Recently, I had the pleasure of interviewing John Brosler, the current US national record holder for speed climbing across all age categories. To tell you the truth, when you interview a teenager, you never know quite what you’ll get, but this young man is a solid, pure Texas, USA rip-roaring quality person. I think when you read this interview, you’ll understand why he consistently puts up the fastest numbers – he’s the real deal.
Photo of John at the 2013 World Youth Climbing Championships where he won a bronze medal in speed climbing. Photo courtesy of John Brosler, and Christian J. Stewart Photography
Name: John Brosler
School: Plano West Senior High School
Coach: Kyle Clinkscales, Stan Borodyansky
Team: Team Texas
First national championship attended: 2010 SCS Youth Nationals
First national championship podium in (speed, sport, or bouldering, doesn’t matter): 2012 SCS Youth Nationals; 2nd in speed
Take me through the stages of your speed climbing career so far. When and where did you do your very first speed climb? What were the plateaus you experienced? What were the breakthrough moments?
I actually don’t remember my first time on the speed wall (although I imagine it was awful), but there was a trip to Atlanta before my first nationals that made a lasting impression on me. At the time, I was pretty average, and just did speed for fun, but by the end of the trip, I had managed to take almost two seconds off my personal best time. That trip was a huge breakthrough moment for me; speed climbing had turned from a casual thing I did every now and then into something I realized I could really do well in. From then on, it was a combination of hard work and quality coaching that got me to where I am today. Of course I hit a few plateaus; I distinctly remember breaking into each new second “barrier” being really tough. However, the motivation of seeing a lower number in front of my times was enough for me to push past them!
When did you first start training on an IFSC speed wall?
I first started training at my home gym in Grapevine late in the 2010 SCS season, just after divisionals had ended. I remember they actually built the wall DURING the competition, which called for a few noise complaints from competitors and spectators alike. Miraculously, they had it up in time for speed on the second day, which turned out to be a huge success on the new standard route. Even though I wasn’t even old enough to compete on the route, I was really psyched to try it. After some negotiating with the coach, he let me try it out. He probably regretted his decision later, because I didn’t want to stop!
How many hours do you train for speed climbing during the season? Do you train in the off-season? If so, what kinds of things do you do to train for speed in the off season? Are there any cross-training exercises you find particularly helpful?
I usually train speed about four times a week for one to two hours at a time. Generally I do train in the off season, but nowhere near to the extent I do during the speed season. I just like to keep myself familiar with the route so I don’t have to re-learn it later. As for cross-training, I think running is key. I hate it probably more than any other exercise, but it’s important not for just speed climbing, but for sport and bouldering as well. Plus, if you find a nice trail, you can enjoy some scenery at the same time. Any kind of coordination exercises are helpful too.
Can you give me an example of a time when you plateaued or were discouraged in your speed climbing training journey? Any insight into why and how the plateaus and breakthroughs come about. What do you do when you hit a plateau?
A great example would be the 2012 Pan-American Championships in Santiago. I had trained so hard and was so focused on winning that I put too much pressure on myself and ended up choking. I was devastated. Kyle made me take two months off and read a mental training book before I could speed climb again. Although at first I thought the idea was terrible and a waste of time, I ended up learning a lot and I came back with a completely new perspective. Sometimes I still wish I had climbed better, but I know if it never happened I probably wouldn’t be where I am today. Because of this experience, I believe that plateaus are 100% mental and can be overcome with a simple change in mindset. No matter what the situation, ALWAYS stay positive!
Any encouragement or advice you have for speed climbers who feel like they’ve topped out on their time?
Trust me, you haven’t. Set a goal and go for it. It’s much easier to improve when you know what you’re working towards. Just train hard and believe in yourself; I know it sounds cheesy, but everyone says it because it works!
What are the top-3 people, techniques, or things you think helped you achieve your national champion and speed climbing record holder status?
Coaches, a dirty weight vest, and Russians. It’s actually really funny how much time I spend watching videos of Russians speed climb. It’s like Christmas whenever I find a new one.
Was there a turning point in your training when you said “Yeah, I can be a national champion in this sport?” and “My goal is to be a national champion” or were you surprised by your success?
I really started to realize I could do this when I got my first five-second time. I had actually made a bet with Stan where if I could call it in advance, he would give me $100 when I got my first five. It took me a few weeks, but eventually I did it. This might have just seemed like a reward for a lucky guess to others, but to me it was proof that I could do anything I wanted if I would just make a decision to do it. It was an important step my coaches knew I had to take, and I took it, even though I had to be coaxed with money.
