Project Description

5.11 Climber Hayley Thomas Gets Coached by Matt Pincus

Date: October 30th, 2019

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About Hayley Thomas 

Hayley Thomas is a 28-year-old climber out of Colorado who projects mid-5.11’s and wants to get stronger. She emailed me requesting that I have someone on to talk about how to train as a 5.11 climber, so I asked her if she’d be willing to join Matt Pincus and me on an episode to do just that.

This interview is not a normal TrainingBeta Podcast interview. It was a training session between a coach and an athlete, wherein Matt Pincus (our resident trainer) did what he’d do with any athlete who works with him: he got a bunch of background information on her, he watched some videos of her climbing before the interview, and during the interview he crafted a plan for her to follow for the next month.

The plan involves a detailed structure for her climbing days, her strength training days, and her rest days, which we quickly discovered she was not taking enough of. The tenets that were laid out for her are basic guidelines for many other climbers out there looking to get stronger, so even if you’re not as strong as – or you’re stronger than – a 5.11 climber, you will learn something from this interview.

I hope you like this episode format! I think I’m going to continue to have different types of climbers on and have Matt train them so we can get a broader view of how to individualize plans for people. If you want to train with Matt, you can find more info at

Hayley Thomas and Matt Pincus Interview Details

  • Background on Hayley’s current climbing abilities and her goals
  • Injuries she’s dealing with and how to train with them
  • How many days a week she’s currently climbing and how many she should
  • Detailed plan for the next month, including strength training
  • How she deals with hypermobility and frozen shoulder
  • She’s 28, 5’11” and she’s good at vertical tech-y climbing
  • Wants to improve to 5.12 and beyond

Hayley Thomas and Matt Pincus Links 

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Do you want a well-laid-out, easy-to-follow training program that will get you stronger quickly? Here’s what we have to offer on TrainingBeta…

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Photo Credit

Photo by Matt Black @crux_captures of Hayley


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, and I just want to remind you that the TrainingBeta podcast is actually an offshoot of a website I created,, which is all about training for rock climbing. 

Over there we have regular blog posts, we have training programs for route climbers or boulderers or people who just want to train finger strength or power endurance. We also have online personal training with Matt Pincus and nutrition consulting with myself. I’m a nutritionist. Hopefully one or more of those things will help you become a better climber.

You can visit us at

Welcome to episode 136 of the podcast. Thanks for joining me. Little tiny update on me: I’m about to go to the Red River Gorge on Friday – it’s Wednesday – and I was super psyched and I was training a ton and I was trying to get my power endurance up or whatever you want to call it, strength endurance. I was climbing in the gym and I was very pumped and I bashed my medial elbow tendon, so the inside elbow tendon, on a hold and now I can’t open cabinets. That was on Sunday. It’s Wednesday. I had an acupuncture session and it’s just the weirdest thing. I’ve never had anything like this. I’m hoping it’s a contusion or some sort of bruise that’s just really inflamed at the moment and that it will go away just like a bruise or contusion would but it is strange. What do you do about that? You can’t just never bash your arm on a hold again.

Anyway, I’m a little worried about that but at the same time I’m just like, ‘There’s nothing I can do about it,’ so I’m just going to go to the Red and hopefully it’ll get better. If it doesn’t then I’ll just cut my trip short. I was supposed to stay for three weeks.

In any case, while I’m at the Red I will still be doing podcasting. I have so many episodes in the queue that I need to get out so you will hear from me while I’m on my trip. 

Speaking of the podcast, I have something totally different for you today. That is that Hayley Thomas is a 5.11 climber. She’s trying to bust into upper 5.11s and 5.12s. In her words in this interview she wants to be a 5.14 climber someday. She emailed us and was like, ‘Hey, I never hear about 5.11 climbers on your podcast so can you do something about that?’ 

Matt Pincus and I decided that it might be cool to have him come on and train her as if she were his client. That’s exactly what happened and I’m pretty much just going to let them take it from here. What you should expect from this episode is I’m not going to say too much. I interject a couple things in there but I basically will intro it and then Matt and Hayley take it. It is just like as if he is talking to a client for the first time. 

This is what Matt does. He trains people online and the first thing he does is have them fill out a questionnaire and all the things he’s going to talk about that he had Hayley do before their conversation, then he talks to them for about an hour and a half to really get a good sense of who they are and what they need. What’s going to happen after this is she is doing what he’s told her to do or suggested that she do. Hopefully in a couple months we’ll do an update and see where she’s at with things. I’m pretty excited about it because what she was doing compared with what Matt has told her to do is vastly different.

One final disclaimer is that this episode is an hour and 40 minutes. That’s not normal for this podcast and it’s not something that I plan on continuing to do unless it’s more episodes like this with Matt where he’s training somebody. I just wanted to give him the right amount of time and the normal amount of time that he would usually have with a client.

Here are Matt Pincus, who you can find at, and Hayley Thomas. I’ll talk to you on the other side. 

Neely Quinn: Alright, welcome to the show, Hayley and Matt. Thanks so much for being with me today.

Hayley Thomas: No problem. Excited to be here.

Matt Pincus: Yeah, thanks for having us.

Neely Quinn: This episode is very different than anything we’ve ever done, really. Hayley emailed in and said, “Hey, we never hear about 5.11 climbers and I want to know how a 5.11 climber would train.” I was like, ‘You want to be on the show? We can do a session with you and Matt Pincus.’ You agreed, Hayley, which I appreciate because I think this will be really cool. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Hayley Thomas: Sure. My name is Hayley. I live in Colorado. I started climbing about three years ago. I have been injured for about a year and a half [laughs], multiple shoulder injuries including torn labrums and tendonitis, which I feel like every climber experiences at some point during their career, bursitis, and adhesive capsulitis. 

I’m really just trying to figure out how to work through 11s and sort of enter 12s in the next couple of years. I don’t really have a time limit on it. I guess it’s just more important that I climb for the rest of my life rather than climb hard now, but I’m looking to improve my climbing and get stronger without injuring myself. I’d say that’s my top goal these days.

Neely Quinn: Sounds like a reasonable goal and a really healthy outlook.

Hayley Thomas: It took me a while to get there, actually. [laughs]

Neely Quinn: Really? 

Hayley Thomas: Yeah. I just didn’t understand taking it easy.

Neely Quinn: Which I think a lot of climbers can relate with.

Hayley Thomas: Yeah, I think so, too. Everyone who I talk to has had a similar experience in one way or another.

Neely Quinn: Yeah, I mean when I first started climbing I think I had three finger injuries in the first three years. [laughs] So your shoulder stuff is going to make training with anybody – they’re going to have to pay special attention to those injuries. I’m going to let Matt jump in here now. Matt, if Hayley was your client, where would you start and tell us about the background work that you’ve done with Hayley.

Matt Pincus: If Hayley was a client and had signed up for a custom training program with me the first thing she would do is fill out an intake questionnaire, and that’s essentially what she did. That sort of just gives me the background on Hayley like where she lives, her climbing, what kind of climbing she’s into, the level she climbs at, her goals, what she sees as her strengths and weaknesses, and then injury history. Those are probably the main points that we cover in the questionnaire.

Neely Quinn: So you got her questionnaire and you’ve emailed a little bit with her. Now what?

Matt Pincus: The next step after that would be basically what we’re going to record today. That is a phone call between the two of us where we kind of work together to parse out what Hayley’s goals are and how we’re going to reach them through the training program that we are then going to collaboratively sort of put together.

Neely Quinn: Would you mind telling us a little bit about what you learned and your perspective on where Hayley is at right now?

Matt Pincus: Looking at the questionnaire, I can definitely tell that Hayley is a really motivated climber. She seems to focus primarily on sport climbing and she’s had a pretty extensive injury history. Not only numerous injuries but it sounds like we’ve been chronically injured for awhile. If I was just building a really quick bullet point outline, those would be my highlights at the moment.

