Rachel Briggs on Navigating Climbing as a Mother
Date: October 23rd, 2019
About Rachel Briggs
Rachel Briggs is a British climber who has two children and runs a business called Rock Tots, where she teaches children to climb. I wanted to talk to Rachel because there are a lot of women climbers out there who are moms themselves, and they’re wondering how to continue to climb successfully after having kids. There are also those women who are going to be mothers some day and they’re wondering how pregnancy, birth, and childcare will affect their climbing. Rachel has done public speaking on these topics, and she’s been really successful with her own climbing, having sent harder climbs after her pregnancies than she ever did before having children. She’s currently projecting a V11 / 8a boulder!
We go into some nitty gritty details about how pregnancy changed her body (temporarily and permanently), how she managed her time and health so that she could climb starting 5 weeks after her births, and how she’s integrated climbing into the fabric of her family’s life together.
We also talk about some super creative ways to keep children happy at climbing areas, how to make climbing fun for them so it’s something they want to do with you, and why bouldering is so much easier for her family than rope climbing.
Rachel has over 20 years’ climbing and bouldering experience and holds both climbing instructor and coaching qualifications in the UK, and she used to be a teacher. When she had her children, she chose to stop teaching and open Rock Tots so she could have more time with her kids and teach other children the joys of climbing. This story is not only about how Rachel has continued to climb after having children, but also about building a successful business from a desire to have more freedom and flexibility.
Please share this interview with any mothers or mothers-to-be that might benefit from this! Fathers are of course invited to listen to this – I’m just emphasizing mothers here because we talk about the physical aspects of parenting that only mothers experience.
Rachel Briggs Interview Details
- How her body changed after her pregnancies
- How long it took her to heal from her births
- How to be careful with ab muscles after birth
- When she started climbing again after pregnancy
- How she got her body working “normally” again
- How sleeping less affected her physically and mentally
- How she and her husband prioritize child-free climbing sessions
- Her positive attitude about the permanent changes to her body
- How long into her pregnancies she climbed
- Why she quit her job as a teacher and started a climbing company
- How she gets her kids excited about going climbing
- How she keeps her kids busy and happy at climbing areas
- How to feel less lonely as a new mom or pregnant mom
Rachel Briggs Links
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Photo by Iain Brown @iainclimbs of Rachel on her V11 / 8a project, Back Street Mime Artist.
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, trainingbeta.com, 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 then 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 trainingbeta.com.
Thanks for joining me for episode 135 of the podcast. Today on the show I have Rachel Briggs. Rachel is a climber and she’s been climbing for over 20 years. She’s also a mother of two young children and she’s also a business owner. She owns Rock Tots which is a company that runs out of climbing gyms and helps kids learn how to climb.
I had asked for suggestions on the Facebook training group for people who are moms and climbers who navigate all the challenges that go along with that, trying to simultaneously do both things. Rachel came up as a perfect person for this, I thought. I think that this topic isn’t discussed very often in the climbing community, the challenges that women face physically and otherwise, so I wanted to talk to her.
She told me she would be willing to delve into some nitty-gritty details about the physical things that happened to her during her pregnancies, during her childbirths, what that did to her body temporarily and permanently after, and also things like how to make sure that you don’t hurt your abdominal muscles after you’ve given birth and you try to go back into exercise and training and all of that.
We talk about how she made time for training for climbing and how she and her husband prioritize getting child-free climbing sessions in but also how they’ve really integrated climbing into their family life. It’s really amazing. You see kids at crags all the time and what I notice is if they’re not climbing, like if they’re not avid climbers themselves, they sometimes look pretty bored. Rachel has some really good tips for how to keep kids happy at the crag and really occupied, whether they’re climbing or not.
We talk about all of the things – not all of them, but a lot of the things that have to do with motherhood and climbing and how she herself has climbed harder now that she has two kids than she ever did before, which I thought was really impressive.
I’m going to let Rachel take it from here and know that you’re not going to hear very much from me in this interview. Rachel is a really good storyteller. She had a really clear timeline of how her life has gone and all of the things she’s learned so I’m going to let her take it and I’ll talk to you on the other side. Enjoy.
Neely Quinn: Welcome to the show, Rachel. Thank you so much for talking to me today.
Rachel Briggs: Thanks for having me on the show. I’m really excited to be here. Thanks for addressing this subject as well, which I know can be a bit difficult sometimes. Hopefully we’ll be able to reassure some climbing mums and mums-to-be out there going through this somewhat daunting transition time.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, I mean I think it’s long overdue that I have this topic explicitly on the podcast so I am happy we’re doing this. I’m happy to get to pick your brain a little bit. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Rachel Briggs: Okay. I grew up in a very flat part of the country and I didn’t even know climbing existed except for climbing up the highest tree in our village and up hay bales with my brother, but when my brother went to university he came back raving about this new sport that he’d done. He’d joined the climbers’ club and he introduced me to climbing. Basically, my life has been climbing focused ever since.
Neely Quinn: How old were you then?
Rachel Briggs: I was just before university and I partly picked my university because it was close to one of the biggest indoor climbing centers in the country at the time. It was a good university for me to go to as well but it just happened to be just round the corner to this great center.
After uni I moved to Sheffield to be close to some of the amazing outdoor climbing available there. That’s where I met my husband-to-be, Tom, and unfortunately shortly after meeting him I broke my ankle in Fontainebleau and he was really great at looking after me for the eight months I was on crutches.
At that point as well I did my teacher training and we bought a house near to the Peak District, just on the edge of Sheffield, so we could get out after work and on weekends go climbing on the gritstone. We got married and very shortly after I got pregnant. Actually, before my honeymoon to Rocklands. It didn’t stop us going away. We still went to Rocklands and we had a great time. There was plenty of climbing and quite a bit of extreme napping at the boulders and a bit of morning sickness but basically, my climbing was pretty unaffected until we got back and I was about 16 weeks-ish. I got this water retention, which wasn’t really anything to worry about and not really obvious but it just meant that when I tried to climb, even on the biggest warm-up jugs, I had a stinging sensation in my fingers and my toes. There was no way I could climb even the easier stuff so it was like, ‘Right. I’ve just got to stop,’ which saddened me a little bit. It definitely took a little bit of time to transition into this.
