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Ten Training Tips for Lifelong Athletes

Date: 27th March 2015

I’m 48. I just had the best 12 months of my athletic career. Crazed months of travel, flying, climbing, kids, speaking, guiding, writing, repeat with more events and less time than I wanted. Demands are ever-growing, time constant, things give, but I still improved as an athlete. I was late a lot this year, dropped work assignments, barely met others, but in the end another year has gone by and I’m proud of a few things I did as an athlete, and need to do way better at others. I wrote the below to remind myself that for the next year I’ll be an athlete. I fail regularly at each point below, that’s why I’m writing them down. To kick myself in the ass, remind myself of what is truly important athletically for the next 12 months. I hope you find some of this useful. Your comments drive what I write here, please comment if you’ve got something to say.

1. Commit to being an athlete. This means moving at whatever level you can, regularly.

I did something physical more than 340 days in the last 12 months. Sometimes it was an hour in a POS hotel gym, sometimes an all-day sufferfest, sometimes a walk up a hill with my kid on my back, but I did something. Every bit of movement adds up, and over a lifetime builds into specific skills. People get all worked up about precise number of sets or “peaking” or nutrition, but most people really need to simply shut up about all these details and go do something physical every day. That is the basis of fitness, of being an athlete: Moving. Stop worrying about perfection and just move, the rest is ever-refining details and shaping that movement toward a goal if desired. Without the basic mental commitment and desire and joy of movement no athlete will be an athlete for very long. This doesn’t mean running on a treadmill in spandex, although once in a while that’s great. It doesn’t mean taking a “fitness class,” although that’s great in moderation too. It means finding out what you like to feel with your body’s motion, and going and doing it because you like it, because it stokes your body and brain, and because it’s fun and because it’s who you are. I often encounter athletes who say, “I haven’t done anything for two months.” Well why the hell not? If your arm is hurt then run, hike, bike, crawl, do squats, whatever, but be an athlete! I have a friend who is a quadraplegic; he works out on a handbike every day because he likes it. I have no excuses if he can do that. Nobody really does, but if there isn’t that desire and joy in movement then no movement will happen…

2. Write down what you do every day

I know how may days I “trained” because I kept a training log. I enter my little “skied for an hour” every day with great joy. It’s a reminder that what I do physically matters. I see the holes where I let flights or work or whatever eat into my time… I am so damn proud of my lazy ass when I wake up extra early to ski for a hour before I get on my flight to some city. I check that little “did that” box and am stoked. Plus watching the sun come up while the city sleeps is rad. I could have responded to 20 more emails or whatever, but that hour was worth NOT doing those emails. It always is.

3. Pay attention to your body

If it hurts stop doing it. Do something else, or do what you’re doing differently. Now, just being uncomfortable is not hurting. Screaming with effort to finish a set or a climb or puking at the end of an interval is not hurting, that’s weakness evaporating from your body and head, and that’s great. Hurting is when tendons hurt, when your knees hurt, etc. Keep doing whatever it is that prompts that pain and you will be seriously injured, and have to be a different athlete. Which may be cool, but not if you have goals that revolve around your body working in a certain way. Change. Listen to your body or pay the price. I have paid it many times when I tried to push through pain. Being an idiot has cost me national or more results in several sports. Hear that Will Gadd? Don’t be a fucking idiot this time when your shoulder hurts while hanging on it, stop hanging on it!!!!

4. Food is food. Eat good stuff mostly. Ignore the hype.

Eat less processed food and more basic food. Every top athlete I know eats food to fuel his or her results, and isn’t too discriminating about what goes down the hatch. Really. Eat. Many, many people I know eat paleo or vegan or WTF the latest hyped craze is, but don’t really do shit athletically. Food is easy to control (at first, nobody ever stays on super restrictive diets for long), so it’s easy to seize on as “the way.” It’s not the way, it’s fuel for the way forward. Eat good food mostly, some junk regularly, exercise hard regularly, we’re done here. Seriously, it really is this simple. Every diet guru in the world will tell you it isn’t, but they are clearly wrong or there wouldn’t be thousands of them and millions of suckers buying their hype. Eat. Move. Repeat.

