Date: March 24th, 2016
About Neil Gresham
This is an interview with Neil Gresham, a British climber and trainer who’s been training people for about 20 years now. He’s the training columnist at both Climbing and Rock & Ice magazines, and has written extensively on the topic.
At 44, he’s still pushing his limits on sport climbs (14b last year), ice climbs, and deep water solos, among other types of climbing. Although he has no formal background in training (I’m finding that to be irrelevant in these interviews), he’s studied the literature on climbing training and other related sports. But most of all, he’s debatably one of the most experienced climbing trainers out there, having been doing this pretty full time since the 1990’s.
He also wrote an interesting article recently about his ketogenic diet that’s made a huge difference in his climbing and body composition, which I responded to with my own podcast episode about the diet. We talk about his experience with keto and exactly what he eats on it.
What We Talked About
- Case study of 5.10/11 climber trying to break into the next level
- How he helped fix a client’s elbows in a matter of weeks
- How to break into 5.11 or 5.12
- What the ketogenic diet is and how he’s improved on it
- The most important overall exercise for a climber
Neil Gresham Links
Training Programs for You
- Check out our Route Climbing Training Program for route climbers of all abilities.
- Our other training programs: Training Programs Page.
FrictionLabs (my favorite chalk company by far) is offering you a discount on their awesome chalk – woot!
Please Review The Podcast on iTunes!
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- Please give the podcast an honest review on iTunes here to help the show reach more curious climbers around the world 😉
Neely Quinn: Welcome to the TrainingBeta podcast, where I talk with climbers and trainers about how we can get a little better at our favorite sport. I’m your host, Neely Quinn, and today we’re on episode 48 where I talk with Neil Gresham, who is a trainer and climber out of England. He is also the training columnist for Rock & Ice and Climbing magazines.
I wanted to ask him about how he trains people, a little bit about his own climbing, and also about his ketogenic diet which he started last year and it brought him a lot of success, which he wrote about in Rock & Ice. That actually spurred me to do my podcast episode all about ketogenic diets. We talked a little bit about that but he gives a lot of practical information in this interview so I really hope you get a lot out of it.
I want to let you guys know that Friction Labs, which is my absolute favorite chalk company, is giving you guys (my loyal listeners) some really great discounts on their stuff in case you want to try it out for yourself. If you go over there to www.frictionlabs.com/traningbeta you’ll find sometimes things for 50 percent off so definitely give that a gander.
A little bit of an update on my own training. I’ve been with Kris Peters now, seeing him once a week in person for a couple hours, for about four weeks now. In the meantime I am climbing or training about three or four other days a week. My main objective with this was to get stronger but mostly to keep my shoulders intact. So far, we’ve been able to do that. I’m learning what exercises to avoid, which exercises to strengthen, and slowly getting better at my strength exercises. He’s having me do weights, so deadlifts and squats for various reasons, and rows with dumbbells and barbells, and some other stuff on the TRX and climbing drills. I’m doing a bunch of stuff and at this point I’m tired a lot. I’m sore right now from having been “on” three days and I’m hoping that I’m getting stronger. I’m going to take a couple of days off and then project on Sunday and then see how I’m doing.
So, that’s a little update on me. I’m still psyched, super psyched, on training and feeling good. Without further adieu, here is my interview with Neil Gresham. I hope you enjoy it.
Neely Quinn: Welcome to the show, Neil. Thanks for being here.
Neil Gresham: Thanks, Neely.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. So tell me a little bit about yourself for anybody who doesn’t know who Neil Gresham is.
Neil Gresham: Okay. Well, I live in the UK. I’m currently in the Lake District. I’m an all-around climber so I do a little bit of sport, trad, deep water soloing, ice and mixed. I’ve been climbing for, I think, three decades so 30 years. I started when I was 12 or 13. I’m also a coach. I’ve been coaching for the last 15 years.
Neely Quinn: All right. Tell me a little bit about your most memorable climbing ascents. Just take your three best.
Neil Gresham: It’s like your best CD’s, isn’t it? They change as well. I think I would have to say that, for me, the one that was most significant was a climb in the UK called Indian Face. It was first climbed by Johnny Dawes. It was one of the boldest routes in the country at the time, if not in the world. It’s like a big slab pitch, really poor RP protection. I did it when I was totally out of my depth/out of my comfort zone. I’d been doing a load of sport climbing and I picked up an elbow injury and decided to completely switch. I thought, “If I’m going to go for something trad I might as well go for something big.” I really did bite off more than I could chew and I was very, very lucky to get away with it. I was literally sketching and kind of climbing for my life up there. I’ve probably never redlined it as much since, so that was a big one.
I’d probably pick/if I had to pick one, it would be within my favorite discipline/my favorite genre which is deep water soloing. I guess it’s not such a popular climbing style. People like it but a lot of people don’t regard it as a serious or a bona fide climbing style. What’s nice is when you see someone like Chris Sharma going, “Wow. This is one of the coolest ways to enjoy climbing,” and putting up a 9a deep water solo. I think that’s really helped to put it on the map. I’ve kind of been all over the world in that style of climbing and really pushing it. I’ve been in places like Vietnam and Mallorca, kind of the biggest global destination spots for deep water soloing. If I was going to pick one I’d pick a route that I actually did in Pembroke, in the UK.
Believe it or not, there is actually pretty cool deep water soloing in the UK. Arguably as good as, or the best as, elsewhere. I did a route in 2012 called Olympiad, which is a really overhanging wall, very sustained, kind of power-endurancy sequence. It’s almost like the sweetest bit of sport climbing that you’d get in Ceuse or Rodellar, one of the top sport routes you’d find globally, but above the water. I actually had to develop some weird methods to get to the base of this thing because it’s so steep. The way you get in is you either swim, which isn’t ideal before attempting an 8b, or you go in a little boat. I blew-up a kind of rubber dinghy and rowed into this thing. I tried it over many days and in the end, when I finally did it, I was so made-up that I just stripped naked and jumped into the sea.
Neely Quinn: [laughs] I’m assuming it would be very cold, considering it was in the UK.
Neil Gresham: If you’re in the UK go deep water soloing but just don’t book a trip because you can’t rely on the weather. You could be disappointed.
Neely Quinn: Nice. All right, your third most memorable climb?
Neil Gresham: The third would be an ice climb but I just don’t think I could pick one. Maybe something somewhere really remote, like in – I know. In Iceland. They have ice sea cliffs in Iceland and we just don’t have anything like that in the UK. It was just pretty special to see these cliffs with dribbling white ice just plunging into the sea. It was really atmospheric and the crag we went to had some good opportunities for good routes. I ended up doing a free-standing pillar, like a WI6, 30- or 40-meter vert pillar and then a really steep wall above that. It was an onsight new route that was really steep in a really remote place and, I don’t know, you can’t really do much better than that.
