About Jonathan Siegrist
This interview is with one of my really good friends, Jonathan Siegrist, aka J-Star. I met Jonathan about 4 or 5 years ago and for some reason we just clicked and have stayed tight ever since. He’s one of my favorite people, and you’ll understand why that is if you listen to this interview.
The interview was actually done at the house we just shared with him for a few months in Las Vegas, where we spent a lot of time up at the Promised Land and some other awesome areas with Jonathan. I got to belay him on his recent first ascent of the 5.14c he put up, Spectrum, and I can say that no matter how many times I watch him climb, it’s always incredible. I mean, besides the fact that he warms up on my epic projects, it’s incredible.
He always tries hard, he’s psyched to be climbing, he doesn’t toss wobblers – or at least I’ve never seen him do it – and I think it’s because he’s truly grateful for every opportunity he gets to be on rock outside. He’s also really into training indoors, especially because he’s got some big goals for this year. We’ll talk about his goals and his training in the interview.
He’s done something like 140 routes rated 5.14a and above, including 20 5.14c’s and 7 5.14d’s. He won a Golden Piton Award for Breakaway Success in 2009 after his groundbreaking trip to the Red River Gorge, where his highlights included quick sends of the 5.14c’s Lucifer, Southern Smoke, and Fifty Words for Pump, three 5.14a flashes, three 5.13c onsights, and onsights of 10 routes graded either 5.13a or 5.13b, among other things. You can see his full climbing resumé here.
Jonathan and I sat down in my closet in Vegas (it was a big closet and the only place that didn’t echo in our house – ha ha!) and talked about all things J-Star, including how he trains now compared to how he used to train, what he eats, his love life (he’s taken, ladies), and his dreams.
What We Talked About
- His favorite kind of climbing
- His biggest achievements and biggest failures
- Whether he’ll try to be a pro climber forever
- How traveling so much affects his relationships with the ladies
- Where he’d like to call home someday
- What it takes to climb 5.14+
- How he keeps his skin in shape for sharp crimpy routes
- How he trains now and who he’s coached by
- How that compares with how he used to train
- What he eats and why
- What he thinks body weight’s role is in sending hard
- How often he parties
- Jonathan’s website is www.jstarinorbit.com
- Jonathan recently interviewed me on his site here.
- He helped me create a training plan for myself (that worked!) and I blogged about it here.
- The Anderson brothers’ (his coaches’) book, The Rock Climber’s Training Manual
- The Anderson brothers’ hangboard, the Rock Prodigy Training Center
- The podcast is made possible by the training programs on TrainingBeta here. Check ’em out if you need some help sending!
- If you’d like to sponsor the podcast, just email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Listen on iTunes
- Link to the TrainingBeta Podcast on iTunes is HERE.
- Please give the podcast an honest review on iTunes here to help the show reach more curious climbers around the world 😉
Intro and outro song: Yesterday by Build Buildings
Portrait of J-Star by Celin Serbo
- Instagram @celinserbo
Thanks for listening!
Neely Quinn: Welcome to the TrainingBeta podcast where I talk to climbers and trainers about how we can get a little better at our favorite sport. We’re on episode five today and before we get into this interview I want to thank you again for your support at www.trainingbeta.com. It’s awesome seeing your comments on the Facebook page, getting emails from you, and generally getting positive feedback. Thanks again for that.
Moving on. Today I’m talking with one of my really good friends, Jonathan Siegrist. I met Jonathan four or five years ago and, for some reason, we just clicked and have stayed tight ever since.
So, Jonathan Siegrist. Where do I begin? First of all, he’s a freak of nature. I guess I’ll start there, and let me count the ways. A couple weeks ago he climbed six days on and on his last day on, he did the first ascent of a 13d/14a that he had just bolted. Most people can’t do that first day on.
I’ve watched him flail up a 14c and then send it next go in the frigid wind with numb fingers, fueled by his psych levels alone. On his ‘rest days’ he used to run 10 miles up big hills. He cannot sit for more than one hour at a time – I can attest to this – and he’s been known to dance for seven hours straight at clubs all over the world.
J-Star is psyched on life and it’s contagious. He laughs and smiles more than any person I know. He’s genuinely grateful everyday for the life he has, something we could all probably work on.
We lived with him recently in Las Vegas for a few months and thank god we did, because we went from being fat, lazy, weak climbers to less-fat, way more psyched, and much stronger climbers by the end of it. He knows how to train, try hard, and have lots of fun, and it’s hard not to follow suit when you’re around him.
Because he can’t sit still for long, he is extremely productive as a climber – actually, he won the Golden Piton award for ‘Most Productive Climber’ in 2012 – especially when it means he will suffer in some way. If he’s not sending he is training to send, and if he’s not training he’s putting up new routes on far away cliffs that suck to hike to. I know.
