Training and Climbing with Patxi Usobiaga
Overcoming Adversity and Going 'A Muerte'
Posted on Tue 22 Feb 2022 · Climbing Tips
Patxi Usobiaga is a climber who needs little introduction. Former World Champion and first person to onsight 8c+, Patxi is now better known as having coached some of the world’s top athletes: Adam Ondra, Chris Sharma, Sash di Giulian... Despite a severe injury in 2010 which ultimately led to his retirement from competitions, Patxi is still known for one thing: leaving absolutely everything on the wall. His motto - ‘a muerte’ (to death) - is testimony to this.
In anticipation of our upcoming Advanced Sport Climbing Course, we decided to catch up with Patxi and Rockbusters founder (and guide) Jany to find out a bit about what they have learnt over the course of their climbing careers. The takeaway? There is no secret formula to being a successful climber. Commit, train hard, push your limits and you’ll reach your potential. It sounds easy, but I promise you it's not!
The Advanced Sport Climbing course with Patxi Usobiaga is an awesome opportunity to learn from one of the best! © Rockbusters
Hi Patxi, hi Jany! Thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us.
My first few questions are for Patxi. How did you get into rock climbing and when did you realise that this sport would become the number one priority in your life?
I have loved sports pretty much since the time I started walking, whether that’s soccer, running, cycling, swimming or hiking in the mountains… However, when I first tried rock climbing I just found myself endlessly motivated to improve. From the age of 10, even, I started to change my whole life focus to wanting to climb better and harder. I began to focus on small details in my daily life which I could change to allow me to climb the walls I had in mind. This doesn’t mean that I was naturally good at climbing, though - my motivation was stronger than my body. I actually had little strength and struggled a lot with fear! But this changed almost overnight when I turned 13 and started growing, and with this my head and fears evolved in a way that allowed me to climb more freely. I have always been very demanding with myself, and this is what has allowed me to achieve everything I have.
You are known for being an athlete who trains incredibly hard and does everything ‘a muerte’. Have you always been like this? If not, when did you develop this work ethic?
From a very young age I realised that I could achieve my goals by being very disciplined and putting a lot of energy into each project, whatever it was. I think it’s just a facet of my personality: even now, I am always looking to push myself beyond my limits.
Fulfilling your potential in climbing takes time and dedication - but it should also be fun! © Rockbusters
What is your best advice for someone who is relatively new to climbing and psyched to improve as fast as they can?
The most important thing is to enjoy the process. Training and climbing is not always going to be easy, but you can learn to enjoy even the hard moments - yes, that includes injuries! Learn to become a bit masochistic, and you will be rewarded for this in due course.
You had to take a few years off climbing in 2011 following an accident which left you with a severe injury. Do you think this experience changed your attitude towards the sport? Do you have any advice for someone who might have lost his or her passion for climbing for whatever reason?
I did change my life focus for a while after the accident: I had to take the time to reset and learn how to accept myself as I was. I thought I would never be able to train and climb as hard as before, but then I realised that climbing is not based on numbers and letters, but on personal limits. I may no longer have been the Patxi Usobiaga of before - I was Patxi with a handicap, but Patxi who could still continue climbing, enjoy climbing, and seek his limits. If you leave your ego aside, you quickly realise that you can still enjoy climbing with the same intensity even doing something much lower on the difficulty scale. At the end of the day, life and being able to do what you love is a gift.
Climbers practicing balance and visulisation during the Advanced Sport Climbing Course © Rockbusters
Finally, what is your advice for climbers either approaching training for the first time or starting a new training plan?
Climbing and training should be fun. Don’t try to rush the process, but keep in mind the end goal of reaching and pushing your limits. Commit to this goal, work hard, and have fun - this is the key to making sure each training session is effective and pushes you in the right direction. Learn to become more resilient by finding the positive in every hard situation.
No matter what discipline you choose, climbing is a truly amazing sport. There will be ups and downs in your life as a climber, no doubt, but never forget that climbing is fun, hard and demanding - and most importantly, that you have chosen to do it. Good luck!
Thanks Patxi, that’s some great advice!
