Two things I want to say, and I hope I don’t get too far off topic here – people latch on to what we call ‘outlier athletes.’ They might know someone who kind of pulled together some amazing feat on some sort of pitch or they know someone who kind of just walked up and did Free Rider. I’m not saying that’s an example but that person probably had a lot of genetic things going for them. Maybe they have the ability to gain strength and power and all the various things super quickly, but that’s not the norm. I think people like to latch on to the person who kind of got there the quickest and they think they can be that athlete.

It’s really hard to talk to athletes about how, ‘Yeah, you know, I don’t think that’s going to happen. It’s a total outlier and let’s treat ourselves like we’re not special but that we can do special things if we put the time in.’ People really kind of don’t like to hear that or even tell that to themselves.

On the flip side of the coin we also have athletes that aren’t pushing themselves enough. They’ve got these unbelievable numbers in the gym. We have people who fill out our questionnaire who have flashed or onsighted like 12a and they’re trying to climb 12b. You’re like, ‘Woah. That doesn’t compute. Why is that happening?’ People’s belief in themselves can go the other way where they don’t believe they can climb anything harder than the hardest onsight that they’ve ever done. We know that’s not true. There are tactics that are involved with that like trying something more than once or actually figuring out beta or ticking holds and all the other tactics involved with redpointing.

We also have athletes that we have to be like, ‘Seriously, just get on a 13a. Just do it. I know you’ve already climbed a million 12d’s but you just, for some reason, have a mental block on 13a being this really, really hard problem or route. Really, all a 13a is is just a little bit harder of a 12d.’ People don’t think that. They just think it’s this giant step and people aren’t willing to put themselves out there because they’re probably like most athletes, including myself, and have a fear of failure or a fear of kind of looking silly at the crag or whatever. It’s hard to let that ego go. We definitely have athletes that have eyes bigger than their stomach and then the athletes where we’re like, ‘No, you should go for more. You’re totally fine. You should give it a whirl.’

Once that feeling of success rolls for that athlete, then the sky is the limit.

Neely Quinn: Right. I think that I see a lot in my practice, too, with people not doing enough and not believing that they can do things. I think that that’s one of the biggest mistakes that I think people are making. They are 5.10 or 5.11 climbers and they go into the gym for an hour and they do five routes that are 5.9 or 5.10 and they aren’t getting any better and they’re wondering why. I’m constantly having this conversation. “Go into the gym, try to make a little bit more time and try harder routes, whether it’s on boulders or routes or top rope or lead or whatever. Actually up the intensity.” Is that something that you guys see?

Charlie Manganiello: Yes.

Alex Bridgewater: Yeah, totally.

Charlie Manganiello: I think it can fall in a couple different ways but sometimes it’s the people you climb with. It can be really hard to – climbing is a really fun thing and it’s like the most social thing I do outside of teaching classes or being at the gym. It’s supposed to be with your buddies and outside and enjoying a cool crag and a cool view and having fun, but sometimes we’ve all seen groups just kind of all climb the same level because no one has pushed them or there’s not someone in the group that’s willing to kind of push the group along. It’s being able to step out of that comfort zone and finding someone that will push you. 

It’s cool to be the strong guy in your local gym, or the strong gal in your local gym, but if it’s in the middle of nowhere, say rural New Hampshire like where I grew up, then you go down to somewhere like the Boston gyms or say you make it out to Salt Lake or Denver and you see what is actually possible. You’re like, ‘Woah. I’m weak and terrible.’ 

That’s not to demoralize anyone, it’s just that you get to see what’s possible and when you latch on – well, that’s kind of a bad phrase – or get under the mentorship or have some sort of person at the gym that can kind of push you or show you the way, you’re going to do so much better. We see a lot of people kind of get stuck in this group grade that everyone always climbs.

Alex Bridgewater: And then I think a very relevant question that we are faced with asking athletes often is: “How much do you care about climbing harder?” If it’s not that much, that’s okay. You don’t have to care but if you do want to improve then you should think about what Charlie was just talking about. Who do you surround yourself with? That goes back to a lot of different things: your ability to change your habits in your everyday life. Do you surround yourself with people who are going to support those habit changes, who are going to hold you accountable? 

We’ve worked with athletes that climb with the same people everyday and they climb the same routes every single time they go out to the cliff and with just a simple suggestion of, ‘How bout you just go climb at a different cliff with a different partner?’ all of a sudden they’re climbing 5.12. Just trying to get people out of their comfort zone of routine, for sure.