He’s done – I think he said something like 140 routes rated 14a and above, including 19 14c’s and 6 14d’s. He won another Golden Piton award for ‘Breakaway Success’ in 2009 after his groundbreaking trip to the Red River Gorge where his highlights included quick sends of the 14c’s Lucifer, Southern Smoke, and 50 Words for Pump, three 14a flashes, three 13c onsights, and onsights of 10 routes graded either 13a or 13b, among other things. You can see his full climbing resume at his website www.jstarinorbit.com.
Jonathan and I sat down in my closet in Vegas – yes, I said my closet. It was a big closet and the only place that didn’t echo in our house. We talked about all things J-Star including how he trains now compared to how he used to train, what he eats, his love life – and he is taken for now, ladies – and his big climbing dreams.
Before we get to the interview I want to let you know that this podcast is made possible by the training programs that you can find on www.trainingbeta.com under the ‘training programs’ tab. They are downloadable training programs and so far we’ve got a six-week power endurance program by Kris Peters that will get you up those powerful routes and boulders, and an eight-week endurance program by Kris Hampton that will build your forearm stamina and teach you how to rest on routes better.
Again, you can check out the programs at www.trainingbeta.com under the ‘training programs’ tab. Okay, here’s Jonathan.
Neely Quinn: Thanks for being here with me today, Jonathan.
Jonathan Siegrist: Yeah, it’s my pleasure.
Neely Quinn: Why don’t you tell everybody where we are talking from today?
Jonathan Siegrist: We are in a closet. Neely and Seth and I have been sharing a house for the last several months and we’re in a closet. There’s clothing and blankets and stuff everywhere.
Neely Quinn: [laughs] Our house is made of tile floors so this is the only quiet area in the entire house. Regardless, we’re here and we’re talking about rock climbing and Jonathan Siegrist. My first question for you today is: you’ve done a lot of different kind of climbing in your life – sport, trad, alpine ascents, big walls, bouldering – what’s your favorite kind of climbing?
Jonathan Siegrist: That is a cool question. Thanks. I mean, sport climbing is my favorite thing. I think the fun-to-suffering ratio in sport climbing is pretty good and also, I just like how sport climbing kind of eliminates a lot of the variables. It allows you to just focus on difficulty and I like how hard it can be mentally.
I think that, for me at least, I’ve never really devoted a lot of time to bouldering but for me that’s something that bouldering has kind of lacked. I think that, generally, it’s just a condensed version of climbing and therefore you tend to invest a little bit less and it just feels a little less committing to me. I don’t mean like heady-wise, like it’s less scary or anything like that. I just mean, in my experience at least, whenever I’ve topped out a boulder problem the excitement has been very short-lived whereas a route that I have to work for and there’s maybe 100 moves and it’s taken me a really long time to figure things out, and especially a route that I’ve bolted where I needed to clean it and invest all this effort beforehand to even climb on it, the reward seems to be – I’m more enthusiastic about the reward. I’m more excited to do more of it in the future.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, and I’m right there with you. I mean, obviously not right there with you in our levels of climbing. Tell me what you think your biggest achievements have been in climbing.
Jonathan Siegrist: I mean, there are a few things that stand out to me that just required certain types of dedication and I think that those would be – honestly, one of the ones that comes up first for me would be The Honeymoon is Over, a Tommy Caldwell eight-pitch route on the Diamond in Colorado that I repeated last year, I think it was. It’s a 5.13 route at altitude. It’s an alpine wall and that was just really exciting because it was something other than just pure climbing ability. It required logistical planning and also there were so many variables involved like weather and partners and whether or not the route was going to be seeping and all those other things.
I mean, kind of what I was expressing earlier, the difference between bouldering and sport climbing, I think the same way, the difference between sport climbing and walls. You add more variables, you add more – there’s more things that can go wrong and so when everything goes right it just feels that much more rewarding. I think topping out that route is one of the most essential, beautiful moments in my climbing, especially because I did it with my dad. It’s a route I’ve always kind of dreamt of doing and Tommy’s been a role model of mine for my whole climbing career, so yeah, I think that’s one that really stands out to me. That moment and that day was really special.
La Lune is a route I did this year in Vegas in Arrow Canyon that ended up being a multi-season project. That was really exciting to finally do, and La Reve is the route neighboring it that I did in 2012. That was also a really cool breakthrough for me, so those are some things.