Because I’d had my broken ankle I was sort of confident I could have a big break from climbing and get back to it so during pregnancy I took up Pilates which, you probably know, kind of focuses on form and precise movements which quite contrasted my climbing style. I’m quite short and powerful and I’ve got quite a bit of a dynamic climbing style so actually Pilates was quite different for me but it felt really good for my body. Also in pregnancy I did quite a bit of swimming and lugging my big bump along the gritstone edges close to my house, just to get moving outside quite a bit.
Then my birth and that didn’t exactly go to plan. I’d planned for this lovely, tranquil home birth and everything and unfortunately my little one was not playing ball. He decided to turn back-to-back during my labor which, I don’t know whether you know, can cause real difficulties and I ended up having a 36-hour labor which took it out of me somewhat. I was lucky. I still had a fairly standard delivery and didn’t need a C-section or anything like that. I just had a couple of little tears but nothing too bad.
That’s when we welcomed Leo into our world which was amazing and quite a pivotal point in our lives, which was wonderful. A wonderful pivotal point. The first few weeks were just a big blur of tiredness and overwhelming love and just really focused on bonding time and getting acquainted to being parents and stuff. Kind of all about focusing on him and our new life together.
After a few weeks I started being able to sort of start to think about my fitness again, or a little bit anyway. I started to heal and focused on pelvic floor exercises and diastasis recess [recti] exercises, which is getting your tummy muscles back together. The early stages were super simple exercises so you could kind of do them when you’re brushing your teeth or making a cup of tea or feeding the baby. They’re really basic, simple exercises but I built them into my daily routine so I did them for small amounts but regularly.
About six weeks postpartum I got the all-clear from my postpartum physio to start exercising again so I was down at the wall and wanted to get climbing, especially after having nine months off climbing. I was like, ‘I need to get climbing,’ and it felt like my body was ready, which I think compared to a lot of climbing mums that I know, that’s actually quite early to start climbing again. It felt right to me and I was super, super cautious in the beginning.
My first sessions back on the wall – well, my climbing goals had changed drastically to listen in to my body while I was moving on the wall. Obviously it wasn’t about climbing hard. That was on the back burner. The most important thing was obviously my baby but also healing, making sure my body was getting healed. It takes a long time for your body to heal. A very long time. I was kind of listening very carefully to my body and just sort of careful, gentle movements to begin with and also getting my body to feel back into balance again or starting to get back into balance.
When you’re pregnant your hips and everything change, and your stance. Obviously you’ve got a heavy weight at the front and you’re trying to focus on your posture again and get back into balance. Early on I was very mindful of that and mindful of my tummy muscles and that I didn’t inadvertently take any steps backward, which you can do in the early days. It’s sort of important that you get that right and also I really sort of kept away from all steep ground and certain movements. I’d obviously make sure that my body wasn’t hurting in any way. I was really gentle on myself but it was great to be back on the wall and building climbing back into my life again. I was sad it wasn’t there earlier and I definitely had a bit of a gap. A gap in my life, really. Your social life – well, I don’t know about you but a lot of our social lives are built around the climbing wall and our climbing friends and stuff so I definitely had missed it quite a bit.
I was climbing regularly when Leo had his main naps in the day which began to be at fairly normal times in the middle of the day. I could take advantage of that if I timed it all right. I might be able to get an hour climbing. Most days I’d be able to do that. I wasn’t very good at climbing in the evening because he was up a lot in the night and by evening time I was having to go to bed with him. I had energy in the day so I kind of went with that so lots of small, short snippets of climbing.
Also, my husband is a climber as well and at weekends I’d be able to get climbing in as well with him. It was really focused about getting my body in balance and a strong foundation again, kind of building up again and going back to basics. Really, starting fresh again. It was a bit of a reset for your body and it felt good. I started to build up my strength again.
We were really lucky that I could breastfeed. Once you’ve sort of established with breastfeeding it makes feeding at the crag or feeding at the wall really easy. Because he was solely breastfed it meant if I went to the crag my husband and Leo were at the crag, too, or at the wall. We’d choose crags that were either really pram-friendly or sort of very accessible with a sling or carrier which we use a lot of. The pushchair was good for lugging all the stuff and maybe your climbing bag on the pushchair. There’s a lot of stuff so the carrier was good for carrying him in and then the pushchair was good for lugging everything around.
And obviously, we chose crags that were low risk for rockfall and not too exposed as well. Leo was not a big fan of being wrapped up in those layers. He really liked kind of moving around but I know other friends that get out with their little ones when it’s a bit cold and stuff but I remember Leo just not being too happy about it. It kind of wasn’t worth the hassle so we chose crags which weren’t too exposed.
As Leo got older we chose crags that were definitely more interesting to him, so nice play areas or interesting wildlife and things like that. When they’re tiny they just really don’t need that much but when they’re a bit older it’s nice for them to be able to feed the ducks or whatever and have a bit more for them as well.
After about six months of fairly low intensity climbing and lots of core exercises and pelvic floor exercises, religiously, and even with all the exercises I did there’s still definitely a lot of work to be done afterwards. Any type of jumping off is definitely a big no-no. Taking care of your pelvic floor, carrying on and doing those for ages kind of religiously. I basically started training after about six months and built my strength up through the training. We had some rings in the garage and I could fit in things when Leo was in bed as I was less tired.
