Pro Tips: Climber Sam Elias on Nutrition, Training, and Overcoming Pain

The upstart climbing phenomenon reveals the secrets to his success

sam elias training nutrition meditation acupuncture thera cane

    Photo: Benjamin Rasmussen

Vitals

Age: 30
Height: 5'9"
Weight: 135lbs
Boulder, Colorado

Though he didn’t seriously take up the sport until 2005, when he was 22, Elias is fast becoming the most complete climber on the planet. Really fast. By 2006, he was redpointing several 5.14a’s in Red River Gorge and Rifle, Colorado. In 2007, he started ice climbing, eventually taking second place in the prestigious Ouray Ice Festival’s mixed-climbing competition in 2010. And last May, though he’d never climbed higher than 13,000 feet, he summited Everest via the technical and treacherous southeast ridge. He credits his rapid rise to punishing workouts and smart nutrition.

TAKING IT EASY: “I used to have real problems with overtraining, and it caused elbow issues. Now, if I start to feel like I don’t want to be in the gym anymore, either physically or mentally, I just take my shoes off and leave.”

THE JOY OF MOVEMENT: “Amateur climbers rely too much on strength. That forces them into rigid body positions. The best thing you can do is scale down to a less difficult wall and learn to move better.”

PAIN IS AN ILLUSION: “I don’t use painkillers. I’ve hurt myself taking them in the past. They masked the pain I was having, causing me to go back out and badly injure my middle finger without even feeling it.”

NEEDLEPOINT: “I do acupuncture. I don’t know why it works, but it does.”

MIX AND MATCH: “Two or three days a week I do these intense hybrid climbing and CrossFit-inspired workouts. For instance, I’ll do three to four sets of squats, bent-over rows, hang cleans, and overhead presses, then go do figure-fours across the wall for half an hour. It toughens me from head to toe.”

USE A CANE: “Every athlete should own a Thera Cane. It’s a self-massage tool that looks like a candy cane with little bars coming out of it. That thing has gotten me through serious tweaks and pains.”

THE MIND'S I: “I try to meditate every day. I sit for 10 or 15 minutes in the morning when I wake up. I try to calm myself. It helps me focus and let go of the things I have no control over.”

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