Neely Quinn: Maybe that can be our last topic: changing habits or not changing habits. Do you feel like we’ve touched on that enough?

Charlie Manganiello: I think we could go a little deeper in that you kind of asked a little bit about the culture in our gym and what Steve and Ellen have created at Elemental that is for sure displayed in ClimbStrong. We have a lot of talk about habit change. 

In the fitness world or in the training world or even in the climbing world, there’s always some sort of thing that we can be working on. What we mean by that is some sort of habit. It’s the habit of doing more hangboard training or the habit of sleeping more, the habit of getting more pitches in when you’re out climbing. That habit change is real hard for athletes to stay focused on because they’re trying to do too much all at once. 

We all know that we can work on a billion different things in the climbing gym or out at the crag or in our everyday life but let’s just pick one thing to work on for a solid four weeks and see if we can have the ability to make that a true habit, not just a thing you’re working on. People usually don’t take it deep enough and we see it every February first of every calendar year. People are full of a ton of motivation and, ‘I’m going to come into the gym January first. This is going to be my best year. This is going to be the year of Charlie Manganiello. I’m going to lose 10 pounds, I’m going to climb my hardest grade, I’m going to work on my deadlift, I’m going to work on my run, I’m going to sleep more, I’m going to save more money,’ and you can kind of see where this is going. 

All of a sudden they’re in the gym four days the first week and then they’re in the gym three days the second week in January, then it’s two days, then it’s one day, and then we don’t see them for 11 months. They thought they were going to do better because they signed up for a full year contract. If anyone has been to our gym, we try to not have people sign up for a year if at all possible. We want them to create the habit of being at the gym first before they sign up for a year.

My whole point to this is all that athlete needs to do – and this relates just to something that people need to put into their own climbing training – is just do that thing. For this athlete, it’s like, ‘I just want you come into the gym 30 minutes, two days a week for the month of January.’ That seems really silly and not that much work but we have to understand that that athlete hasn’t had the habit yet of coming to the gym. It still feels like work. It feels really hard. They’re maybe a little bit out of shape so they can’t handle these big training cycles because they’re just going to get burnt out or injured. If we can have this athlete do 30 minutes of training two days a week for a month, maybe even two months, the longevity of their training and the longevity of their adaptation or their ability to actually do what they set out to do is that much more likely. 

I think that’s how we also relate that to climbing: this ability to find a habit you want to work on and you don’t get to work on anything else. You just work on that one thing and then create this habit that you don’t even think about anymore. It just becomes second nature and then you can tackle the next habit that you want to work on.

Neely Quinn: I would think that that would relate to any climber and any level of climber as well.

Charlie Manganiello: Exactly, and I think that gets really confused, too. The information that Alex and I give athletes, for the 5.14 climber or the 5.10 climber, is all relatively the same. It’s just how intense it is/how much they can handle. I’ve talked to people where they’re like, ‘I want the 5.14 plan.’ The 5.14 plan is a lot like the 5.10 plan, it’s just harder climbs and probably a little bit more volume.

Neely Quinn: Anything you wanted to add to that, Alex?

Alex Bridgewater: I would just say that we talk about how you build habits. I think it’s important to note that we want to think about habit change or our ability to create good habits in terms of fatigue levels. Our brains are going to remember the last things that we’re going to be doing and so we tend to put all of our skills sessions for our athletes at the beginning of the week when your brain is fresh and your psych is high because we only have so much of that space in our brain as far as being able to adapt to those skills sessions. 

If you’re a climber listening to this and you’re like, ‘Oh yeah. That sounds like something I should work on,’ take these skills ideas and apply them to yourself on a weekly basis and just work on a skills session for 40 minutes on Monday or Tuesday, the beginning of the week. That will allow you to be really successful in your training plan as far as building a good habit of skill training. You’ll be able to adapt better with higher functioning at the beginning of the week. Trying not to attack everything at one time is definitely key, and knowing that yeah, spending four sessions working on heel hooking, if you’re not very good at heel hooking, is going to improve you as a climber as a whole. 

That’s what we want to do as coaches. We want to improve the athlete as a climber, not just as this one specific facet. Sure, that can be part of our focus but really I just want you to be a better rock climber in general so working on these skills is going to be a big deal.