Neely Quinn: Nice. These all sounds like things, none of which I’ve ever done – you’re a really diverse climber, which I think is really cool.
Neil Gresham: I guess a Jack-of-all-trades.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, which probably makes you a really good trainer. Tell me about how you got started as a trainer or coach/trainer, whatever you call yourself.
Neil Gresham: I guess it all stemmed from when I started writing training articles. I guess that’s how people sort of heard of me. I’m going to wind all the way back to the early ‘80s and early ‘90s. There was just no resource for training information. When I was at school, in London, I started to climb with my dad with no information. We made every possible mistake you could make. We were literally going blind and we made it up as we went along, doing silly stuff with weights like doing squats and putting on loads of muscle, thinking it was getting us strong for climbing. We didn’t understand anything about bouldering. Then I went to University in Sheffield and I met all the top guys. That was my dream, to meet my childhood idols, people like Ben Moon, Jerry Moffatt, and it was like starting again from scratch. They said that I had to throw everything that I thought in the bin and then do it their way and, of course, my climbing came on so quickly as a result of this.
I felt that I wanted to communicate some of this information. There was no national columnist, no training columnist in any of the national mags in the UK or, I believe, in the US at the time. No one was writing about training so I just rolled up my sleeves and had a go. I look back at my first article, this is in ‘91 or ‘92, and I look at what I wrote and it barely made sense but over time I think people found them useful. It went from there and I guess I’ve been writing magazine articles. I mean now I write for Rock & Ice as you mentioned, and I still write for Climbing Magazine in the UK and it really helps me stay current and stay on topic. People say, “Don’t you just repeat the same old stuff?” It’s like, “No! Of course not,” because the subject is evolving and evolving. Climbing is so young and I think if I was writing for a cycling magazine it probably would just be a case of delivering set pieces but the thought processes change all of the time.
That was the training articles and I guess people just started asking me for coaching sessions. When that first started happening in the late ‘90s there were no coaches. We had outdoor instructors who taught rope work and the climbing basics but no one who dealt with performance. I guess I just thought I’d give it a go. The first few sessions I did, I did them for free because I didn’t have the confidence to charge anybody. I then started to build up some experience, particularly when I moved to London in 2000, because this was the point in time when climbing gyms were exploding and suddenly, training was fashionable. Before that you used to have to not admit to training. It was an old school way where you just went climbing, and training was like a guilty secret, but there was this turning point right about the turn of the century and suddenly everybody wanted training. People weren’t embarrassed about being coached, especially in London. In the big city they had a life coach and a nutrition coach and so why not have a climbing coach? I was dealing with clients. I would sometimes see three or four people, five or six days of the week for a decade and I guess that was really how I learned my craft. You can read as many journals as you want and you can know as much about your own climbing as you want and you might have the theoretical knowledge but the way you become a coach is on the coal-face of trying to apply that knowledge. It’s trying to adapt it and personalize it to people and every client you work with is different. Different age, different ability, different styles of climbing that they do. It’s – I still find it one of the most enthralling and fascinating things to do, to try to adapt your experience to this person who you’re working with.
Neely Quinn: Right. So you don’t have any formal training in being a trainer?
Neil Gresham: No. Funnily enough I don’t, although when I went to Sheffield I wanted to study sports science but couldn’t. They weren’t offering that course but it was more important to me to be in Sheffield than to study sports science because that’s where all of the pro climbers were at the time. I kind of learned from them, but whilst doing it, I nearly flunked my geography degree which I barely scraped through.
I was lodging with this crazy training guru guy called Matt Smith. He was this guy who had a reputation for being more into training than into climbing. He actually sold all his climbing shoes and his harness in order to keep himself in nutritional supplements at the time. I mean, he was a really wacky guy but he was really obsessed with keeping up with all of the information like the physiology and biomechanics and so on. He and I would spend evenings pouring over textbooks trying to work out what we thought was relevant to climbing and what wasn’t, because nothing was specifically written for climbing. It was the age-old dilemma of what stuff you can translate and what stuff you cannot. I used to, sort of, burn the midnight oil with this guy, Matt Smith. I feel like I actually spent more time studying sports science when I was at Sheffield than geography, even though I came out with a geography degree.
Neely Quinn: Okay.
Neil Gresham: But, no, I don’t have any formal qualification.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, and it seems like that is more and more the case because even if you do get a certification in personal training it doesn’t make you a good climbing trainer. I guess that leads me to my next question, which is: Where do you feel that you stand among all of the other trainers and coaches in the climbing world? Do you tend to agree more with one than others?
Neil Gresham: I don’t know about agree. I don’t have a favorite, so to speak, but I learn from all of them. To me, the most important part of being a coach is accepting that you don’t know it all and being prepared to learn. I’ve picked up some great snippets from most of the key names that you might come up with. There might be the odd point that I don’t agree with but that’s perhaps because it doesn’t correlate with my experience. It’s the kind of route that we take through coaching that influences the way that we see things and everybody takes a different route. As I said before, because the sport is so young nobody is in a position to say, “It has to be done this way. This is the model.” The only coaches – I haven’t come across many coaches who’ve done this but a few will have a slight tendency to say, “It has to be done this way,” and I just don’t think that anybody is in a position to do that just yet. Also, occasionally I come across coaches who blatantly borrow something from research that wasn’t conducted into climbing and they’ll say, “This is the right fit for climbing,” but again, we have to be very careful doing this. For example, there’s been some very fashionable, I’m sure you know, swimming training methodology that has been applied to climbing recently by a few trainers and I’m a little bit skeptical about it. We could go off on a long tangent and a long debate about it but I guess that’s my point. A coach needs to be prepared to learn from others and to listen with a filter and to accept that all the good trainers will have something to offer, but don’t expect to agree with everything they say.
Neely Quinn: Okay, so you’re probably not willing to name any names and go into that route. Do you agree with the Anderson brothers? Do you agree with Steve Bechtel, that lifting weights is a good idea? Do you think that? Do you have any specifics on all of this?
Neil Gresham: I don’t generalize, but if I had to generalize about, say, lifting weights, I’d say that I don’t think it’s a good idea but these generalizations are meaningless because there are certainly many climbers for whom lifting weights would be a good idea. Especially climbers who have a light frame or skinny build. They are going to need to build some muscle up and they’re going to break themselves if they go straight into hard climbing training. They need to do that stuff but is lifting weights a good idea for me? Absolutely not. As I said before, I did far too much of it as a teenager and I’ve still got big, bulky muscles that I’m trying to get rid of so it’s very difficult to generalize. I agree with a lot of what those guys say but not everything.
Neely Quinn: Okay, so coming back to the weights thing. You said that you did do a lot of weightlifting as a younger kid or teenager, I’m assuming. Do you think that did help you to gain some of the strength that you then had?