Skipping forward a bit, when Leo was about one year I was probably about full strength again and also around that time I’d gotten back to pre-pregnancy weight, which is not necessarily that relevant but I think it’s something people are interested in. People are kind of anxious about the weight that you’re going to put on sometimes. I think quite a lot of us are anxious about weight that you might put on in pregnancy so it was about a year I got back to pre-pregnancy weight and also to that strength as well. That’s kind of when I found out I was pregnant the second time, so yeah…
I’d just gone back to teaching again and Leo was really active then as well and I’d just noticed him beginning to climb as well, which was gorgeous and a real pleasure to see him clambering on everything, which was lovely. Also, seeing a lot of his friends so it wasn’t anything special, it was just fairly standard for his age. Lots of his friends climbed on everything, too. That’s what sowed the idea of Rock Tots, which is my business. Seeing the instincts that Leo had and lots of his little friends had and seeing how natural it was for them to climb on things, but also seeing some of the other parents hindering these amazing skills by being scared and, understandably, not having a suitable environment for the kids to climb in. They were pulling them off the sofa and the windowsill. It can be a bit scary for non climbing families so that’s when I thought about setting up Rock Tots, which is my business. It’s basically a climbing and educational program which is based around a curriculum for climbing that I designed for 1-6 year olds.
I’d had this idea but I’d put it on the back burner a little bit while I was pregnant and had my toddler. Then Sebby arrived on the scene so we’re a family of four. I got back into climbing again and after a few years I’d set up Rock Tots, I didn’t go back to teaching, and it was brilliant. We did lots of family holidays and lots of climbing trips, little trips at the weekends, and I didn’t get pregnant again, thankfully, and I got stronger. Stronger than I’d been before by about two climbing grades. When Sebby was about three or something I climbed two Font 7c’s in Fontainebleau, in the summer when it was really hot, and that was two grades harder than I’d climbed previously before having the kids.
I think your climbing time is really focused when you haven’t got as much time to climb, but when you do climb you’re incredibly focused. It’s also a bit of a physical outlet but also this mental haven for you as well because there’s a lot of pressure being a mom. If you’re always thinking about the family and the kids, actually having a ‘this is my time’ really focused me. I felt like I was a better mum for it as well for having that regular me time. I could be much more patient and sort of a better mum for it.
Quickly, sort of summing up, I built Rock Tots and now we’re at lots of the different climbing walls around the UK. I do a lot of training now, training instructors to deliver the program, and I’m really lucky that I’ve managed to build it around school and term time so I’ll get all the holidays off with the boys. We also Airbnb the house so we can go away for the whole of the summer. We go climbing around Europe for six weeks at a time.
I also do a bit of climbing coaching for adults, particularly for women, and I run workshops and training for the Women’s Climbing Symposium. I’ve worked for it regularly for the last four years, which is quite nice, and also the Women’s Bouldering Festival. Working on events like that really made me realize how much I’ve got to give and how much I love supporting women in their climbing. That’s partly why I’ve set up this page on my Rock Tots website which is especially for climbing mums and mums-to-be. I’ve put some links on there and articles that I’ve found helpful and also shared some other inspiring mums out there who have kindly given me some photos and some tips that I can pass on.
So yeah. Whew! Sorry, I’ve not really taken much of a breath there, have I? [laughs]
Neely Quinn: That’s quite a story you had and it sounds like you’ve had quite a lot of success through both of your pregnancies and that this has kind of given birth to a new life for you. A new business and a new career for you.
Rachel Briggs: Yeah, totally. It was brilliant. I think I got a lot of confidence from seeing my children and seeing how instinctive climbing is for them. That gave me a lot of confidence with my business. Also, my partner is super supportive and I think he saw how important it was for me to be able to get back. As much as I love being a mum, because I totally do, I also need that me time to stay sane and become fit again and healthy again and all that sort of stuff.
Neely Quinn: You know, it’s interesting how you just phrased that. You said, “I really love being a mom, I really do,” or whatever you said, “but I need that time.” I think that that’s something that a lot of women have guilt about. They don’t feel like they should need that time for themselves but you just made it really clear why that’s so important for you.
Rachel Briggs: It’s not just the physical side but actually the mental health. You’ll be a better person, a better mom. You’ll be able to cope better. There’s so many pressures of being a mom. There’s people’s expectations and stuff like that but carving out that me time is really important. It should be a family priority, not just you. It should be a priority for your whole family, really. It’s important to try and make that time, definitely.
Neely Quinn: For a period of a time you were a teacher while you had Leo, or no?
Rachel Briggs: Yeah, that’s right. While I had Leo I went back to teaching.
Neely Quinn: How much harder was it then to get that me time than now, when you have your own business?
Rachel Briggs: I went back part time but I think teaching, particularly, is such a demanding job. You can never do enough in teaching. There’s always more you can do. I felt, personally, like I wasn’t giving enough to teaching as so much was expected of me, but I also wasn’t giving enough of myself to the family. I felt like it basically took up all the time that I had and I just felt like there’s enough guilt being a mom and carving out your climbing time for yourself. The teaching definitely wasn’t easy but I also was pregnant for quite a bit of that so I wasn’t climbing anyway. When I went back, though, it was.
We decided after Sebby that the time and the money – having two kids in childcare costs virtually the same as working. Also, the teaching post I had was sometimes an hour there and an hour back so it felt like the cost of petrol and the cost of childcare wasn’t worth it. I’d got this idea about Rock Tots and I was like, ‘Oh, let’s see what happens with that.’
Rock Tots just rocketed. It was really popular really quickly and I feel like it filled this gap. There wasn’t anything. There were other clubs out there and other classes you could do with the kids but there wasn’t anything – it all seemed fairly tame and these tiny ones have got these amazing skills and these amazing instincts. Let’s let them develop that and let’s give them an appropriate environment to do that and support. Give the parents confidence to let their children explore those amazing skills. That’s why I think it just rocketed and took off.
Neely Quinn: That’s great.
Rachel Briggs: Yeah, it was really lucky. I couldn’t find anything else like that throughout the whole of the country. There were things like gymnastics and stuff, which are obviously very active and things, but on the climbing side there wasn’t really anything. The Climbing Works, where I set it up, were really brilliant. They were really forward-thinking and quite creative and kind of took a chance on me and it worked. Route setting is part of the program as well because you need to be able to set routes that these little ones can reach but if you do set the right setting, they can just rocket and their skills can develop and it’s wonderful to see.