Neely Quinn: I kind of wanted to see what Matt said first but Hayley, why don’t you tell us: what’s your situation? What are you wanting to gain? What is your injury situation?

Hayley Thomas: My current situation, climbing level-wise, is I generally project mid-11s. As far as what I like to climb and what I’m better at, I tend to do better on vertical, techy routes and a little less well on overhung, juggy, maybe bouldery/more powerful routes. I would like to work on my overhang strength because it’s something I’m clearly lacking. 

I’m pretty big. I’m almost 5’11” and I weigh in at 175 pounds and I’m strong, but I definitely think that my strength-to-bodyweight ratio could be better. 

What else did you ask? Where I’m at, where I want to go…

Neely Quinn: So you don’t have any specific number goals, you just want to get better at these things.

Hayley Thomas: Of course I want to be climbing 5.14 someday [laughs] but I’m trying to remove the numbers a little bit because I got so hyper-focused on them when I first started climbing. I think it really took away from my ability to improve because my psyche got all messed up. I wasn’t doing well. If I sent a 10d and then I couldn’t send a 10b it just didn’t really click in my head why, so I’m trying to just climb better and be injury-free. 

Neely Quinn: Okay. That’s very realistic of you and I appreciate that perspective.

Hayley Thomas: Like I said, it took me a while to get there. I definitely emphasized the grade and nothing else for the first year.

Neely Quinn: And how long have you been climbing?

Hayley Thomas: Three.

Neely Quinn: Three years. And you’re how old?

Hayley Thomas: 28

Neely Quinn: Cool. I had also asked you about your injuries and then I’m going to let Matt take it from here.

Hayley Thomas: Okay, cool. Six months in I climbed like six days a week. Everyone told me not to but I just didn’t listen and I got tendonitis in both elbows and both shoulders. With a little bit of PT that went away and I was able to keep it at bay for the most part. 

A year and a half in I was doing acro and my shoulder subluxed on my left side and I ended up with a few labral tears and through that, because I went to go get some imaging done, I discovered that I still had tendonitis in my shoulders and on top of that, bursitis. I had adhesive capsulitis in my right shoulder, which is frozen shoulder. My mobility was compromised significantly from that.

Neely Quinn: Woah. I didn’t know you could get frozen shoulder without having a surgery. Why didn’t you get surgery? Did they tell you to?

Hayley Thomas: [laughs] They said it was an option. All of these issues that I am experiencing are symptoms of a larger issue which is hypermobility. I’ve had that my whole life. My hips pop out, I’ve broken my ankle a few times, I’ve broken my wrist like six times in my life – it’s ridiculous – just because things move further than they’re supposed to. 

I’ve had two ankle surgeries for this. The tendons in my ankles weren’t tight enough so they went in there and fused one together on my right side, then it stretched back out within a couple of years so they put somebody else’s in there. The stability has improved a little bit but that’s a lot of surgery to undergo to gain a small amount of stability in my ankle. 

When they told me that surgery was an option, not a necessity, they said they would go in and fix the labral tear but that wasn’t really the issue. The issue was that my shoulders are just too loose so I decided to really go hard on the PT and see if I can’t tighten everything up that way because all this stuff stretches out over time anyways. If I get it now it’s possible I’ll need two more surgeries, so one more surgery on both shoulders, in six years or 10 years. I just don’t want to go under the knife unless it’s totally necessary.

Neely Quinn: Got it. I feel you.

Hayley Thomas: That was very long-winded. [laughs]

Neely Quinn: No, no. That’s really good and it’s important. I think a lot of people do deal with injuries so it’s not like you’re an outlier here.

Okay Matt, go ahead and take it from here. I’m going to be pretty quiet from here on out unless I have some burning question.

Matt Pincus: Alright, so typically when I start these calls I kind of like to outline three points, the three things that we’re trying to accomplish with me as the coach and Hayley as the athlete. I think we’ll start there and Hayley, we can kind of just run with it and treat this like a coaching session and see where we get.

Hayley Thomas: Cool.

Matt Pincus: Cool. So the three things we’re trying to accomplish: number one is for me to get a really good sense of you and your climbing. Your background, things like injuries, your goals, where you want to go, and the place where climbing fits in your overall life. Are we a climber who goes to the gym twice a week or are we climbing all the time, going outside on the weekends? All those details because that’s really going to help inform a lot of the training decisions we make and how we prioritize certain things over others. We kind of did a bunch of that first step here in the introduction but I think we can circle back to a couple more questions in a second.

Point two then is for me to kind of outline for you some of the principles behind how I approach writing training programs for climbers and coaching climbers. That’s really so that you can understand why I’m asking you to do something or why something is in the program. A training program can look great on paper but if you don’t believe in it and sort of feel ownership of it, it’s going to be really hard for you to buy in and it’s going to be harder to stick with over the long term and to see those results and consistency as we move forward.

The final point is for us to kind of work together to figure out the nuts and bolts of your training program. We’re doing this remotely. If you were my athlete we would be working together remotely. Because I’m not there on a day-to-day basis I don’t know exactly what your gym looks like, exactly what your schedule looks like, what equipment you have available, things that you’re comfortable doing and you’re capable of doing versus others. It needs to be a collaborative effort between the two of us to hammer out what those details look like.

Hayley Thomas: Cool.

Matt Pincus: If we can circle back to point one there, I think we covered quite a bit of the background like who you are, how you climb, and sort of an injury history. Can you speak – you sort of said you’re not interested in just pursuing numbers but are we climbing mostly inside? Are we climbing mostly outside? I know that overall we’re trying to just get better and stay healthy but can you give me a little bit more of an idea of indoor/outdoor, that kind of thing?

Hayley Thomas: Sure. I train indoor during the week and I climb outside almost every weekend. Lately I’ve been busy so I haven’t been able to get outside as much but in Denver, you can pretty much climb year-round because Shelf is close and it stays 10° warmer there all winter. I train inside to climb outside. I like climbing inside but that’s not why I do it. It’s mostly to go outside.

Matt Pincus: So when you say you’re projecting mid-5.11, is that indoors and outdoors? 

Hayley Thomas: Yeah. I like to project in the gym. I wouldn’t say that I go as hard in the gym, just because I am so prone to injuries. I’ve been working an 11c, a long, overhung route in the gym. I’ll give it my all but I’m not going to give it four burns in one session. I might give it one or two burns when I go do my roped climbing for the week inside whereas outside, pending how I’m feeling and how much progress I think I can make in the burn, I’ll give it my all.

Matt Pincus: And that’s still at the same level, mid-5.11?

Hayley Thomas: Yeah. 11c is the hardest I’ve ever sent and that was outside.

Matt Pincus: Okay. Have we done a couple 11c’s, one 11c, a bunch of 11c’s?

Hayley Thomas: One 11c, a few 11b’s, and a handful of 11a’s.

Matt Pincus: For that 11c and the handful of 11b’s, were those sort of longer term? When we say ‘project,’ what does that mean to you?

Hayley Thomas: It’s kind of all over the map. I just listened to your projecting podcast and read your article. It was really good.

Matt Pincus: Thank you.

Hayley Thomas: I don’t think I’ve ever taken more than 10 attempts to send something over the course of five weeks or so. That 11c was The Raw and The Roasted at Shelf Road. I think it took me six times to send it over the course of three weeks. I think I went out every weekend for one day and gave it two hard burns, one of which was a beta burn each time.

These aren’t year-long projects by any stretch of the imagination but they’re definitely a few weeks at a time, or something I tried last year in Ten Sleep that I went back to this year with all the beta written down in my phone.

Matt Pincus: Awesome. I know that the goal that we talked about in the introduction was that we want to just kind of keep improving but we want to do so while staying healthy. We have two sort of general goals. One of the first things I think we need to do here is build out a picture of a longer-term view of what your year looks like. I know you said you climb most weekends outside, at least a day, but is there a time of year you’re more focused on or a crag you’re more focused on for a particular time of year? Things like that. Is that pretty consistent year-round or is there something you want to focus more specifically on?