Neil Gresham: It definitely helps me to this day. I’ve got good, solid shoulders. I still have to do Thera-band type, supportive, remedial work but perhaps not as much as some climbers would. I mean, overall I’m strong and I’m fit but in fact I’m too heavy. If you look at the really good sport climbers, Ondra and Steve McClure, they’re skinny guys and I’ve got big legs from doing squats. I did squats! Can you believe this? I thought, “Well, you know, you need to stand up. You need to rock over.” Like, sometimes on a slab you need to do a one-legged squat so I was there doing 100kg squats with a barbell and that stuff is obviously not a good idea.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, what’s pretty funny is that I’m actually doing squats right now with Kris Peters and we’re doing low weight or pretty low reps and part of the reason is so that I can have stronger hips and legs so that it’s okay for me to jump down off of boulders without pain. So things like that and to just completely strengthen my whole body. Do you think that that’s wrong that I’m doing that?
Neil Gresham: That’s quite a specific objective. I mean, if you need to protect yourself from taking falls off a bouldering wall then maybe, and you mentioned that you’re keeping the reps low. That could certainly be a good thing. You need to avoid that kind of middle repetition range which is really prone to causing you to bulk up. Anything between eight to 15 reps really makes you bulky but if you keep the reps down below five, and also, I don’t know your predisposition to putting on muscle. You show me a weight and I bulk up and you may not. It all depends on the individual, but I’d know pretty quickly. If I see you and say, “Hey Neely, your thighs are growing, like, half an inch each day,” then stop.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, [laughs] that is not the objective.
Neil Gresham: I’m sure you don’t want that.
Neely Quinn: Okay, I have to ask: what are your thoughts on cardio? Like, running for climbing?
Neil Gresham: If you want to climb endurance routes and you have poor aerobic fitness you sure need to do cardio. If you’re already an ultra runner then you need to do a lot less cardio. You know, the truth always lies somewhere in the middle. Do you need to be as fit as a ultra runner for climbing? No, not even to do long, multi-pitch routes and certainly not to do single pitch routes or sport routes. You don’t need anything like that level of cardio fitness but if you’re a boulderer or someone who’s never done anything like that before, and you’re wanting to get into slightly longer routes, then you need to be able to recover not just on the route but between burns on the route. Then, sure, you need that background cardio fitness. I think the important thing is to not just plot away and do the same week in/week out.
I think you need to look at phases, when you’re going to up the level of cardio training and then phases when you’re going to cut it back. For example, hard cardio training doesn’t go hand-in-hand with strength training. I think it can poach from your strength gains. I think cardio training can be very complementary during climbing-specific endurance phases but you’ve still got to be a little bit careful not to overdo it, but it really fits in well in general conditioning and cross-training phases. You don’t want to be doing the same amount or we’re still just overdoing it.
Neely Quinn: All right, that’s a great answer and kind of what I’m getting from people. It’s like it’s good to have the base of cardio but it’s not great to do it when you’re exhausting yourself instead of doing other things.
Neil Gresham: Definitely. On the first hand, it will take away energy from your actual training and even if it doesn’t do that, it will poach it from your recovery and you won’t necessarily notice it happening, either.
Neely Quinn: Okay. I’m going to interrupt here for just a minute to let you guys know that Friction Labs, like I said, is my favorite chalk company by far. They’re giving you guys some pretty awesome discounts over at www.frictionlabs.com/trainingbeta . Basically, what they’re giving you is my favorite kind of their chalk, which is Unicorn Dust. It’s all the same stuff and it all has a high content of magnesium carbonate, which makes it the best. The one that I like the most is Unicorn Dust, which is the finest one. It coats my hands the best. They’re giving you guys a 10-ounce bag for $19 instead of $37. Now, I know that that sounds really expensive but honestly, I think it’s worth it. It’s just like buying a really good pair of shoes instead of a not-so-good pair of shoes. You guys all know what a difference that can make. They have that and they have a sample pack for you guys which is usually $17.50 and it’s $10 so you can try out all three kinds of their chalk. I would go over to www.frictionlabs.com/trainingbeta so you can get these deals. They change these up sometimes so if you don’t see what I’ve just explained they’ll have something else awesome for you.
So that’s Friction Labs. I hope you guys like them as much as I do. Now, back to the interview.
Neely Quinn: I’d like to get into some specifics. I’ve been getting a lot of questions from my listeners, many of whom are between 5.9 and 5.11 climbers. I actually don’t know what that is in UK terms.
Neil Gresham: We could go French grades because they’re pretty international. It’s round about 5+ up to about 6c, isn’t it? I’m not good at American grades, so excuse me.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, I think that’s it. I’m wondering: do you ever work with somebody at this level and how is it different from working with somebody at a higher level?
Neil Gresham: The first thing is not to get worried about seeing what the pros are doing or what the elite are doing and thinking that you need to do anything like that amount, because the first thing I’d say is that I can’t do the amount of training that Adam Ondra does. I’m climbing towards the upper ends of the grades and sometimes when I hear the amount of training that these guys are doing it just makes me quake with fear. You have to find out what’s right for you and you can do this yourself, of course, but it’s helpful to have a good coach guide you through the process. You really don’t need to worry about the majority of the stuff you’re seeing. In terms of, like, campus board training or like, “If you try to do this footless…” you’ll do yourself more harm than good. There are certain things you can do on a fingerboard – sorry, on a hangboard, that might do you some good but predominately you need to be climbing.
A premature focus on training is just false economy. You’re building up strength that you can’t use, you’re potentially engraining bad habits, you’re potentially not addressing key psychological and tactical parts of your game. I would say that the real priority for people climbing at this level is to experience different rock types, to be very mindful of technique, if anything – if you’re getting coached, to ask your coach to focus more on your movement and technique and less on your training. You can follow a training program and I would say the important parts of a training program is that it has a fairly equal split between strength and endurance. I don’t think it would be a good idea to focus predominantly on one or the other. With the strength work, there should always be a high skill element. You’d be better off training strength on a bouldering wall than on a hangboard because you’re building skills at the same time. This stuff – I could go on forever here but I guess that’s an overview.
Neely Quinn: Okay, that’s a great overview. I’m wondering if you could give me more specifics. Do you have a client right now who is/falls into this category?
Neil Gresham: Yeah, oh wow. Should I just pick a sample client?
Neely Quinn: Yeah. I’d love to know what their training program looks like from you.
Neil Gresham: Okay. Can I pick someone who’s a bit – how about this: I had a client come to me a few days ago who is a guy in his late 40s. He’s been having increasing difficulty with elbow tendonitis with, I guess what we call golfer’s elbow or medial epicondylitis. He’s seen various physios who haven’t been able to help and he’s just getting extremely demotivated and his climbing is very stop/start. He’s not able to push himself and yet he’s at an age and stage where he desperately wants to climb certain routes and achieve certain goals before it’s too late.
