Date: September 12th, 2018
About Dru Mack
Dru Mack is a 23-year-old sponsored climber from Louisville, Kentucky. I met Dru Mack a bunch of years ago at the Red River Gorge, his stomping grounds. He’s a super friendly guy whose humility makes him easy to be around. His constant psych level for climbing extends to everyone around him, and he’s happy for all of our climbing successes, no matter what they are. As for his own climbing successes, he’s climbed up to 5.14c (and V12), often on long endurance-y climbs like Southern Smoke (5.14c) in the Red and Fish Eye (8c / 5.14b) in Oliana, Spain. He’s a sponsored climber known for his endurance abilities, and that’s what I wanted to talk to him about in this interview.
Dru Mack Interview Details
- How his climbing abilities have improved over the years
- His successful trip to Rifle this year – lots of volume
- Why he loves the Psicocomp and the climbing community
- How he successfully trained power endurance and endurance this year
- Circuits, ARC-ing, 4×4’s: how he incorporates them into his training
- Why he doesn’t use a fingerboard
- How he knows he’s trying really hard, and why that’s important
- How his changed diet has improved his training and climbing
- Goals for the fall
Home | Dru Mack and the Red River Gorge
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Matt Pincus photo of Dru on Zulu (5.14a) in Rifle Mountain Park, Colorado
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. You might be able to hear in my voice right now that I’m a little sick and I have been sick for about a week and a half. I’m getting better, thank goodness, but the reason I bring it up is because over the years I’ve realized that when I’m sick and I try to train or climb really hard and fatigue myself a lot, I usually end up getting sicker. I don’t think that is the case for every single person but it seems like it’s probably the case for most of us.
I just want to remind you that if you’re sick, try to take it easy on yourself so you don’t set yourself back further than you already are. It’s been kind of disappointing because I’m going to the Red in five or six weeks and I was really psyched to start training again and now I have to wait, but I am. I’m waiting and I’m being patient and hopefully it will pay off. Hopefully if you’re sick and you just give it time and rest it will pay off for you, too. That’s my little PSA for today.
Coming up in this interview I talk to Dru Mack. Dru is a sponsored climber. He is from Louisville, Kentucky and his stomping grounds were the Red River Gorge. They still are. He still spends a ton of time there. Dru is well known for his endurance climbing abilities. He has sent really long, pumpy routes like Southern Smoke, which is 5.14c, and then some others in Oliana, Spain. He’s done a ton in Rifle so a lot of long, sustained routes. That’s kind of his forte.
I really wanted to talk to Dru about how he accomplishes that. Like, how has he become such an amazing endurance climber? What does he do to train? We talk about that in depth. What his sessions look like, when he starts to incorporate higher intensity power endurance into his training before a trip, when he does lower intensity endurance training – it’s really interesting. It actually helped me figure out how to train for my own upcoming trip to the Red.
Also, you’ll find that Dru is a really nice guy. He’s super sweet, he’s really humble, he’s really easy to talk to. Hopefully you’ll enjoy the interview for that reason, too.
If you need any help with your own training, if you want a structured program to follow, that is what we do at www.trainingbeta.com. If you go to www.trainingbeta.com/programs you’ll find three programs in there that are specific to route climbing, if that’s what you do. We have an endurance training ebook, we have a power endurance training e-book, and then we have a subscription program just for route climbers that gives you three pretty hard workouts every week. These programs combined have helped thousands of people get stronger and better at route climbing. Sometimes it happens very quickly. I’ll get these emails from people who are like, ‘I’ve only been doing this for four weeks and I already feel stronger.’
Again, you can go to www.trainingbeta.com/programs and everything is in there. Every time you purchase something from us you support this podcast and everything we do at TrainingBeta and we really appreciate it.
Without further adieu, here is Dru Mack. I’ll talk to you on the other side.
Neely Quinn: Welcome to the show, Dru. Thanks very much for joining me today.
Dru Mack: Thank you so much for having me.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. My pleasure. Tell me a little bit about yourself for the people who don’t know who you are.
Dru Mack: Cool. I’m Dru Mack. I’m from Louisville, Kentucky and I basically grew up here in the Red River Gorge. With it being an hour and a half away, that’s been home. I’ve climbed there for the last 12 years and I love it so much. In the last couple years I’ve been traveling a lot more and going to places like Spain and Rifle and mostly just pursuing sport climbing and hard sport climbs. It’s been a lot of fun and a big adventure. That’s kind of the path that I’m on and what I’m chasing right now, too.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. What you’re chasing? Tell me, what are you chasing?
Dru Mack: I guess just doing harder and harder sport climbs and going to amazing places and meeting incredible people and experiencing different cultures and different food and different things and becoming a better rock climber through all of that, but also having these life experiences that are with you forever.
Neely Quinn: That’s interesting. You’re one of the first people to bring that up as a major component of why you do this.
Dru Mack: Yeah, I mean first comes climbing and first comes my goals in climbing. I want to be better and do more but I also am so grateful for the fact that I get to learn so much from the traveling of it and from the experiences of it and from the people.
Neely Quinn: Tell me about some of the highlights of your climbing career so far. Actually, I’m going to back up – tell me about your life structure. Are you a full time pro climber?
Dru Mack: Right now – I always explain to people that I’m in that struggling artist phase that you hear of when you think of movie stars or whatever, but much more low key. I’m just putting the pieces together right now to be basically a full time rock climber. I do some route setting and some coaching kind of here and there but my life is more dedicated to rock climbing and then I do those kinds of things when I have time or I need to buckle down and save up a little bit more money for a trip.
Right now I’m being supported through sponsors and then a little bit of work here and there.
Neely Quinn: That’s pretty cool.
Dru Mack: Yeah, it’s been a crazy process I guess and I’m still growing a lot and learning a lot but it’s working out so far, I guess. [laughs]
Neely Quinn: Sometimes I think about if I was a pro climber and if all I had to do was climb, and I know you say that you do some things a little bit here on the side, but do you feel like now that you are basically a full time climber that there’s more pressure on you?