Hayley Thomas: I’d say it’s pretty consistent year-round. Fall is usually big. I mean, everybody likes to send in the fall. I go on longer trips in the summer, like Fourth of July I’m in Ten Sleep for nine days, so I do find that May, June, July I climb more consistently outside and take longer trips. I take a Friday and a Monday off, climbing for a longer time, so I guess prepping for summer which seems a little counterintuitive for me but that seems to be when I take my longer outdoor trips. 

Matt Pincus: Okay. The reason I’m asking here is when we’re building out training programs it’s really easy to start focusing on the here and now, like, ‘I’ve got this project I would like to send next week. What can I do right now?’ The training that we’re going to do isn’t for next weekend. We’re looking more for long-term improvement so what I’m trying to get you to do here is sort of look at your year and say, ‘Sure, there are periods of the year where we’re going to focus more on climbing outside and there are periods of the year where maybe we focus a little bit more on training.’ Not that you can’t go climbing outside ever, but being fresh and being able to go out to the crag and give it 100% on what would be your hardest redpoint kind of takes a backseat to building up your base level overall.

Within that, it sounds like we’re talking about late spring/early summer being a period where we focus a lot on climbing outside. It’s fall now. Is the winter typically a time – I know you said you go to Shelf but are you getting out multiple times a weekend? One time a weekend? What does that look like?

Hayley Thomas: I’d say in the winter I average two weekends a month.

Matt Pincus: I’m going to throw out what sounds sort of like how we’re splitting up the year. Please correct me if I’m wrong in any way but it seems like, like you said, fall is a great time of year to be a rock climber so we spend fall trying to be outside. In the winter we get out a couple times a month but that could be a time where we really focus in the gym and make training more a priority so that when we hit spring and the beginning of summer and you’re taking extra time off work to go on these longer trips, you’ve done the prep work already. 

As spring turns into summer and it does get truly hot, do you continue climbing outside a bunch then? Or does that sort of take a backseat again leading into the fall?

Hayley Thomas: It probably takes a backseat again leading into fall and then middle of fall to middle of winter I start climbing outside a lot again.

Matt Pincus: So it seems like what we’ve got there then are two different performance periods and then two seasons where we focus a bit more on training. I think that’s a pretty normal way. Not everyone lives somewhere you can climb outside year-round but typically you get two seasons a year that tend to be pretty good and two times a year where maybe you can go outside a little bit but it’s worth focusing more in the gym. 

I think if we use that as a longer-term vision and keep this goal of: we’re looking for general improvement and we’re really trying to address these injury incidences and reduce the frequency of your injuries so that we can get back to the idea of, like you said, you want to climb 5.14 in your life. It’s not that you only want to climb 5.11. We want to make sure we figure out a program that is sustainable for you so that we can keep climbing for the long term and keep that focus up there.

With that in mind you wrote out an email for me, which was really helpful, of your typical week. Can you describe that for everyone? 

Hayley Thomas: Yeah, sure. I workout 5-6 days a week. Well, I’m active 5-6 days a week. I wouldn’t say that every single one of those days is a hard workout. Mondays I focus on endurance so I do a 55-minute, total, exercise on the systems wall. Not the systems wall, the one that moves. Is that a systems wall?

Matt Pincus: A treadwall? Like it rotates?

Hayley Thomas: Not like a treadmill, just one you can adjust the angle of.

Matt Pincus: Oh, okay, so a systems board.

Hayley Thomas: I do 3 minutes on/2 minutes off between 5-10° overhang because that’s something that I’m trying to work on. It ends up being 44 laps total because I do about 4 laps every 3-minute segment. That’s it for Mondays. I’ll do some stretching and yoga but nothing else intense that day.

Tuesdays, in the morning I do a HIIT cardio and shoulder workout. It’s usually about an hour. I’ll do jump roping or rowing or jumping jacks or whatever for 1-2 minutes in between shoulder-focused exercises. Then in the evening I climb for 1.5-2 hours. The climbing in the evening depends on how hard a route I’m working or how hard of routes I’m doing but I’ll climb between 8-15 routes in those two hours. If I’m climbing harder routes it’s usually less of them, if I’m climbing easier routes it’s usually more. 

Wednesdays I do acro yoga. It’s just partner yoga so I do that on Wednesdays. It’s three hours. That’s not for climbing, that’s just something else I like to do. Occasionally I’ll do some cardio that day as well.

Thursdays are the same as Tuesdays so that’s the AM HIIT cardio plus shoulders and them my PM climbing.

Fridays I do yoga and a casual climb sesh with a friend after work. I have friends who want to climb so maybe I’ll take them to the gym and top rope with them but nothing intense.

Weekends I try to get outside, pending what I have going on. If I don’t get outside and I’m in town I’ll probably do one day of whatever kind of climbing in the gym I feel like doing. If my joints hurt it’ll be easy, if they don’t I might hop on something harder.

That’s pretty much my week.

Matt Pincus: Can you describe a little bit more of what the Tuesday and Thursday AM, the HIIT cardio and shoulder workout, looks like?

Hayley Thomas: Sure. I have done a lot of PT over the last year and a half for my shoulders so I have a little bit of band work that I do. I use the TRX bands a lot as well but basically the cardio and shoulders that I do in the morning is 1-2 minutes of either rowing or jump roping. Those are the two that I gravitate towards. In between those 1-2 minutes of cardio I’ll do shoulder-focused exercises, so I’ll do – I can’t actually do pull-ups right now so I’ll do assisted pull-ups or I’ll do push-ups. A lot of complementary shoulder exercises. I try to do a lot of pushing exercises instead of pulling since that’s what I’m doing on the wall.

Matt Pincus: But that’s always with bands and bodyweight?

Hayley Thomas: No, I’ll use dumbbells and the cable machine as well. I’ll do lat pulldowns, a lot of scapular engagement-type exercises, and then stability exercises, so putting my shoulder in a semi-compromising position like up over my head with a kettlebell so that it’s unstable and I just press it up a few times. That kind of thing.

Matt Pincus: Are you sort of designing that yourself or are you still working with a physical therapist?

Hayley Thomas: I am not currently working with a physical therapist. These are a number of exercises I’ve learned through therapy and just videos and podcasts like this that I can tune into and learn something from. They are created by me, currently.

Matt Pincus: Okay. Last question on that: when you’re doing those, what does the sets and reps look like for those shoulder-focused exercises? I know we’re doing the cardio sort of circuit style.

Hayley Thomas: It depends. If it’s really heavy the reps will be less. I do 3 sets of the whole thing and I have anywhere between 8-10 different exercises that I’m doing, like assisted pull-ups. If I’m using the machine I have to assist those pull-ups like 70 pounds so I’m only pulling 100 of my bodyweight up. With lat pulldowns I’m doing 70 pounds pulling and I do 8 reps of those. Then everything on the TRX band I do 10-12 reps per set so it varies. I think the least amount of reps I’ll do is 6 and that’s on the pull-up machine.

Matt Pincus: Okay. If we zoom back out and kind of look at your weekly schedule overall, I think the biggest thing that stands out is we had you run through your whole week and we didn’t see any rest days. Why? Where do you come from with that?

Hayley Thomas: I guess it’s a little – if I’m not doing something I feel like I’m not being proactive. I know, logically, that that’s not right which is why I probably need a trainer like you to tell me to take Wednesday off or to not do something on one of those days. I guess Wednesdays are like my active rest days? [laughs] I tell myself that. If I’m not climbing outside both days on the weekend I might not be doing anything on Sunday so there are rest days that work themselves into my schedule organically. I wouldn’t say that I schedule them, though. I know resting is just as important as not resting.

Matt Pincus: I know I kind of put you on the spot there.