I guess what I did for him wasn’t so much set him a training program as much as a rehab program to enable him to be able to train. The first thing I let him know was that in spite of the fact that he’d been suffering from this for, like, five years, that he still had every chance of breaking it and fixing it and the best period of his climbing is probably yet to come. When we get these type of injuries we often believe that they’ll never go away. I guess what I did was take a look at him climbing on the wall, firstly, to check his technique. I did notice straight away that he was really holding lock-offs, like holding deep lock-offs and he was too static. I tried to work on getting him to move a bit more fluidly and not locking-off so deep, trying to twist a little bit more as well and to just use momentum more than force.
Neely Quinn: And that was to save his elbows?
Neil Gresham: Save his elbows, yeah, and at the same time his footwork was okay but it just felt a bit rushed. I got him to slow it down a little bit. I figured if he was weighting his feet better he’d be trusting them more and less likely to overgrip, which could also have been exacerbating the tension in his forearms. I also looked at his warm-up and he wasn’t starting his sessions with any type of cardio or anaerobic-type burn, which is something that I so strongly believe that every climber should do. Climbers can be a little lazy with this and they’ll be like, “Oh, I’m just starting with easy climbing so that’s my warm-up and I’m building up slowly through the grades,” but it’s like, “Well, yeah, but easy climbing doesn’t actually get you warm.” Especially if the climbing gym is really cold. Doing some sort of skipping or jogging on the spot, some burpees, anything to get your pulse up and get your circulation going is going to soften up your connective tissues and just make you that much less susceptible to injury. Always start with cardio.
This guy also happened to come from the same era as me and we used to do these awful, well not so much awful, static stretches for our arms and upper bodies. Like, forearm stretches and shoulder stretches, this stuff that was outdated many years ago. Years ago I made a video telling people to do this stuff, which I had to re-edit because nowadays the modern approach is you do dynamic mobility exercises in your warm-up. Those static exercises, you can still do them but you do them in your cool down. For the warm-up it’s anything that involves movement. For example, for your forearms, instead of stretching your forearms you can do finger clenches and for your shoulders, instead of stretching them you would do arm circles and so on. I’ve got this guy changing over to that. The other thing is that he was doing a little bit of antagonist work but it was kind of like a token gesture, like the odd session of press-ups when he remembered to do them.
I got him to do more pushups and more stuff on the rings with his/like the TRX but not high intensity, some triceps work, some chest work, some shoulder work, but most importantly I got him doing his forearm extensors. This is the most important injury prevention exercise for climbing. Get these rubber band things. You can either use a normal, thick elastic band or you can order these special trainers. One I’d recommend is on www.thepowerfingers.com.
These train your forearm extensors and when you think about it, it’s so obvious. We climbers, just all we do is grip and we use our flexors and we use our flexors and we use the flexors and we never use our forearm extensors. This is why you get these problems of muscular imbalance in the forearm that can create all sorts of injuries, like directly in the elbow, or they can create kind of referred, knock-on injuries. You start training your forearm extensors and your elbow tendonitis will probably go away. This was kind of the main thrust of this session that I did with this guy. I also did set him a training program but it was based on a really slow, steady comeback, gradually building up the duration and the intensity of sessions, avoiding anything that was going to aggravate the injury so no deep lock-offs and no using pinches and certainly no pull-ups. Lots of other stuff would entice him, like good work for his core and, as I say, the suspension training, which was fun to do.
Just as a more general point, if I may, about this type of stuff: because I’ve been climbing for so long I’ve had most of the climbing injuries that are known of. They were all in the first 20 years of my climbing. In the last 10 years I haven’t been injured at all or hardly, or nothing that’s come remotely close to stopping me whereas the first 20 years, every other year something quite bad would happen and would really set me back. Purely and simply it’s because I wasn’t doing this type of preventative work.
It was funny talking to Adam Ondra last year when he was in the UK, he was telling me about this totally sick training program that Patxi Usobiaga had set for him, where he was training three times a day, six days a week for two months. I was like, “Are you not scared that that’s going to break you?” and he said no, because of all the antagonist training and TRX that he does. That was every morning. He would get up and do a TRX session and at lunch time and he would do endurance in the evening and he really felt that the TRX and the antagonist training was kind of balancing out the climbing training. I can only say that I strongly agree with that.
Neely Quinn: Wow. That was all great. That’s a really good example of a client who came to you and he was a 5.10/5.11 climber?
Neil Gresham: Yeah, he was a 5.10/5.11 climber, exactly. I guess that wasn’t so much about training, it was more about injury prevention but in a way, injury prevention is kind of more important than training because if you’re injured you ain’t going to be doing any training.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, and so some specifics about that? How many days a week were you – because you didn’t say, “Don’t climb.” You just said, “Do all these other things.”
Neil Gresham: Climb on through. You know, a few weeks later this guy was already saying that his elbows were not hurting when he was climbing. They would maybe feel a little bit sore afterwards but nothing, like, as sore and he wasn’t having to ice them as much and he was already experiencing progress.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, that’s awesome.
Neil Gresham: I was starting him off climbing twice a week for a couple of weeks and then that was going up to three times and even at the height of it, even when his elbows were totally healed, and I’d get him on a full training program with the boxing gloves off, he’d still only be climbing probably three hard sessions a week and one easy session. None of this six day a week stuff that we read about the elites doing.
Neely Quinn: Do you have another client at the top of your mind who didn’t have injuries but same thing, 5.10/5.11 climber, who you have on a program?
Neil Gresham: Okay, so I have a particular client, I hope I have the grading system right, who has a particular – again, this is quite a narrow example, but I mean this is the whole thing about coaching. You have these individual cases. There’s one guy who really wants to redpoint a 7a, a French 7a, so he’s onsighting round about the French 6b mark, maybe a 6b+ limit, and he wants to climb a 7b in, sort of – not in three or four years but in maybe six or seven visits to the crag.
As is the case with a lot of climbers climbing at this level, he’s been climbing a while. He’s got good rock experience and he knows how to climb. He’s okay with taking falls as well. Sure, there’s minor stuff with his technique that needs improvement but that’s the case with everybody. The main thing this guy needs is strength. This is the thing that holds back the average intermediate climber more than anything else, just talking about purely physical attributes, because there are a lot of people climbing at this sort of level who don’t get how bouldering fits in and underestimate the importance of getting stronger.
When we all fail on a climb, whether it’s Chris Sharma or this climber who’s climbing French 6b, the sensation that we get is that we’re pumped in our forearms so the conclusion that we logically reach is that we need more endurance training. This is another classic mistake I made when I was a young climber, before I moved to Sheffield and learned about the significance of strength training. I just thought, “Well, I’m just pumping out so I need to do more.” Back in those days, we did loads of traversing but the modern equivalent is people who use the leading wall. They’re just running loads of laps, they’re doing loads of mileage, they’re doing lots of routes and they’re figuring that this is going to get them fitter and this is going to get them climbing harder. This approach, all it enables you to do is more routes at your current grade. It doesn’t extend your grade because what happens when this climber gets on a route that’s, like, 6c+ or 7a or especially 7a+, it’s the first thing that hits them like a steam train. They find the moves too hard. They’re working too close to their maximum strength capability and this is what actually causes the pump to build. You need to work on both sides of the equation. You don’t want to stop training endurance, because obviously you do need to be training those energy systems, but actually you need to switch the focus to getting stronger so you can make harder moves in greater comfort. Put simply, these small holds that you’re struggling to use start to feel like bigger holds and you just relax on them more.
