Will Gadd – Athlete, Speaker, Guide     Athlete     Speaker     Guide    
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Performing better (while older or younger)

Date: 29th May 2013

This spring I’ve put a fair number of days into sport climbing, and it has paid off. I’m climbing close–but not there yet–as hard on rock as I was in my mid-20s, even though I’m now 46. Yeah, that’s a dire number, I don’t know how I managed to live this long. It wasn’t planned. In any case, I’ve been thinking a lot about training, aging and life. In no particular order:

The first key to staying fit for climbing–or any sport–as you age is to goddamn well stay fit. This means not ever turning into a desk-jocky office sloth any more than is necessary to make a living. Move. Even if I’m not climbing I’m paddling, hiking, skiing, mountain biking, lifting weights, swimming, whatever, doing something, pretty much every day. I sometimes shudder when I see some of my friends who I haven’t seen in years; a few pounds is OK as we age and fighting that probably isn’t worth the effort, but for god’s sake it’s not OK to be the stoop-shouldered shuffling smoked husk of a human body that I see so often in North America. Gain 40 pounds, sit around, you can just see the toll it takes on a body and mind…

Eat well. The heaviest I’ve ever been was 185 pounds. To reach this weight I did a lot of Crossfit and not much other activity while eating a ton of meat and basic foods; my bodyfat was probably still under ten or 12 percent, but definitely higher than it normally is. The lightest I’ve been as an adult was 145, and I was, let’s face it, an anorexic stick boy at sub-4 percent or less body fat. That sucked. My best climbing weight when climbing “fit” is about 155 (best in terms of performance, the only “weight” that counts). I’m now about 160. Good enough given that I’m 20 years older, although I suspect my weight will drift toward 155 as I climb. I eat well enough, exercise enough, and don’t let some neurotic diet interfere with actually performing well at my sport, which right now is rock climbing but in general is life. I’ll get heavier during paddling season, lighter during climbing season, and lightest of all if I’m doing a ton of aerobic mountain sports where I lose muscle and burn fat for energy every day.

Attack your weaknesses. As I’ve aged my “natural” power has gone down. I have to work at this more. My endurance is as good as it ever was. I boulder more, do some fingerboard workouts, and rest adequately. If you don’t know your weaknesses then that’s your weakness. Most of the “general” workouts on the web and in print are for someone else’s weaknesses, not yours.

Be ruthless about distractions: You can’t climb hard and do Crossfit and ride your mountain bike and go to barbecues every night and have a family and a job and a new car and a perfect lawn and and. Ya gotta decide what’s important, and then do that. I coach athletes and often hear, “I’m too busy to do more.” Probably 30 percent or more of what we do in any given day is nonsensical BS. Cut the TV, internet, weight workouts, yoga, brunch, whatever, do your sport and what’s actually important in life. Yes, there are exceptions, but everyone seems to think their exceptions are relevant. Most aren’t. Doing your sport and what you really feel is important in life is what counts. Reading your kids books counts; keeping current on internet memes is not.

Avoid “performance boosters!” If anyone mentions “The Force,” homeopathy, magnets, “The Secret” or any of this sort of head-in-ass dreck avoid them and their products. They are idiots, and so are you if you buy into their snake-oil. There are a few supplements that demonstrably do something positive for our bodies and performance. Most of them are illegal, and I’ve yet to find one that is worth taking day in and day out other than my daily Red Bull or coffee prior to training. If the claims sound ridiculous or have no plausible (I’m not talking peer-reviewed double blind studies, let’s just start with plausible) explanation then in all likelihood the product or system is bogus.

Avoid any book with “Diet” on the front cover. It doesn’t work. That’s why there are thousands of diet books. If any one of them actually worked there would only need to be one. Eat basic unprocessed foods mostly, exercise lots, the rest is marketing hype.

Hang out with people who do what you want to do, are stoked, and are better at it than you (but chose fun over talent if it comes down to that). If your friends are really stoked on barbecues and brunch then you’re not going to be any good at anything but barbecues and brunch. Hang out with people who are psyched to do fun things regularly and you will be too. Avoid negative time-sucking people, they are evil and if life were fair would be struck down by lightning. All of my best sports performances have a psyched training partner in common.

And do ten sets of ten of exercise X… Or go do your sport with love, intensity and meaning, track your progress carefully and ruthlessly edit your training to get results. My goal for this spring is to rock climb as well as I did when I was 26. Right now I’m onsighting 12c/7b+ with about 50 percent consistency. I’d like to onsight some more 13a/7c+ routes this summer. Let’s see how that goes. Progress reports here. I like getting older so this isn’t about turning back the clock, this is about climbing hard routes without falling off. Game on.




Posted in: Blog


  1. Wojtek   May 29, 2013 1:53 pm

    Word. I’m going biking.