5. Surround yourself with people who like to do physical stuff. And support the same.

My friends sometimes call me up for beers, but mostly they want to go do something. And then drink beer. Friends don’t last long if they want to sit around and drink beer only. After activity that’s great. Before, no, it destroys motivation. We are all reflections of our friends, for good or bad. Choose friends who are positive and psyched and want to move. This is why Crossfit has done so well; it’s a community of people psyched to do something physical. That changes everything. You can argue about whether Crossfit is relevant or not, but it for damn sure builds communities of people who are psyched to move. All of my sponsors are psyched people. I end relationships with people who aren’t psyched on life and doing physical stuff. Shallow? Maybe, but if you think so then you’re probably not really getting the point of this rant and need to sit on the couch some more. I won’t be there.

6. Set way more short-term performance goals than long-term ones

Little victories matter more than the big ones in the end… I often hear, “I want to win comp X or climb 5.XX.” OK, but what are the small steps to get there? A big success is just a lot of little successes put together. Define those little steps and do not weaken at the little ones. Celebrate the little ones. Often my end goal changes before I get there, but each step is a success. And when I win a comp or climb something rad it’s because of all the little steps, not the big one at the end. I need to set more small goals, ladders to the sky not just grabbing for it.

7. You own your time until you sell it. Sell it for what you truly want.

There are a lot of time parasites that seem important but just aren’t. If you sell your time to email and do bullshit that is total unmemorable and mostly useless, and most of it is, then you won’t have time to do something physical. Or play with your kids. Or knit. Or whatever it is that turns you on for real instead of just sucks your time… I fail so often at this, but I will do better. If you don’t organize life so you have chunks of time to move then you have decided that everything else in life is more important than moving. It’s not. If it truly is then something is really wrong with life and I, and you, need to change it.

8. Don’t say you want to be good at something, get better at something, endlessly, obsessively.

Doing something physical just to do it is enough. Walking up a hill 100 times a year is great, and timing that walk may just frustrate you and ultimately ruin the experience, so don’t. Celebrate the success of walking up a hill, rad! But if you want to get good at something then you have to get better at it every single day. If you’re not getting better at it then you don’t really want to be good at it, and need to examine why. Seriously, it’s that simple. If you want to run better then run better. Think about what you’re doing, figure out the slop, get rid of it, repeat. Examine, cut, build, succeed or don’t, but you should go to bed every night better than you were in the morning or knowing how to get better at it if you want to be good at whatever “it” is. Or admit you don’t want to get better at whatever it is and just do it. Cool. This year I want to get better at big wall climbing, really big lines. I am today.

9. Don’t weaken. Ever.

I’m often asked, “So how do you keep going when it’s so hard?” Usually the journalist has seen some footage of my friends and I suffering to achieve something, and feels that it’s some incredible effort that most people couldn’t do. Bullshit. You train for not weakening in the big moments by not weakening in the little ones. If you’re doing sets in the gym and quit when they get uncomfortable then you’ll quit when it’s time to push harder for real. If you don’t get out of bed in the morning to go for a run when the alarm rings then you won’t get out of the tent when the alarm rings on summit day. Don’t fucking weaken in training, and you won’t when it’s uncomfortable and shitty in the defining moments of life. You’ll forget how to quit if you don’t, and you’ll never know how to push through big uncomfortable moments if you don’t do it every single day. Over the last 30 years I have trained with a lot of athletes who were better athletes than me. They had better genetics, more support as kids, whatever gave them the athletic skills they had, but I believe I beat them in comp after comp because I do not weaken and give up, ever. I go down when it’s too dangerous, I cut my losses, but I do not give up until my muscles will not twitch upward again. I hang on long past the point of futility when climbing hard new routes. I do it in training, and I do it for real in comps or in the air or whenever. When I do give in and collapse mentally I hate myself so much that it’s a cattle prod to not let it happen again. I fail lots and get beaten lots, but not because I give up. I can live with losing and anyone who competes has to lose regularly, but I can not live with myself if I don’t do my level best, all the time. Never weaken.