Bouldering needs to fit in and often you have to actually sell bouldering to some of these climbers. This particular climber who I was working with was like, “Oh, I didn’t get into climbing to spend all my time sitting on my ass and falling on the crash mat. I want to go high up and I want to do routes and I don’t get bouldering.” Sometimes people will say, “I tried the boulder problems on the wall and I find that I can either do them first go and they feel easy or I can’t do them at all and they feel impossible, and I don’t really understanding working boulder problems.” This becomes the thing that you have to introduce these guys to and show them – first of all, get them to love bouldering. Once you’ve done that it’s with them for life. Enjoy the sessions but also, once they start to notice the benefits from the sessions, they are getting back on routes that are 6c or 6c+ and suddenly, the moves feel easier and the light bulb comes on. That model becomes the ticket to take them not just to 7a but also to 8a and, well, I guess possibly even 9a.
That’s where it starts, when you start realizing that strength training has a hugely important element. For example, I don’t really see myself as a boulderer at all. Of all the types of climbing I do, I’m by far weakest at bouldering and yet I spend, I would say, two-thirds of my training time bouldering. Strength is my weakness. This is the case for almost every intermediate climber apart from the ones who, of course, get into roped climbing from bouldering, because they have the strength. I’m talking more about the ones who started off maybe on trad or just going out sport climbing.
With this particular client, to get back to your question – sorry for…
Neely Quinn: No, this is great. This is really good.
Neil Gresham: I kind of split his training up into phases and, no surprise, the strength phases were longer than the endurance phases. The strength phases were, if I remember correctly, six weeks and the endurance phases were three weeks. So the strength phases were twice the length, which enabled him to devote more time overall to strength building.
Neely Quinn: What did those weeks look like?
Neil Gresham: The key in these weeks is these are prioritized weeks, not block weeks. In other words, in the strength phase you don’t stop training endurance, you just minimize it. He would do two and a half strength sessions and half an endurance session or a short endurance session. Unfortunately, this guy only had three days a week to train. I would have liked to have made him climb a fourth day but I couldn’t, so what he did was one day was pure bouldering, another day was part bouldering part fingerboard, and another day was a short boulder session followed by finishing off on routes or circuits, just so the endurance would stay topped off. Those were the strength phases and the endurance
Neely Quinn: I’m sorry, can we go back? So, on the strictly bouldering day, was he projecting? What were you having him do?
Neil Gresham: Ultimately, I wanted to get him to the stage where he could project but he was so inexperienced at bouldering that I didn’t want to throw him into the deep end. I’ve seen a lot of climbers get hurt by doing this. Their bodies are just not conditioned to sessioning hard bouldering projects. The first strength phase that came around, I set a rule of four attempts and maximum of five attempts and then move on. The thing is, the bouldering sessions weren’t what I call “boulder mileage” sessions, it wasn’t like: “Do thirty problems with a minute’s rest between each one.” It was more like: “Warm-up and do six/seven/maximum of eight problems that are hard and that you’re not flashing and that you’re having to have several attempts at,” because that’s the first step along the long ladder of building up to be able to boulder hard and safely. The other thing, of course, is that it’s going to be demotivating. It’s going to really demotivate this guy if I say, “Okay, you’re now going to spend the rest of your gym sessions trying one problem that you can barely get off the ground on.” He’s just not going to bite the cherry so I need to incentivize him by giving him some problems that he’s maybe going to get within two or three sessions. Then he’s going to go, “Right, okay, I get this bouldering thing now.”
That will be the first strength phase and when the next strength phase comes around I’ll say, “All right, you’re going to do less problems,” so it’s maybe after warming up there are four projects now and these are things that you can have seven/eight/nine attempts before moving on. You build it up that way.
Neely Quinn: So for maybe a couple of weeks he’s doing the seven/eight problems then after that you’re having him cut down?
Neil Gresham: No, for the first whole phase, so for the first six weeks, and then he’ll do a three-week endurance phase and then when his next strength phase comes in the intensity will be higher.
Neely Quinn: Okay, then on the second day of his training these weeks, you said he was doing a bouldering session and then a finger session?
Neil Gresham: He’s warming-up and I’m starting him off with dead hangs. I’m really not a fan of doing dead hangs at the end of a session, I think this is where a lot of climbers go wrong. You can do dead hangs at the end of the session for strength endurance but you do not want to do dead hangs for strength after doing a relatively hard bouldering session. Because they’re pretty high in intensity, you need to be fresh. I won’t go into details of the warm-up, but get warmed-up, dead hang, then bouldering, but then come back to the fingerboard (sorry, the hangboard) and pull-up bar and finishing with some arm work and core work. Pull-ups, lock-offs, leg raises for core. I did set him some stuff to do on rest days, kind of an antagonist and supportive conditioning session, and a little bit of TRX and some cardio stuff, but he didn’t have too much time at the climbing gym so I couldn’t get him doing all that in the gym. He was doing all that on rest days.
Neely Quinn: With his fingerboard sessions, I mean – a lot of people would say that this level of climber maybe doesn’t need to be on the hangboard – what are your thoughts on that and how much were you having him do?
Neil Gresham: Bear in mind that he’s doing it twice a week and he’s doing – the important thing is to build these exercises up progressively over time. This guy’s been climbing for years and he’s climbing 6b/c onsight and he’s got a reasonable amount of, well, he’s built up his tendon strength/the tendon strength that he has, he’s built up over a reasonable amount of time. It’s okay to start him off on the fingerboard but you’re not going to have him doing, like, split-finger combinations like back two or middle two, because he’s obviously going to get tweaked. If he’s hanging from either a campus edge or a good, rounded finger edge and he’s using all four fingers and he’s using both hands and he’s using a half-crimp grip, he’s just not gonna hurt himself as long as he warms-up properly. Especially if it’s only two sessions a week and I’ve actually got him doing three, maybe four rounds, so he would hang, let go, chalk-up, hang again and then he would rest for two minutes. He would do that for either a total of three or four times.
Neely Quinn: And how many seconds would he hang?
Neil Gresham: The hang times were between four and 10 seconds. I personally believe that there’s not much point going longer than 12 seconds on dead hangs for strength building. It also starts to become a little bit less specific to climbing because if you’re climbing hard moves, you’re not going to be on holds for longer than 12 seconds. In fact, if you’re on a hold for longer than 12 seconds you’re doing something wrong with your feet or you’re not reading the rock. I usually stay between three and maximum 10 seconds for dead hangs.