Dru Mack: I put the pressure on myself. I don’t think it comes from sponsors or anything like that but I feel like I have always put pressure on myself, whether I’m climbing 5.11 or 5.14, to be better and do better. Being in this position doesn’t necessarily make me feel like I have to perform better or anything like that. It’s always just kind of been the same: ‘I want to be better.’
Neely Quinn: Sometimes I also wonder if I would be bored, I guess, without something else taking up my time. Can I ask about that?
Dru Mack: Yeah, of course. I think everybody has their own ‘how they balance their life’ and how they need to balance their life, whether they need more than just rock climbing. For me, I want kind of only rock climbing right now. I’ve realized for me to be the best that I can be, for me to do harder routes and travel more places, I want to be committed to route climbing and traveling and my training and things like that. I’m okay with – and I kind of prefer it at this point in my life, also, I think that changes – being singularly focused.
Neely Quinn: That’s awesome.
Dru Mack: That could change in the future I’m sure, with other things or other responsibilities or obligations, but right now I’m pretty happy just rock climbing. [laughs]
Neely Quinn: Don’t get me wrong. I have just rock climbed in the past and I was totally fine but…
Dru Mack: Some people say it’s not healthy, for sure, but you can also make time for friends and other things.
Neely Quinn: So tell me about some of the highlights of your career as a climber so far.
Dru Mack: Cool. A couple of years ago, like two years ago or something, I did Southern Smoke which at the time was kind of the apex of my climbing. I spent a full year trying that one route. That was the hardest thing. That was a major jump for me and even to this day that’s one of the hardest, if not the hardest, thing I’ve done. That’s because I put a tremendous amount of time into that.
More recently I’ve been excited on kind of back-filling. I skipped 14b to do Southern Smoke and so kind of the last year or so I’ve been doing a lot of rock climbs instead of just focused on one. That’s been really cool, learning a lot more and doing a lot more rock climbs. I did like 10 routes in Rifle here recently that were 13d or harder and that was a proud trip, to do a lot and not just do one thing and feel proud of that. Different trips have different focuses I guess.
Neely Quinn: That’s a big trip. How long were you in Rifle?
Dru Mack: I was there for five weeks so a long time.
Neely Quinn: That’s actually not that long. It’s definitely taken me five weeks or more to do one single route there so that’s pretty good.
Dru Mack: I love that place, too, so it was amazing to settle and climb there. I hadn’t really climbed there before. I had been there for a day a couple years ago but by Rifle standards, you need a lot of time.
Neely Quinn: It seems like maybe that was your goal going into that trip, to do a lot of climbs. Or is that just how it ended up?
Dru Mack: At the beginning of the trip I kind of had that thought of, ‘Oh, it’d be cool to do a lot of hard rock climbs,’ and I started trying some of the harder ones like Fat Camp, which is 14c or 14d, and I realized I could spend a lot of time on one thing and probably do it, but for experience – my first time in this big, massive area – I want to go and do all of these amazing routes, you know? I felt like I was skipping over a lot.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, and I think that people climbing at any level can learn something from that or take something from that mindset of not always having to have a project that’s really hard for you. What did you take away from that?
Dru Mack: I guess the biggest thing that I learned would be that doing a lot of things teaches you. You learn from each route you do. I think you learn more from the one route when you project it for a long time, like you have to learn so many subtleties and things, but doing things quickly has an intricacy to it as well, you know? When you want to do something in a couple tries you may put more pressure on yourself or things like that. Rifle is very specific and the routes have a lot of knee bars and techy climbing but also they can be really powerful and endurance-y and power endurance.
I think I just learned some subtleties there of being a better technical rock climber, using my feet better, and just the rewards of doing a lot of things. [laughs] You know? It feels good to send a lot but then also by the end of the trip I was like, ‘Oh, you know, I want to bite my teeth into something now, too.’ It’s an ebb and a flow of what you want to do.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. Then after that you went and did the Psicocomp.
Dru Mack: Well, it’s kind of been an adventure. I had a big summer. After that I went to Lander for a week and a half and then Denver for the Outdoor Retailers show and then I went and did the Psicocomp.
Neely Quinn: What does the Psicocomp represent to you?
Dru Mack: Oh my gosh. It’s so insane to me because it’s so different, especially coming from Rifle, the contrast is so insane. Instead of being in this small canyon with no phone service and where you have a bunch of tries and you can do whatever, now at Psicocomp you have one day to perform and you have two tries and you’re in front of a massive crowd. For me, the internal pressure of competitions are so different and I’ve done so few of them that I put a different kind of pressure on myself to perform. I want to do well at competitions but they make me really nervous.
For me, that one I did really poorly and I wasn’t really happy with how I climbed but I also learned that me being uncomfortable is really valuable and that maybe should show me that I should put myself out there and do more competitions. I think that will, in turn, help with my sport climbing in my outdoor projects.
Neely Quinn: Are you planning on doing more competitions?
Dru Mack: I think that I would like to. I don’t have any concrete plans of doing them, like I’m doing this one or that one, but I think it would be something cool to kind of pick out one or two per year and spend some time doing them. I’ve never really competed in a sport climbing Nationals and that’s something that I think would be really valuable for me.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, it’s interesting. Most pro climbers that I interview, they start off as kids as comp climbers and then they’re like, ‘Eh, I’m sick of this. I want to go outside,’ but you’ve always just kind of been outside.
Dru Mack: Yeah, I’ve spent so much time climbing outside and I’m proud of my resume but I haven’t really tested my hand in competitions. I’m obviously really nervous and kind of scared of them so I probably should. Psicomp is really easy though, too, because it’s such an amazing event. It’s so fun. It’s so fun to be exposed up high over water and kind of giving it – it’s just a very different kind of competition that’s more fun focused. That’s one that I think I would like to keep doing.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, it seems like it brings the climbing community together.
Dru Mack: Yeah, definitely.
Neely Quinn: It just seems to be a lot of comraderie because it’s so scary up there.
Dru Mack: Yeah, everybody is kind of supporting each other but also trying to beat each other. It’s this cool, really cool, event.