I’m sure I could go on for a while but I mean, I think to me, overall, the coolest thing is that I’ve been able to pursue a passion and people think that what I’m doing is cool and the brands that I work for also think that what I’m doing is cool and I’ve somehow turned it into a career as more than just a passion. That’s probably, to me, the coolest part of what I’ve done and my biggest ‘success,’ if you will, because now I get to live this incredible life that I feel so fortunate for and hangout in closets and shit on Friday or whatever day of the week it is. [laughs] I just feel so fortunate and so happy that I have this opportunity. I’m really psyched.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, it’s a pretty big achievement to not have to worry about what day of the week it is. It has been really cool for me to watch you grow as a pro climber and go from struggling pretty hard to living the life that you want to live.
Jonathan Siegrist: Thanks. Like I said, in all honesty, I wake up five out of seven days of the week and some of my first thoughts are just how fortunate I am and how excited I am to have this opportunity and to have this support from the community and the brands that I work for. It’s been really cool. I’m just very appreciative, for sure.
Neely Quinn: Taking it from that positive note to a lower note…
Jonathan Siegrist: Bring it on.
Neely Quinn: What do you think have been your biggest failures in climbing?
Jonathan Siegrist: I think there are specific routes that have become a nemesis, but I don’t know – in the scheme of things, a single route doesn’t matter that much. I think what’s probably more accurate is a failure would be – at this point in my climbing, I think I would say the biggest failure was how stubborn I was with my training and my approach to improving.
For a really long time I just wanted to create training for myself. All of my training kind of ended up suiting my strengths and I just didn’t want to hear advice from other people because I put a lot of pressure on myself. I think it’s just hard for me to hear a critical analysis of what I was doing and maybe what I was doing wrong.
Something that I’ve pretty much, since I started climbing, something that I’ve somehow evaded was working on power and becoming more powerful. I mean, as far as my route climbing ability goes, my bouldering ability, which thankfully, is changing now, is embarrassing. I might be a professional climber when it comes to climbing routes but as far as bouldering, I’m bad. [laughs]
Neely Quinn: Well, you’re not that bad. [laughs]
Jonathan Siegrist: There are a thousand high school kids in this country, or 10,000, that boulder a few nights a week at The Spot that boulder better than I do. That’s been a glaring weakness that I finally have tried to approach without giving up and just totally bouldering. That’s something that I probably should do, too, but I just haven’t quite gone that far.
Neely Quinn: Let’s talk about your training. How has your training changed? It seem like you noticed some mistakes that you were making and then you made some changes. Tell us about that.
Jonathan Siegrist: Yeah, so I’ve always liked training and people kind of hate me when I say this but I feel strongly that I don’t have any inherent talent or gifts. Climbing well is something that I’ve had to work very hard to do. Anyone that knows me knows that that’s very accurate. I mean, since I started climbing, I’ve trained obsessively and tried different things and really worked very hard. It wasn’t as though I just started climbing and I had immeasurable crimp strength or I could do x-y-z. There’s certainly a few categories or characteristics in my climbing that have maybe come easier to me than other things, but anyways, all that being said is/what I’m getting at is training has always been integral to my success because I have felt – and maybe it’s just mental – like I needed to work really hard to improve the way that I climb in order to climb better.
For many years – I’ve been climbing now for almost 10 years – I just kind of took random bits and pieces from what other people were doing and suggesting and would just kind of make my own training plans. I never worked with a trainer or a coach. I would take suggestions but I was always kind of molding my own training and my own methods for improving.
Then finally, last year I turned 28 in August and I just kind of started to realize that I was both entering my athletic peak potentially but I was also/I knew that if there were any big goals that I had, that I should probably try to get around to them because at some point, it’s going to become more and more difficult for me to do those things. There are certainly a lot of people in the climbing community today that are setting incredible examples for how well you can climb and how much you can improve later and later in life.
Regardless, I still wanted to improve this year and I wanted to improve for the following five or 10 years. Instead of just kind of somewhat naively going about my training and making things up on my own, I decided to seek the help of someone who’s maybe more expert in that field, in training, specifically. I kind of went to him and I went to them and I just said, “I’m willing to do anything. I just want to improve and I want to take my climbing and really see what I can do with it. Basically, what are your suggestions?”
A few of the things I knew they were going to suggest, like one example is I’ve been running and really passionate about aerobic activity. I used to race mountain bikes so I’ve always been psyched on that kind of burn and that sensation and moving fast and all of that kind of stuff. I’ve been really passionately running and biking for a long time and that was something that I knew that they were going to suggest that I should stop. It was really hard for me to quit but I actually haven’t gone on a run now since November and we’re talking in late March, so it has been a while.
Just little stuff like that where I was kind of holding on to things that maybe weren’t the best for my climbing for one reason or another, that I finally gave up on and it’s been really cool. It’s just a different perspective and it’s felt like it’s really helped, the ideas they’ve given me and the different things I’ve been doing.
Neely Quinn: Who is it that you’re working with?