Neely Quinn: Are they weighted?
Neil Gresham: I would always encourage intermediate or low intermediate climbers to avoid weight wherever possible. What I suggested to this climber, the hold we started off with, initially he could only hold it for four seconds. I said, “Work at that, until you can do three lots of 10 seconds and when you can do that, go down to a smaller hold.” Then when he could do a smaller hold, then he could expand potentially into removing one finger or both little fingers and then after that, that’s when weight belts are going to become more relevant. I wouldn’t reach for the weight belt straight away with someone of that level.
Sorry – forgive me Neely. I know this is going to sound like a shameless plug but just to say I do have this app, the Hangboard Guru app, which does kind of make sense of this very complicated topic for people and it will personalize a hangboarding program for you according to your goals and your strengths and weaknesses. I do appreciate there is so much literature on this, every trainer has a different idea, and just to say/just to repeat, I’m not saying, “This is the way it has to be done. My way is right,” because a lot of trainers will give you different viewpoints.
Neely Quinn: I had one other question about that: there are a lot of people who go up to the hangboard and they cannot hang with their own body weight. If that was a client of your’s, would you have them take weight off with a pulley?
Neil Gresham: I think perhaps. I would probably – Neely, if they couldn’t get to the climbing gym then I probably would but if they could get to the climbing gym three times a week, I would say, “Hey. Just climb for six months and let’s see where you’re at.” It’s almost like, by definition, if they’re spending time doing hangs that’s time they could have been climbing and they’ll be getting so much more skills benefit from climbing than they will by hanging from a hangboard with their foot in a pulley system. Of course, I’ve set last resort training programs for people who can only get to the climbing gym once a week or maybe they work away or they’re on the road traveling and that’s the sort of thing they end up doing. I’m certainly saying that as a last resort.
Neely Quinn: Okay, so that was his first six weeks of training and then you said that he would go into…what would be next? Power endurance?
Neil Gresham: It was a brief endurance phase. For this particular climber, endurance wasn’t actually the priority. As I said before, he had great endurance that had been built up through years of climbing. The endurance phase, because we had discussed the 7a route that he was keen to do, we kind of structured it to give him a bit of motivation rather than just random endurance stuff because there’s obviously so much you can do. We kind of targeted this route with the endurance sessions. This route was 25 moves so we worked/we figured there wasn’t much point doing 100-move stuff and equally you didn’t want to go under 25 moves too much either, because that would almost being covered by his boulder sessions.
We were doing distance-specific stuff, so 20 to 30 moves one session and then we were doing 40 to 50 moves in another session and that was about all. The intensity would vary, so one of the sessions was on hard routes, circuits that he needed to take 12- to 15-minute rests. Circuits that were round about, for him, quite hard, like 6c/6c+ and then we did another session where the intensity was greatly reduced and he was able to take much shorter rest times, like five minutes. He would literally, if it was a route session, he’d climb then his partner would climb, and they’d just switch alternately and he’d get more done with shorter rests. For climbers of that level, you don’t really need to go into any more depth than that. Have one session where you’re doing shorter, harder stuff and longer rests and another session where you’re doing longer stuff, slightly easier with shorter rests. You’re covering two different intensities of endurance training and that’s going to be enough, or at least it’s certainly going to be enough if you have a relatively narrow end goal like redpointing a particular sport route. If you want to be a good trad climber and a good onsight sport climber and a good redpoint sport climber, then you might have to add a third or even a fourth category to your endurance training. It tends to really only be the pros who are training like that.
Neely Quinn: How many days a week was he climbing in this phase?
Neil Gresham: It was three. Three again in the endurance phase. What I should have said right at the start is that, again, although it was an endurance phase, it wasn’t the case that he stopped strength training. This is really important, especially seeing that strength is this climber’s weakness. He doesn’t want to, having put in all that good work in his strength phase, he doesn’t want to do a three-week endurance phase where he doesn’t train strength at all because you’re going to lose all the gains that you make. The formula that I came up with for him, which I do have to say for most people these days and also in my own climbing because it just works so well, is start off with the minimal amount of strength work. You warm-up, but instead of warming-up on routes you warm-up on the bouldering wall and then you maybe do one or two boulder problems at limit level and then you switch to endurance.
Alternatively you can warm-up on the hangboard. You would so those three or four sets of dead hangs you are doing, maybe some offset pull-ups for your arms, and maybe a few/a couple of sets of leg raises or you could do that work at the end. The important thing is that you do some strength-type work and then move on to endurance because that way you’re going to maintain your strength gains. I would always/I don’t think many coaches would advocate doing it the other way around, doing the endurance stuff first. One of the things I think most people agree on is you have to train the intensities in chronological order, so always starting with the more intense form of training. If you’re going to do different things within a session, you’ll do strength work first then strength and endurance work and finally lower-intensity endurance work.
Neely Quinn: This is so awesome. This is really good practical information. I want to talk about your diet but I have one last question for you about training and that is: I was at the gym the other day and we were doing routes and there was this person on this route. I said, “Are you guys going to be done after this?” and she said, “Well, my partner is going to be up there for 25 minutes.”
Neil Gresham: [laughs] Was it busy?
Neely Quinn: It was the busiest day I’ve ever seen. What are your thoughts on that? Like, who is that good for, in your opinion, and can we please all agree that it’s not okay to do that at 7PM on a Tuesday night?
Neil Gresham: No, this is just not sociable climbing behavior. I mean, change the session for goodness sake. How rigid does your program need to be? Maybe you were supposed to do your aerobic capillarity session that night but just do strength endurance instead. It’s not going to do you any harm and it’s certainly going to be better for the people around you. Obviously, for trad, multi-pitch, onsighting long sport routes, this has relevance. 15-, 20-, 25-minute stints of climbing, definitely, but I would usually say during quiet times or get on one of these self-belay machines or better still, just do them on the bouldering wall. Not on the busy part of the bouldering wall because that’s even more anti-social but on an easy, beginner’s part of the bouldering wall that’s not really being used that’s got plenty of jugs on it. Just hang out there and do your aerobic thing. Just as you’ve gotta obey certain etiquette with bouldering, where you turn, don’t jump on somebody’s head, that falls into the same category. You have to be respectful of other climbers.
Neely Quinn: All right. Thank you for that very practical advice. I’m sure a lot of people will get a lot out of it, including myself. I want to talk about the reason that I was prompted most recently to get in touch with you, which was because of your article on the ketogenic diet. That actually spurred my own podcast episode where I explained it in my own words. Can you tell me what you did to change your diet and the results you saw?
Neil Gresham: I can and, just to say, your podcast undoubtedly shed new light on the whole topic for me. Not being a nutritionist, I went into the whole thing more as an athlete. I’ll just briefly start from the beginning.