Neely Quinn: Like I said, most of the people I interview who are pro climbers they started off as comp climbers and they sort of got their notoriety from winning comps or doing really well. That’s how they got their sponsorships. I think that some people listening do wonder how people can go about getting sponsorships. You don’t have to divulge much here but it would be really interesting to just hear about how you go about getting sponsorships so that you can live this life?
Dru Mack: My trajectory has been a little bit different than most people because I think I’m definitely climbing at a high level and doing a lot of hard sport routes but I’m not climbing 5.15 or things like that, or bouldering V15. For me, I think sponsors started coming at a young age and most of that was through networking, meeting the right people and having good relationships with a lot of people. Being at climbing events and being at climbing areas is absolutely massive. You get to interact with your community and interact with the brands that are a part of our community. Through that, they would kind of recognize me as being always consistently in the Red River Gorge.
People like Kurt Smith, a rep in the area, kind of started working with me and I would kind of help him out at different events, just super low time for a pair or shoes or something. That kind of just grew and grew and I would try to stay connected with the brands and be really grateful and appreciative and let them know that I would be happy to help out with their different things like going to events. Things like that were massive for me in kind of creating those relationships.
Then of course, social media. I’ve worked with a lot of really, really amazing photographers to grow my social media following, grow my brand as a rock climber/as a professional, and those things are super valuable in your pursuit or your growth as a pro.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, it seems very multi-faceted. You have to sort of be flexible in a lot of arenas and be willing to do things.
Dru Mack: Yeah, definitely, or you’re just an absolute legend and then everything comes to you. Well, not everything comes to you but there’s so many different ways that it can happen. There’s no guidebook to being a pro rock climber or having sponsors or anything like that. You kind of just have to find your own way.
Neely Quinn: Well you have found your own way so that must be pretty exciting.
Dru Mack: Yeah, it’s so cool. It’s a cool adventure.
Neely Quinn: I would love to talk about how you train. Are you ready for this?
Dru Mack: Yeah, of course. I’ll blabber all day, though, so… [laughs]
Neely Quinn: How did you prepare for your Rifle trip, for instance?
Dru Mack: I was in Spain this spring and the routes there are really, really long. Growing up in the Red, my endurance is really good. Long routes, 120-feet, power endurance things come easy to me, like recovering on a jug. Most of my training mostly revolves around being a better boulderer because that’s one of my biggest weaknesses. Just going to the gym and doing boulder sessions and then mixing in campusing and things like that.
Rifle, I knew, was going to really focused on power endurance climbing so focusing on the 20-move circuits to 40-move circuits and then right before I left I might have done a couple 60-move circuits. I tried to hit that 20-move zone because I knew there were going to be good rests in Rifle, knee bars and stuff, so for me that kind of looks like doing doubles in a bouldering gym. I’d do a boulder, drop off, then do another one. The intensity of that can be really high while still getting in 20 moves. That’s still a lot. Then doing more triples, like three boulders in a row and dropping off, is really great. I think that comes more into getting pumped and getting power endurance kind of zapped and failing. Failing not when you’re pumped but failing because you’ve put in a lot of intense moves, I guess. Does that make sense?
Neely Quinn: So what is making you fail? Your fingers?
Dru Mack: A lot of times I guess it would be fingers or failing in your forearms but right before you’re pumped.
Neely Quinn: Oh, okay.
Dru Mack: Does that make sense?
Neely Quinn: So the intensity is so high that the moves are really hard.
Dru Mack: Yeah, but not hard enough that it’s max power. You’re putting in a lot of work on a lot of difficult terrain.
Neely Quinn: So for you, what would that look like? Just to give people an idea of the grades that you’re working on and your max grades.
Dru Mack: The hardest boulder I’ve done outside is V12. I went to South Africa last summer. I think I’m capable of a lot higher but I just haven’t bouldered as much as I need to. For power endurance, my doubles – doing two boulders in a row – is going to be finding something that I know and I’ve done before. That can be V8 or V9 normally. If I can do the moves on things then I can normally put them together and do a lot of moves quickly. Doing two V9’s in a row is really, really good training for me. If I’m going to do triples it could be three 8’s or two 8’s and a 7. I’ll probably move where that 7 goes. Maybe at first I’ll do the easiest boulder last but then I put the easiest boulder first to make it harder on myself.
Neely Quinn: Okay, and how many sets of that would you do? When you say ‘triples’ you mean you do the boulder, you jump down, chalk up, do the boulder, jump down, chalk up, do the boulder again.
Dru Mack: Yep. At first I’m going to do that twice and then I’m done. Then the next workout I’ll probably do it three times so kind of a 3×3 in a way. I probably won’t do it more than three times and that’s with a lot of rest time. I normally don’t even clock it, or I’ll clock it between 5-10 minutes. It’s more like by how I feel and less about how much time has gone on. I want to feel good and put in really good effort instead of still being tired from the last one, I guess.
Neely Quinn: That’s a really subjective thing and I think a lot of people might struggle with that. A lot of training programs now are like, ‘Just rest until you feel fresh again,’ but it’s hard to know. Can you tell me what signs you get from your body to know?
Dru Mack: Yeah. With that one it’s pretty hard because, like I said, you’re not getting pumped so you can’t necessarily identify, ‘Man, my forearms are wrecked.’ Basically I think people wait until you’re ready to go, like: ‘Oh, I could climb again,’ and then I wait another minute or two which is kind of the same thing I do outside. When I’m sitting in a no-hands rest or maybe I’m sitting on a bolt working something out, when I feel like I could pull on and do this I wait another minute. That way it gives you that extra little time. I think your mind feels ready to go before your body does so you can kind of be patient with yourself and give yourself a little bit more time.
Also, if I feel tired and not psyched, normally that means I should rest just a little longer. That changes, too. Sometimes I limit the rest. Sometimes I do set a two-minute clock and that makes the climbing a different workout, too.
Neely Quinn: Okay. So this power endurance on boulders you either do triples or you do doubles, pretty much 3-5 grades lower than your max?