Hayley Thomas: That’s okay.

Matt Pincus: This is one the moments in these calls where this is sort of the difficult conversation to have. As a coach, I don’t want to tell you, ‘You can’t do something,’ right? We all want to enjoy our lives and if things like yoga make you happy then it’s not that we want to completely eliminate those things where it’s like, ‘It’s only climbing or you sit on the couch and that’s it.’ But, I do think the role of the coach here, one of the more important things, is to kind of interject some perspective and help you keep your goals your goals. A big part of that, and you said it yourself, is we know resting is important and we know that we’re trying to create a sustainable approach for you in climbing so that we can improve over the long term and stay healthy and get back to really pushing the difficulty envelope without this fear of the next impending injury. 

I think the first thing we really need to do is look at what we can eliminate so that we can do less. What we’re really looking at here is you have something scheduled six days a week and then two of those days are double sessions. That’s a lot of training. 

Hayley Thomas: My Friday afternoon yoga that I do is a habit class. I don’t think it hurts anything. I think it maybe complements what I do because it’s mostly stretching and getting things moving in a way that’s not quite so hard on my body. Do you think that that negates a rest day? Do you think that is a rest day or is that not a rest day?

Matt Pincus: I think a gentle yoga class is fine to do on a rest day but maybe not if it’s your only rest day, right? It’s important to remember that anything active that we do – our body doesn’t differentiate between climbing and something else. We don’t accumulate climbing fatigue and climbing stress in one corner and then put it aside and now we’re doing yoga, so we can focus on doing yoga and that’s going to be different. Our body internalizes that stress in the same way so it all impacts how we recover. A restorative yoga session could be great to help you recover from a workout but we still do need just time to rest. 

When we look at what really affects our recovery it’s going to be, most importantly, time to actually recover. Things like nutrition, sleep, hydration, are all going to be way more important. There’s nothing we can do to really speed that up. All the other things, like foam rolling and stretching and yoga, we’re not going to be able to overcome too much training load by doing more recovery.

Hayley Thomas: [laughs] Okay.

Matt Pincus: So I think that we just need to go through your program again, a little bit. The two questions I like to use to help people really look at what they’re doing and if it’s actually in service of their goals are: why are we doing it? How are we going to progress it? The logic behind that is that we know training is something that we’re doing to help us reach our climbing goals. If it’s not in service of that then we don’t need to do it. The goal isn’t to do more training. We’re looking for the minimal effective dose. We want to be able to do the least amount possible to help us reach our goals because that’s energy that we can put into actually doing our sport. 

The other thing is that we know for training to actually work we need to keep achieving overload. If we just did 5 push-ups every time we went into the gym, sure, that might make us tired and might make us stronger but eventually it’s not enough stimulus anymore. We’re going to adapt to 5 push-ups and we’re not going to get stronger anymore. 

With everything in our program we really want to look at it and say, “Why are we doing it? Is this in service of our goals? How are we planning on progressing it?” Or, are we just sort of spinning our wheels and getting tired rather than actually getting somewhere in our climbing?

Why don’t we just go back through your schedule and I’ll ask those questions. For your endurance routine on the systems wall, why are you doing that?

Hayley Thomas: To train endurance so I can stay on the wall when I’m climbing longer, harder routes, or give my projects more burns.

Matt Pincus: How do you progress that workout?

Hayley Thomas: Currently the way I view progression in this one is adding overhang, so making that wall lower and lower so I’m training harder and harder. 

Matt Pincus: Okay. When you’re doing that workout on the systems wall are you just sort of laddering on all the same holds? Is it a spray wall?

Hayley Thomas: No, it has routes on it and it’s traversing across and back.

Matt Pincus: Sweet. I think that’s a session we can maybe fine tune why you’re doing or how you’re doing this endurance work, but I don’t have a problem with it. You’re a route climber, we know endurance is important for route climbers, so having an endurance training component is definitely not a waste of our time.

Hayley Thomas: Cool.

Matt Pincus: Now let’s look at the HIIT cardio and shoulders. Why are we doing that?

Hayley Thomas: Weight loss, I guess, or weight maintenance is why I do the cardio at all. Then the shoulders is just to keep my shoulders strong off the wall, I guess. That’s pretty much that for that.

Matt Pincus: I think we can have Neely jump in if she wants to about the weight maintenance idea and cardio’s role there but I want to look at the shoulders idea for a second and ask that same progression question there. It sounds like we have this pretty diverse circuit of exercises, from assisted pull-ups to things on the TRX to push-ups to some overhead pressing, but how are we progressing those things?

Hayley Thomas: Just adding weight or taking weight away from the assisted pull-ups.

Matt Pincus: What about the PM session? It sounds like we’re going route climbing in the gym. What are we doing there? Why are we doing that and how are we progressing?

Hayley Thomas: That’s just to get more time on the wall, I think. I feel like at this stage in my climbing career I could hangboard and attempt to campus board and do all that kind of stuff but at the end of the day, I need to practice clipping bolts on a wall, you know? That’s what that is for.

I used to do one more endurance session because I do fall short. I pump out relatively quickly, especially in the overhung realm. I used to do one endurance session with a partner on ropes where I would climb 20-some routes in a session. I would just go up and come back down, go up and come back down, basically until I couldn’t anymore. That would be my Tuesday and then Thursday I would be climbing all hard stuff, like stuff that I was falling off of. Now, because I’ve had so many shoulder issues, I just do whatever my body feels like it can handle that day. If my joints are feeling pretty good I might go harder and try something more at my limit and try it a few times whereas if my joints are bothering me I might just climb a bunch of 9s and low 10s and just get routes in.

Matt Pincus: Okay, so the last two there are the two yoga sessions and it sounds like they’re a little different. Can you speak a little bit more to what those look like and why we’re doing them?

Hayley Thomas: Acro yoga is partner yoga. Acro is acrobatic yoga so basically I base more than I fly which means I’m holding people up and twisting them around and putting them in weird positions on top of my hands and feet, and sometimes shoulders. I really just do that because I love it. It’s a three-hour session. It’s called an acro jam where it’s sort of social and everyone just kind of hangs out and you meet new like-minded folk and climb on each other. [laughs] It’s pretty fun.

Matt Pincus: And the Friday session?

Hayley Thomas: The Friday session I would consider more restorative. You’re not not using your muscles, it’s not Vinyasa. You’re not stretching out and rolling things out. I barely break a sweat in it, let’s put it that way. It’s Hatha so it’s basically you do a bunch of warm-up poses leading up to one goal pose that you’re trying to do. If your goal pose was a handstand you might do handstands against the wall and then walk up the wall with your feet and you might hang out in Downward Dog for a little while until the end of the class where you try the move you’re going for/the pose you’re going for.

Matt Pincus: Why are we doing that in our week?

Hayley Thomas: [laughs] That one I actually did feel was good for me, per se. I felt like it was a good counter to all the climbing and pulling that I’m doing but now that you’re asking me, I think if I was to incorporate a yoga class into my Fridays it should be something more like Vinyasa or just stretching and resting.

Matt Pincus: So essentially, we don’t have a clear reason for that one, it was sort of like, ‘We have an open day, we like being active every day, so we filled it.’

Hayley Thomas: Yeah, I think in my mind my schedule was imbalanced because I didn’t have any yoga in it and I was like, ‘Oh, this is cool. I’ll dip out of work for an hour on Fridays and go to yoga,’ because it’s two blocks from my work. But if I’m being intentional about my regimen here, that one is probably not one that I have to do. It’s good for my head. It makes my head feel good.

Matt Pincus: And on the weekends we know that some times of the year we’re going outside. Do we ever go outside two times on the weekends or is it really just one?

Hayley Thomas: No, I do Saturday-Sunday often.

Matt Pincus: And those days it sounds like look mostly like whatever you can handle, right?

Hayley Thomas: Yep.