Neely Quinn: It is. I wonder if this will inspire other mothers to set up similar gyms. What’s your website again?
Rachel Briggs: It’s rocktots.net. We’re at quite a few of the different walls around the UK but expanding some more as well. So yeah, I’d say do it, definitely. It’s great. Get in contact if you want to do the Rock Tots program.
Neely Quinn: I wanted to talk a little bit more about the nitty-gritty details that people don’t really talk about, about the pregnancy and after. People will say, “I don’t want to have a child because I don’t want my body to change that much,” in so many words, so can you talk about maybe some of the things we don’t normally hear about and how those were difficult and how you got through them?
Rachel Briggs: Yeah, sure. So, bladder control. I mean, you do hear people talk about that but I think that was definitely something that is probably an issue for most mums, I would say, nearly all mums to begin with. It’s not a particularly easy topic to talk about but kind of knowing, that’s why I was kind of religious with my exercises. I’ve sort of taken that a step further and now I’m interested in core workouts and do core workshops and things.
I think you can do it, you just need to be disciplined, a bit like if you have an injury and you have physio afterwards. You kind of need to do the physio exercises afterwards to make sure you heal properly, so you can do it. I was lucky, obviously not having any C-sections. That was obviously lucky but I have got friends, climbing mums, who had C-sections, Naomi being one of them, this amazing climbing mum that I know. She had her daughter and I think when her daughter was still a toddler she had twins and I think she had a C-section. She’s kind of back on it and really strong and just really determined to get back in shape and things. You can do it. Have confidence that you can do it.
I think having a break, people are often really scared. Especially if they haven’t had much of a break from climbing. Actually, I think it’s an opportunity for your body to have a rest from climbing. It probably won’t hurt your fingers to have a rest and to kind of reset and go, ‘Okay, I’m going back to basics now. I’m going to build a really strong foundation and get everything in balance again.’ Sometimes as climbers we can get a bit out of balance. Our bodies can get a bit out of balance so it’s probably a good thing to have a reset and a break.
In terms of down below, I had a couple of tears and stitches and things. With my first I had some really horrible infections which wasn’t nice so that took longer. That was dodgy. The doctor afterwards – well, I don’t know. I wasn’t too happy about it anyway but the stitches fell out way too early and it was all not nice but I was still climbing six weeks later. That’s with not healing the best.
The love in your life that the baby brings coming into the family is just, to me, so worth a bit of a setback physically and things but you can get it back and your life will be so much richer. Seeing them climbing and sharing that together is just amazing.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, I think most women would say it’s totally worth it. How long ago was Sebby born?
Rachel Briggs: He’s six now.
Neely Quinn: How old is Leo?
Rachel Briggs: He’s eight now.
Neely Quinn: How long would you say it took you to feel totally healed? Or do you feel totally healed from your pregnancies and birth?
Rachel Briggs: Well, I do feel totally healed, yes. My body is not the same. I have a couple of stretch marks but I’m quite lucky. My skin around my tummy is never going to go as flat as it was as there’s just a bit of extra skin, really, which is not that bad to look at. I’d go with a crop top or wear a bra at the crag on a hot day and stuff. I’m not that bothered. I’m definitely not perfect but I think it puts it more into perspective. Your body has just done the amazing thing, twice. It’s grown another human in it and delivered that and it’s the most amazing physical feat. It’s definitely not the same but I’m not that bothered that it’s not the same. It’s done amazing things and it’s got back to being stronger than I ever was by quite a bit so it’s still doing amazing things now so I’m quite proud of it, really. [laughs]
Neely Quinn: So maybe aesthetically it’s not what it was at one point?
Rachel Briggs: It’s not perfect, definitely not. In terms of weight, I know climbers can be worried about weight and things, I did put on a lot of weight, especially because I had this water retention thing. Loads of that disappeared quite quickly because it was the water retention but also my body doesn’t do what many other women’s bodies do when they’re breastfeeding. Loads of women can breastfeed and they can eat what they like and all the weight falls off. Mine totally didn’t at all. It was the opposite. It was like, ‘Oh! I’ve got to have plenty of stores so I’m going to hold on to all of this weight until you stop breastfeeding,’ and that’s quite literally what it did. As soon as I stopped breastfeeding the weight sort of shifted.
Breastfeeding is just amazing and it’s so easy for us as mums but it does so many amazing things for the babies. The things it does for their immune systems is just amazing. I don’t know if you’ve seen any of the stuff where they put breast milk and expose it to viruses and stuff and it’ll change. It’s like, ‘Wow. Your body can do that.’ It’s just so amazing. It seems so worth it to be a couple of extra kilos for a few months. For me, it definitely seemed worth it. I was quite lucky with breastfeeding. Once I was established I found it quite easy. I know not every woman gets that and I know not every baby, either. It’s not just the women. Some babies don’t take to it so don’t beat yourself up if it doesn’t happen.
Neely Quinn: It seems like you have a very positive perspective on things, a very positive attitude about things. It seems like you’ve spoken to a lot of other mothers and a lot of other climbing mothers. Do you think that your attitude is normal?
Rachel Briggs: Yeah, I think so. I think a lot of my climbing mom friends are very positive about getting back and about having children. I would say amongst my friends, definitely. I’m trying to think if I can think of any women who have stopped climbing altogether after having kids or if they’ve kind of had any – I can’t really think of any that I know but maybe I’m just quite lucky with my friends. Many of the climbing women I know are incredibly strong personalities and willed and strong-minded women and it seems like if they’re determined to do something, they’re going to do it. And they’ll do it well. Maybe it’s the kind of women that get into climbing are the kind of women that can go and do anything. [laughs]
Neely Quinn: It seems like what has happened and what happens with so many women is before you get pregnant, you kind of have these fears about what it will do to you aesthetically and potentially physically, too, like with the bladder stuff and all that. Then you have this child and all the joy that the child brings to you makes these other things okay and you care about them less. Is that sort of…?