Jonathan Siegrist: I work with Mark and Mike Anderson. Mark has primarily been the one coaching me but they, together – they’re brothers. They are total crushers and they have families and real jobs and they still get out and tear down, which is really cool. They have just written a training book and originally I saw them in Lander, Wyoming this last summer. They were out there, Mike was out there to climb and he took down some hard routes at Wild Iris and he just asked me if I would have a look at the book and maybe offer them a quote for the back cover. Once I looked through the book I was sold. I was like, ‘I really feel like you guys know what you’re doing here and I’d like to get more involved with you.’ Mark offered to train me and that’s been an awesome partnership. He’s crushing right now, too, which is super cool.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, he just did Mission Impossible, right?
Jonathan Siegrist: Yeah, he did, and he’s climbed – he came to the Mesquite/St. George area and tore down. In a week’s time I think he did a 14b and a 14a in short order, and then went back to the Front Range and did a 14c, Mission Impossible, really quickly, too. It’s sick, considering he maintains a family and a full time job. He just is really serious about his training and he knows what he’s doing, definitely, so it’s been really cool.
Neely Quinn: Can you take us through a typical week of what you used to do and then a typical week of what you do now?
Jonathan Siegrist: Yeah, that’s a cool question. Keep in mind that most of my focus is definitely about climbing and sending, and sport climbing development is obviously something that I love doing and that’s my main passion. Most of the year I don’t actually ‘train’ because I’m mostly focusing on my climbing and obviously, in order to train, you’re going to sacrifice your climbing ability for projects and whatnot.
Most of the year I don’t really train but in the winter or a month or two here and there I would add in some training. The way that used to go for many, many years was: I was really psyched on running and I would run between 5-10 miles a day, probably five days a week, and then I would also do 3-4 hour gym sessions. Most of it was all catered towards volume.
One of the primary differences that’s happened in my training thanks to Mike and Mark’s suggestions was, basically, my training volume has gone down significantly but my training intensity has gone up. That’s perfect because as far as holding on and doing easier moves for a long period of time, that always came pretty easily to me, relatively, and that was something I felt to some extent I had perfected. Obviously, you can get better. I’m not saying I’m the best ever, not even close, but as far as I’m capable of doing it, I think that my stamina and my fitness and my ability to kind of climb through easier or medium-level terrain was at its finest. Yet, I continued to cater my training towards those strengths. In some sense, it’s probably because I knew it and that’s what I knew how to train. Also, because it sucks to go in and really attack weaknesses. One day you feel like a hero when you’re doing everything the way that it suits you and then the next day you go in and you’re like, ‘Holy crap. This 15-year old kid who I’ve never seen before is totally outperforming me right now,’ you know? That kind of stuff is really hard but what Mike and Mark really helped me do is they helped me stick to much higher intensity and much lower volume and even lower duration.
Now my training days are shorter, maybe 2-3 hours. I’m not doing any kind of cardio activity anymore and they are much more strength and power-based. That’s basically all I’m training now, strength and power.
Neely Quinn: How are you doing that?
Jonathan Siegrist: With strength I’m primarily training using weights to do supplemental exercises and body weight, and then also I’m doing a lot of hangboarding and fingerboarding, so just working finger strength and stuff like that. Power is primarily done by limit bouldering, so harder boulder problems for me and then campusing as well, which is something that I haven’t done a lot of for many years, so that’s been really, really cool.
Neely Quinn: You’ve noticed differences in your climbing because of this?
Jonathan Siegrist: Yeah. I started training differently in mid-November and I’ve noticed quantifiable differences in the way that I climb, which has been really cool. I think this is just natural in our evolution as climbers but I think that, in large part, since about 2010 I was more or less plateauing, maybe seeing small changes in the way that I climb, styles I got better at, but more or less the way that I felt about my climbing and the way that I climbed on rock stayed pretty much the same 2011, 2012, 2013.
This year I just feel differently. I’m able to move my body differently, hold onto things I couldn’t before, and that’s been really, really exciting. Again, those plateaus and the breakthroughs are a part of everyone’s climbing and they get even more dramatic the better and better you get and the closer you approach your potential. It’s just exciting and it offers me a lot of enthusiasm to see something work.
It was a risk in my sense to kind of listen to what they were saying because what I was doing before worked, it was just that is wasn’t working necessarily anymore. I was in some ways content with the level I was climbing at but in other ways I wasn’t so in order to throw all that away and try something entirely different for a few months, it was a big risk for me. I’m really happy that I listened to them and that I’ve really followed through with it and stayed really serious about my training. It’s cool to see it work.
Neely Quinn: One of the things I heard you say was that last year when you were in the Vegas area you were working on La Lune, which is the 14d that you put up, you were working on it and working on it and couldn’t do it. You came back this spring after training with them and basically crushed it in two days, right? A couple days?