Matt Pincus: If we’re feeling good we’ll try something harder, if we’re not feeling as good we climb easier things. If you had to put a typical number of pitches on those days what would it look like? 

Hayley Thomas: On each of those days? A good day and a not so good day?

Matt Pincus: Yep.

Hayley Thomas: On a good day I’ll probably, if I have a project that I’m working or something that I have my sights set on, I’ll probably do two easy warm-ups. For me that’s a 5.9 or a 10a or even an 8, if I can find a climb that’s an 8 and isn’t a total choss pile. Then I’ll give the project or the route that I ventured outside to go do anywhere between 1-3 attempts, so what is that? Like 3-5 routes on a day that I’m climbing at my hardest, grade-wise. Then there are days I go out and I’m just climbing low 10s and 9s and I might get 8-9 pitches in that day. 

Matt Pincus: Awesome. I hope that you can sort of see what I’m getting at here.

Hayley Thomas: Totally. 

Matt Pincus: We just want to have a really clear – we can’t fit everything in, right? There’s just not enough time in the week and we have to recover from it.

Hayley Thomas: Why? [laughs]

Matt Pincus: No matter how motivated we are or how open our schedules are, we just can’t fit it all in. What I’m really trying to get you to do is to evaluate what we are doing because I think you need to do less. This is a really common thing, I think. When I work with athletes I think people hire a coach initially thinking that there’s going to be this, ‘Okay, we’re going to work really hard.’ Like a scene from Rocky or something. 

Hayley Thomas: [laughs] Cue the montage.

Matt Pincus: Exactly. A lot of the time, though, what we end up doing is trying to cut back so we can really put our energy into the things that are really going to help us improve. I think there’s a couple really telling things there and that’s that your climbing sessions – 3-4 a week depending on the time of year, right?

Hayley Thomas: Yeah.

Matt Pincus: A lot of times, whether you get to try really hard in those climbing sessions is determined by how your joints feel. It sounds like climbing is the main priority for you so we’re a little out of balance here in that it seems like we’re fitting a good climbing session in, when we actually feel recovered enough, around everything else we’re doing rather than let’s focus on having really good quality climbing sessions and then we can do the supplemental work in addition and on the side of that but really making those climbing sessions a priority. I think you were spot on when you said it, that where you’re at with your climbing, the most important thing for you to be doing is to be spending time on the wall. Like you said, being comfortable on lead, clipping bolts, working on routes. 

Those weekends when you can get outside –  since you have the resources to be able to get outside frequently, I think the best thing that you can be doing to help you towards your outdoor goals is making the most of those days. Especially when we go back to that year-long overview, when we’re in a more performance oriented period of the year where we’re getting outside every weekend or for longer weekends, we need to reduce pretty dramatically what we’re doing during the week to the point where we’re reliably showing up on the weekends feeling good and ready to try hard.

Even when we’re in our training period, whether it’s 80/20 or 75/25 as a good check, that is that 75-80% of what we’re doing totally, anything we can lump into physical activity or training for climbing, we want to be with climbing shoes on, on a climbing wall, developing climbing skill, practicing climbing. That other 25-20% is everything else. That’s your strength training, your cardio, your shoulder maintenance, the yoga, things like that. We really need to think of that as supplemental. When we have to reduce the overall training load that’s what takes the hit, not your climbing. Does that make sense?

Hayley Thomas: Yeah. I think this schedule, the regimen that I came up with, stems from when I wasn’t allowed to climb as much and then I just threw climbing back in there because my PT suddenly was like, ‘Yeah! Just go for it. You’re looking better.’ I was like, ‘Okay. Where can I fit this back in?’ and that’s what I did. 

I think part of me is hesitant to go so climbing-focused and not climbing-adjacent, if you will, simply because that’s how I got tendinitis in the first place, climbing six days a week and not doing anything else. Or at least that’s what I was led to believe. That’s some background as to why my schedule looks like that. I never really thought about it. It was just like, ‘Oh, well I need to watch my weight so I’m going to do a bunch of cardio. I need to do shoulder prehab and rehab so let’s keep them strong by doing this. I also like yoga so let’s do that.’

Matt Pincus: I think that’s totally normal and I understand where you’re coming in saying that you have some nervousness about jumping fully back into climbing, first because it’s gotten you hurt before, but I think it’s important to note that I’m not suggesting that we go back to climbing six days a week. I think what we’re looking at more is let’s find the appropriate amount that you can climb and make the most of that time. Really focus on having quality climbing sessions there. 

We know that shoulder health is a big thing for you right now. We have to address that issue so that’s going to be the main focus of that 25%. Then we also know that you really care about acro yoga so that’s another thing that we know we want to keep as part of your week. If you look at that, suddenly we’re pretty full. We’re looking at a pretty full schedule there. 

When you reduce quantity the quality can go up and you can go quickly from feeling like you’re just treading water and trying to fit everything in to that really good feeling where you go into every session feeling fresh and ready. You get to try hard and you can sort of feel yourself making progress. It can be a hard leap to make at first, to switch from a quantity focus to a quality focus, but I think that that’s the macro level of what we need to really do here.

I would say that for the periods of the year where you’re climbing two days on the weekends outside, we want those to be the number one priority. That’s where your projects that you care the most are and that’s the sport that we’re training for in the first place. With those as the priority, I think we need to make showing up on Saturday morning, when you go to the crag, feeling fresh. I think the obvious answer to that is Friday we just need to rest. Then, when we structure the rest of the week, I think during this performance phase when we’re climbing a bunch on the weekends, we need to keep the higher intensity activities earlier in the week so you have more time to recover from them before the weekend. 

Two days a week outside, and I do think you do a good job of where you have one day where you maybe focus on something harder and push that project limit. Obviously that makes sense to do on a Saturday, if you’re feeling good. Then you do a good job on the Sunday of not just only ever trying your project but stepping back and having a volume day and focusing on climbing routes that aren’t quite at your limit. We know a lot by just going through the process on more and more routes. I think that on your weekends you’re doing a great job of utilizing time, we just need to change what we’re doing during the week so that we can get there recovered and ready to take advantage of them.

Two days of climbing on the weekends, right?

Hayley Thomas: Yeah.

Matt Pincus: I think a good general rule for you is that we don’t need to be climbing more than two days in a row.

Hayley Thomas: Okay.

Matt Pincus: That obviously then turns Monday into a good day for a rest day, at least from climbing.

Hayley Thomas: So Ten Sleep is the one trip I go on every single year for the Fourth of July. I’m usually there for at least six days. I’ve done eight or nine before. Are you saying I should take a rest day every third day?

Matt Pincus: I mean, that’s what I would do but it gets a little tricky there and I don’t think there’s any one answer. If that’s your big trip it depends on what you’re trying to get out of it, right? If you’re trying to climb a limit level project or hard for you route then yeah, if you’re suddenly five or six days on then you’re probably not going to be climbing the hardest route you’ve ever tried. But if you’re just kind of like, ‘I’m here with friends and I’m just trying to enjoy it,’ I still don’t think climbing six days on is a great idea but I don’t think you need to be as strict about a rest every third day. 

Hayley Thomas: Okay. Just thought I’d ask.

Matt Pincus: Totally. I think what we’re looking at right now, we can kind of focus on this one because we are in season. It’s still fall. We’re focusing on performance so we’ve made the weekends a priority. We know we’re going to try to climb two days on the weekends so resting Monday is sort of the next obvious choice, right?

Hayley Thomas: Resting Monday? So two rest days? Monday and Friday?

Matt Pincus: Yep. I know. Crazy, right?

Hayley Thomas: I’m like, ‘Okay,’ but I’m cringing. I’m listening.

Matt Pincus: We know we’re doing acro yoga because it’s important to you on Wednesday so that leaves us with Tuesday and Thursday. This is a pretty standard weekend warrior schedule, right? I climb on Tuesday, I climb on Thursday, I go outside on the weekends. I think the hitch we want to throw in there is that we want to front load the week with more intense work and the things that are going to take longer to recover from. 