There is no 10 for me, but I bet there is for a lot of people. I made the above up to remind me about what’s important athletically for me for the coming year. I made similar private lists for family, work, life, and balance it all out as best I can. Now I gotta go outside. I hope you do too.

Posted in: Blog


  1. Nayan   March 27, 2015 10:24 am

    I absolutely love reading your blog, you are my inspiration. I will be more than happy if I am half as active as you in my late 40s

  2. Jake Felix   March 27, 2015 10:34 am

    Smile a lot. It will help you when things aren’t so great. Laughter is a good thing. (Example) When Hell freezes over; I’ll climb that too.

  3. Lise   March 27, 2015 11:32 am

    So true Will. You practice what you preach and your results speak for themselves. Niagra!! Pursuing excellence is about worth ethics plain and simple. The value of our ages now (50th B-day this summer!) is muscle memory and accrued experience. Some things Are easier now I find. Less injuries and more flow. Keep ripping it up!

  4. Alan   March 27, 2015 12:28 pm

    Awesome!! Thanks for writing your thoughts.

  5. Alex   March 27, 2015 12:51 pm

    Buddy, trully awesome and unsired , as always! I eush you prosperity and long and successful athletic years to go! Be happy my ice climbing Guru. Cheers

  6. Dave Everson   March 27, 2015 2:05 pm

    Keep on writing Will. You love to write about what you love to do. Inspire. I’m 53 years old. I had personal bests in the weight room this year. That was a short term goal to be in better shape so I can climb ice, hard brittle brutal ice, and enjoy it all the more. Age means nothing when you’re always on the move. And surround yourself with other stoked motivators.

  7. Maikel   March 27, 2015 2:17 pm

    Thanks for your post to remind me of the simplr things in life.
    Simply keep on moving.

  8. Carlos A   March 27, 2015 2:49 pm

    Thanks Will for the Thoughts! Really inspiring. Really moving. I’ll keep them in mind and I’ll share them. Keep Up the Hard Work!

  9. Bonar   March 27, 2015 3:24 pm

    Great list! #10 for me would be “be a student”. Seek out someone with expertise you don’t have in a discipline where you feel you can grow, and commit to learning and applying that physical knowledge.

  10. Matt Hartman   March 27, 2015 10:01 pm

    Really liked the article. My number ten would be “When you get your butt kicked, look up, smile and know you are coming back to finish this challenge off”.

  11. Krzysztof Worytkiewicz   March 28, 2015 4:29 am

    Great rant as usual :) The only line I absolutely don’t agree with:

    “If you don’t get out of bed in the morning to go for a run when the alarm rings then you won’t get out of the tent when the alarm rings on summit day.”

    Just not true. There are people who opt for headlamp runs on a regular basis yet perform on J-day 1:30, be it am or pm. Motivation can work in wicked ways… Cheers, Krzysztof

  12. Carl   March 28, 2015 5:41 am

    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on these matters. I especially appreciated that your first self-reminder included the following: “Without the basic mental commitment and desire and joy of movement no athlete will be an athlete for very long.”.

    I learned the hard way when, over a 87hr long challenge on a bicycle, the mental part of me was working against my physical engagement to complete it; that was so horrible! In other words, I had not trained for the joy of doing it. Since then, it’s all about having fun pushing the enveloppe; if it is no fun, then I am not doing the right thing and means that I need to do something else. And now, the pleasure I get afterwards drive me for more. It is now my driving principle.

    Best wishes of success to you, and I am looking forward to read more from you!

  13. Stephen   March 28, 2015 6:21 am

    I really liked this. Thanks for writing it! What are some examples of the ‘small goals’ you set for yourself?