Dru Mack: Yeah, definitely. Then I also do things based on time like a two-minute circuit upwards. For Spain I did a 10-minute circuit where I just wanted to be moving on the wall for 10 minutes to kind of match what I would find outside.
Neely Quinn: Alright. Last night I went into the gym and I tried to do a bouldering session drill. I mean, there were people there and it was really hard. There’s no way I could have stayed on the wall for 10 minutes. People would have been like, ‘Get out of here.’ Tell me when you do those things and how you make that happen. I think a lot of gyms are also not set-up for that kind of thing.
Dru Mack: Yeah, definitely. I climb at – when I do my training it’s at Climb NuLu in Louisville, Kentucky. We have, in the back, a system board in our training room that is Atomic holds on 25-30° angles so it’s not super steep. You can climb on some small holds or bad holds. It’s a big board so even if other people want to climb we can work together to share the space that’s there.
I also will kind of go in – I’m lucky enough that I can go in midday when it’s not busy. Other people may have more problems with that but if you’re in a rope gym you can easily take up one route and up climb, down climb, and maybe up climb one more time and that’s going to get you into your time zones that you want without really affecting or too much getting in the way of other people. I mean, you have to be fully respectful of other people and kind of manage that but you also want to put in good effort, I guess. It’s a hard thing to do but I think communication is huge. If you talk with people they’re going to be willing and understanding to work with you and let you put in a 10-minute effort knowing that after that you’re going to be done for a little bit.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. So on this big system board, if we’re talking about what you were actually doing, I’m assuming it has parallel holds so that you have mirrored holds for your right and your left?
Dru Mack: Yeah, exactly.
Neely Quinn: Can you tell me about the difficulty that you climb on and how you vary it?
Dru Mack: Yeah. The major component for me is to continue moving. I try not to stop and shake out a whole lot so the climbing gets – you get really tired and really pumped quickly. I tried to set myself up, to know that I’m going to get tired so to try to start out slow. It’s really easy to hop on a wall and start doing moves that you don’t think are that hard but that are going to be really, really hard after you’ve been on the wall for seven minutes. Just starting really easy and being consistent about moving and being consistent about the hold type.
I may try to stay off the biggest jugs for the beginning part but also beyond, I know what holds I need to use to continue moving for a long period of time. Really, it’s just you have to learn. The first time I ever did it or the first time each training season, I don’t know where I’m at or where my fitness is at or what holds I’m going to be on. It’s kind of like you have to put your foot in the water and kind of sample. Get on the wall and time yourself and just see how far you can go and see how long you can stay on the biggest holds. Then from that, you make adjustments. The next time maybe you get on holds that are a little smaller or you try to go a little longer. Things like that.
Neely Quinn: So your goal is to stay on the entire 10 minutes?
Dru Mack: Yeah, but that’s such a specific-to-Spain thing. That full endurance, full ‘I’m getting pumped and still moving,’ that was fully for Spain. I would do it different for something else but yes, I’m on the wall, moving, for 10 minutes.
Neely Quinn: What percentage of your effort level would you say you’re putting in by the end of it?
Dru Mack: By the end I’m hustling. It’s hard to say – 75-80%? At least 80% where you’re trying and hustling. I think it’s at that point where you’re really pumped and you’re tired but you can keep moving, continuously moving, even if it’s on bigger and bigger holds. You’re at that point where you’re pumped but you’re not going to come off the wall, which I think is such a valuable spot to be in. You’re like, ‘I’m tired but I can keep moving and keep doing this level of activity.’
I’m not super scientific, I guess, with all of that. I work with my friend, Lee, who knows a lot more about the science and things of that kind of stuff but that zone, I feel like, is really good.
Neely Quinn: I think it’s really important what you just said, that you did this specifically for Spain and this isn’t something that you would have done for Rifle.
Dru Mack: No, exactly.
Neely Quinn: And that is because in Spain you know that you’re climbing for 10 minutes straight with no rest?
Dru Mack: Yeah, basically, or there might be some rest but I know that I’m going to be putting in a significant amount of time under tension, a significant amount of time on the wall. I even watched videos and I recounted back to my last trip to Spain for: how long would I ultimately be on the wall for? That wasn’t even the meat of my training but before the trip I at least wanted to put in some longer mileage kind of things to prepare for that.
It’s all goal-oriented. Whatever trip I’m going on or whatever thing I’m going to do or whatever route I want to do, I think: what is going to help me do that route? I work on those things and continue to work on my weaknesses at the same time.
Neely Quinn: So going to Spain, it sounds like, was not your weakness. The Red is similar to that, right?
Dru Mack: Exactly.
Neely Quinn: So you said that this wasn’t the meat of your training, partly because you said that you’re already good at this, so what was the meat of your training for that?
Dru Mack: For Spain? 40-60 move circuits were the most important thing. I knew that, especially in Spain and a lot of times in the Red, you have power endurance for 60 feet and then in Spain you still have another 60 feet of tech climbing or power endurance climbing but it’s a lot easier. I knew that if I could do the first halves of the route where it’s really on you and it’s run-and-gun for 60 feet or so, then I was going to be set-up well to climb well. Counting out moves and things like that I knew that 40-60 moves was going to be really good for me. That is in a zone where I feel like it’s not full endurance, like being on the wall for 5-10 minutes, but you’re doing harder moves over a longer period of time.
Neely Quinn: And these 40-60 moves – how did you train for the 40-60 moves?
Dru Mack: You can do it a number of ways. 4×4’s are something that everybody has heard of doing. For me, I like to drop off boulders. I like to do four boulders in a row or even do the same boulder four times in a row and then rest the same amount of time or a little bit longer.
Neely Quinn: That you had been climbing?
Dru Mack: Exactly, and then kind of repeating that 2-3 times. I don’t do the whole four times and then do it four times again or anything. That’s a lot of climbing.
Neely Quinn: You mean you rest in between each set?
Dru Mack: Yeah, exactly.
Neely Quinn: So you would do 4×4’s and that would equal about 40-60 moves?
