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Q&A with John Brosler

When and how did you get started climbing?

I started climbing at summer camps when I was little and joined Team Texas when I was 10 years old. I started competing in 2009 when I was 12.

Why did you start competing and why do you keep doing it?

I started competing initially because my coach on Team Texas encouraged me to try it out, and I ended up loving the atmosphere and the people I got to interact with at each competition. I continue to compete because I instinctively feel the need push my limits, and I enjoy the process of self-discovery that comes with learning how to train and execute at a high level.

What motivates you to climb and why do you find it appealing?

I climb because I enjoy the process of pushing my limits and discovering my own potential. Also, the challenge of execution at competitions is a big draw for me.

How long and in what disciplines have you competed in?

I have competed in all three disciplines since 2009. However, my main discipline is speed climbing, in which I have competed at a high level since 2012. 

What do you like or dislike about each of the disciplines?

In speed climbing, I both like and dislike the high-stakes elimination format. It can be brutal, yet so rewarding when it goes well.

In bouldering competitions, the climbs can be very difficult and tricky to figure out, which can be both brutal and rewarding as well.

In lead climbing, the biggest challenge for me is being on the wall and in the zone for such a long period of time, and continuing to climb even when I’m red-lining and feel too tired to keep going. When you feel like you’ve done that and have climbed well, it’s very rewarding, but it’s frustrating for me because it’s difficult for me to get there.

Have your motivations to compete changed over time?

Definitely. I started competing because I thought it was fun and I enjoyed hanging out with my friends, but once I realized I was good at speed climbing, I only wanted to be better than everybody else. I think this came from a place of insecurity in my life outside of climbing; I felt like how I climbed defined who I was as a person, and I wanted to win so I could feel good about myself. I still struggle with this a little bit, but now I’m learning how to find the intrinsic value in competing and am finding motivation in the process of pushing my own limits, rather than only doing what it takes to win.

How many days a week are you training? What disciplines are you training for each week? 

When competition season is in full swing, I train 5-6 days a week for 4-8 hours a day. While training for the combined format, I would train for all three disciplines each week (with an emphasis on speed climbing), and structure it so I could properly rest different muscle groups and energy systems in between each bout of training.

How do you train differently for each climbing discipline?

This answer depends on where I’m in my training cycle for each discipline. For speed climbing, most of my training is either on the speed wall or in the weight room. For bouldering, I like to climb on spray walls because it allows me to create tricky, yet powerful climbs, so I feel like I’m improving my strength and technique at the same time. I also put extra emphasis on slab climbing, since it’s one of my weaknesses. For lead climbing, I’ll either do power-endurance circuits on a spray wall or laps on a rope in the gym for pure endurance.

Talk us through your favorite speed climbing workouts/training with and without PD auto belays.

Off the wall, I find plyometric exercises to be very useful (box jumps, jump ropes, foot coordination drills, etc), in conjunction with general strength exercises with free weights. On the wall with PD auto belays, I like to work certain sections of the speed route, do full laps with varying amounts of effort (to practice consistency), and then run laps while wearing a weight vest.

What does your diet look like as a competitive athlete?

I don’t do anything very special with my diet, I just generally try to stay away from junk food and eat balanced meals to make sure I get enough macros (protein, fat, carbohydrates) vitamins and minerals. When I’m training a lot, I eat around 4,000 calories/day.

I have ulcerative colitis, which can make it hard for me to digest certain foods and can sometimes limit my nutrient absorption. For the most part, I’m able to get around this by buying organic food (limiting my exposure to additives, antibiotics, pesticides, etc), cooking for myself instead of eating out, and avoiding a few foods that trigger my symptoms.

What do you do to stay motivated in times when you are feeling tired, discouraged, or when you get injured?

Sometimes, the best thing you can do is just show up to the gym, and once you start to go through the motions of warming up and preparing for your session, your mood may change. That said, if your sessions are suffering due to a lack of motivation for a long time, the best thing you can do is take some time off to recover mentally.

