Trainer to the JStars: Part 2

This is part 2 in a two-part series about our experience (so far) training Pro Climber Jonathan Siegrist.  You can check out “Trainer to the JStars: Part 1” here.

We had learned quite a bit the first time around, and by the end of his first cycle, Jonathan was training completely independently, though occasionally asking the odd question about this or that exercise, or schedule tweak. For his second cycle we knew he would need very little hands-on coaching, but we helped design his training schedule to ensure his performance peak would coincide with his spring climbing trip.  That timing can be very tricky to optimize, especially for athletes who are new to periodic training, and don’t have years of detailed training schedules to pull from.  Once we developed a good training schedule, he embraced the program whole-heartedly and required very little direction. That’s one of the reasons Jonathan is such a great athlete to work with. He’s not a robot, he wants to be in charge of his training. He questions everything and wants to know why we do things a certain way. It’s really been a collaboration, and we’ve all learned a tremendous amount as a result.

Quote5By mid-March, Jonathan had begun training for his spring objective: the world’s most legendary 5.15, Realization (aka Biographie), at the mega-crag Ceuse, in France. The route is long, climbing overhanging 2 and 3 finger pockets up a beautiful blue streak of limestone. Recently a hold broke on the opening boulder problem, raising the difficulty of this crimpy section from “V8” to “V11”. [Editor’s note: when Jonathan describes the grade of something, it’s often helpful to add a number or two to get an accurate sense of the difficulty.] This section was really difficult the last time Jonathan tried the route so we wanted to make sure his crimp strength was at its best. To optimize Jonathan’s chances, he would need improved power, excellent pocket strength, and elite fitness.

The Ceuse Massif.  Likely the best chunk of exposed limestone on the planet.

The Ceuse Massif. Likely the best chunk of exposed limestone on the planet. Photo Mark Anderson

Jonathan returned to Boulder at the end of March to focus on his training. He completed several weeks of hangboard training and supplemental exercises, with some indoor bouldering and route climbing mixed in. At the conclusion of his Strength Phase, he did a two-week Power Phase of Limit Bouldering and Campusing.

Jonathan filling out his logsheet during a winter  training session in Las Vegas.

Jonathan filling out his logsheet during a winter training session in Las Vegas.

Jonathan arrived in France in late April. The initial period was extremely exciting. We received weekly updates on his progress, moments of minor success, and various setbacks related to weather, departing partners, and skin. He made huge progress right off the bat.   He was crushing the initial boulder problem, and by his third day he was climbing into the redpoint crux.   Jonathan described this as a 7-move “V8” (ya right!), requiring accurate movement between intricate 3-finger pockets. This section would prove to be the key to the route.

Quote6By the end of the second week, he was climbing to the last move of this boulder problem, but his skin was seriously suffering. The weather was also extremely uncooperative. One of the cool things about training is that it provides you with a clear record of your improvement. Even if you’re unable to send your goal route (because the weather doesn’t cooperate, you can’t get partners, or some other factor you can’t control conspires against you), your training logs provide quantifiable evidence of your improvement. Still, we’d all prefer to send anyway!

Realization is located on the Sector Biographie, which is the tallest and steepest section of cliff near the center of the photo.

Realization is located on the Sector Biographie, which is the tallest and steepest section of cliff near the center of the photo.

At this point I would wake up anxiously every morning and run to my Gmail hoping to find a “just sent!” message from France. I was on pins and needles, following his Twitter feed, hoping for any update or hint of his progress. I wanted so badly for him to send after watching all the hard work he had put in, but I felt totally helpless. By the end of May you could sense his frustration with the project. He had gotten so close so quickly, and then everything seemed to turn against him. I knew he could do it if he stuck with it, but how long can someone persevere in the face of so much adversity, especially when they’re surrounded by lifetimes of world class routes to distract them from their goal?

Quote7As the calendar flipped to June, I gave up hope. I was actually pretty bummed about it. I felt like I had failed somehow, like I messed up the training plan in some way. Considering his initial success, it seemed in retrospect that he had peaked too early, and that was on me. I didn’t realize how harsh the weather would be when he first arrived, so I wanted him ready to crush from day one.

Then on the morning of June 2nd I opened my inbox and saw this: “Hey guys! I imagine you’ve seen, but I sent Biographie yesterday. It was a long and emotional ride – as I expected. In the end my skin was battered, but I was well rested. I honestly think that despite how terribly frustrating my skin issues were, that it was important to my success because I NEVER would have rested so much if my skin was good to go. Thanks so so much for all of your help over the last few months. I certainly owe a percentage of credit to you guys for the motivation and training advice – so thanks.” [You can get more details and Jonathan’s perspective on his ascent here and here.]