Rachel Briggs: Yeah, I think also you kind of have this new appreciation for your body, what it’s been through and what it’s created. You’re like, ‘Okay, you might not look as amazing as you did but bloody hell, look what you’ve given me and look what you produced! It’s flippin’ amazing!’ You kind of have this new appreciation which you wouldn’t have before you had a baby. I think you’re not so hard on yourself, I guess, and you also go, ‘Well actually, it doesn’t really matter if you’re carrying a little extra weight or if you’re a little bit saggy or a little bit leaky,’ or whatever. It’s all worth it. [laughs]
Neely Quinn: And none of it really matters to you because you’re stronger than you ever were before your pregnancies.
Rachel Briggs: I know. That’s just brilliant. I think I forgot to tell you I’m kind of now at that point where I’m not doing as much training anymore. I still do plenty of training but I’m going out developing climbing more now and it’s really lovely that the boys are really psyched for that as well. We’re putting up kids’ circuits, just in our own minds, really. We haven’t actually documented anything, but kids’ circuits and I’m putting up lots of adult climbs and adult boulder problems. Sharing the climbing and the getting out and the love of the outdoors is – I’m just really lucky to have that.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, that’s super cool that you’re doing that and making sort of kids’ areas, even.
Rachel Briggs: Yeah. I’ve got this sort of vague life goal, we call it in our family, to kind of put up some kids’ circuits in the Peak District. In Font they have these kids’ circuits which are absolutely amazing and we love them.
In Font they’ve got this tradition. I don’t know if you’ve been but this tradition has been going forever where they put these painted dots on the rock. Obviously you can’t just do that but they’ve got these numbers on the rocks. We won’t be able to do that in the Peak District but we go around making up our circuits and creating these circuits. One day we’ll document them and we’ll get them out there when I’ve got a bit more time on my hands. For now I’m too busy actually doing the climbing.
Neely Quinn: As far as bringing kids to crags, this is something that’s talked about kind of a lot. Some people don’t like having kids at the crag, some people don’t mind, and I think there are behaviors that are acceptable and unacceptable, in my opinion. I’m wondering what you’ve come across in terms of making it easier for you and other people at the crag, and the kids, like keeping them occupied.
Rachel Briggs: I love having kids at the crag but it’s definitely not for everyone. It’s really hard to keep kids quiet. It really is a hard thing to do and often when you’re on holiday, they’re really excited and they’re really having a great time. It is a bit difficult when people are like, ‘Ah, can’ – well, nobody has ever said that but sometimes you feel a little bit like, ‘Oh, my kids are being noisy,’ or whatever. If they’re screaming their heads off we’d probably go for a walk and see what the actual problem was for the kid. I guess there’s also family-friendly crags so if you didn’t like being around noisy kids it’s worth keeping away from the family-friendly crags until it was cold temperatures or in the week, when kids are at school, and not in the Easter holidays or whatever.
In terms of being at the crag with the kids we definitely try to make it really fun for them and really focused on them, especially now that they’re older. They want to climb so when we’re at the crag together we’re often focused on them. Maybe my husband would go off for a climb for a couple of hours and I’d be with the kids and we’d be climbing or we’d be doing fun stuff and get the hammocks out and building stuff or doing national treasure hunts and stuff.
Also, keeping their climbing low pressure and really fun. I really dislike seeing parents, the pushy parents, who are like, ‘Come on. Have another go. You can do this.’ It’s quite easy to fall into that and you risk putting them off climbing if you make it this high pressure thing. We want climbing to be really fun and an enjoyable thing to do together. If they don’t want to climb that day or when you’re there, it doesn’t have to be about climbing. It can be about all the fun things that you can do, building dens and animal spotting. Our kids love animal spotting. When they were little it was little bugs but now it’s snakes [laughs] which is a little bit more worrying.
Also, they’re a bit older so they’re doing whittling and stuff like that which is great fun. I ended up buying a pen knife just so I could join in the whittling with them. Just making life really fun at the crag and not them just fitting in around our agendas. Otherwise, I feel like they’re just going to end up resenting being there if they feel like they’re a bit of a spare part like, ‘Here’s the tablet, you sit and watch the film while mommy and daddy climb,’ or whatever. Obviously, occasionally that’s fine but if it’s all the time I think they’re just going to be like, ‘I don’t want to go to the crag again.’ Now they’re older, we make it very much about them. We might do circuits potentially together and that’s been lovely, being able to do some of the problems together.
Neely Quinn: Are you just talking about bouldering? Or do you guys go sport climbing?
Rachel Briggs: Mostly it’s bouldering. We kind of stopped doing sports routes and trad in the early days because of the time it takes up. With bouldering you can get a lot done in a couple of hours so it kind of fit in. We had these small bits of regular slots so it sort of fitted in rather than going out tradding. It takes a whole day, really, doesn’t it?
Neely Quinn: And you probably have to have three people with you when you’re doing that, wouldn’t you?
Rachel Briggs: Yeah, but we probably wouldn’t do that with the kids there. We’d probably go out separately if we’re going to do that. Fairly early on we found out if we’re going to try to climb, once they’re a bit older, and we were a bit more focused with our climbing, we felt that if we were at the crag with the kids and trying to have our proper climbing session, we’d be kind of half focused on the climbing, half focused on the kids, and not doing either very well. From eight months or something like that we were like, ‘Right. We’ll go out separately to do our climbing sessions and have a short but really focused climbing session then come back. When we go to the crag we can be focused on them.’
Neely Quinn: When you say separately you mean your husband will go with a friend and you’ll stay home and then…
Rachel Briggs: Normally we just go out by ourselves. It took a bit of getting used to but we kind of tend to go out, especially when we’re in Font in the summer, at kind of odd – I’d be getting up at 6:00 in the morning and warming up on a hangboard while it’s still dark then go out for two hours climbing and be back while everyone was having breakfast. You can have the rest of the hot day altogether then. That’s kind of how we manage a lot of the time. When we’re having a hard climbing session we’ll go out separately. When we’re having an easy, fun session we’ll go out altogether but be mainly focused on the kids.