We say this all the time: “The way you do one thing is the way you do everything.” Even if we have to attack your habit change as a climber from taking it from a general sense to a very specific sense, like just forcing yourself to go to bed or deciding that you’re going to get in bed 15 minutes earlier everyday, that’s your habit. That’s your habit change. It doesn’t have to necessarily be this climbing-specific habit because once you can start getting into the routine of the habit of building habits, the quicker it comes or the more transferable it will become to your climbing because you understand how the process works.

Neely Quinn: Yeah, that makes sense, and it will give people confidence like, ‘I can change habits.’

Alex Bridgewater: Exactly. We really want people to be confident in their ability.

Charlie Manganiello: All we’re trying to build is this cycle of success because a lot of people we talk to and a lot of athletes that are struggling, that are maybe even listening to this podcast right now, have a cycle of negative feelings like, ‘I’m a failure. I’m not doing the thing that I set out to do.’ 

Neely Quinn: Okay, well we’ve covered a lot. I know we didn’t cover everything we wanted to cover but I think those are some of the big ones.

Alex Bridgewater: We talked about this beforehand, Neely, and going through this list, each one of these bullet points could be an hour and a half topic in and of itself so I think we’ve done a really good job of covering what we can.

Neely Quinn: I think so, too. How can people work with you and find you on social media?

Charlie Manganiello: They can find us @climb.strong on Instagram and then ClimbStrong is on Facebook. I don’t even know my own Instagram handle. I think it’s @charlie.manganiello. That’s my own Instagram. It’s mostly just funny photos of Alex. 

Neely Quinn: [laughs]

Alex Bridgewater: Right, exactly. Then you can find me on Instagram @agbridgewater. It’s kind of a hard way to find me.

Charlie Manganiello: Then for coaching you just go to You can have a membership level as far as getting access to programs and some of our in depth videos, which I think are super valuable for people just looking for knowledge. They’re not looking for a coach yet, they just want to gather some more information. 

There’s different levels of membership and if you’re looking for a coach you can click on the top right corner and there’s a little tab that will take you to a link called That will get you to our questionnaire and our coaches there and you can move forward. Alex will be the one that gets in touch with you after you fill out the questionnaire and you just go from there.

Neely Quinn: Cool! Great. This has been really fun. Honestly, I could sit here and talk to you guys about this for another hour and a half or two or five but people are probably sick of hearing our voices now so thank you Alex, thank you Charlie. I love talking to you guys and hopefully I’ll see you guys soon.

Alex Bridgewater: Yeah.

Charlie Manganiello: Thanks Neely. I appreciate it.

Neely Quinn: I hope you enjoyed that interview with Alex Bridgewater and Charlie Manganiello. You can find both of them on Instagram. You can find Charlie @charlie_manganiello and Alex @agbridgewater. You can also find ClimbStrong and Elemental and Performance Climbing Coach all on Instagram as well. They’re pretty active over there, talking about what they’re doing. 

If you want to train with either of them you can definitely do that and you can go to and you can find out everything you need to know there. 

Thank you Alex and Charlie for being on the show. Hopefully you learned something from that. I mean, we all sort of fall into these habits and pitfalls of training. We’re not perfect and it’s really good to have these reminders of what we can do to be better and be more efficient with our training.

Coming up on the podcast I am actually having Tyler Nelson on again. That is because he wrote an article for us about the simplest finger training program and it was maybe the most popular article we’ve ever had on TrainingBeta. It was actually mind blowing. Then, he took a survey on Instagram about whether people wanted to hear more about it on this podcast and it was an overwhelming, ‘Yes.’ That will be coming out in a couple weeks so stay tuned for that.

I’m actually looking for new podcast interviewees. I don’t know what people want to hear about right now. I know what I’m sort of interested in right now but I want to hear your suggestions so email me at or if you can’t remember that, Just let me know who you think I should have on the show and I will try to get them on.

I think that’s it. Always remember we have training programs for you. I see nutrition clients. Matt Pincus is taking new online clients for training. You can also join our Facebook group at You just have to request to become a member and I think there are almost 10,000 people in there now talking about training for climbing.

Follow us on Instagram @trainingbeta, Facebook @trainingbeta, and thanks so much for listening all the way to the end. I really appreciate you and I’ll talk to you in a couple weeks.


TrainingBeta is a site dedicated to training for rock climbing. We provide resources and information about training for routes, bouldering, finger strength, mental training, nutrition for climbers, and everything in between. We offer climbing training programs, climbing training classes, nutrition classes, regular blog posts, interviews on The TrainingBeta Podcast, personal coaching for climbing, and nutrition for climbers.

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