Last summer I was trying to climb the hardest sport project of my career, which was an 8c at Kilnsey called Freak Show. I knew I needed to lose weight for this route and I’d just struggled so much in the past with low-fat diets, to the point where I wasn’t prepared to do them anymore. As much as I love climbing I just detest being hungry, however, when I was doing the Hangboard Guru app project I was working with a guy who is a pretty well-known nutritionist. Well, not so much well-known as acclaimed nutritionist. He started telling me about the way sports nutrition had moved on and the fact that there were certain dieting strategies that enabled you to lose weight but you felt controlled and comfortable and you had high energy levels and, above all else, you didn’t feel hungry. I just thought it sounded like a miracle pill. I was highly skeptical but then the more I looked into it myself and researched it, I read a lot of positives about the ketogenic strategy. Now, what I didn’t quite know, because this fellow, his name is Glen Burrows, he kind of gave it to me on a plate (literally) and just told me what to do. However, I think what he came up with was a tweaked or a hybrid version of the ketogenic strategy. Certainly, having listened to your podcast, it almost sounds like it’s kind of what I was doing was ketogenic throughout the day and kind of paleo during the evening. At least the strategy was a sort of fat-adaptive strategy than a ketogenic strategy.
I’ll do a brief summary and tell me if I get this wrong, Neely. The strictly keto strategy means that you avoid all carbohydrates that are going to spike your insulin levels whereas what I was doing was having a very small amount, like maybe 30/40/50 grams of carbs total per day and I was having these only in the evening. Glen was saying to me to promote recovery and for brain health, carbohydrates are important. Plus, for someone like myself who was brought up on a diet of wheat/cereal in the morning and a big sandwich at lunch and pasta in the evening, so wheat three times a day my whole life, eating no carbohydrates at all seemed so scary. It’s like, one step at a time, so this is the strategy that I followed. No carbs during the day and then very, very low carb in the evening. The thing you explained to me, Neely, and which Glen did kind of explain to me as well is that the result was that I would never go deeply into ketosis as a result of this, however, there’s a possibility that I might have been mildly in ketosis although I have to confess I don’t if I was or not. I wasn’t testing.
Nonetheless, all this aside, no single thing has ever made such a big difference in my climbing as this diet. The year before I was struggling on 8a+ and then the following year, last year, I climbed 8c. It literally put two, if not three, grades on my climbing. I didn’t want the party to end having done this 8c. I then went on and did another new route, an 8b+ and I just felt like I was getting stronger and lighter and stronger and lighter and more energized. I just thought, “I actually need to stop this because this is almost a bit too good to be true,” and I did. I resumed my normal eating patterns, eating carbs plentifully and went back to the winter season when, of course, you’re not worried about controlling your weight. You’re more interested in making sure you consume enough calories to fuel your training and your recovery and that was that. It worked spectacularly well but it was also interesting to hear that you had that negative experience, Neely, and it’s undoubtedly because you followed the proper, strict, textbook definition ketogenic diet as you would as a nutritionist, I’m sure. It goes to show that the actual, true, pure, hardcore keto diet is not something that one could universally recommend because clearly there’s plenty of people who are not having good experiences with it. My version is a less harcore version and seemed to be more common sense based and it really seemed to work. I’m actually back on it now. I just started it 10 days ago because I’ve got a new route at Malham that I’m going to be trying this summer which is probably going to be 8c+ which is, again, going to be another step forward for me. I’m looking forward to seeing where I can go with this. It’s a fairly new thing for me and I feel that I’m only just getting started.
Neely Quinn: And regardless of the semantics of the whole thing, like what is actually ketogenics and maybe this is cyclical keto and maybe this is paleo or primal, I think that one of the big things it seems that you did was you made your body more fat-adapted and maybe you took out some inflammatory foods that were harming you. That’s the main point. We just want to be healthier at our best body comp.
Neil Gresham: Definitely. I was eating healthier stuff. My whole palette was completely rewired. To be honest, I was never a salad fan. I was always like, “Salad? That’s rabbit food. No, give me a big cheese sandwich,” but now I just look at a cheese sandwich and it makes me feel a bit ill. I just want to eat beetroot and carrots and pepper and nice, zesty, zingy food. I was eating healthier stuff but, you know Neely, you mentioned the inflammatory thing and I think that’s the biggest part of it. Even in the winter season, when I was off my hybrid-keto diet, call it what you want, even when I was off that and back to eating normally, I still couldn’t bring myself to eat wheat. I know I’m not massively gluten – I’ve listened with interest to your podcast about intolerances, and I know that I’m not massively gluten-intolerant but, as I said, I’ve been eating that stuff my whole life but suddenly, when I stopped, my recovery was going through the roof.
I was going on that route last summer and it’s like a big roof pitch. It’s a 40-meter pitch but half of it is horizontal climbing so it breaks you. I was going on this route, having long days at the crag, and I’d wake up the next day feeling completely recovered and then I’d do a six-hour training session. When I don’t follow diet strictly I feel like I don’t recover as well. When you’ve been climbing as long as me you know your body pretty well. I should also mention that I wasn’t necessarily doing anything that different with my training. The only real difference was the diet and thus, I’m able to say with total confidence that it works for me. Diet, even more than training, is a personal thing.
Neely Quinn: I have a couple quick questions: did you lose weight?
Neil Gresham: Incredibly. Sorry, I work in stone. I’m a bit old-fashioned, but my normal weight when I’m not careful what I eat is 12 stones and within a month, I lose a stone within a month.
Neely Quinn: I think that’s like 15 pounds or something.
Neil Gresham: Yeah, 14 or 15 pounds in a month or maybe in five or six weeks. That’s without ever really feeling hungry, to be honest, experiencing better and more consistent energy levels. I feel mentally sharper as well. It’s funny, there’s a friend of mine. I recommended the diet to him and he called me a month later and said, “Oh, I just felt rubbish to start with and I was cursing you and then I looked it up online and they call it the ketogenic hangover. I broke through it and after that I felt like a weapon.” I just loved that expression.
Neely Quinn: For a few weeks, it doesn’t feel so great for everybody.
Neil Gresham: I know, I know.
Neely Quinn: I think that the most practical thing you could tell people, because I think a lot of people are interested in it but they’re just like, “I have no idea what to eat.” Very briefly, what did you eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner?
Neil Gresham: This is what I ate and like I stressed, I felt sort of guilty writing that Rock & Ice article because I’m not a nutritionist and I realized I was putting my head in the lion’s jaws. Indeed I received a bit of criticism but I think it’s more I approached it as a climber, as someone who just tried something and got some good results. Maybe I didn’t present it in a textbook-perfect way but I felt it had real relevance and I wanted people to know about it. To answer your question I was eating in the morning, as I am at the moment, eggs, which I believe are good for cortisol levels as well and I was eating with those oily fish, so something like mackerel or smoked salmon and occasionally grilled bacon.