  2. Nicolai Michel   May 30, 2013 4:32 am

    Excellent advice, especially on hanging out with the right people.
    Eliminating the BS might also lead to spending less money, which can lead to working less and having more time to do the right stuff.
    (I see the irony in reading a blog telling me to stop wasting time reading blogs ;))

  3. Charlie   May 30, 2013 8:56 am

    So….very prectious words. Here is what can happen if you DON’T do the above. You get older say 60. Get an injury, enjoy eating more than activity, let life get in the way of your sport, turn on the big flat screen a little to much. Then you wake up one day (after 6 months) and realize you are 25 pounds overweight or more. Everything physical is a chore and a much harder. Your joints take a pounding. Mentally it is easy to get discouraged, because what use to take no thought physically is now challenging. All the years of experience say 45, are of no value really, because the last 6 months just set you back. So yes, you have to make decisions about what your priorities. There is no sense climbingr if you physical condition makes it totally un-enjoyable and dangerous. The better you are at focusing on your sport the more enjoyable it becomes, safer (relative), and faster, which may keep you out of harms way in the alpine world. If you can’t be around people who support your sports you are best alone, go walk, ride your bike, go to the rock gym, anything that moves you in your direction. Trust me it is really, really hard when you let things deteriorate….

  4. Alan Trick   May 30, 2013 1:20 pm

    What’s the reason behind Red Bull and coffee as opposed to other energy drinks?

  5. Brian Pederson   May 30, 2013 8:08 pm

    I went to one of your training seminars for climbing, in Peru, Il. back when you and were in our twenties… You were an inspiration then and You still are, Keep rockin’ !

  6. Juan   May 31, 2013 8:52 am

    Great article. Do you always have to mention Red Bull?

  7. Jeff   June 6, 2013 7:06 pm

    Yes, he does have to mention Red Bull. Good article Will. But I would argue that most diet books don’t work not due to a poor premise, but the short attention span of the reader. But then I’ve never actually been on a diet.

  8. Brendan   June 10, 2013 3:10 am

    Hey Will, great post. When you reference your body makeup you give specific weight and body fat but you don’t mention your height. To understand the type of body mass you are talking about can you also share your height? It’s a big difference if you are 5’9” or 6′ with the weights you are talking about. Thanks

  9. Ben   June 17, 2013 8:23 pm

    Great Post. Thanks for the motivation to get my ass off the couch, put the running shoes on and go for a trail run! :) I always enjoy reading your posts.

  10. Grant Farquhar   July 8, 2013 4:44 pm

    Hey Will inspiring words. Keep it up great blog. Looking forwards to meeting the mini Timmy :-)

  11. Laurel Ambrose   July 8, 2013 11:39 pm

    Good blog, Will, and here’s an added facet to this subject. Something that also comes around to complicate things if we have genetic health conditions as we age (damn DNA!) is the effect that prescription medications may have on our performance levels. For example, anyone on a beta blocker geared towards a whole realm of heart-related issues sees a cardiac output reduction of 30%. The heart is physiologically slowed down – period, in combination with higher fatigue. In my case, it’s a reduced performance trade-off to correct spooky electrical misfires that could thrust me into a stroke or heart attack at altitude if ignored. That’s a big downer from pre-onset days. It doesn’t represent energy hindrances on flats or descents (while scrambling/mountaineering), but it tosses me into the pile with the turtles crawling verticals, so part of the reality check about staying active as you age also involves acceptance and constant monitoring of developing/changing health conditions. Acceptance is not read as resignation! It’s really wise to surround yourself with active lifestyle-friendly doctors if you plan to stay active, because a lot of mainstream practitioners treat sedentary cases, and guide along by default with more bottles of pills or a bad piece of “hang up your crampons” advice! Enter Will for a moment here: “Don’t buy that BS!” Thanks, Will. I threw out the arthritis pills by introducing one supplement into my diet that really freakin’ works for me! Uh, no, not Red Bull. Sorry, Will. Spend at least some “valuable” (’cause it’s not all pointless) internet time researching your health condition with a mind to wholistic/nutritional prevention or intervention, and while you’re surrounding yourself with the right people to hit the walls/slopes/skis/bikes with, make sure that includes the right doctors! And where we live, that’s really the same crowd. They get it.

  12. Janine "outside" Burkhardt   July 9, 2013 1:06 pm

    The right people are not always obvious, I especially like the line about choosing fun over talent. Some of the best climbing partners I’ve had were not as good as me and I still got off the couch to do climbing with them. Some climbers can keep you sufficiently distracted so that you are not over thinking your climbing. For me, that’s more valuable.

    And here I am doing just what Will states not to do, reading/commenting on the internet when I could be biking around the lake . . .

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