I think Tuesday is the day for harder climbing. I would love to see you introduce some regular bouldering into your climbing but I understand that that’s probably an intimidating thing right now and that may not be a realistic thing right off the bat, right? That would have to be the kind of thing that we would let play out and see, as we work together. That would be a day for trying harder routes, trying boulder problems, more intense climbing, and then I think incorporating shoulder maintenance work so a strength training component with a shoulder focus for you would be on Tuesday.

Wednesday we know we’re doing the acro yoga. Thursday then – we’re in season now so you’re getting a bunch of pitches in on the weekend. You’re building endurance. While we’re solidly in season, if you’re getting really close on a project we want to keep that session pretty short and have you leaving the gym not destroyed. You’re only going to have Friday to recover before Saturday, which is your most important day of the week. That can be just getting in a volume of pitches or just some easier climbing but with that idea of leaving before we’re exhausted. If you want to add some light yoga or stretching around that, that’s fine, too. I think the biggest change we’re trying to introduce there is those two full rest days into your week.

Hayley Thomas: Okay.

Matt Pincus: I know that doesn’t sound like a lot of training or climbing but we’re still getting four climbing sessions in. It’s the same amount of climbing. We’ve just kind of reprioritized that to make sure that we’re showing up ready to do that rather than showing up tired and trying to do that and trying to still climb but compromising our sessions in that way. Remember, that’s in season. That’s when our focus is on climbing outside. It’s okay that we aren’t doing quite as much because the priority is on the weekend.

We could sort of contrast that with what I think would be a good approach when it’s winter or it’s mid-summer and we’re not getting outside as much.

Hayley Thomas: I had one question for you. If I’m not climbing outside that weekend, even though it’s in season, should I just hop in the gym and do some climbing or…

Matt Pincus: Like what? Like the weather is bad?

Hayley Thomas: Yeah, like the weather is bad.

Matt Pincus: Yeah, if you don’t have the flexibility in your schedule to then try to get outside during the week or something then I don’t see any problem with you climbing on the weekends, both days. You could replicate that in the gym. You could have a try hard day on Saturday and then an endurance, volume-based workout on Sunday. Again, we know you’re not going to get outside during the week so you’ve got a whole other week to recover.

Hayley Thomas: Before I go outside.

Matt Pincus: Yeah, and we don’t want to go down the road of: we know resting is important so I’m just going to rest seven days a week and I’m going to get super strong. It’s the same idea of keeping the priority of: I want to show up on Saturdays feeling good and ready to try hard. Outdoor climbing is the focus.

Then we can contrast that with now it’s winter or mid-summer and we’re not getting outside all the time. Training is more of our focus. Maybe you get outside on a spare weekend and that’s okay and we could add back in a Monday endurance session. Or I would rather see that on Thursday and we could strength train on Monday and Tuesday. There’s a ton of ways. 

The exact schedule is something you can play with and we’d need to see what worked best for you but we’d sort of be looking to, when you’re in training mode, instead of one strength session a week, one indoor session where you try hard and one where the focus is just sort of on skill development and time on the wall, we’d go to two strength sessions a week and let’s try to have two sessions a week where we’re really trying hard in the gym. 

Ideally at this point in time we’d be feeling more confident and we could have: this is the day we’d try hard on routes in the gym, this is our bouldering day, now we have an endurance day, and structure it that way.

Hayley Thomas: Okay.  

Matt Pincus: Does that sort of make sense? How does that register? It’s your life. It’s great for me to introduce these ideas but does that sound like a reasonable approach?

Hayley Thomas: Totally. I think resting on Monday and Friday will be difficult. I eat pretty healthily. I just read a blog post by Neely and basically she was like, ‘Just don’t eat so much because you don’t need to eat that much to get through your day,’ so I guess I could focus on that to keep my weight down. I’m not crazy overweight but I’m definitely on the heavier side of healthy, I would say, and I know that that puts a lot of stress on my joints when I am weighting them so it’s something that I focus on trying to control so that I don’t get hurt. 

I guess the one thing I worry about with the regimen that we’re talking about is taking out getting my heart rate up and burning calories, if that makes sense.

Matt Pincus: I’d say I think your approach to thinking of it from more of a nutrition side of things versus the exercise side of things is probably a better way of looking at it but I think if I’m hearing that weight gain is a major sticking point for you and you’re my client, this is when I would recommend working with somebody like Neely to kind of dial that in. I can give you the baseline of, ‘Hey, we want to make sure we’re eating enough. Getting enough protein, fueling our workouts properly,’ but in terms of the actual nuts and bolts of trying to lose weight or maintain our weight, that’s a little beyond the scope of what I typically do. 

Neely Quinn: I just want to interject here really quickly because I don’t want people to think that I would just say to somebody like you, “Eat less.” There’s definitely a lot more that goes into it, especially if you’re trying to do so much. You can’t try to starve yourself now because that’s not going to work for a) your energy levels and goals, and b) being prone to injury. Yeah, it would have to be a really good macronutrient profile that you were having like tons of protein, especially because you’re always trying to heal from something, and then plenty of carbs to fuel things. It’s not always a calories in/calories out thing. 

I also want to say that most of the time with my nutrition clients, as far as weight goes, often the less they do the more weight they lose. That’s often because you get really inflamed when you train so much and it’s hard for your body to let go of fat. It’s counter-intuitive but it works almost all the time with people.

Anyway, back to you, Matt.

Matt Pincus: So yeah, I think what we’ve been doing there is looking at these bigger weekly schedules but I think maybe let’s dive into what seems to me the other obvious sticking point here and that’s the shoulder injuries. I know you sort of touched on a little bit of what the circuit consisted of but can we revisit that and go into that with detail? Right now, Tuesdays and Thursdays you go in and you’re doing this HITT cardio but what exactly are we doing for the shoulders? 

Hayley Thomas: I have a bucket of exercises that I like to do and I switch them out so I’m not doing the same exact thing with the same exact weight every single time I go to do this hour-ish long exercise. One example, I think I actually have it right here. 

One example would be – I’ll just run through one set. It starts with 180 seconds of jump roping and then I do 10 TRX close rows, then 90 seconds of jump roping, 10 TRX high rows, and in between the next exercises I’m going to list off there’s 90 seconds of jumping. I do TRX W-rows, TRX push-ups, assisted pull-ups either with a band or the assisted pull-up machine, lat pulldowns, and shoulder shrugs/push-up shrugs, and then 180 seconds of jumping again. I’ll do that whole thing three times. That’s one example of what that morning might look like for me.

Matt Pincus: Okay, so I think going back to this idea of wanting to keep the focus on the long term, what we’re looking at here is we need to develop a strength training regimen that prioritizes shoulder strength and stability that is going to get your shoulders feeling stronger and healthier but isn’t going to overtake your climbing.

What it sounds like a lot of what you’re doing is a HIIT circuit. No rest, always doing something, sort of higher rep work. I know your injuries were like a year and a half ago, right? It’s good to hear we’ve moved on from just using a Theraband. I think that’s great and that’s not something that everyone does but what we need to focus more on here is building strength rather than the feeling of getting in a workout. That circuit sounds exhausting to me.

Hayley Thomas: It is.

Matt Pincus: I think I have pretty healthy shoulders and I’m sure that I would be gasping for air and sweating everywhere. That’s a lot to recover from, especially when you’re then trying to climb in the evening. Remember that this fits into that 25% supplemental side of things and supplemental is the key word there. I think something like instead of, ‘How many exercises can we fit in and am I going to leave the gym feeling like I got a good workout?’ we need to just go back to the idea of focusing more on movement patterns and sticking more to strength training. 

