Training the body and mind for climbing

The following is part two of Sarah Goldman’s interview with Chicks alumna Anne Hughes. To see part one of the interview (in which Anne discusses projecting a climb – specifically a 5.11d just days before her 56th birthday) click here. Continue reading to learn more about how Anne trains her body and her mind, as well as how she looks to mentor up-and-coming climbers.

A hot topic these days seems to be training for climbing.  There are a variety of programs out there from Crossfit, Mountain Athlete, traditional bodybuilding etc. You said that you learned from Girly Guide Mattie Sheafor that if you can’t climb regularly it’s almost as good to train with a good sport specific coaching program.  What does that look like for you?
I train with Pat Gilles (, twitter: PatsGym).  He trains me twice a week in hour long sessions.  I’m impressed with how his personalized training program has targeted my weaknesses, like grip, cross through’s, lock offs, hip mobility, and mantling, to name a few. I work with him one-on-one, in a varied program that has improved my strength, mental muscle, endurance and metabolic performance.

What differences have you noticed out at the crag?
I can now boulder a lot better.  I have power and strength I never imagined I could have at this age.  My grip strength has improved.  I can lock off and cross through and mantle better.  I can do powerful and difficult movement longer and better. It is like I now have overdrive I can slip into as needed.

All that physical strength has got to help with mental strength as well.  Have you found that to be the case?
Mental focus is a must on the climb, especially on the sharp end, and this has been a major stumbling block since the day I started to lead, when a practice fall in my lead class at the gym resulted in a broken bone and torn ligaments.  Working out has shown me how much more I can do when my body says I am too tired to continue.  I’m working hard to turn off the unproductive voice in my head that keeps me from going the distance.  Mental muscle is coming along and I’m delighted.

You recently had a letter to the editor published in Climbing Magazine. Congratulations. You made the point that the mainstream climbing media doesn’t seem to cover women in their 40s and 50s that are climbing hard.  Do you think that is because the media doesn’t see an audience for it or because they just aren’t out there?
What I was asking for is to see a similar number of stories and photos of women over 40 doing cool moves and routes and mountains as there are of men over 40.  In particular, actually I’d like to see women age fifty and beyond. Hey, I am pushing 60, you know!  I don’t know why the media doesn’t cover these women.  Women 50+ climbing strong do exist, or so I’m told by Chicks Girly Guides who have traveled to climb more extensively than I have.  I know I’d be more likely to subscribe to a climbing magazine if I could see this kind of inspiring story.

Inspiring in the way that the Girly Guides always are when we climb with them at Chicks. What has having the role models you have met at Chicks Climbing meant to you and your own climbing.
I actually hear the voices of a dozen Chicks’ guides in my head when I think about climbing and when I’m doing it.

Sweet. Channeling Chicks Guides, I love it. What do the voices in your head say?
The very specific things I’ve learned in different years from each different guide surface in my head just when I need them. I have become better at every aspect of climbing and more importantly better as a person because I’ve known these inspiring women and their patient expert instruction.  It’s inspired mentoring at its best.

The mentoring between the Girly Guides and Chicks is a major mission of Chicks Climbing.  That spirit of giving back is often contagious. Have you been able pay it forward and mentor any new climbers in your area?
I teach beginning through advanced classes at Boulders Climbing Gym, Madison WI (   My climbing partner, Vera Naputi, also a Chicks alumna, and I began the women’s climbing classes at Boulders Gym and also a popular class for women age 40 and up.  The first time we offered the over 40 class we had more than 60 women clamoring for 14 slots. I set routes at the gym too, where most setters are males.

Oh now that’s awesome!  I wish I had a 56 year old rocking Chick setting routes in my gym!
I chaired our climbing club, Madison Women Climbers, for several years, where mentoring is the name of the game. Giving back is a basic tenant to my philosophy of life.

I can really see that Anne.  You are wonderful and an inspiration for us all. Any last thoughts?
There will be good days and bad days…I do believe Alex Lowe had it right, that the best climber is the one having the most fun.

Thanks to Anne and Sarah for contributing their time and advice to Chicks Climbing. Do you have a story to tell? We’re looking to feature more women achieving great things in the climbing world here at Chicks Climbing! Don’t be shy, let us know what you’re up to!