Jonathan Siegrist: Yeah, it was like two or three days. In some ways it was almost strange to just work myself up. I just thought it was going to be such a big battle and then I came back and, it’s all relative, but it felt quite easy compared to the way I was climbing on it and the way that I felt about it last year. Certainly, I think some of that had to do with conditions and having a fresh outlook on the route and coming back with renewed enthusiasm and stuff like that, but it was very clear to me almost immediately that the training had worked and that I was climbing at a higher level than I was last year, which was fucking cool. That’s kind of what we’re all psyched on doing. That’s why everyone is on this website right now.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, it is. So basically what you’re saying is when you used to train, and I remember seeing you in the gym just lap after lap after lap on pretty hard climbs, you would do it for hours and then you would go and boulder and then you would campus. You would do that four or whatever times a week. Now it’s a little bit – is that right?
Jonathan Siegrist: Yeah, now that’s pretty accurate. I didn’t do any campusing but what you’re alluding to is accurate. I would go into the gym and I would climb and try and do sets of three or four 5.13s in a row. I would work up to doing all the hardest routes in the gym back-to-back-to-back. Then, one thing I was doing incorrectly is I would kind of just do whatever I thought was the hardest combination of what the gym had to offer for three or four hours a session and then once I achieved that, then I would just continue doing that for weeks at a time.
Something that I’ve learned is, first of all, I always knew this but training should be hard. If you really want to progress, especially like I said before, the closer you approach your potential, a training session should be really hard. I don’t just mean physical, I mean mentally. You should be pushing yourself always and that’s something that’s just hard to do. It’s stressful and not everyone wants to do it and that’s totally fine. There’s other things that work but for you to perform your best and to improve the fastest possible, you need to go in and it needs to be kind of like suffering the whole time. I mean, I’m not saying that you should be in pain but if you’re kind of doing a certain exercise and you hone that exercise and the exercise keeps getting easier, at some point it’s no longer benefiting you. You have to increase resistance, you have to make the exercise harder or else that will remain your level.
That’s essentially what was happening to me when I was plateauing for so long. I did the same type of exercise at about the same intensity. It was always hard but I just wasn’t challenging myself enough.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, and I know that you have “Try Hard” written on your fingerboard and your workouts on that thing are pretty intense. You’ve said that, basically, you’re just suffering the whole time and it’s very painful. [laughs]
Jonathan Siegrist: [laughs] Yeah, it is. I’ve had some existential searching in between burns on the fingerboard, like, ‘Why am I doing this? Why am I here? This is stupid.’
Neely Quinn: Well, why are you doing it? What are your goals?
Jonathan Siegrist: Well, my primary goal is just to improve. The way I really would like to improve this year is I’d like to climb 5.15 or 9a+. Sport climbing is my main pursuit and I’d like to, somewhere down the line, feel qualified to add 5.15 to American soil.
Route climbing development/sport climbing development is something that I’ve become really passionate about and it’s my main focus. There are few routes that I’ve done in the past or that I’ve tried, that I’ve bolted, that I’ve thought could be in a new realm of difficulty for me, in the 5.15 level, but I think, for me, the first step before doing anything like that is to do a route of that difficulty and invest the effort and really know how it should feel, you know?
I really want to climb 5.15 this year and I think my best options for doing that are internationally so that’s my plan.
Neely Quinn: Where are you going to go?
Jonathan Siegrist: I’m going to southern France for two and a half months. I’ve got my plane ticket booked and my rental car all set so I’m super excited. I’ll be there starting in the middle of April until the International Climbers’ Festival on July 10th in Lander, Wyoming. That chunk of time I’ll be there.
Neely Quinn: Nice. I would like to talk a little about personal things. I know that you travel a lot. Would you say that it’s hard for you, and is it hard for you to have a girlfriend? I know there are a lot of pretty ladies who think you’re all that.
Jonathan Siegrist: Well thank you. I’m blushing right now. Yeah, it’s really hard. Climbing has always been a driving passion of mine since I started but it’s really turned into something different now. Not only is it my career, but it’s my pursuit and it’s my community and it really means everything to me. There are certainly a lot of other things in life that I enjoy beyond climbing but I made a clear decision to make climbing my priority for last year and certainly now and next year, and for the foreseeable future, really.
To make climbing my priority and to make my career work, I feel like I need to be traveling. It’s also a passion of mine. I love traveling and I love meeting new people and seeing new places. I think it’s one of the best things in life and one of the best ways to learn. I stay mobile all the time. I live out of my truck a lot of the time but otherwise I’m traveling and I’m on planes or I’m on long drives and I’m in random places.