Neely Quinn: That’s interesting. I’ve had other conversations with parents on the podcast where they talk about doing this. Even when they’re doing roped climbing, one of them will go out rope soloing alone, early in the morning, come home and then do their thing.
Rachel Briggs: Now, the kids want to get on routes as well so we go out and we do routes with them. We’d probably go out in a three if we were going to do sports climbing now. We’d always have somebody being available to keep an eye on the kids, without doubt. We wouldn’t both be tied in but I know that Caroline climbs with James and had her little one in a swing seat kind of hanging from a clip, so I know some parents have done things like that which you can kind of do if you’re sort of relaxed and like, ‘Take me there. I need to do whatever.’
Basically, we just really boulder now which, for me, is really fine because I was always more of a boulderer anyway. My husband missed doing the tradding for a bit but he’s now got into other things, actually, like fell running. Actually, he could go out all day doing trad now but he actually chooses to mainly boulder still and does other things like fell running and stuff.
Neely Quinn: What would happen if your kids weren’t interested in climbing?
Rachel Briggs: We have gone through periods where they’ve not been that fussed about climbing but they are really outdoorsy so we can do loads of creative, fun stuff and just be in the outdoors and enjoy exploring and doing other things. Definitely there’s phases where one might not be into the climbing and they’ll be more into something different but we are pretty lucky that they’re pretty into the outdoors. There’s always fun things we can do at the crag.
Some tips would be you obviously take some toys with you to the crag but just taking a marble and making a marble run out of natural things that you find is so much fun and it can take up hours. It’s brilliant. [laughs] Being creative at the crag and doing fun stuff outside is kind of good for us.
Neely Quinn: Are there any other activities that you can think of?
Rachel Briggs: Yeah. I mentioned the whittling. We did quite a bit of whittling this summer. Each summer tends to have a new theme and this summer was definitely whittling, making stuff out of the wood. We tried to make spoons and things like that which was good fun, but they’re obviously a bit older. Treasure hunts and storytelling – we had this ongoing story about elves. This whole elf kingdom of elves that lived in Fontainebleau and they were the ones who created all the painting marks on the rock, which obviously it wasn’t. There’s also paint on the trees which mark out walking trails so the amount of stories we made up about these elves was…yeah. Den building is an obvious one but if you look at Forest School stuff, that’s what I’ve looked at quite a lot. There are different activities you can do in Forest School. Do you know what Forest School is?
Neely Quinn: No, but I’m sure I could Google it.
Rachel Briggs: Exactly. Forest School is basically preschool or playschool based outside so there’s loads of learning about things you can do in nature. There’s loads of ideas of games and things you can play. I have this big long list that I can go to in my phone. There’s a hundred different activities you can do in the forest and stuff like that. There’s always lots of fun we can have. Things like hammocks are always a big winner and they fold down so small so hammocks are a good one.
Neely Quinn: These are great tips. I have friends who will take their kids to the crag and their kids don’t climb. They’re small and they’re bored out there. One of the things they do is buy them a toy after every session. I wonder sometimes how I feel about that and how the kids must feel about that. What do you think about that?
Rachel Briggs: We wouldn’t choose to do that but we have done Easter egg hunts at the crag when we’ve been in Fontainebleau at Easter. That’s kind of similar but I guess that’s kind of part of Easter for us. I guess you can be really creative and definitely Google some fun Forest School activities and you’ll come up with loads of different ideas, just things like making a picture frame out of bark and then making a picture out of all the natural materials. There’s loads of stuff you can do like making stuff out of acorns, pictures out of acorns and stuff.
It’s good to be prepared so you’re not like, ‘Oh! We’re at the crag so I need to try and entertain you.’ Have it on your phone, a massive list of fun things to do in nature with kids or whatever. It’s not nice for them to be sat.
Oh, I’ll tell you one thing. We’ve not done this but I’ve seen other people do it. We’re not a big fan of screen time, personally, and we try to avoid it. Rather than it being like, ‘Oh, we’re amazing parents,’ it’s more that our kids don’t respond really well to screen time so we try to avoid it because of that. Some parents that I saw at the crag who were both having a climb, two of their kids sat on a boulder mat and were listening to – it might have been a podcast – audiobooks. They had the book in front of them as well but they were being read this audiobook and I thought, ‘That’s really nice.’ We’ve never done that. We’ve never had to because we’ve got these Forest School ideas but I thought that was quite a nice, calming activity, isn’t it? Listening to a podcast. There’s loads of good kids podcasts or listening to audiobooks and stuff.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, that does seem like a good idea. So many ideas! There are great ways, it sounds like, to take kids to the crag and keep them happy and included.
Rachel Briggs: Yeah, really important.
Neely Quinn: Maybe I’ll try making a picture frame at the crag next time. [laughs]
Rachel Briggs: I’m sure I could find some photos for you for inspiration.
Neely Quinn: That’d be great, actually. If you do I’ll put them on the show notes.
I do have some more questions for you about the changes with your body.
Rachel Briggs: Yeah, of course.
Neely Quinn: I know that sometimes a lot of women are worried about the abs. I don’t know what’s going on there so maybe you know what women are worried about and what ab exercises to do after?
Rachel Briggs: It’s a very important one because if you’re not careful, you can actually do more damage climbing when your abs aren’t fully back together again. It is an important one to be really mindful of. There are some amazing YouTube videos, there’s also – I’ve put them on the website, some links on there about some exercises. There are some things that you can do very early on before you’re allowed to exercise. You can do these exercises straight away. There are some step-by-steps to try doing these and then you can move on to the next level.
Neely Quinn: Why is that? What is the danger of doing things too quickly?
Rachel Briggs: Rather than it being about doing it too quickly, because you can do it straight away, it’s that you’ve got to do it right. You’ve got to do the right way and there’s things you shouldn’t do as well. You can do it quickly, straight away, but you have to do the right ones straight away and you have to watch out for potentially doing more damage.
Neely Quinn: But what is the damage that can be done?