  14. Jamie J   March 28, 2015 7:15 am

    Amen dude. You’re awesome!

  15. Janusz   March 28, 2015 7:18 am

    Great reminder for what is important for me and many others. Kind of realised that the you are sticking with mirror yourself, and your ambitions. So many times I heard it, agree with it 100% and still haven’t learnt a lesson. Besides, great read this post.

  16. Gratianne   March 28, 2015 7:50 am

    Thank you for putting in words what many really feel but get slammed for being too extreme when speaking it out loud… You are quite legitimate so now we can say “Will thinks it too, have a read at his article!” :) :)
    Looking forward to listening to you on April 12th

  17. William Turner   March 28, 2015 8:18 am

    1) Keep writing, you inspire me to think even when I disagree with you.

    2) At 65 I agree with most of your thoughts except I now understand why ibuprofen and coated aspirin are big sellers. My body parts don’t always work the way the used to without some complaints.

    3) My wonderfully athletic children are now 26 and 28, and when I ask them how I did as a Dad the only concern I heard was that I sometimes worked to much, or did not take a moment to relax, especially when I was in my forties and was involved with two companies with my name on them. I got no complaints that I heard about the many camping or hiking trips or putting them on Longs Peak with me when they were 10 and 12.

    4) In my forties as noted, I struggled with having a business or two with my name on it, and making it a success along with being an athlete. Sometimes my ego picked my time for wanting a successful business. By the time I was 55 and my son and daughter wanted to race cross country mountain bikes and asked me to also, I was very happy to be inspired by them and a very supportive wife to accept the invitation. I lost 20 lbs. in the first year, and mostly keep it off since. I now own 5 bikes vs one road bike, and a pair of skis with skins. As a friend said, hanging with my kids is good, trying to keep up with them can be unhealthy.

    5) I have been blessed, lucky, or whatever language you choose, to have a very supportive wife who despite having polio as a kid, does her best at keeping herself in healthy shape by pushing the body she has to do whatever it can do.

    6) I have some special friends who like to push each other on a day hike or 10 day backpack trip at 10,000 feet, I treasure these long term relationships. Seams they don’t come easy. I have some 72 year old friends who I can not keep up with on an uphill grade, so there is still room for improvement on my end.

    7) At 65, I have a bucket list. The list did not include a separated shoulder by slipping on Ice at my backdoor, or a fractured tibia plateau during the 2012 USA cycling 50 mile marathon championship event attempted with my son. He finished, I learned a lot about a need for better training. Sometimes life is what happens while your are making plans.

    8) This year I am semi-retiring from working with my expertise in Indoor Air Quality and Energy Efficiency , whatever that means. In reality I have learned a lot that I can share with others and it frees me up to devote more time to training, and less time to earning a living which I have done for 50 years. I volunteered in Haiti last year. Talk about an eye opener. To be an athlete from a third world country must take a special kind of drive.

    9) No #10, So thank you again, for some motivation that on some days in needed.
    Please keep writing.

  18. Jeff sutherland   March 28, 2015 8:36 am

    Thanks for the wisdom Will! I’ve taken some notes, now it’s time to get moving!

  19. Alex   March 29, 2015 2:23 pm

    Hi Will, firstly thanks. I heard you speaking at The Beacon in North Wales last October. In the last year, my definition of myself had gone from motivated, growth mindset, active climber, to single mother who doesn’t get a free pass to get up a hill very often. I have a beautiful 4 year old daughter. I don’t have the man I thought I’d adventure my life with, but I’m finally getting out, finally getting fot again. Your words help. Especially as you are older than me! It helps, knowing it’s not all over at 30 or whatever. I’m looking forward to the future.

  20. adam   March 29, 2015 4:29 pm

    great write up man. I love it; just get outside and the rest will happen.

    see you out there!