Yeah, as far as relationships go, it’s been pretty hellish on many of the ones that I’ve had recently. I mean, I think that to some extent, that’s just the way things are going to be because not everyone wants to travel all the time and live out of a truck, especially beautiful women. [laughs] Some of them do. Some of them do, for sure, they deserve praise. On top of that, people want their own lives, too, and they have their own desires and there are things they want to pursue in their own lives which is sweet. I wouldn’t want to be involved with anybody that didn’t have passions and aspirations of their own, but yeah, it can be pretty hard. Especially because it’s hard for them to have a life on the road and I don’t make enough money to support another person at this point in my life.
In short, yeah – the lifestyle is definitely very difficult on relationships but sometimes it works so that’s okay.
Neely Quinn: It seems like it’s worth it, the struggles that you have.
Jonathan Siegrist: Yeah, it’s worth it, definitely. I’m a total romantic sucker in the end so I will always make sacrifices for romance. Like I said, for the meantime, my career is kind of my priority and I’m sure that’ll change one day.
Neely Quinn: If you ever did settle down one day, where do you think it would be?
Jonathan Siegrist: The two places that I’ve really fallen in love with in the last couple years are Jackson, Wyoming – I really like it there a lot. I love Wyoming and I really like Lander but it doesn’t quite offer some of the quality of life measurements that I really like. That’s just mostly food and young people and a vibrant scene.
I like Jackson because there’s a big touristy essence there but what it provides is kind of that Wyoming feel, the access to the Tetons, which are so amazing, the running there is incredible, the biking is incredible, skiing obviously is world class, and then you still have Lander close to the east and to the west you have Idaho and a number of other things. You do have opportunity for climbing and there’s great climbing in Jackson as well, but then you also get all that other cool stuff like there’s actually music to see, there’s young people, there’s really good food, there’s a progressive, cool, hip crowd there that’s fun to be a part of so that’s one place that stands out to me.
Then, obviously, if anyone has read any of my interviews or seen any of the videos from the last couple of years, Las Vegas is actually a place I really love. I think all things considered, if I had to move to one place it would be here right now. There’s just so much rock climbing potential and a great community of people. The weather in the winter is outstanding. I don’t know what it’s like in the summer. I’m sure it’s terrible and I would want to leave but I love it here. It’s quirky and it’s an interesting, diverse group of people who live here for all sorts of different reasons. It’s just refreshing to be around these people here and it’s also cool just that there will always be something to do outside of climbing, regardless. There’s always something to do, always something entertaining, always something exciting happening, every night.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, you like going out and dancing, right?
Jonathan Siegrist: Yeah, I love going out and I think that it’s good that I’m a Virgo and I’m an athlete because it keeps me grounded. I don’t do too much of it but I love music and I don’t know – who doesn’t like going out every now and then? It’s pretty fun and it’s a great complement to my climbing, too, because on a night out I’m just mostly – I really love people and you meet such amazing friends.
Going out and having drinks and staying out late or whatever, I really enjoy it because it’s an opportunity for me to just spend time with my friends. I don’t want to talk about climbing when I’m downtown. When I’m having a great meal with friends I don’t want to talk about projects or anything like that. I just want to be a human and enjoy the sensual experience of food and maybe dancing and music and that kind of thing. That’s something that’s really important to my life and my happiness.
I don’t have to do it every night or every week or every month, even, but every now and then it’s definitely what keeps me human.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. I don’t know anybody who loves it more than you, to be honest, and it’s been good living with you because it gets Seth and me out of our shell a bit, so…
Jonathan Siegrist: [laughs] Cool. That’s good.
Neely Quinn: Onto diet. I want to talk to you about your diet in particular and how it affects your climbing. You’re sort of a vegetarian. Not really, because you eat fish and sometimes you’ll sometimes even eat bites of our turkey but tell people about how you eat and why.
Jonathan Siegrist: So, I’ve been – I believe the technical term is a ‘pescatarian.’
Neely Quinn: Ovo-lacto pescatarian.
Jonathan Siegrist: Yeah. Of course Neely would know the technical term. I’ve been eating like this for probably, I don’t even remember now. Maybe eight years? Like Neely mentioned, I’m not extremely strict. I mean, I don’t buy meat products aside from fish. I don’t buy meat products, I don’t order them in restaurants, a few times a year I’ll have a bite of a burger or a few days ago Seth and I topped out the Crystal Dawn, which is a 13+ eight-pitch route in Red Rock and I was out of food. All he has was a delicious crepe ham-something and I for sure had a few bites of that and it was so good. But no, I choose not to eat meat.
I feel really fortunate that I don’t feel like I need meat to perform. Also, I went to Naropa University and I have a degree in environmental science and I just think that it’s an easy way for me to lower my carbon footprint and my ecological footprint. It’s also just a way for me to kind of express my sentiment towards the animal community.
