Perched on a rock face hundreds of feet above the ground, only a thin rope ready to catch her if she falls, pro climber Alex “AJ” Johnson contemplates her next move. It’s a situation that would send an average person into panic mode, but a quick glance at the Fitbit Surge on her wrist shows AJ’s heart rate is holding steady. “What can I say? I’m a badass,” she jokes later during a phone call.
That confident attitude is a far cry from the shy, self-proclaimed lazy girl who first approached the sport. “I was talented and there weren’t many women competing when I was starting out,” says AJ, 26, “so I was able to get by on little training for a long time.” AJ won several gold and silver World Cup medals (2008 through 2010), but as the sport’s popularity grew and attracted more competitors, she lost her grip on the winners’ podium. “I started losing,” says AJ, “and I knew I needed to step up my game if I wanted to hang on.”
“Climbing is a slow sport—really slow,” says AJ. “You have to think about every move before you make it. If you place your fingers in a hole that’s a little off, you’re done.” That precision comes naturally to AJ, but in order to place in competitions improving her aerobic stamina, agility, and speed was essential.
Lately, AJ has been devoting nearly all of her time to climbing and cross training. “I’m taking a big risk right now, holding off going to college, focussing on my climbing career,” says AJ. “But it’s what my heart is telling me to do, and I’m super lucky to have the support of my family—they want me to do what I love.”
AJ’s hard work and heart are paying off. She’s dominating competitions again, recently displaying her strength, resilience, and sense of humor at the Psicobloc Masters Series in Park City, UT. And she’s more committed to cross training than ever as she sets her sights on winter, when the climbing season heats up again. “This summer is all about being in the best shape possible and having fun,” says AJ.
AJ is also spending the summer getting her transportation ready for competition. “I’m having solar panels installed on my trailer to make living on the road a little nicer,” says AJ. “Climbers are part of a dirtbag community—we live out of our cars and camp during the on season. But my trailer is cute—it’s clean, I have running water, a refrigerator, and dry shampoo. It’s so much better than sleeping in a car.” Upgrades all around for AJ!
AJ’s confidence-building secrets and training strategies can work for you, too.
Trust in Your Training
“Before an event, I’ll go in the bathroom and give myself a pep talk. Even when the competition is fierce, I remind myself that I’m ready, that I’ve put in the work, and I’ll say, ‘You’re cool. You’ve got this!’ When you tell yourself you’re a badass, over and over again, it starts to sink in and you buy into it. That’s my life mantra—telling yourself that you’re good at what you do goes a really long way.”
Be Flexible with Your Fitness Plan
“My training routine it totally feeling based. When I tell people this they laugh, but it’s the truth. If I feel terrible, mentally or physically, I’ll still make myself start a workout. But, if after 15 minutes I realize I simply can’t push through, I stop and do something else. Having a crappy workout doesn’t help my confidence, so if the climbing isn’t going well for me, I’lI quit the wall and go for a run instead. That way I’ll never have a ‘waste day,’ only good days, and that definitely helps the ego.”
Get Lost in the Data
I use my Fitbit Surge to track how many miles I run, and where I went with the GPS function. And it’s handy when doing long multi-pitch climbs, too. I can see my elevation gains, and pinpoint where I am in the world—a little dot hundreds of feet up on a rock face. When I get home from a long day of climbing or training, I sync with my phone and nerd out over the statistics. Was my run time faster? Did I go farther? How many vertical feet did I actually climb? Seeing my progress in the numbers helps me nail my goals!”
Focus On Your Heart
“I track and log all of my cross-training workouts. I like seeing the difference in heart rate and calories burned during slow-twitch exercises, like yoga or weight-lifting for example, compared to cardio, like running or biking. Seeing the graphs of my heart rate opens up entirely new doors for goals—like trying to lower my heart rate during breaks between exercises, or staying in a target heart rate zone during a run to improve my endurance.”
Build Up Your Body, Too
“On a heavy training day, I’ll do three workouts: cardio in the morning—either a gorgeous desert trail run or a long bike ride, climbing drills in the afternoon, and then I’ll hit a popular local gym in the evening for strength training—weighted pull-ups, and one-arm pulls. It’s pretty entertaining to watch all these huge, muscular guys’ eyes bulge when I rip off 75-pound pull-ups.”
Feeling inspired? How are you using Fitbit to track your cross-training goals? Tell us in the comments!
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.