Dru Mack: Yeah, if you just pick – for me, I could find boulders that were 10 moves long or so and then a lot of our boulders are 12-15 moves long, I’d say, because we have bigger walls. I’d just drop off halfway. Even 8 moves is fine, being in that 40-move range would be great, or for the 60 moves I would find three boulders that were close to each other and do those continuously.
Neely Quinn: Just continuously?
Dru Mack: Yeah. That would be climbing down easier moves, I guess.
Neely Quinn: Okay.
Dru Mack: There’s so many different things that I do and I guess it’s hard to explain in a smart way. [laughs]
Neely Quinn: [laughs] It’s not at all. Just one follow-up question to that: you would do three boulders continuously for how long?
Dru Mack: That normally takes three or four minutes, I guess.
Neely Quinn: Oh right.
Dru Mack: So that would be you climb a boulder then you down climb easier terrain, and then do that same boulder or do a different one, down climb easier terrain, and then do the same thing. That’s kind of in that maintaining a pump and still doing hard moves, getting more and more pumped and still doing consistently hard climbing.
Neely Quinn: And then you would rest?
Dru Mack: Exactly. I do this all periodized as well. I’ll do the hard – if I have a big amount of time I like the bouldering part to be first and then the power endurance with the 15-20 moves and it’s all progressive in how many moves I’m doing until the very end. For Spain, that 10-minute stuff was all right before I left, basically. It’s kind of like I’m building up to those longer things, just for structure. I didn’t feel like I said that earlier.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, so weeks before your trip you would be doing more power and strength?
Dru Mack: Yep, and then move into power endurance. That gives you the base. If you’re doing hard boulders then that gives you the base to move into this very powerful, power endurance kind of phase and then stretching that into more and more moves or more and more time until ultimately it’s fully endurance and getting pumped and trying to recover.
Neely Quinn: Okay. For your strength and power, what kinds of things are you doing?
Dru Mack: A couple of years ago I did a full hangboard, periodized – I did the whole Eva Lopez, followed the book a little bit for the Transgression Board along with I kind of dabbled in the Rock Prodigy. All of that stuff.
I realized later, or now that I spend more time with the finger strength stuff, just trying to do hard boulders my training has become less structured than, ‘I’m going to go in and do heavy weighted hangs,’ or something like I used to do. Now it’s more, ‘I’m going to try to do harder and harder boulders and that’s going to give me more finger strength, pulling on worse holds or bad holds.’
Neely Quinn: Would you recommend that?
Dru Mack: Yeah, I think. For me, going and bouldering and doing hard boulder sessions is more fun than going into my buddy’s basement and hanging weight from me or putting a weight vest on and hanging from edges and then sitting around and doing that again. For me, the bouldering part gives me – it dramatically improves how strong my fingers feel along with my snappiness, how I feel fluidly moving on a wall if I’m actually moving on a wall versus hanging on a hold for finger strength. It can be really valuable doing heavy weighted hangs or repeaters or things like that but I think, more generally, going in and doing hard boulders for me is better right now.
Neely Quinn: Do you think it’s better quantitatively? Like, can you say, “I feel stronger now than I did after doing a hangboard cycle?”
Dru Mack: Yes. Well, I guess I would feel stronger after I did a really hard finger strength cycle. I feel like I would feel really strong in my fingers after that but my movement felt awkward. My fingers got stronger more than I improved as a rock climber. Things may have felt easier pulling on holds but I lacked technique and…
Neely Quinn: Coordination.
Dru Mack: Yeah, and things that I’m really proud of as a rock climber. I think that definitely comes. You can get your fingers really, really strong and then kind of move that into having better technique and things.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, I think it’s kind of a tough question. I wonder if after doing those first finger cycles that you did if you increased your finger strength so much that then you could go and try harder boulder problems.
Dru Mack: Yeah, exactly. That’s a really good point.
Neely Quinn: Because we can all try harder boulder problems but we may not succeed, and when we’re trying really hard stuff for us, sometimes we’re just dropping off and then getting back on and dropping off. You’re not really getting – I don’t know.
Dru Mack: I can see that. I think you can get a lot out of that, though, too. It doesn’t feel like you get a lot out of that but over time, really trying really hard, that will definitely lead to improvement.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, I guess.
Dru Mack: That’s my main focus. Whatever I’ve decided is important for me to be better at, I try really, really hard at that. Whenever you’re putting in hard work, that leads to improvement. It has to be smart work as well. I’m not trying to get hurt or just going to the gym and do a bunch of random stuff, but trying really, really hard is really valuable. I feel like that’s something that is missed, actually.
Neely Quinn: Just the amount of effort put in?
Dru Mack: Yeah, it’s like, ‘Oh, I’m going to do hard boulders today,’ but then it’s more of a social thing. I see a lot of friends or a lot of people who I’ve coached who miss that deeper gear of really, really trying, even though they may be for only a move or three moves. You still want to try really hard for those moves.
Neely Quinn: How do you know when you’re trying really hard?
Dru Mack: [laughs] That’s a great question I guess. I have a hard time really getting into that mode, really. I think that’s because I grew up sport climbing. For me, I can tell because when I’m sport climbing I’m trying to hold on as little as possible and I’m trying to be relaxed and I’m trying to slowly and methodically make my way up a wall and use as little energy as possible. When I’m bouldering and when I’m really trying hard it’s ‘whatever goes’. Whatever I can do to get up the wall, basically. I’m really putting a lot of energy into a small amount of time and a small amount of movement, I guess. I don’t know if that answers it. Does that answer you?
Neely Quinn: [laughs] That’s actually a really nice comparison between routes and boulders, although I don’t doubt that there are plenty of times on routes where you’re trying really hard.
Dru Mack: 100% for sure, but it’s just a very different kind of thing. When you’re on a route you’re tired coming into that section that you’re trying really hard at and when you’re bouldering, I may step right off the ground and be trying as hard as possible. I have to really psych myself up. Things like music and trying hard with other people, with friends, those kinds of things really help me get into that mindset of: I’m going to try to rip this hold off the wall or I’m going to try to really stick that next hold.