You know, we don’t have to get too vibe-y in here or anything but I’m a true lover of animals and I just feel like if I’m going to eat animals, eat dead animals and benefit from the killing of animals, that that’s an activity that I should be willing to do myself and it’s just not. I don’t want to kill things if I don’t have to. I’ve fished before in my lifetime and I know what it’s like to kill a fish and I would be willing to kill every fish that I ate if it was more readily available and whatnot, but that’s kind of the relationship that I like to have.
I’m not going to eat beef because I’m not willing to kill a cow with my own two hands. And, like I said before, I feel very fortunate. I mean, I live with Seth and Neely and they’re paleo, like, meat almost every meal of the day, and I have no real problems with that because if they didn’t eat like that, like so many other people in America or the world for that matter, they would feel awful and to me, the most important thing is health.
If you feel like shit and you can’t perform and you can’t just be a happy person, then you should definitely eat whatever it takes because at some point, no one wants to be around a crappy, grumpy, unhealthy person. That’s going to affect the way you interact with your family and the way you perform at your job and the way that you’re just happy about being alive. That kind of stuff is just not worth it.
I’m very fortunate in the sense that I don’t need to eat meat to feel good and perform well so it’s cool that I get to take advantage of that.
Neely Quinn: I think there’s a big difference between how you eat and how strict vegetarians eat, where they don’t eat any animal products except maybe eggs. Have you done that and did it affect your climbing at all if you did?
Jonathan Siegrist: Like more of a vegan-type thing?
Neely Quinn: Yeah.
Jonathan Siegrist: I’ve not full-blown tried to do vegan. There have been times where I have cut out all dairy for a while but eggs is kind of the pinnacle of my protein source and I eat between four and six eggs a day, at least. Sometimes more. That’s kind of – I feel like if I cut that out I’d be in trouble. I don’t know. It really feels like that’s kind of what keeps me going. That and the occasional sardines and salmon or trout or something like that. I have not tried that.
There was a time in my life two years ago where I was suffering from some type of sickness that I never quite put my finger on. It lasted months and I won’t get entirely into it because it takes a bit to elaborate and explain, but in a nutshell, I was worried that I was maybe anemic or something was happening. It had been six or seven years since I had really had a significant amount of meat so I ate meat again for like three weeks. It did not make me feel better. In fact, if anything, it made me feel a little worse so that was a cool experiment. I just went back to eating regularly after that.
No, I haven’t tried the full-blown vegan thing but I know my buddy, Alex Honnold, is doing it and he’s kind of stoked on it. I don’t know. Again, it’s like in the end, everybody is different. Same goes for training. You just have to trial and error your way into finding what works well for you. Neely has done that really well and that’s something that everyone should experiment with. Maybe I wouldn’t feel better if I didn’t eat meat or maybe I would feel better if I did eat meat three meals a day or whatever. Everybody’s so different. Some people can smoke two packs of cigarettes a day and drink a 12-pack and live to 120 and then other folks can do everything by the book and be in pain their whole life. You’ve got to kind of figure out what works well for you.
Neely Quinn: Yeah, I totally agree with that. What do you think about body weight and how has body weight affected your climbing?
Jonathan Siegrist: Well, I think there’s no denying that our ability to climb up rocks and fight gravity has partially to do with how strong we are and it also has to do with how much we weigh. I mean, that is basically an undeniable fact. It’s a strength-to-weight ratio thing. That being said, I certainly keep an eye on what I eat. I have an insatiable sweet tooth. It’s a serious problem. There’s actually diabetes in my family, which is obvious if you hang out with me for a few days, but I don’t neglect myself the food that I need. I don’t necessarily go hungry or whatever but I do definitely look after what I eat and I think that I would recommend that to anyone that wants to live a healthy life.
I’m not at all suggesting that you should count calories or never eat a cookie again in your life but I think that, in this day and age, a lot of our life is sedentary. A lot of us work on computers. Even for me, I train really hard one day but then I need rest and I don’t do anything because my climbing performance is my top priority to me.
You know, the way that food is available and how terrible food has become for us and the sugar and corn and all this other crap that is in food now, we just have to be careful. We don’t hunt deer and wild boar and stuff all day and then have to build a fire and gather supplies and stuff like that all day and night and whatever. We’re doing less activity and the food is getting worse. Naturally, to me, I think that keeping an eye over what you eat is important and I definitely do that.
I don’t ever – one thing is I don’t ever stand on a scale. I don’t care to quantify anything. I don’t want to come back from a really good training session and be like, ‘Oh, it’s because I weighed a half pound less than I did yesterday,’ or whatever. I really aggressively keep myself from doing anything like that. I just kind of go by feel. I think that the way I feel and the way I perform helps me dictate whether I’m doing something right or if I’m doing something wrong.