When I’m injured, my number-one priority is always healing, which may unfortunately mean taking some time off of climbing. I try to train around my injury a much as possible (ex. no-hands slabs for a finger injury, or running/other cross-training), but would never do anything that could affect my recovery time. I’m lucky because I can work with Zack DiCristino, the U.S. Team physical therapist, to make recovery plans whenever I’m injured and can use him as a general resource when I have questions about my training to limit my risk of injury.

What are “fast twitch” muscles and why are they important in climbing/speed climbing?

The body has two types of muscle fibers: fast-twitch and slow-twitch. Slow-twitch muscle is what your body uses more during long-duration, lower intensity exercises, like running, swimming, or other aerobic activities.

Fast-twitch muscle is used more during explosive, quick, high-intensity activity, like sprinting, jumping, and speed climbing. All climbing is generally anaerobic, so you mostly use fast-twitch muscle. 

Where do you typically train and how does your routine change when you are traveling?

I train in the gym and at the USA Climbing Training Center in Salt Lake City, UT. I do all of my actual training at home before I travel, but while I’m traveling, I still climb at local gyms regularly to maintain my fitness without doing intense training that will make me tired before a competition.

How have you had to adapt your training since the COVID pandemic hit?

I’ve used the last few months to take a break from training. I was very sick for a little while due to my ulcerative colitis, so I wasn’t able to do much if any, physical activity. For the past month, I’ve been slowly climbing more, and have been trying to get the fitness back that I lost while I was sick. I’ve been enjoying this low-pressure process, and since there aren’t any competitions coming up, I’ve been focusing on climbing for fun, going outside, and taking a step away from high-intensity training.

What’s the biggest competition you’ve been apart of?

I competed in the 2017 World Games in Wroçlaw, Poland. I also competed in the first Olympic Qualifier at the World Championships in Hachioji, Japan in 2019.

What is your most memorable moment from a competition?

My first Open National Championship title in 2014 was a big moment for me.

Tell us what it’s like behind the scenes at an international competition?

Everyone is very focused on themselves and their own competition preparations, which I think is the biggest contrast from competitions in the U.S. where everyone is generally talking and catching up with their friends. It can be very intimidating being in the same environment with some of the best athletes in the world, but it forces you to learn how to tune out distractions and focus on your own preparations.

Competition climbing is on the rise for younger and younger climbers around the world. What advice do you have for young climbers for preparing mentally for competitions?

Enjoy the atmosphere and the pressure, it’s a rare feeling you won’t experience anywhere else! Use it to your advantage, and learn to direct it towards yourself rather than your competitors. My coach used to say “control the controllables” and the rest will follow.

Do you prefer climbing on plastic or real rock?

Can’t choose, there are appeals to both that I love a lot!

What is your favorite crag(s)?

I love the Red River Gorge, Rocky Mountain National Park, Rocklands, and Hueco Tanks!

What climber(s) do you look up to most?

I’m lucky to have a supportive group of climbing friends here in SLC that I draw inspiration from in different ways. They consist of people I grew up competing with, future Olympians, and newer climbers as well. All of their perspectives on climbing are valuable to me and I feel like I learn from them every day.

What’s the most scared you’ve been while climbing?

I’ve topped out some pretty tall boulders outside, but I try to stay safe and not put myself in any situations I can’t handle. I’ve also been pretty scared before some competitions, but I find that I only feel that way because I care, and it helps me stay grounded and keep things in perspective.

From breakfast to burritos, what does your perfect day look like?

Sleep in, eat delicious food all day, hang with friends, and a little bit of climbing. Ideally in another country!

Tell us about your favorite t-shirt?

It’s a green tank top with a picture of Coach Kyle on the back. Quite a gem!

What music do you have in high rotation right now?

New Taylor Swift album, of course. Also a big fan of hip-hop.

The one must-have item for life on the road?

I have a collapsible foam roller that fits in my carry-on. Love it!!

What other sports are you in today?

Other sports? What are those? Haha.

Favorite climbing and non-climbing movie?

Love the Dosage films and Forrest Gump!