Rachel Briggs: What you could do if you do the wrong things is you can potentially cause a bit of a hernia and stop the muscles coming together. You obviously want to bring the muscles back together. That’s obviously the idea. Everybody has that when they’ve had a baby. Everybody’s muscles have to come apart so it’s bringing them back together so they’re nicely back together again and all the way down. There’s these tests you can do. You can do them yourself or you can get physio to do those and they’re very easy to do.
If you follow this regular routine you can build up and start to knit those together. If you don’t do that and you’re trying to climb on steep ground really quickly, you can cause a hernia or cause damage to them not being together properly. I put some links on the website especially for the mum’s part of it. You’ll be able to see and find out more on there and there’s also some great YouTube links.
Neely Quinn: Okay, that’s great.
Rachel Briggs: Don’t be worried. I don’t think you should be worried about it because everybody gets that. It’s normal. There are these steps to take afterwards and if you take those steps, it’s fine. It’s like doing physio exercises and stuff.
Neely Quinn: You mean that everybody’s abs sort of grow apart when they’re pregnant?
Rachel Briggs: Yeah. They will split to make room for the baby. Everybody’s does so it’s normal and you can get it back together again.
Neely Quinn: The other question is about how long you climb during a pregnancy. I mean, I know you’re not a doctor but it seems like you’ve studied this quite a bit, like how long you can climb when you’re pregnant and what you can do.
Rachel Briggs: So this is a question that a lot of my friends have obviously asked. I think it’s about listening carefully to your body and about doing what feels right to you. I would have carried on climbing for as long as my body told me I could but you take it in a different way. You wouldn’t be jumping off or being really dynamic and climbing on roofs or stuff like that. I think listen to your body and what feels right to you. It’s about being really mindful of what your body tells you is right.
I would say if you feel like you’re capable of carrying on climbing, you probably will want to adapt. You probably won’t be doing any crazy soloing or whatever. Your head will change as well. Listen to your body and if you feel like you’re able to plod up some nice multi-pitches or whatever and you’ve got the right harness and you’re not taking any ridiculous risks of dodgy rockfall or whatever, then go with what feels right for you.
We’re all so different and it might be like some of us are like, ‘No, I really feel like my head is not in it,’ and you really want to not climb, then go with that. Just have faith that you’ll get it back. You will be able to again so don’t beat yourself up if you don’t feel like you can.
Neely Quinn: So it doesn’t sound like there are many hard and fast rules like, ‘This is the time in the pregnancy when I have to stop lead climbing.’
Rachel Briggs: The thing is, I think there are so many different variables. You might physically be having issues with your pelvis or whatever so I kind of think it’s hard to say, “Yes, you can do this at this time,” because there’s so many different variables and people are coming from different backgrounds. If somebody is really experienced and going up a 6A multi-pitch is really easy for you then that might feel right for you. I think that should be fine and you should listen to your body to make those decisions. I don’t think there are any hard and fast rules to say, “No, you shouldn’t do this at this point,” although there are some medics who might say to err on the side of caution because they don’t really know what climbing is about and they don’t want to advocate any risk or whatever. I think if you know your climbing, your ability, and you know the routes that you’re choosing it’s a very personal thing.
Neely Quinn: Did you ever ask your doctor about guidelines about this? Did they ever tell you anything realistic or helpful?
Rachel Briggs: No. [laughs] I think a lot of people err on the side of caution and are quite cautious, especially if you say climbing. People are like, ‘Oh, I can’t advocate that!’ You know what I mean? But if it’s something you’ve been doing three times a week for the last 20 years and you know where you’re comfortable and what you’re capable of, I think the message is listen to your body and listen to your mind. If you’re comfortable and happy and feel like you can do that then that shouldn’t be stopping you from doing that. Be mindful but there’s no rule, really.
It would be nice if there was to have some research but I would definitely be taking it easier in the last trimester, without doubt. You don’t want to be taking any serious bumps or anything like that. Well, you don’t ever want to be taking any serious bumps in the last two trimesters. I think landing on a crash pad on your bum in the first trimester is probably not going to do too much but the second and third trimester you probably want to be avoiding that kind of thing.
I think there’s too many variables for people to put a definite on it, which is quite hard as a climber or as somebody who likes research. I like to know exactly what I should be doing. It’s actually quite hard to get your head around the so many variables that people aren’t putting the research out there for the hard and fast, ‘Yes you can do this or you can’t do that.’ You have to sort of play it by ear with your body and know what feels right for you. I would think that instincts will kick in. I’m pretty sure instincts will kick in for you. If it doesn’t feel right don’t do it. Listen to your instincts.
Neely Quinn: One other question is sleep. We need to be rested in order to do physical activity and it seems it really can lower motivation levels to even try to exercise, so how did you deal with that and what advice do you have about that?
Rachel Briggs: I’ve definitely got some advice about that. I know in a perfect world we’d all be sleeping eight hours or whatever but with kids it’s probably just not going to happen. You’re probably not going to get that so I’d highly recommend just getting out and doing it, even if you don’t feel like it. You’ll probably just feel tired all the time for the first year, to be fair. Tiredness sort of comes hand in hand with it but just try to get out and do it. To be fair, I didn’t get out in the evening because I was basically in bed in the evening. That was when I went to bed. I went to bed early and I got up a lot in the night but then I could climb in the day.
I would say if you’re sitting at home and thinking, ‘Oh, I’m feeling really tired. I don’t know whether to go climbing. I feel really tired but I’ve got this opportunity,’ just do it. Even if you just go and do 10 warm-up boulders or whatever, or even if you just go and you see your friends, go and do it. I pretty much guarantee at the end of it you’ll be pleased that you went and did it but if you listen to that, ‘Oh, I feel really tired,’ you’ll never get out of the door. You’ll never do it, at least for the first year, anyway. [laughs] Just get out and do it, even if you’re just going to see some friends or doing a bit of gentle, easy pottering. Definitely just go and do it. That’s my advice.
Neely Quinn: Okay. There are so many other questions but is there anything big that we missed?
