Way to success. Interview with lead-climbing World Champion Patxi Usobiaga for Baurock.ru
Patxi Usobiaga (Spain), lead-climbing World Champion in Qinghai (China) 2009. His name without any doubts is a synonym of hard trainings and strong motivation which are a key of his great success. How did he arrive to that point? What is the source of his motivation? What he thinks about climbing and life? To find out that in more details we asked our users to generate various questions to Patxi. As a result of our joint efforts this remarkable interview was appeared which is offered to your attention bellow.
1. How and when did you start climbing? What was more attractive for you in climbing comparing with the other sports?
My parents are very fond of the mountains and do a lot of hiking. When I was I child we used to go almost every weekend. One day, one of my parents' friends brought a rope and we climbed a little bit. I was hooked in a snap. After that, I signed up in my hometown's indoor climbing gym and started to go there after school. I had played other sports like soccer, pilota, etc. but climbing was just different. The environment and people were more of my taste and, as a sport, climbing is so challenging and beautiful that I don't understand why everybody doesn't climb.
2. In your Internet site you mentioned that you were born and now live in Eibar (Basque Country, Spain). Do you regularly train in climbing gyms in your town or do you travel for that to the other cities? Which climbing gyms are mostly located in your region, high, for climbing with rope or these are predominantly bouldering rooms? Are training conditions in your town good enough comparing with the other cities in Spain and Europe?
I train in a bouldering room in a public sports center in Eibar. I almost never train in other places. Sometimes, before a competition I go to Innsbruck (Austria) or Oloron (France) to climb plastic routes. Where I live there are no good indoor climbing walls. I don't complain about the facility I have for training, but it could be better. What it is clear is that they have better facilities in Europe (Innsbruck is amazing!). Anyways, I usually say that you can train very hard with just a bottle of water if you are motivated enough! Also, at home, I have the opportunity to do parts of the training with friends, which helps a lot. (thanks)
3. How professional climbing in Spain is organized? How many climbers are in Spanish climbing team and how big is the part of non-climbing staff of the team (coaches, masseurs, diet-nutritionists, etc.) accompanying Spanish climbers during international competitions abroad?
The Spanish team doesn't receive as much funding as other countries so we don't have almost non-climbing stuff. Sometimes it is even hard to bring a lot of competitors to competitions held in countries far away. I know this happens to other teams too, and I hope that in the upcoming years we find solutions for this. Nevertheless, we have a great coach, Toni, who is doing a great work and is always taking care of us.
4. Time ago you've quite successfully participated in Youth WC's but when you started participating in Senior WC's (in 1999) your results were not that good enough in the beginning. However, approximately after 2.5 years since your debut in Senior WC's you took a leading position in the first-TOP-ten of world competition climbing ranking and keep it up till now. What was happening with you during these 2.5 years, what is the reason of your so rapid climbing progress? How did you motivate yourself? Which role the motivation plays in your climbing growth and what it is?
This is easy to answer. I started training seriously. I realized what I wanted to do in life and decided to give it a try. The only way to be able to live climbing and competing was to be one of the best. I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but luckily for me, it worked.
5. One of the main questions which are interesting to our readers is a question about your trainings. Your image created by numerous publications in public media, videos and interviews suggests that intense and thoughtful training is the main component of your success. Please, tell us in more details what is the main idea of your training system?
I don't have magical recipes but I have a system that I have developed after lot of studying, contacting people, trial and error, etc. Even nowadays, I keep changing it because I heard something or talked to somebody. It is not secret, however, I don't like spreading it too much either. But I can tell you that I have to work very f***ing hard to get into competitive shape. Friends tell me that I am the person that trains the most in the world, and I answer that I do what it takes to get where I want to be. I may be a bit masochist, but I really enjoy training hard and being completely worn out. I think that this way all the things you achieve, even the tiniest ones, give more satisfaction.
6. What is the basis of your training program and how do you compose it? Do you borrow basic training principles from the other sports or develop your own? Do you use some special devices (equipment) to control physical activity level, or it is just your own feeling?
At the beginning of the year I take a look at the competition calendar and do a draft of what my training is going to be. I change this draft constantly during the year, but it serves as a basis to know what weeks I will train, which ones I can go on a climbing trip, etc. As everybody, I start with a lot of gym and I progressively turn to more plastic and specific training. Of course I borrow basic training principles from other sports because almost all of them (the physical ones) have the same basis. As a funny note, I have even been interested in how chess players train. There is not much technology in my trainings; as an elite athlete, several sport doctors have shown interest in how my body responds to training and have run tests on me (lactate concentration, CPK, etc…). I have learnt from their interpretations, but I still trust my feelings a lot, and train accordingly.