Neely Quinn: How much of those things?
Neil Gresham: Two eggs, two rations of bacon, and then loading up with plenty of spinach. I’d have some nice, steamed spinach or some really awesome greens but no toast with it. This is the thing that Glen took awhile to convince me. I was like, “You’re telling me to eat eggs without toast? You can’t eat eggs without toast.” He said, “You’ll be less hungry if you ditch the toast,” and he used to laugh at me because at the start I used to serve myself these wafer-thin slices of toast. He used to say to me, “Your melba toast,” because I’d cut the bread this thinly. He said to just ditch the slices of bread and go hardcore so I did and he was totally right. I wasn’t getting any mid-morning hunger pains at all when I ditched the bread but when I had it, I was. It was that clear.
Lunch would kind of be a super-food salad but avoiding any grains. Not even any kind of quinoa or anything like that at lunchtime, just lots of green stuff. I’d also try and have some chicken with that or some kind of protein-based thing and trying to make it tasty, so plenty of olive oil, not making it a punishment meal. Soup as well, is pretty good because it’s warm and it feels you up, just avoiding any soup that’s got sugar in it, you know. No fruit, which, again, we were all told at an early age that fruit’s healthy and you should eat lots of it but it’s got a lot of sugar in it, as you say in your podcast, Neely. You’re getting all of your micronutrients from the green veggies that you’re eating and of course you’re eating things like fish which have got good micronutrients as well. No fruit going through the afternoon, but like I said, I didn’t feel that I needed to snack which to me is just ridiculous because I’m the biggest flapjack eater. When I’m not on this diet I need a midmorning and midafternoon snack. The fact that I don’t need them when I’m on this diet I still find incredible but I really don’t.
When the evening meal comes around, it’s still predominantly meat and a load of green veg but then a small amount of carbohydrate. I was under the impression that sweet potato was fairly low GI but you kind of weren’t so sure about that, Neely, although I should run with you because you obviously know better than I. I was having a little bit of sweet potato or a little bit of quinoa, but we’re talking half a sweet potato and a small, not even a handful of quinoa, like three or four tablespoons of quinoa, just to feel like I’d had some carbs come evening. I also found that, during the day, I don’t miss this stuff but in the evening you’re winding down a bit and you’re in comfort mode a bit more. You’re going to sit down and maybe watch the tv for half an hour so just having those carbs just kind of settles you and levels you out a little bit. As I mentioned earlier, I think it’s quite a good thing for your recovery and for your brain health, even if it might trip you out of ketosis, but let’s not go over that one again.
Neely Quinn: Okay, well that’s super helpful. You lost weight, you had better recovery, less inflammation, your mood seems like it was good, you were sharper/clearer…
Neil Gresham: Really good.
Neely Quinn: I mean, and I said this in my podcast episode about all of this, I think everybody should experiment with their diet. I think it’s brilliant and if you do it, if you feel awful, then stop [laughs] and if it works for you that’s great.
Neil Gresham: Just as you should with your training, wow – I could think of a few training programs that could make you feel pretty awful as well. [laughs]
Neely Quinn: Last parting thought: how old are you?
Neil Gresham: I’m 44.
Neely Quinn: I think it’s so inspirational that you’re 44 and still increasing your level of climbing. I think that’s awesome.
Neil Gresham: Thank you. I went to see Stevie Haston last summer for a bit of coaching advice. He was superb. I went to him because I wanted someone who sort of has the t-shirt I was wanting to wear, because he climbed 9a when he was 50. There are some great, young coaches out there with some really forward thinking, innovative knowledge. Some might even say that Stevie was slightly old-school but he knew about what it was like to push an older body really hard and it was just great to have his guidance. It was the first time I’d actually had coaching before and I thought/I’d almost say, as a coach, you owe it to yourself to get some coaching. It certainly made me reflect on myself and my own coaching practices. His parting shot to me was, he was like, “What’s the matter with all these guys who give up when they’re 40 and think they’re past it?” He goes, “You should all be expecting to climb your hardest routes into your 50s and beyond,” and I think that’s a very optimistic statement and one which I now entirely agree with. Climbing isn’t athletics or cycling where it’s just about raw output. There’s so much complexity and so much potential to use skill, experience, and tactics to offset any kind of physical variables. We do have 12/13/14-year old girls climbing the same level as 50 or 55-year old guys. Really, anyone can climb hard who puts their mind to it.
Neely Quinn: All right. Well on that note, I appreciate your wisdom and your time so thank you for being with me.
Neil Gresham: Thank you, Neely, I’ve really enjoyed it.
Neely Quinn: I hope you enjoyed that interview with Neil Gresham. If you want to learn more about him you can go to www.neilgresham.com and obviously you can find his articles in Rock & Ice and Climbing magazines.
Coming up on the podcast, I’m going to be interviewing Mercedes Pollmeier next week, who is a trainer. I also asked you guys on Facebook recently who you guys want me to interview and I got a surprising number of requests for people who are just like you and me. Basically, people who are not necessarily pro climbers and people who aren’t necessarily climbing harder grades but who have trained and who have gotten results and how they’ve done that. I reached out and I’m going to be interviewing one of our longtime members of the community at TrainingBeta and a client of Kris Peters named Teal. She’s going to tell you guys about her successes and I’ll continue to do that because I find those really interesting as well.
As far as your own training, you guys still have time to train before the spring season and summer season happen. If you’re interested in training we have really easy-to-use training programs all over the site for every different level of climber and for every kind of climbing. If you’re a boulderer, we have a training program for you. If you’re a route climber, we have programs for you.
I just wanted to read you something that Phil wrote in and told us about. He’s been on our route training program and he says that, “Unlike most programs that I’ve tried, and I’ve tried a bunch from Steve Bechtel’s Climb Strong site as well as the Anderson brothers’ Rock Prodigy system, it gives us more opportunities to climb for both myself and my climbing partner. We don’t get many opportunities to get outside due to family obligations and so we need a program that is tailored for someone who can get in a solid two to two and a half hours of climbing and training three days a week. Your program hits that sweet spot perfectly. For me, the climbing work is the best part and I have seen an improvement in my confidence on lead as well as my skill, strength, and endurance on the rock. Since starting the program last summer I’ve bumped my onsight average to a solid .12a and I’m pushing .12c and .12d redpoints with little fear of injury. It’s fricking awesome.” I’m really psyched for you, Phil, and thanks for writing in and letting us know that.
If you guys want to check that out you can go to www.trainingbeta.com and then at the top there’s the tab that’s “climbing training programs” and you’ll find the route program in there. Thanks so much for listening to the podcast as always. I appreciate you guys so much and the podcast audience seems to be growing so thanks for spreading the word about it. I think that so many climbers out there want to know how to train and, hopefully, we’re giving you guys resources to do that. Have a great week and I will talk to you soon.