Neely Quinn: That makes sense and I think it’s overlooked, too. I was just talking about this the other day, how one of the main things that the really, really strong climbers that I interview have in common is that they go in and they try really hard. Like Meagan Martin, Nathaniel Coleman, Alex Puccio – they all talk about how when they are climbing they are trying their hardest. I think a lot of us don’t do that.
Dru Mack: Yeah, definitely, and there’s this old video of Jimmy Webb where he says, “I’m dramatic because I want dramatic results.” If you care about it then that’s a way that I know that I’m really trying. If I care and I’m frustrated that I didn’t do something, then it can help drive for more results, I guess.
Neely Quinn: Yeah.
Dru Mack: Obviously you don’t want it to become an overdriving factor that you’re frustrated all the time but you want to care about it.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. You said that you don’t – in these bouldering sessions you’re not going in and doing random things. When you go in and you say to yourself, “I’m going to train strength and power today, and I’m going to do it by bouldering,” what does your session look like?
Dru Mack: I normally try to pick a couple boulders to do that are going to push me in different ways. That might be that I’ll pick one boulder on our wave wall which is 40° or something and then a really steep boulder and then a compression/slappy boulder.
I normally pick 3-5 boulders and I just spend time sessioning those boulders. I take a tremendous amount of rest in between each try, just like you would with an outdoor boulder and things like that. I try to first learn the moves very slowly and methodically. I try the bottom moves, try the top moves, try different sequences, and then normally try to do well on them afterwards and maybe that’s just linking one move or maybe it’s linking two moves. If it’s going to be really, really hard for me, if it’s a strength or power session then I’m not really doing major overlaps. I’m just trying things that are really, really hard and I’m mostly getting shut down.
Then, I’ll take a little break and I’ll do that same process with another boulder. Normally that’s three boulders, I’d say, and by that point I could be pretty wiped out. I really try to not put myself into submission. I’m not trying to feel worked at the end of a boulder/power workout, I’m trying to feel like I could do a little bit more and call it there before you’re in a hole. If you spend the whole day trying a bunch of hard boulders then you’re not really trying that hard of boulders. That’s kind of how I look at it.
Neely Quinn: So you’re not usually sending these boulders?
Dru Mack: No. That’s maybe ultimately the goal and another session or two and I could put them together, I think, sometimes. Sometimes they’re still ridiculously hard after five sessions or whatever.
Neely Quinn: So you will go into the gym and do this for five sessions on the same boulders.
Dru Mack: Sometimes, not normally. Maybe there’s one I’m really psyched on or something like that. I love it. Sometimes there’s just something that I want to do, just to do, not necessarily – it’s still pushing me forward but it’s also because I love climbing and I want to complete things, I guess.
Neely Quinn: You want to send stuff, even if it’s in the gym.
Dru Mack: Exactly.
Neely Quinn: I would like to zoom out just a little bit here and talk about how much you train, how often, how long your sessions are, and if you do anything else outside of just climbing.
Dru Mack: Training has become different for me in how much time I spend. I’ve been traveling a tremendous amount right now so it makes it a little harder getting in the gym. Those guys like Dave Graham and Chris Sharma, I used to always watch them and they even did their traveling in a periodized way where they would go on a bouldering trip and then maybe go on a sport climbing trip. That kept their power up and that’s kind of the thing I’m chasing, to go on bouldering trips but mix that in with sport climbing trips as well. That way I can become better.
How it looks right now is I’ll go on a trip and then I’ll come home and have some time here in Louisville for a month or a month and a half and in that time I can route set and work a little bit and also focus on whatever is coming next. I’m taking a little bit of a break right now and in September I will be training for the Red.
When I’m at home and I have a month to train or six weeks to train, I normally spend maybe four days at the gym. I like to do two days on, one day off and that’s a really good schedule for me to be on. I never try to go super hard on the first day. I kind of do a hard session but still have some gas left and then the second session I’ll do a lot. I’ll do whatever I need to do that session and follow that up and do antagonists or do things that are cross-training on my second day, knowing that I have a rest day the next day. That day I feel more comfortable feeling tired at the end of the day, feeling pretty worked and then resting and then getting back into it. Sometimes I do two days off. It’s kind of a balance of how I feel and how drained I guess I am.
Before a trip I let off the gas significantly. I’ve had trips where I train all the way to the end and I go and I’m tired. I’m tired when I’m there and I try to put in hard work out at the cliffs and I feel like I need to recover more. I feel like with a week out or so I kind of go into a maintenance mode kind of thing where I’m spending less time in the gym with more focused efforts with not as much quantity.
Neely Quinn: Okay.
Dru Mack: Does that make sense?
Neely Quinn: So you’ll spend less time in the gym and maybe make it less intense?
Dru Mack: Yeah, definitely.
Neely Quinn: When you say you were doing antagonist or cross-training stuff what kind of things do you do?
Dru Mack: That would be like spending more time doing – I’m really bad at that kind of stuff and I know I’m really bad at it – push-ups and lightweight kind of things, working on getting my shoulders stronger or even doing things like core. That time in the gym at that point, before a rest day, is when I’ll do all of that stuff. Core workouts are really important to do then and then shoulder strengthening.
Neely Quinn: What kinds of things do you do for core?
Dru Mack: I do a lot of leg lifts, front levers, things where I’m on a bar, things where I’m in a chair kind of thing doing knee raises or leg raises, planks, and then leg lifts where you’re laying on your back and doing things. I have a good friend, Keith, who has this little workout and he’ll put me through the ringer with that kind of thing. That’s a lot of ground work and that’s a minute on, a minute off, a minute on kind of thing. I can’t tell you exactly how it goes.
Neely Quinn: But you’ll do that one or two times a week maybe?
Dru Mack: Yeah. I definitely am not doing a lot of extra things. I’m trying to save energy for my climbing workouts, I guess.
Neely Quinn: Okay. No weights besides lightweight shoulder stuff?
Dru Mack: Yep. I might do a little bench or things like that but very, very, very little. That’s more in the off-season training mode.