7. Could you tell us more about cyclicity of your trainings, what is the typical composition of your training cycles, what objectives and goals corresponding to them? Do you enjoy your training process or it is an unpleasant necessity to be ready for the main starts?
The big picture of my training is the typical one. They are progressive and directed to an specific goal or date. Three main cycles: first, build a basis (gym, etc.); second, quantity (lot of climbing gym, campus, board, etc.); third, quality (hard routes, bouldering, etc.). As simple as it looks, the complexity is within those cycles: what are the best exercises, the most easily transferred to climbing, the most appropriate for me, possible innovations? I really like training and enjoy every single training session, because I can feel, day after day, that I am improving, that I am a better climber. If it hadn't been because of that, I would have stopped training and competing long time ago. In my opinion, working hard (in climbing or in life) always pays off.
8. How many days in row do you usually train without rest? With such intensive physical activity it is difficult to imagine how your body manages to fully recover to achieve then “supercompensation”. How many days do you usually rest? Do you use any sort of “pharmacology” to recover?
I train 5 days a week, taking a couple of afternoons off. On weekends, I climb outdoors (which is kind of rest if you compare it with a typical training session). After so many years training, my body supercompesates faster than before and now I need to take fewer rest days. If by “pharmacology” you mean an ice-cream lying on the coach, then yes. Seriously, time ago I used electro stimulation, but not anymore.
9. How much do you use various pharmacological agents in your trainings, not only for recovering but also for development of certain muscle groups, increasing of muscle tonus, strengthening of tendons, joints, etc.? With such huge amount of training it is difficult to avoid various injuries. How often do you have "something hurts", fingers, shoulders, knees, elbows, and how do you struggle with it?
I try to avoid the use of pharma as much as possible. I don't take anything that will help me train, I don't believe in those. Nowadays, I only take vitamin C to avoid catching colds easily. Nothing to recover or to develop, I don't believe in that. Years ago I used electro stimulation, but not anymore, I don't have time for that, even though it can help. There is always something that hurts, it may be due to ageing… I just try to force that part too much, but I keep on training and climbing “a muerte”. The most serious injury was the one I had trying Pachamama on my right shoulder. For this one I had to have surgery and completely stop climbing for two and a half months…
10. How do you warm-up before climbing? Is there a difference in your warming-up before the normal training session or before the hardest project on rocks? For what at that do you pay maximal attention?
I don't do anything special. I just start with some easy climbing, and try harder things progressively. For example, if the objective is to onsight something hard, I usually start with 6b, 7a, 7c, 8a and then “a muerte” for the project. As you see, there is no rush to warm up. Indoors, I do more or less the same. Streching is also very good, but I am very lazy about it.
11. Competitions, especially of its highest rank, are always a psychological stress because of audience, public, strong rivals, etc. How do you psychologically prepare yourself for the start?
A few years ago, thanks to a basque foundation for top level athletes, I could work the psychological aspects of sports with a “shrink” like dealing with pressure, failure and all this stuff. It was very interesting but essentially, if I feel well training and I know that I have done my best, I don't have big problems with this. Of course, sometimes I get overwhelmed and feel some pressure, but talking about it with friends solves it. At very moment before a competition, I am so focused that I cannot hear or see anything apart from the top. Before giving a go to a project on real rock, I am so relaxed that I usually do some chit-chat with my friends while climbing.
12. May be not so pleasant question, how do you regard to the widespread appearance of young climbing “mutants”, which even without strain send the hardest routes on routes (9a and harder), which in the same time do not pull-up on one hand (for example), but in the same time sometimes defeat you at the competitions?
It is clear that you are asking me what I think about Adam. I am not afraid of this question. I remember when I started hearing about Adam; he was this wonder kid doing amazing stuff all over the place and getting bored in the junior comps. I was amazed and wanted to see him in action. But, at some point, I realized that, I don't know why (even though I think the media has something to do with that), we were enemies. I hadn't met the guy and we were worst enemies. I met him in some comps at the beginning of the past season, but we didn't talk much. However, one day (after the world cup in Imst, by the way, he won) I met him climbing outdoors (in Nassereith) and talking to him I could see clearly that all the tension between us was artificial. We both just loved climbing and went “a muerte” for everything. He flashed me a route and we talked about routes and projects. This shy guy is so psyched! It kind of recalls me of myself when I was younger (I am also super psyched! But with age you learn to take things easier). I don't know why, but last year I heard or misunderstood that he was not going to compete in 2010, which seems to be false. I find this news great, because trying to make some of his unavoidable victories difficult is going to be a pleasure. I hope the rest of the competitors help me with this and we have a great 2010 competition season.