When we talk about strength training, the goal of strength training is – strength is just the ability to produce force so we want to be training in a way that is going to increase strength. That, classically, is going to be high load, low rep, and plenty of rest. I think we want to impose the rule on ourselves that eventually we want to be capping the total number of reps that you do per movement, per session, at under 10. Obviously, for that to happen the load has got to be higher. I say eventually because I don’t think working together remotely and not knowing where you’re at in introducing a new strength training program and definitely with your shoulder injury history, I definitely don’t want to say like, ‘Tomorrow, we’re going into the gym. I want you to put as much weight as you possibly think you can lift on a barbell and press it over your head.’

Hayley Thomas: Yeah, that’s what I worry about. 

Matt Pincus: I think initially, let’s just learn the movements, see what we can tolerate in terms of loading and range of motion and movements and then progress from there. Even though it might not look like classic strength training initially, these are the steps that we’re going to have to go through to get to where we want to be and then long-term be able to continue working and developing those stronger shoulders.

I think exercises that are good – we want to pick things that really cover the pressing movement pattern, which I think you’ve been doing a good job of. Within that there’s horizontal pressing like a push-up and vertical pressing so that would be like a headstand or overhead or an overhead press. I think we should definitely have both of those as part of what you’re doing

Hayley Thomas: Okay.

Matt Pincus: Those speak pretty heavily to shoulder strength and stability, right?

Hayley Thomas: Yeah, definitely.

Matt Pincus: The other side of that is you sort of talked about feeling weaker and more exposed on overhanging terrain. We want to make sure we’re addressing our weaknesses in our training, both on the wall and off the wall, and I think some of the reason you’re sounding frustrated by that is if you climb a ton of overhanging terrain then your shoulders hurt. I think we need to sort of address that a little bit in the weight room also by working on those movement patterns and building strength and tolerance in your shoulders that way.

Much like there’s horizontal pressing, we can do some horizontal pulling. Then there’s vertical pressing and there’s vertical pulling. I think for you the horizontal pulling is going to be really important and I think it’s also going to work. Part of the reason the shoulder is an issue is it’s an unstable joint. It’s got so much range of motion. There’s a bunch of complex structures holding it in place. We want to strengthen the unit as a whole so something like a bent-over row or a dumbbell row is going to be really sports-specific for us because when we think about what the movement sort of looks like in climbing we’re pretty rarely hanging with both arms, with our body straight down, and pulling straight up. If we’re climbing well, a lot of our upward momentum we’re creating with our legs and what we’re doing with our arms is really pulling into the wall. That movement pattern is going to be much more similar to rowing.

Something along those lines so that’s a pull, a press, and speaking to a longevity thing, I’d love to see some kind of hip hinging movement pattern exercise. That would be something like a deadlift or a kettlebell swing or anything like that. That’s going to help us strengthen the whole posterior chain and that is really helpful in keeping our hips into the wall in overhanging climbing. I suspect by strengthening that also we’re going to be able to utilize our full body strength a bit more and hopefully take some of the load, when you are climbing in steep terrain, off of just your shoulders.

Hayley Thomas: Okay.

Matt Pincus: What exactly those exercises will look like, I turn it over to you now. I don’t know your comfort level in the weight room versus what you’ve done in the past, like your training history in there. The point I want to leave you with there is just that, before you answer, what exercise you do doesn’t really matter. We just want to address those movement patterns. What does your comfort level look like in the weight room? What is your experience there?

Hayley Thomas: I’ve spent a lot of time in the weight room. I’ve never had any proper weight training, like no one has ever told me what to do in there, but of all the exercises you mentioned I at least know what they are. [laughs] I’ve worked with everything that we currently have in our weight room, so dumbbells, kettlebells, I’ve deadlifted before. I would say I’m pretty comfortable.

Matt Pincus: I would then say we’re in season right now so I don’t necessarily think it’s the best time to start, like, let’s go in the weight room and let’s go super heavy and let’s try really hard, but I do think we need to start trying to get on top of this shoulder strength and stability stuff. I’d say maybe working with something like kettlebells initially where it’s going to be a lighter weight, we can do more reps, really learn these movement patterns, see how your shoulders react, and work from there. Then, when we move more in season we want to cycle these exercises periodically so we’re not always doing the same thing. We can move to more barbell lifts once we’re really comfortable in these movement patterns, focusing more on going heavy and really building strength when we’re going two times a week in your training-focused blocks.

Hayley Thomas: Okay.

Matt Pincus: For kettlebells, then, a kettlebell swing could be our hip hinge movement. We could just start by doing something like 3 sets of 10 swings. For pressing we could start with a single arm overhead press with a kettlebell. That is the one area where I would be a little bit weary of using kettlebells initially because just going one arm at a time is going to introduce a little bit more instability for the shoulder.

Hayley Thomas: Yeah, that was part of my PT, holding it upside down so the weight is on top and you’re holding the handle and overhead pressing, one arm at a time.

Matt Pincus: So you’re pretty comfortable there.

Hayley Thomas: Yeah, I definitely can’t do it with a very heavy weight. If I do it with a dumbbell I can do it much heavier but when you introduce that wobbliness, if you will, it’s a lot harder for me.

Matt Pincus: So what they had you doing is what we call a bottoms-up kettlebell press.

Hayley Thomas: Yeah.

Matt Pincus: Rather than just having you do bottoms-up presses and introducing all that instability, we could focus on just having you doing it normal where you’re just holding the kettlebell and having it sit on your forearm, overhead pressing. Or, if we felt like that instability of you only working with one arm at a time was preventing us from increasing the load, that’s an area where we could go and use a barbell instead and do something like 3 sets of 5 per arm or 5 total on the barbell there would be sufficient, I think.

Hayley Thomas: A barbell?

Matt Pincus: That would be like if we didn’t want to go one arm at a time.

Hayley Thomas: Oh, okay. I was picturing one-arm barbell presses. [laughs]

Matt Pincus: No need for that. 

Hayley Thomas: I was like, ‘That seems a little excessive,’ but okay.

Matt Pincus: Yeah, that would just be if we wanted to remove some more instability and train bilateral instead of unilaterally. That’s our vertical push. 

For a horizontal press we could do a one-arm kettlebell bench press or dumbbell bench press, whichever is more comfortable for you. By doing it one arm at a time we’re incorporating more core stability there and, again, like 3 x 5 reps per arm. Now we’re kind of covering our bases with both press patterns. We covered hinge and press.

Hayley Thomas: Pressing, pulling…

Matt Pincus: So for pulling we want to do some rowing, whether it’s a dumbbell or a kettlebell, a bent over row variation there like kneeling on a bench and rowing the kettlebell up to your chest. We want to kind of build up the lat, especially the low lat, to help stabilize that shoulder joint so we can kind of keep our shoulders in strong, stable positions when climbing rather than kind of getting pulled into more compromised positions. 

Then the last strength sort of lift I’d maybe throw in the mix as something we could experiment with, because it sounds like you feel pretty comfortable holding a kettlebell overhead, is we could do a loaded carry there. We’d have you press the kettlebell overhead – it would be a lighter bell – then we’d have you walk, like take a 30-second walk because you’re having to stabilize and create tension through your whole core as you’re walking around with good shoulder form, nice packed, stable shoulders. 

Hayley Thomas: Would the kettlebell be bottoms-up or would it be resting?

Matt Pincus: I think to start we would just have it resting on your forearm. Then it sounds like you sort of enjoy doing some core stuff on the TRX so we could pick a TRX core exercise as our finisher there. We could do that – I would actually rather see you do that after your climbing on Tuesday to keep your priority on your climbing, but that would be sort of our strength session. 

Honestly, I think that all sounds pretty simple, right? We’ve introduced some more rest days, we’ve gotten you on a movement pattern-based strength training program, and we sort of reemphasized the climbing component of your training over everything else you were sort of filling your week with. While that’s simple, it doesn’t mean that it’s easy and I think we would see some good results there. As we work together we would progress from there.

