A keen amateur boulderer, YouTuber Andrew McFarlane found he was able to climb a V7 slops after just one month of training; the hardest he’d ever attempted. Which got him wondering what he could achieve if he dedicated more time to climbing, so he committed 6 months to training like a professional climber, practiced 4 times a week, and assigned himself a new goal: climbing a V10 outdoor rockface in Wales.
“Every climber is different,” McFarlane says. “We’ve got different strengths, weaknesses, and starting points.” He advises figuring out a training plan that works for you individually. For him, that meant teaming up with coaches Louis Parkinson and Tom Randall, and Andrew D’Souza, a PhD student in Neurovascular Physiology, to give himself the absolute best chances of meeting his goal.
During the 6-month training period, McFarlane ate a low-carb diet with protein supplements, as well as collagen supplements to help with finger recovery after a training session.
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“My coaches told me I needed to work on things like movement and momentum, while maintaining power and strength,” he says. To develop these areas, he picks a boulder and hits it as many times as he can in a 5-minute window. (For extra difficulty, he does a set of 5 pushups after each attempt.) He also trains using the “elimination” method, where during each climb you don’t use one specific limb, and instead rely on your momentum to help you up.
In addition to his climbing training, McFarlane also worked his antagonistic muscles through pushups and dips, and maximized his recovery with stretching and 8 hours of sleep each night. It’s a physically exhausting process. “I want to make the excuse that pro climbers do this full time, but a lot of them have day jobs, so there are no excuses,” he says.
By the second month, McFarlane is already seeing some real progress, and is more consistently able to finish harder climbs. 3 months into his training, and his ability level has progressed from the V4-V6 range to V6-V8 circuits. He also commits himself to projecting hard climbs, tackling them repeatedly until he was able to scale them instead of moving on after a few failed attempts. “If I wanted to climb something harder than I’d ever done before, then I needed to start practicing how to work a problem over and over again,” he explains.
5 months in, after 3 days of trying, he is able to project a V9 / 7C outdoors in Switzerland — his toughest climb to date. But it comes with a cost; the heel-hooking creates a strain injury in his left knee, leaving him only a few weeks to heal before his V10 climb.
When McFarlane arrives at the V10 in Wales, however, conditions aren’t suitable, and he is forced to defer the challenge, completing another (incredibly tough) climb instead. But he’s not disheartened; all that progress he made wasn’t for nothing.
“The one last thing I learned from training like a pro—I learned it a bit to late—was to set yourself up for success,” he says. “I only gave myself 2 or 3 days to do the hardest climb I’ve ever done, and the one I wanted to do was wet, so I couldn’t even do that. I tried my best over the last 6 months, it didn’t work out, but you know what, that’s it. I’ve got a lot of time, I’ve still got that goal, and I can still make it.”
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