I was strangely euphoric for several days after. I feel like there are many pro climbers out there who just lucked into their success, either through amazing genetic gifts, parents who supported their climbing from an early age, or some mystery formula I haven’t figured out. Jonathan is not one of those guys. He works extremely hard. More than that, he searches for solutions. He leaves no stone unturned in his quest to improve. He uses his mind along with his muscles to make himself better. Watching him go through this transformation over the past eight months, watching him make sacrifices and give up things he loved (like running), I feel like he really earned this—he deserved it—and I was so happy to see him get the big payoff. Since his send, Jonathan has been on a rampage, sending a 14c/d, 14c, two 14bs, and two 14a’s (including a 14a flash). I’m sure there is more to come before he returns to the States in July.

As this initial phase of our collaboration comes to an end, Jonathan is poised to re-shape the American climbing scene. He’s still only just now learning how to get the most from his training. I’m certain he will be getting substantially stronger in the coming years, and it’s a tremendous honor to have played a minor part in that.

Note: If you haven’t already heard it, we highly recommend Jonathan’s Podcast interview with Neely Quinn on Jonathan talks extensively about his collaboration with us and the results of his new training approach. The podcast was the source of many of Jonathan’s quotes in this article.

*All quotes are from Jonathan’s personal correspondence, blog posts, and the interview with Neely Quinn.



8 thoughts on “Trainer to the JStars: Part 2

  1. Very cool series of post.

    I agree with the sentiment that many pro climbers (and more generally athletes) luck into being very good climbers. I have been listening to the podcast series “Training Beta” lately, and the most consistent theme is that the majority of “pro” climbers really dont know much about structured specific training or nutrition, but are coasting on their gifts of talent (may that be hard work, genetics, environment, etc). The pro’s really dont know how to train!

    Tim Ferriss keys in on this point of not asking just any pro what their secret is, but asking the pro who does not fit the mold, the one who despite not having the genetics, free time, years spent climbing or body type is still managing to climb at a high level. I would put, you Mark and Mike, and now Jstar into this category.


  2. In the podcast on Training Beta there is a mention of Iso-Tonic movements. Any more information or discussion on this coming soon? Is this something you guys have experimented in the past?


  3. Hello guys,

    I bought your book couple months ago and I love studying it!
    Having some experience with training, my biggest challenge for me is periodization (scheduling).
    Living in Montréal, Québec, we only have a 6 months of outdoor climbing window. The rest of the year is spent climbing and training like rats indoor.
    Therefore, your 3 months period scheduling between each peak doesn’t fit our weather forecast!

    I am curious to know what did you suggest to Jonathan S. during is “2 months peak” while he was working “Biographie” in Ceuse to maintain his peak for so long?
    In your book, the peak period is lasting around 3 weeks only.

    My spring-summer-fall outdoor climbing season is a bit similar to Jonathan’s “2 months in Ceuse” because I want to maintain a high level of performance without going back to general fitness and strength workout. I can’t afford to lose 1 week-end (being a week-end climbing warrior like you wrote!).

    Thank you


    • Axel,

      I feel your pain. One point of clarification; the Performance Peak includes both the “Power Endurance Phase” and the so-called “Performance Phase”, so it really its 6-8 weeks long, although the quality of your fitness will evolve during that period. Initially you will be more powerful, with less endurance, and by the end you will have tremendous endurance but less power.

      The trick to extending the Performance Peak is to maintain your power and strength for as long as possible. In my experience, the best way to achieve this is to set up a typical periodization schedule for the first half of your season (for the Base Fitness, Strength, and Power Phases), and then once you enter your Performance Phase, go into a “maintenance” schedule, in which you climb outdoors on the weekends (or whatever days you have off), but perform an intense Power workout (usually Limit Bouldering, but maybe some Campusing too) at least once each week. If you’re diligent in completing your weekly power workout, and you keep the intensity high, its possible to maintain your power for many weeks. In your case, with a six month season, I would still try to do two cycles during that period (so I would do the first half of the first cycle during the end of winter so I could start my Performance Phase as soon as the ice melted, and then start a new cycle around mid-summer so I could be in tip-top shape for Fall).

      Good Luck!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s