There will be ups and downs in your life as a climber - but don't forget that climbing is fun, hard and demanding, and above all that you chose it! © Rockbusters
Now Jany, I’m interested to find out how you came up with the idea of co-running climbing trips with pro climbers?
About 15 years ago, I decided to become a full time climbing coach and guide, with the dream of one day starting my own brand and introducing people to climbing the way I like and see it. I eventually moved to Spain and, naturally, devoted a lot of my time travelling and climbing. In the process, I started to meet people who know people, and before I knew it, I was climbing in the same cave as Dani Andrada and eating sushi in Patxi’s van!
I am definitely a dreamer, but I’m also someone who works very hard to make these dreams come true. I now work with Klemen, Patxi, and Daila on a regular basis, and am starting to have conversations with Dave Graham and Alizee Dufraisse about setting up some bouldering and sport climbing courses. I’ve already done two sessions with Adam Ondra and Hazel Findlay… Although things have slowed down with the pandemic, I keep pushing hard to make new projects happen.
Climbing is always easier in the gym than on the rock, but you gain a lot from pushing your limits outdoors © Rockbusters
What aspects of climbing performance do you find clients typically struggle with the most?
I would separate it into two main issues.
The first problem that climbers typically encounter is that their expectations are different from the reality. Climbing is always easier, and - how should I say it - less extreme in the gym than on real rock. Rock climbing usually hurts a lot more, and is WAY more physically and psychologically demanding. I’ve had people crying on my shoulder, I’ve heard people saying that they want to give up, that climbing is not the sport for them… You need to accept that climbing hard isn’t something that comes for free, that you will have to deal with a lot of physical and mental pain and frustration in the process. In the end, the key to success is finding something that motivates you to overcome whatever barrier you are facing in your climbing - whether that’s lack of technique, a weak mind or insufficient physical strength.
Once you overcome this first issue, you tend to progress quite quickly for a while. Then, as you approach your physical limits, progress starts to slow down and you ‘plateau’. Here things get more complicated…
I believe that all climbers can benefit from a bit more physical strength, so you should have a systematic training routine or plan. You’ll probably already have a good base of climbing technique, but there’s always room for improvement, which is where video analysis with a coach or buddies can be helpful. In my eyes, however, the most important thing is working on your head game. No matter how strong you are, no one climbs at 100% of their physical limits, ever. Getting as close as possible to your limits is a mission that takes a lot of commitment and mind control. The aim is to be able to try a climb knowing that you have given it the best shot you possibly can in that moment, and not leaving the crag wishing you had committed a bit more… So yeah, to get past that second plateau you need to develop all aspects of your climbing, but especially the mental side. And remember, if you can’t clip it then skip it (#cantclipitskipit)!
Breaking through a plateau in your climbing performance often requires a multifaceted approach, but improving your head-game is especially important © Rockbusters
Thanks Jany! I totally agree: after a while it becomes more and more difficult to make gains on the physical or technical side. But improving your mental game - well that’s low hanging fruit!
Finally, what can climbers expect to get out of the Advanced Sport Climbing Course?
Most people get a lot out of the course! In a nutshell, it’s a week of world-class climbing with new buddies from around the world. The Advanced Sport Climbing Course is a great opportunity to learn from one another and from the guides, to experience Patxi and Rockbusters’ infectious motivation, and share a really rewarding experience together. Many clients find the course quite eye-opening because they catch a glimpse of their potential - or, at least, they are able to imagine what it’s like to reach their potential after being coached by someone who has reached his physical limits in climbing, twice. A lot of people think that there is a trick to fulfilling your potential, that it doesn’t have to hurt or be mentally demanding, but there’s no special formula, only hard work! This course helps you realise that the impossible is possible, but only if you push yourself to your limits, and beyond…
Dream big and work hard, and you'll soon find you're achieving the impossible © Rockbusters
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If you’d like to meet Patxi and Jany and learn from them first hand, then book onto the Advanced Sport Climbing Course. You’ll spend a week with Jany and Patxi in Oliana, learning what it means to push your limits, train to your max and go ‘a muerte’! You’ll also get a free one-month training plan designed by Patxi, with the option for long-term follow up.
Cover picture: Patxi Usobiaga climbing in Oliana, Spain © Rockbusters