Rachel Briggs: Oh yes, something that is a really good thing. Something that people should tap into is when you’re pregnant you can often feel a bit lonely and a bit isolated from our community because you’re not climbing anymore. Often, our social life is kind of built around climbing. Go and immerse yourself in the community and you’ll probably find, if you can, some other climbing moms or maybe you don’t know them but at the wall they’ve got a little one or they’ve got a bump or whatever. Just go out and try and meet them. Tap into our community. It’s an amazing thing, our climbing community, our tribe. I would say you can get loads of support from our community so don’t feel lonely, and try and reach out to our community.
If there aren’t any climbing people around, like parents with kids at the wall or whatever, maybe ask some other people down to the wall or ask the wall, “Do you know if there’s any other mums who come climbing?” Do reach out to our community. I definitely think that’s something to be embraced. You can create some amazing new friendships that way as well so definitely reach out to the community.
Neely Quinn: That is something about us. We are quite a community. I think it’s what keeps a lot of us sane a lot of the time. [laughs]
Rachel Briggs: Yeah. It can feel hard when you leave that community when you’re pregnant and you’re not climbing. There’s definitely a sort of loss there and be prepared for that and be mentally prepared for change. It can be an emotional rollercoaster, that change, but do try to tap into the community, even if it’s making new friends or talking to the wall or talking to new people and things. It’s definitely worth being brave, if you can, and tapping into our amazing community.
Neely Quinn: Even when I had shoulder surgeries and I wasn’t climbing I felt the same way: lonely and sort of secluded from the community. Sometimes I would go out and climb but I wouldn’t climb, I would just go out with my friends who were climbing and just hang out with them and support them.
Rachel Briggs: I was the same with my ankle. I felt that loss of the social life so get out, even if you’re just down at the wall with your baby and having a cup of tea. You might not do any climbing at all but just get down there and there will be lovely people who want to come and chat to you and maybe hold your baby. You never know, you might actually get to do a little bit of climbing. Just get out there and tap into our community.
Neely Quinn: Well, thank you so much for all of your wisdom. This has been really, really fun talking to you and really enlightening so thank you.
Rachel Briggs: Aw, thanks for having me on the show. It’s been great to talk to you, too.
Neely Quinn: Again, where can people find you and on social media and all that?
Rachel Briggs: If you follow Rock Tots on Facebook and on Instagram, my personal Instagram for the new stuff that I’m doing is @newascents. That’s just literally my new climbs that I put up but the Rock Tots website has a page that I’ve named ‘Rock Mums’ for mums-to-be so I’ll send you a link or that as well. It’s rocktots.net and it’s there under ‘Rock Mums.’
Neely Quinn: Awesome. Well thank you and great work. Hopefully this will help some moms or moms-to-be.
Rachel Briggs: Super. There may be some dads listening out there who can be able to support their partners.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, not trying to be not-inclusive here. Of course this can help dads as well.
Rachel Briggs: Yeah. It is really nice to have a space where mums can feel like they can talk freely about anything but also sometimes dads can obviously feel left out and they want to know all this too so they’re more than welcome to have a look on the website and get in contact as well with any questions, or if they want to see anything on the website.
Neely Quinn: Thanks for the resource. Appreciate it and thanks again. Take care!
Rachel Briggs: Yeah, thank you very much. It’s nice to talk to you.
Neely Quinn: Alright, I hope you enjoyed that interview with Rachel Briggs. She had a lot to say and hopefully it helps new mothers or mothers-to-be. It was really illuminating for me to learn all of those things and to have a better understanding of how mothers can make it work and do make it work all of the time.
You can find her Rock Tots website at rocktots.net, like she said, and her personal Instagram is @newascents. She has been putting up new boulders and a lot of times she’ll put up videos or photos of those and it’s really cool to see what she’s doing. The Rock Tots Instagram is @rock_tots. She also wrote an article about children climbing and it’s called ‘Born to Climb.’ I put a link to it on the show notes on TrainingBeta. Thank you again, Rachel, for being on the show and hopefully that was helpful.
If there are any other moms you want to hear from just let me know. If you have any other suggestions for people to have on the show I set up a page that is at trainingbeta.com/suggestions and it’s a form. You can fill it out and I do look at those regularly so just let me know who you want to have on.
I do have a very large and full schedule of interviews coming up and I’m really excited about them. Next week I have an interview that was already recorded and it’s with Matt Pincus and a woman named Hayley Thomas. Hayley is a 5.11 climber and she emailed me and was like, ‘Hey. I don’t hear much about training for 5.11 climbers so can you do something about that?’ I was like, ‘That is a really valid point,’ so I asked Matt Pincus, our online trainer here, to have a conversation with her as if he were her trainer, on the podcast. We did a three-way call. He did some background information on her before the interview and then talked to her as if she were his client. It was awesome. I really, really liked it and I hope you guys do, too. You’re welcome to let me know if you do or do not like it when it’s done. I think I’m going to keep doing that with Matt and just have different kinds of people on and give them advice on training. That’s coming up.
I also just recorded an interview with Kris Hampton about technique and movement in climbing, which a lot of people have emailed me requesting more information on. Kris and I did our best talking about such an abstract topic that’s sometimes easier to see than talk about. He’s really good at talking about it because he does that all the time. Kris Hampton is Power Company Climbing and he’s awesome so you’ll hear that in a couple weeks.
I’m going to try to put an episode out every week coming up here, just so I can keep up with all the interviews I’m doing. I think that’s it for now.
We have training programs for you at trainingbeta.com. We have subscription programs or we have ebooks, whatever media you prefer. We have things for boulderers, for route climbers, for people who just want to train finger strength, and all kinds of stuff over there. You can go to trainingbeta.com and you can find all our stuff over there.
You can always follow us on Instagram @trainingbeta. We are doing new things over there. Matt is going to be putting up new trainer tips, I’m doing nutrition tips, and we’ll be doing some more informative things over there.
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Thanks for listening all the way to the end. I really appreciate you and I’ll talk to you next time.