13. You are the first and only person in the world, who onsighted 8c+, also you sent several 9a/9a+. How much time do you spend on natural rocks and how it is combined with your competition training? Do you consider climbing in the gym more interesting than climbing on natural rocks?
As I said before, I arrange the climbing trips according to the competition calendar. I prioritize the comps now because I think that I will have time to climb more when I decide to give up competing and because it is the only way I have found to live doing what I like. Anyways, and I want to make this point clear, the real climbing is rock climbing, plastic is other thing, more or less related, but a completely different thing. And I climb because I love rock climbing. It is the reason I fell in love with climbing and it is how I will die, climbing on rocks. Nowadays I am competing and I love it too! I think this is my moment to compete and I am taking advantage of it.
14. How the routes which you select as projects are different in climbing style? Which style of climbing do you prefer more (slab, vertical, slightly overhanging, very overhanging, roof, etc.)? Which kind of routes turns out better for you?
I don't have a favorite style of climbing. I like absolutely everything, and try to improve at all of them. Slab climbing is something I hadn't done much, but the first times I climbed after my shoulder surgery, I could force it in excess and I went to la Pedriza several times, the slab climbing mecca in Spain. There, I realized how blank a wall can be and still being climbable. It has been another experience, and now I climb with even more confidence on my feet in other styles. In my opinion, a climber must be complete and don't specialize in some style just because it suits them better. I try to accomplish this by sending hard routes like “La Novena Enmienda” and “Action Directe”, two radically different routes that I managed to send.
15. Do you bolt your own routes on rocks?
I have been criticized for not bolting routes and taking advantage of others' work, but I just don't have time to do it now. My training schedule is very tight and during the few days left I have, I try to climb. Moreover, where I live, not-bolted walls are scarce and for me to bolt a route, the line has to call my attention. Anyways, I have bolted a couple of routes; precisely I bolted a project just last weekend: an amazing 55-60 meters long line in the middle of the Eco Wall in Ramales. I cannot wait to go and try it!!! You can go and try too, if you want:)
16. Could you tell us a bit about your impression from your successful ascents on the hardest routes on rocks. In particular, it is very interesting your impression from Action Directe, 9a (Frankenjura, Germany), La Rambla, 9a+ in Siurana (Spain) and others... How did you feel when you became World Champion in leading climbing (Qinghai, China, 2009)?
Action Directe XI: What can I say? I had wanted to do it since I first heard about it.
Realization 9a+: Amazing line! A supermega classic that opened the door for another level of climbing.
La Rambla 9a+: Another five stars line. The controversy over this route makes no sense to me and just obscures the beauty of it.
Bizi Euskaraz 8c+: My first 8c+ onsight. Hard as hell, very technical and very small crimps which happens not to be my weakness. Repeated only recently. I have heard rumors of people commenting on the difficulty of the climb. I just have to say that they know where to find it, they should go and try.
17. Climbing in your opinion is "elite sport" for the elite or it needs to be popularized to expand its generality? How do you treat people who consider climbing only as fitness?
Climbing has to be popularized as much as possible because it is a great sport that is currently underappreciated. But it is has be done in such a way and with certain rules to avoid crag overcrowding and damaging the environment. Climbers must have a good approach towards climbing and show respect to their peers and to nature to be respected. I think this would be possible and beneficial for all of us.
I think that climbing is a very complete sport (maybe a little hard to the fingers) and can be practiced just to be healthy and in shape, why not? But I think that for these people, eventually, it will become more than that.
18. By the initiative of IFSC climbing became an Olympic sport. Do you greet that? How do you see climbing in Olympic Games? How it should be represented there, what should be changed?
This way, climbing can get a lot more attention and spread as the great sport it is. I would love to have competed in the Olympic Games (I will be too old by that time) but I will proudly see it. People are talking about which format is the best, and I just want to remember that if the competition is a difficulty climbing competition, then it is difficulty what should be measured, not speed or any other thing.
19. What are you planning for near and distant future? How long are you going to actively participate in world-level competitions? Are you going to concentrate more on hard projects on rocks? Are you planning to try something different from sport-climbing (big-wall, traditional climbing, etc.)?
I will attend competitions until I think I have nothing else to say there. After that I will have to decide what to do with my life, something climbing-related for sure, but right now I have only ideas, nothing decided. And yes, I will definitely concentrate more on projects and travelling more. As you suggest, I will also like to play a little bit with other disciplines such as big-walls or trad, but I think I prefer pure difficulty rather than those.