  21. Kevin   March 30, 2015 6:09 am

    Solid word Will! I would add the importance of taking”productive rest” time. Driven people often over-train to the point of injury. I’ve done this to myself many times. For me, “productive rest” includes being active in ways that speed recovery and reduce injury (e.g. yoga, light swimming, stretching etc.).

  22. Alicia   March 30, 2015 7:08 pm

    Loved this! Great food for thought. I’ve been doing the same activity for a long time and it’s losing it’s shine. I’ve added in variety over recent months and I’m loving the change :)

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  24. Adam Burch   June 12, 2015 11:36 am

    Such a great read, and full of fantastic insight. None of this is rocket science, but most of us don’t slow down enough to think clearly about such things. Thanks for taking time to write this, going to make some changes right now!

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  26. Melanie Leeder   October 27, 2015 10:57 pm

    WOW what a great post! Found it on FB from a friend. I TOTALLY understand what you are saying about continuously pushing yourself to be the best self you can be everyday. I own a gym and follow the same mantra as you do about training…I have a hard time “relaxing and resting” both physically and mentally…feeling a bit burnt out lately and having a hard time allowing myself to relax as somehow in my head I think I’m being lazy…everyone says I must find a balance between family and work…if that actually exists…I super liked your #5, 6 and 7. Right now I just need small goals! I spent a year training for the Spartan Ultra Beast and in September did it, but didn’t make the cut off time for the second lap…so that was the iciing on the cake, but I was more upset on our last team training day because it was the last Saturday at 8am I would be training with my team! I was so upset because our training was over. Now I just need to refocus…keep writing, your words keep us in check and remind us to get over it and get on with it!

  27. Martin Swain   October 29, 2015 4:36 pm

    Hey Will, great blog post, thanks for sharing it. I’m 48 as well, and I’ve also been a lifelong athlete, but a little more in the shadows than you I think. Nevertheless, I understand what you’ve written here and I appreciate it. I do have a lot of athletic friends, not to disparage them, but none that are really top drawer in terms of commitment. So I’m glad you shared your thoughts here, it’s validating for me that’s encouraging. Cheers.

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  31. julie   January 26, 2016 12:46 pm

    I hear you Will!
    This is excellent advice.
    I just turned 60.
    Started running again in 2015 and going in races and trail runs. Striving to kick ass in my new age catagory!
    I record my activities via my Misfit and Strava training app on my on my cell, running, biking in the city, ski touring, hiking climbing, cross country skiing, I do a of of things!
    So now, at 60, I feel awesome and intend to keep on “givin er”. Getting older is no reason to slow down, SO MOVE IT!

  32. Jordan   April 24, 2016 10:15 pm

    I am an accountant, not an athlete.
    I have taken 6 years hiatus from serious mountain pursuits because I have been focusing on my career. (No regrets though, I am still employed in Calgary!)

    But now, I am weak and wish I had read this article years ago.

    I should have been moving everyday. Even if it wasn’t climbing-related. I thought if I couldn’t commit 100% of my effort, like I did before I might as well focus on my career instead.

    Now, because of this article I am stoked (and a little scared) to start over and commit to being an athlete in the way you are suggesting. I feel a sense of relief knowing I can take the long view on climbing and have the mindset to just move everyday (even if not directly climbing related – but hopefully so), not get worried about trifles, and do all this regardless of my circumstances.

    Thanks for the article, very much so appreciated.

    P.S. I Found your blog today and I have been reading it for like the last 4 hours today (going back as far as 2012!), super quality stuff. Your honesty and clear writing sets you apart. Keep it up.

  33. Reality   September 26, 2016 8:59 am

    You’re probably right about diet, as long as the other rules are adhered to. And obviously this is for people who are/want to be athletes. However, when living a normal lifestyle, diet is extremely important. Yes, the fads are mostly nonsense, but you should definitely eat healthily, and especially so if you’re not getting that essential daily exercise. Sugar is about the worst thing you can eat, that and processed carbs (like cheap white bread). Otherwise it’s just common sense, and yes, ignore the gluten/paleo/etc fad diets.

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