Neely Quinn: Okay.
Dru Mack: Those are things that I would like to do more research about and learn more about. Things like deadlifts or things that could make my body stronger and less injury-prone I think could be really valuable.
Neely Quinn: It’s just not something that you’ve really explored yet?
Dru Mack: Exactly. I want to be more conscious of my longevity as a climber and those kinds of things are things that I need to learn but I haven’t spent as much time learning or doing yet.
Neely Quinn: Got it. I think that’s a pretty good overview of how you train.
Dru Mack: Yeah, definitely.
Neely Quinn: You’re kind of just throwing everything in all at the same time and then at the very end, before a trip, you’re putting in more high intensity power endurance stuff.
Dru Mack: Yeah, it’s when I have more time I’m bouldering. When I have a lot of time before the trip I’m spending time getting stronger and as the trip gets closer I’m getting more and more focused on whatever I need to be better at for that exact trip and those exact routes. Then I’m basically there.
It’s also valuable to know you’re going to build endurance and that you’re never going to show up on a trip ready to send or just walk out to the crag and do your project the first day or whatever. That’s something that you have to have a little bit of time to adjust to the area and build that specific fitness. I spend time that first week or so trying to acclimate, I guess would be the right word.
Neely Quinn: But if you only had a few weeks before a trip you would basically focus on the power endurance stuff?
Dru Mack: Definitely. I mix in some hard bouldering because I think for me that’s really valuable and my endurance comes from that power endurance mode that I really need to be focused in. Most of the sport climbing, all around the world, I think if you have good power endurance you’re going to climb well.
Neely Quinn: Or you’re at least going to be able to climb many things, even if they’re not at your level, at your max level.
Okay, we don’t have too much time left and I wanted to ask you about nutrition and see if that’s something that you think about much. What are your thoughts on diet and how it affects your performance?
Dru Mack: I used to eat really, really poorly. Like PB&J’s were my go-to. I lived down in the Red River Gorge and I just ate junk food. I love sweets and chocolate and donuts and all of that kind of stuff. I was really bad about what I ate for a long time, even though I was climbing at a decently high level. Then I was told by friends and I made more conscious efforts at being better about what I ate and eating vegetables and eating better and cleaner foods, and cutting out more sugars. That made a massive difference in my climbing so now I try to be really focused about those kinds of things, especially in climbing season.
When it’s off season or I’m maybe in a little bit of a chill mode I kind of loosen the reigns and whatever but I eat a lot of sweet potatoes, broccoli, and a little bit of meat. Just veggies like brussel sprouts, asparagus. I do a lot of veggie medleys and that is my go-to and I feel really good when I’m just kind of eating clean and just eating those kinds of things for dinner. Eggs for breakfast and things like that and then fruits and veggies for lunch. If I’m really focused on those things, which I really try to be when I’m in season, it makes a big difference for me. It’s hard, though. It’s really hard.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, it takes some effort.
Dru Mack: Definitely. It’s really easy to just be snacking on bars and stuff when you’re at the crag. Those are not the worst thing in the world but they’re not helping you be that great, either.
Neely Quinn: So tell me: you’re in a training mode right now. What did you you eat for breakfast, lunch, snacks, and dinner yesterday?
Dru Mack: I am in chill mode right now so you have no clue. I drove yesterday and I’ve spent the last two days driving from Salt Lake to Kentucky so it has been a really bad…
Neely Quinn: We don’t have to talk about that. [laughs]
Dru Mack: We’re gonna skip that but I did have a Frosty from Wendy’s as my absolute worst.
Neely Quinn: Nice. What about tomorrow or the next day?
Dru Mack: I’ll do eggs for breakfast.
Neely Quinn: Just eggs? Or anything with them?
Dru Mack: I don’t know. Because I just got home I need to go to the grocery store. I like to do avocado toast sometimes. I like to cut bread out a lot of the time but two eggs on a piece of toast with some avocado slices can be really good and easy, or something like oatmeal if I’m on a trip. That’s really easy. Oatmeal with banana.
For lunch it’s harder. I normally will try to do some meal prep a little bit and do a big veggie medley where I’m sauteeing onions, sweet potato, broccoli, and some kind of meat or something. I try to do those for lunch and dinner. Or an apple and a Clif bar. Those kind of things when I’m training, or an apple or a banana, things like that.
Then like I said for dinner, just a lot of veggies. Sometimes I’ll mix in pasta or rice or something like that but it’s always changing, I guess. I guess that sums it up mostly.
Neely Quinn: So it’s veggies, a starch, and meat for your meals and then Clif Bars and fruit for snacks or something.
Dru Mack: Yeah, that kind of thing. I think there’s some people that are way more strict. I don’t think I’m super, super strict. I’ll eat out with friends or whatever but I try to be conscious of it, I guess.
Neely Quinn: Are you conscious of your weight? Is that something that you try to lose before trips?
Dru Mack: I would say I’m conscious of putting good food into my body first because I put my body through a lot and I want to replenish and stuff like that, but then yes, I think about being at a lightweight or at a good weight. There’s a normal weight, I would say, and I’m not trying to be dramatic in any way. If I’m a little bit lighter right before a trip or on a trip, which just happens when you’re traveling on or a climbing trip, I feel like it’s easy to just be lost in the climbing. I make an effort at it but not a major ‘I’m trying to drop a bunch of weight’ or anything like that kind of thing.
Neely Quinn: You’re just trying to balance having energy with maybe losing a couple pounds.
Dru Mack: Yeah, exactly. Ultimately there’s a fighting weight and a performance weight and kind of a normal weight, but I’m also very conscious about not letting those things become a major component or not letting weight become something that means I’m not eating.
Neely Quinn: Okay. That’s fair. Last question: do you take any supplements?
Dru Mack: I don’t. Vitamin I [laughs]? That’s a joke. I did for a little bit and I don’t even remember what they are, to be 100% honest, but I haven’t in a little bit.
Neely Quinn: So you just take Ibuprofen when you’re in pain.