20. You have a very big experience in building of the training process, participation in highest-rank competitions, sending of the hardest projects on rocks. Have you ever thought to transfer so invaluable experience to the other climbing world, for example writing a book like Performance Rock Climbing? Are you planning to be a coach in future to transfer your experience to the young generation of climbers?
I have been training and climbing for many years and I have learnt a lot about how the body responds to different trainings, what the sensations should be in every part of the training process, etc. I have been experimenting with many different things and every single year I have tried to improve the method. Still I think there is a lot of work and research to be done. I try to help and coach some friends, but I just don't have the time to do it at a bigger scale. I think that a coach should be able to track at least in a weekly basis the progress of the person training, and not just hand a piece of paper and forget. The training system has to be dynamic. Become a coach is one of the options that I will consider when I stop competing. About writing a book… as I said, a training system has to be personalized (at least, at the moderate and high levels), and I don't know how this can be explained in a book… but maybe in the future I give it a try.
21. Many of the TOP-climbers (and not only) say that climbing for them, it is not only climbing of hard routes, but also travelling, meeting of new people, parties. What is, in the end, the meaning of climbing for you (competitions, rock climbing or something else)?
I will have to stick to the typical answer: climbing is a life style. I tend to live my life through climbing because, in the end, the truth is that I visit places and cities as long as there is a good climbing crag around or a comp, and usually meet people who are somehow related to climbing. I don't see a negative side of this fact because, fortunately, climbing destinations are almost always breathtaking places and climbers conform a very nice community with nice values in which I like to be included.
I don't know if I will keep up with this life style forever but, right now, being aware of all the luck I have, this is exactly what I want to do and I am trying to take advantage of it.
22. You are acquainted with some climbers from Russia and Ukraine. What is your opinion about our TOP-climbers? Are you planning to visit Russia or Ukraine to participate in the competitions or to grade there the hardest projects on rocks?
In lead climbing, Valeriy Kryukov was super strong last year, but I think he injured a finger or something like that. In boulder, you only have to look at the last World Championship Yulia and Olga, and Alexey and Rustam occupying the highest positions. And what to say about your speed climbing team… wow.
It would be a pleasure for me to go competing in Russia or Ukraine and I am sure that there are great crags over there to check out. Send me some info over and I will take a look to what you got.
23. You always demonstrate the TOP-level climbing. Due to that there is an impression that you don't have any other interests except of climbing trainings. Could you tell us a bit about your life, what do you do during your free (from climbing) time? Do you have any hobbies, for example other kinds of sport or something else? What else do you like except of climbing?
I like to think that I have life apart from climbing, but sometimes I am so obsessed that it is hard to disconnect. Anyways, I like cooking, trying new recipes and bring friends home to taste them and have a nice dinner. Also, when the comps are far in the calendar, I do a lot of cycling (road and mountain). I found this sport a couple years back, and now it is really hard to stop practicing it when the hard trainings start…
24. Quite intimate question, the female half of our site forum is interested in which girls Patxi Usobiaga likes, how they look like and do they have to be strong climbers? :)
Half of the site forum are girls? Wow, impressing… Not that many female climbers around here. I don't have a special taste, but I have to say that eastern European girls are very attractive. Good reason to go climbing over there…
25. Very interesting are some of your physical characteristics and achievements. What is your height and weight? What is your «ape index»? How many times do you pull-up on two hands and on one hand (right and left)?
I am 1.74m tall with and ape index of 1,76. I weigh around 60-62 kg, depending on the season. I can pull up 28 times on two hands and barely once with one hand when I am in my best shape. It seems I beat Adam on this, they should start every comp with a one-arm pull up then (not two, just one ;). Still, strength is one of my weak points…
26. Do you have any “brand” (secret :)) favorite exercise or invaluable advice on trainings and training rules, which will help our readers in dramatic improvement of their climbing level?
If you want to improve your climbing level through training, you have to enjoy training. Since you have to spend a lot of time enclosed in the gym, enjoying the process of getting in shape is essential. You cannot be thinking all the time of the project you want to accomplish and find the motivation to train there because then, at some point, it is very likely that you lose it and give up. If you don't enjoy training, you better find another system like climbing outdoors.
27. Finally, traditional question from our site, www.baurock.ru: what is climbing for you?
Climbing is an upwards movement on a wall that makes me happy.
We thank Patxi heartily for frank and detailed answers. We wish him further always demonstrate the highest level in competition performance, continuous progress in climbing, motivation for hard trainings and new hardest routes on rocks!