Hayley Thomas: Okay, cool. So it’s Monday rest day, Tuesday climbing and strength, Wednesday acro, Thursday climbing and strength, Friday rest day, climb on the weekends?

Matt Pincus: I would say when you’re in season we would have you just climb on Thursday and train once a week for now and then Friday rest, climb on the weekends. Then when we’re not in season I think we could have you do something like Monday rest day, Tuesday climb and strength, Wednesday acro yoga, Thursday an endurance workout, Friday rest, Saturday hard climbing or even a bouldering session in the gym, ideally, if we’re feeling up to it, then Sunday strength.

Hayley Thomas: Okay, cool. That sounds doable.

Matt Pincus: Do you have any other questions on that?

Hayley Thomas: Just one I guess. Whenever I try and up the weight and lower the reps I tend to injure myself. I think that’s why I gravitate towards more reps and doing more things, because I can only get so much out of one hour. Like I can only go so hard doing whatever it is that I’m doing. Aside from listen to your body, do you have any tips or tricks to try and mitigate that a little bit?

Matt Pincus: I’m glad you brought that up because I think that’s a really important point. It’s easy when you hear, ‘We’re strength training. That means high load,’ to think that that immediately means, ‘Okay, I have to go really, really heavy,’ but it’s all relative. We want to be doing it heavy for you once we feel ready to do that. That’s why we’re going a little higher rep to start out, so we can really learn and see how we’re reacting. We don’t know, maybe bent over rowing is really going to flare up your shoulders and that’s something we need to modify. We don’t know until we try it so yeah, I don’t think you need to go super heavy right away.

The biggest thing once we’ve learned the movements and we do go heavy is it’s heavy for you. We know that when we’re training strength, we train strength just as effectively, really, at 80% of our max as we do at 100. We just need to be in that 70-80% of our max range for those prescribed reps and we’re going to build strength really effectively without the increased risk if injury of going 100% of our one-rep max.

Hayley Thomas: That’s cool. I didn’t know that, actually.

Matt Pincus: Yep. I think that’s a good check you can put on yourself. You really want to own the weight at each individual weight before progressing. If you put it on a 1-10 scale you want it to feel like a 7/10 or 8/10 effort. Once it’s feeling like a 5 or a 6 it’s time to increase but just because for two weeks you did it at 30 pounds or whatever doesn’t mean it’s automatically time to go up. Our progress isn’t always linear. Sometimes we’re going to have to stay at a weight for a little while and build strength there before we can keep progressing.

Hayley Thomas: Okay, cool.

Matt Pincus: Any other questions?

Hayley Thomas: I think that’s it for me. 

Matt Pincus: I think that’s it for me then. 

Neely Quinn: Wow. That was thorough, it seems like, guys. Good job.

Hayley Thomas: Thanks.

Matt Pincus: Thanks.

Neely Quinn: Matt, does that seem like sort of what would happen in a normal client situation? That conversation you just had?

Matt Pincus: Yeah, completely. That’s sort of the standard process I go through with my athletes. Obviously, the particulars of injury and schedule and what’s being done every week might be different but the underlying process of evaluating what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and how we can sort of better prioritize and better make use of our available time and energy towards our goals is what I would do.

Neely Quinn: You and I have talked about this before how a lot of times in our client sessions, me with nutrition and you with training, we’re really trying to get people to do less. This was a really perfect opportunity to explain people’s reasoning behind why they’re doing so much and then for you to counter that with, ‘Maybe this would be a better idea.’ I think that still there will be people in the audience who are like, ‘No, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing because that’s what I think is right. More is better.’

I’m wondering Hayley, for you, if you’re actually convinced that more maybe isn’t better for you or if you think you’re just going to keep doing what you’re doing?

Hayley Thomas: No, I’m going to try to do exactly what Matt said. [laughs]

Neely Quinn: Okay, so he convinced you. That’s good.

Hayley Thomas: I mean, I think it’s something that I knew prior to this conversation and I knew when I sent the email. That’s actually why I sent him an email outlining my exact workout every single week. I wanted him to know, honestly, what I was doing but this is basically a training session so I’m going to take what I learned today and apply it for sure.

Neely Quinn: Cool. Maybe we can do a follow-up in a month or two or something and see how you’re feeling and if things have progressed for you.

Hayley Thomas: Absolutely.

Matt Pincus: Yeah, I think that would be a good call. I think one thing we didn’t touch on, and it’s just because we sort had talked about it via email before, was we did have Hayley also send video of her climbing to me to look at which is something that I do with all my athletes. I think that’s really important and Hayley moves really well so a lot of what we talked about was getting to focus on the effort and quality, sort of the try hard when we’re climbing, but we didn’t really touch on…

Neely Quinn: Technique.

Matt Pincus: Technique and those kind of things and I think that’s because, in large part, it’s not that we can’t improve and work on skill deliberately moving forward but it seems like that was less of a priority right now than cutting some things out of our training, getting more rest involved, and getting on a more sustainable strength training program because of how well she moves.

Neely Quinn: I think that’s a really good point. Thanks for bringing that up.

Hayley Thomas: Aww.

Neely Quinn: And also, good job, Hayley. [laughs] 

Hayley Thomas: Why thank you. Gold star for me. 

Neely Quinn: So if there’s nothing else, this is one of the longest podcast episodes I’ve ever done but I think that it’s really good. We got to hear a thorough conversation between an athlete and a trainer and hopefully this will help you, Hayley. I really hope that it does.

Hayley Thomas: I think it will. I’m really excited.

Neely Quinn: Well then we’ll check in with you and whether we do another podcast or not, I’ll at least update people on how you’re doing.

Hayley Thomas: Awesome.

Neely Quinn: Thanks and take care. Talk to you soon.

Hayley Thomas: Alright. Sounds good.

Matt Pincus: Yeah. Thanks Hayley.

Hayley Thomas: Thanks you guys.

Neely Quinn: I hope you enjoyed that very long episode with Matt Pincus and Hayley Thomas. You can find Matt Pincus @mpincus87 on Instagram. He also does training tips on the Instagram for TrainingBeta which is @trainingbeta. Hayley Thomas can be found @ukuhayley896. That’s on Instagram.

Hopefully you got something out of this episode, whether you’re a 5.11 climber or a 5.10 or 13 or 14 climber because the main tenets of what Matt said hold true for anybody, any climber who is trying to gain strength. It’s less about doing high reps/low weight and more about doing low reps/high weight for strength training. Oftentimes, so often, the biggest thing here is that people are doing too much and they’re not letting themselves rest and therefore they’re not seeing the gains that they want. 

Hopefully we’ll see an update pretty soon in a couple months so stay tuned for that. In the meantime, you’ll hear from me next week. I haven’t decided who I’m going to have on next but I think it’s going to be my interview that I just did with Kris Hampton all about movement and technique and drills that you can do for improving that. That will be coming out.

Interestingly, I just did an interview with Marina Inoue who is a super strong climber and she also is very short. We talked about that and she talked about training with Nate Drolet. He works with Kris Hampton at Power Company. She talks about a lot of the drills that Nate had her do and a lot of them are the same as what Kris talks about so it’s just going full circle here on the podcast. 

That’s pretty much all I’ve got for you right now. If you need help with your training and you want a plan, we have plans at TrainingBeta. The whole point of TrainingBeta is to help you have a plan and not have to design it yourself. Whether you’re a route climber or a boulderer or you just want to train finger strength, we have subscription programs where you get a dashboard with new workouts on it every week. Or, we have ebooks, depending on how you like to receive your information. You can find all that at

Of course I do nutrition. If you want to do nutrition with me you can find me at Matt, of course, does online personal training and he is taking new clients right now. You can find that at

You can always find us on Instagram @trainingbeta and we do have a Facebook group that’s all about training for climbing. You can find that at

Thanks so much for listening all the way to the end. I really appreciate you and I’ll talk to you next week.


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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