Dru Mack: [laughs] Yeah, sometimes.
Neely Quinn: I mean, honestly, I didn’t start supplementing for rock climbing performance until this year so I think you can get away with a lot. I was just curious. Is there anything we missed? Do you have any goals that you want to share with us coming up?
Dru Mack: I’ll be in the Red River Gorge this fall. I’m really excited for that. Of course there are some hard routes that I want to do there – Golden Ticket and Pure Imagination – but other than that we’ll see. I don’t really know yet. I just want to keep going back to Spain. In the spring that’s kind of the goal, to go back there and keep trying hard routes. I got really close on a route called Joe Blau this last season and I want to go finish that and then start trying Papichulo. 5.15 is a goal of mine, of course, so that would be cool to keep trying and chasing I guess.
Neely Quinn: Sorry – those are both 9a’s, so 14d right?
Dru Mack: Joe Blau is a really hard 14c and Papichulo is a 15a.
Neely Quinn: Oh. What do I know?
Dru Mack: No, you’re good. They’re right next to each other. Papichulo is one of the ‘more done’ 5.15s I would say as well. It’s a power endurance route so people kind of chase it.
Neely Quinn: Sounds perfect for you.
Dru Mack: Yeah, exactly, and I’ve never been to Hueco so that’s kind of on the horizon for this winter. I’m really, really excited about that, actually. That’s somewhere that I’ve wanted to go for a really long time.
Neely Quinn: Nice. It does seem like you have a lot of this figured out. You have a structure, you have reasons for doing the things that you’re doing and they’ve worked for you. It seems like you’re just getting stronger.
Dru Mack: I think that the idea for me has always been to do what works and if you find a plateau or if you find, ‘I’m stalling out,’ then take a step back and think, ‘What do I need to be better at? Or where are my weaknesses? What am I trying to accomplish?’ Then reassess and talk to people and learn from other people about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. It’s an ever-changing thing for me.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. It’s cool to hear about it and I really appreciate you telling us all of these things about your training program and what you do because you don’t have to. These are Dru Mack trade secrets. [laughs]
Dru Mack: I’m always so excited to talk about these things and work with people at the gym or people who send me messages. I’m incredibly grateful to be in a situation, in this spot, where I can maybe help somebody. If there are people listening that want help with things, feel free to reach out to me or whatever. I’m happy to give you route suggestions or whatever. I just want to be a part of things as much as possible with people.
Neely Quinn: I do want to say that if people haven’t met you, what comes across for me the most about you is that you are extremely kind, very friendly, easy to talk to, and just very positive.
Dru Mack: Thank you.
Neely Quinn: I think that’s part of why your sponsors probably love you and why everybody should talk to you at the crag.
Dru Mack: If you don’t talk to me I’ll talk to you, so…
Neely Quinn: Where can people find you online?
Dru Mack: I guess the best spot is Instagram @drumack5. Find me there. I try to really post a lot of cool photos and tell cool stories of the things that I do.
Neely Quinn: It’s been great talking to you and good luck with your goals.
√Thank you, thank you, thank you so much. I really appreciate the opportunity to be on here and to talk with you.
Neely Quinn: Take care.
I hope you enjoyed that interview with Dru Mack. You can find him on Instagram @drumack5. He’s also on Facebook but he’s pretty active on Instagram. Also, in the show notes for this episode on TrainingBeta I put a link to an article about him on Moja Gear and I also put a video about him at the Red. It’s really nice and it’s a really good video if you want to learn more about him.
Coming up on the podcast I just did an interview with Dalton Bunker who is a really strong boulderer and he’s a really strong bouldering competitor as well. We talked a lot about his climbing and training but what we ended up talking a lot about was his diet because he recently changed to being a vegan, like a year or two ago. I can’t remember how long ago but a while ago so he’s had some time to experiment with it and sort of figure out how to make it work for him. I thought that was interesting, especially as a nutritionist, to talk to somebody who’s that strong and is a vegan and has seemed to make it work for him.
On that topic, I am a nutritionist and I am a podcaster and I realize that I should probably marry those two things a little bit sometimes. I figured I could start giving you guys nutrition tips at the end of some of my podcast episodes.
Today I want to talk a little bit about breakfast. I know that it’s a little bit cliche to say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day but I will say that in my experience working with clients, and especially with athletes, it’s true. I just want to encourage you to eat breakfast and not to make it the smallest meal of the day.
When we wake up from fasting from however many hours you’re asleep and haven’t eaten, your body is primed to take in carbohydrates and protein and to use it properly all day long. It also sets you up for having good blood sugar balance for the rest of the day.
What I notice when I look at people’s food logs is their smallest meal of the day is usually breakfast, which is counter to what I’m saying you should do, and they also are usually not eating either enough protein or enough carbohydrates in that breakfast. That, a lot of times, will make it so that they have that afternoon slump or it will make it so that their workout isn’t as good as it could be in the afternoon or evening. If they’d just change their breakfast so that it’s an ample amount of calories – if you’re eating an 1800 calorie-per-day diet and you split that up over three meals, then you’re eating around 600 calories for breakfast which seems enormous to some people. That’s what I do and I’m a small person and it makes me feel really good for many hours so I’m not starving an hour after breakfast, which I think happens to a lot of people.
When people do that they immediately notice a difference in their energy levels throughout the day and they usually notice a difference in their energy levels while they’re climbing and training. It just starts your day off right.
Try to figure out how many calories you need. You can Google this stuff for your weight and your height and your age and your body fat. Figure out how many calories you need for breakfast and then try to make that be 40% carbohydrates and 25% protein and see how that goes for you. You can figure those numbers out in a tool like MyFitnessPal or any diet logging app out there.
I know that’s not a little tip. It’s kind of a lot of information but just give it a try. Think of it as an experiment and if you’re struggling with energy levels throughout your days, just try that out and see how you feel. That’s my little tip for the day.
Thanks so much for listening all the way to the end. You can find us on Instagram @trainingbeta, on Facebook at TrainingBeta, and I really appreciate you listening. I’ll talk to you next week.