What advice would you give a kid looking up to you who wants to follow in your speed climbing footsteps?
Have a good mental game! 90% of speed climbing is mental, and no matter what you do in practice, your performance in competitions will suffer if you don’t have a level-head. Do some mental training in your spare time; it’ll help you 1000x more than pure physical training will. I’ve seen countless other athletes and friends who are plenty strong enough to do well at competitions have performances that suffer due to a bad mental game. Don’t let it happen to you!
Josh Levin has talked in the past about how speed climbing has helped his sport climbing performance. What skills or fitness benefits from speed, if any, have you picked up which cross-over to your sport climbing or bouldering?
It’s unbelievable how much speed climbing helps with other disciplines. I’ve improved my pull strength, lock-off strength, leg strength, and developed a tremendous amount of power. After coming back from training all summer for worlds, I immediately discovered that my sport climbing and bouldering was better than it ever has been. On top of this, I’ve been able to use my experience from high-level speed competitions to help with the mental aspect of competitions in these disciplines as well.
Before a big race, what are you doing to prepare yourself? the week before, the day before, the morning of, the minutes before?
The week before, I try to cut as many simple sugars out of my diet as I can. This includes anything processed, like store-bought juices, candy, canned fruit, etc. Studies have shown that simple sugars significantly delay reaction time, which is essential for speed competitions. I also like to eat carbs the day before, eggs the morning of, and listen to motivating music and speeches minutes before.
How important is mental preparation for competition speed climbing? Do you put everything out of your mind and numb yourself with some heavy metal, or are you mentally rehearsing, or giving your self pep-talks? Do you have a routine you follow to get yourself settled and centered before a big race?
As I said before, I think mental preparation is extremely important. Before competitions, I use a fairly strict routine that consists of a combination of those three; I rehearse during my warmup, use pep-talks after my warmup, and clear my head with some dubstep just before I climb. Everyone I talked to has a different routine, however. I played around with other routines for awhile until I found one that works.
In 2014, who are the three competitors you think will be your biggest challenge when defending your speed crown? Or do you think there’ll be a dark horse?
In my category, Michael Retoff, Brandon Lieuw, and Brendan Mitchell will all be tough competitors. All three of them placed in the top 10 at world’s this year and generally perform extremely well in competitions. There is also Thomas Pitzel in male junior, someone who has a lot of potential for setting a new national record. However, there is always potential for a dark horse. With enough training and determination, anyone could get really good really quickly.
What advice would you give speed climbing coaches on how best to train their athletes? Take a minute to coach the coaches. What things do you like and not like in your speed climbing training?
A lot of the time coaches get too deep into the physical and technical parts of speed climbing. If a climber is having a series of bad runs, it may not always be because they are doing something wrong physically. I’ve noticed a lot of the time that when I am having a bad practice it’s because I let a few bad runs get into my head and affect my attitude. Coaches need to learn how to recognize when an athlete is struggling physically and when an athlete is struggling mentally. Staying closer to the wall or working on your finger strength may not always be the answer.
What coaching tips or techniques have you found to be the most effective in improving your speed climbing performances?
Video analysis has definitely been extremely helpful. Being able to slow down footage to look at imperfections in my technique has probably been more effective than anything else to improve the physical part of my speed climbing. I think every coach should try it; there are hundreds of apps for it and they’re very easy to use.
How have your parents encouraged you in your speed climbing career?
My parent’s support has been unbelievable. They’ve made so many sacrifices for me, and no matter how much easier their lives would be if I didn’t climb, they’re still willing to make those sacrifices. They’ve attended competitions, driven me to the gym, and traveled with me all over the world. I honestly don’t know where I would be without them.
What are you thinking about for college?
I’m actually not sure. I’ve been doing some research, but there are so many options and I haven’t been able to decide on just one yet. However, I’ve been focusing mainly on colleges in the greater Denver and Boston areas, including CU Boulder and Northeastern. Both areas are huge climbing hubs, and I will be able to continue my speed training at both locations. The best I can do for now is keep my grades up so I have lots of choices later!
Any shout-outs you want to give to your coaches, parents, teammates – let ‘er rip:
Thank you to Kyle, Stan, my family, teammates, friends, and everyone else who has helped me throughout my speed climbing career! I’ve been fortunate enough to come across an extremely supportive group of people, and it feels awesome to have them in my life. Also, thank you, Landon, for your huge contribution to the sport of speed climbing. Your dedication to the sport is unprecedented, and I look forward to seeing what you do next! If there is anyone else I forgot, I’m sorry, and thank you so much!