Neely Quinn: Great. We have a special question from a TrainingBeta Facebook fan. It is about your skin, your finger skin. It is: “How do you get your skin in shape for routes like To Bolt or Not To Be? Or, anything super crimpy or sharp, for that matter. Do you do anything special or do you just climb a lot, or do you just have a really high pain tolerance?”
Jonathan Siegrist: Well, one thing I will say is I think that, in my experience, the skin tends to change if you’ve been climbing on plastic a lot versus climbing outside. I think a lot of people struggle when they’re training in the gym all winter and then they have that March spring break or whatever and they go outside and then, suddenly, things may feel slippery. The skin definitely changes, depending on what rock surface you’re climbing on or whatever.
I always think – well, the example given was To Bolt, which is a 14a at Smith Rock. If I was going to try a hard route at a new crag, and especially, I’m really affected by humidity versus dryness and all those different things. I actually perform better in a little bit of humidity because I have super dry skin. I think it always helps to go to an area and have the ability to climb around on a bunch of easier stuff for you to help your skin adjust. I do think it takes time to adjust to a change, a dramatic change in temperature or in humidity. To me, there’s no question there.
If I’m going from climbing in the desert in Las Vegas to climbing in a, basically, swamp in the New River Gorge, it’s going to take me a little while to adjust to the way that my skin kind of works on that type of rock but also in that type of environment.
The main things that I do to take care of my skin is I am religious about washing my hands. I mean, not all day but when I’m done climbing I get the chalk off my hands as quickly as possible because chalk and the aluminum that comes off your rope from lowering and whatever all day, all that stuff is not helping your skin heal. I wash my hands right away when I get home and then I also use ClimbOn! They’re a sponsor of mine and I truly believe in their product and I use that stuff a bunch after climbing and before I go to bed and stuff.
Also, I file my skin when I can. I use a really coarse emery board and if I’m developing any kind of splits or anything like that, I can kind of file them down to level off the skin and that really, really helps to file down calluses to prevent them from splitting open and that kind of thing. That really helps me.
Neely Quinn: That’s a really great answer.
Jonathan Siegrist: You’re welcome.
Neely Quinn: We’re kind of getting down to the end of this interview. I really appreciate everything that you’ve shared. Do you have any last words of wisdom that you would give people to help them climb their best?
Jonathan Siegrist: Yeah. I mean, I just did a slideshow here in Vegas and the title of the slideshow was ‘Failure, Accomplishment, and Ambition.’ The general message of that slideshow was that you can’t be afraid to fail. I think that that’s one of the principle things that I would encourage people to do, is to find a way to empower failure. You don’t have to use that word if you don’t want to but I don’t mind using it. Just find a way to kind of deal with it, to remain inspired, because failure is a huge part of the process and if you want to make a breakthrough in your climbing, it’s going to be 99% failure, especially at the beginning. That includes trying routes that are maybe a little over your head or that includes adopting a training schedule that is maybe just a little too hard for you at first or that includes any of the imaginable situations that could arise.
If things are just coming to you and success is/the end of the road is always success and it’s so foreseeable that you’re always going to succeed, then you’re not pushing yourself. If you’re not pushing yourself then you’re certainly not going to improve. That would be the #1 thing that I would recommend to people to do.
Get psyched to fail and love the process. We’re all doing it. Everyone fails and everyone is going through the same process with you and that’s what’s really cool about climbing. It’s like no matter how hard you climb, we all share a very similar path and we all share a very similar experience of movement and failure and success and skin, like we were just talking about. All that stuff is something that we all have together as a tribe. It’s cool.
Neely Quinn: Yeah. Through the last few months while I’ve been trying this route that I’ve been on and failing on, it’s been really nice having you as a cheerleader and sort of a mentor through that because I see you do it all the time. You just get back on and you stay psyched and it’s really impressive.
Again, thank you so much for being here.
Jonathan Siegrist: Yeah, totally. My pleasure. Anytime. www.trainingbeta.com I love it.
Neely Quinn: www.jstarinorbit.com And, good luck with your goals this year.
Jonathan Siegrist: Yeah, thank you guys. I’m psyched.
Neely Quinn: Thank you so much for listening to the fifth episode of the TrainingBeta podcast. I hope you liked my talk with Jonathan. Jonathan, if you’re listening to this, thank you again so much for taking the time to talk with me in my closet.
You can find out more about J-Star at www.jstarinorbit.com and you can always find this interview at www.trainingbeta.com under the ‘podcasts’ tab. I’d love it if you would leave an honest review on iTunes of the podcast. The more reviews it gets the more people the podcast will reach.
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One last thing: if there’s anyone you would like me to interview, please let me know in the comments section and I will try to make it happen.
Okay, until next week, happy climbing.