May 19, 2017

Sierra Blair-Coyle

(info about Sierra Blair-Coyle)

Passion, dedication and hard training

Thomas Kieller

Photo – Copyright Jackie Sterna

Sierra Blair-Coyle: Upside down.

With a smooth and intuitive way of climbing, Sierra attacks boulder problems on the challenging World Cup events of the International Federation of Sport Climbing (IFSC). When facing a tough situation, she does not hesitate to improvise quickly. Her creativity has helped her numerous times to figure how to do the next move. On the wall, she tries to find her way in the most efficient manner using at her advantage her flexibility and her height. She does not lack determination. While training and competing as a professional rock climber, the American graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in marketing. Besides, she is really focused on improvising herself physically and concerning the technical aspect of rock climbing. Obviously, Sierra’s goals and passion will lead her to the top.

The phone-interview took place on May 9, 2017 at 10:00 when Sierra was in Scottsdale, United States.

Physical training of a rock climber

Thomas Kieller: What kind of exercises do you do for improving your upper body strength and for your legs?

Sierra Blair-Coyle: Climbing in itself is obviously a very good full body workout. Your upper body works more when you climb overhanging and your legs work more on vertical or slab climbs. It’s interesting because whenever I climb pretty hard on the slab my legs will be sore the next day. I’m not very used to it. For whatever reason, I haven’t been climbing slab very much lately.

Of the wall, it’s definitely the standard typical exercises everyone does like pull-ups, push-ups, ring archers, squats, jump squats, lunges, burpees, etc. I do all those things. Sometimes, I do an exercise on an up-side down ladder at 35o degrees where I climb without my feet. That really helps my upper body strength.

Thomas: I just want to know, rock climbing is it more about the upper body or the legs?

Sierra: Well, you have to work everything. But by nature, rock climbing is a little bit more about the upper body. However, you need to have a very strong overall body. It makes everything easier.

Thomas: And what do you do for your grip?

Sierra: I do a lot of exercises just using rubber bands to work the opposing muscles in my hands. It’s very good for climbing and also you can avoid injuries this way.

Thomas: During a boulder competition, we can see many manoeuvres which required great flexibility. Do you work this facet a lot or is it just natural for you?

Sierra: Luckily, I’m pretty naturally flexible but I do stretch every day.

Thomas: You can be on the wall for a while, what do you do for your muscular endurance and also for your cardio-respiratory system?

Sierra: I don’t do much cardio. However, when I do it, I do high-intensity interval training (HIIT). But as far as endurance required on the wall, I will do a lot of power endurance exercises. For this matter, my go to exercise is called the four by five. There are different variations but basically what I will try to do is to climb one boulder problem four times in four minutes. Then, I take a four minute rest. I repeat this on five different boulder problems. It definitely helps my endurance.

Thomas: I see that you push yourself on the muscular endurance. Cardio is it not quite required in boulder competition?

Sierra: I think it’s depends on the way that you are climbing that day. If you are climbing a lot, it can become cardio. However, if during the competition you are falling a lot and you are only getting the first move on each boulder problem, then you will probably not feel taxed cardio wise. But if you are getting far in each of them, you will probably feel it. It really depends on how you are doing. If you are doing it on the first try, then it’s cool because you can rest for ten minutes. So really, it just depends on the round.

Thomas: Right now, what do you want to improve concerning your physical conditioning and about the technical aspects of rock climbing?

Sierra: Concerning the physical conditioning, I definitely need stronger shoulders. I have been working on that but definitely I have to hit it hard. I have some really good ideas on what to do. For the technical aspect, I figured out that I’m not very good at standing up on a low angle wall. I’m going work on that. It became clear for me after my recent competition in Tokyo, Japan.

Thomas: You have an impressive rock climbing room in your home with a lot of equipment that you can use. Does it make it easier for your training?

Sierra: It definitely helps. The best part of it is that I’m in control of what is on the wall. In a regular rock climbing gym, I don’t have control of that. So, at home, I can focus on what I need to improve. This is really helpful.

Thomas: Rock climbing is definitely a complete sport. You are a world cup competitor since 2010. Did you see an improvement in physical conditioning concerning the girls who take part in those events?

Sierra: Oh yeah! Everyone is getting so much better. In my case, I feel that I have improved if I compared myself to a few years ago. Really everyone is getting better. The level is getting raised continually. It seems that every year I have to train more and more, keep up and keep improving.

Desire to surpass oneself

Thomas: When you were younger, did you have a rock climber as a role model and why that person inspired you?

Sierra: Honestly, there was no one as a rock climber. I think I was influenced by the people around me and by the climbing community which is big in Arizona, United States. I was always chasing the strong climbers and it helped me to be the best I can be. So, I guess in a way, I was just trying to keep up.

Thomas: During a boulder competition, what is the attitude you have to adopt when facing a problem?

Sierra: For me, I just try to look at it, figure out what I want to do, get on it and try to do it on my first attempt. I’m always saying if you can do it, you should be able to do it on your first try. You have such a short time to figure out. So, I focus on getting it done as quickly as possible.

Thomas: In order to face the problem, do you step back a bit or you go right for it. What is the best way for you to attack the problem?

Sierra: Well, it’s a mix of the two. Yes, you have to look at it to be sure you are not missing anything but you don’t want to give up too much time. I think I’m trying to look at it well but quickly.

Thomas: In rock climbing, you can easily be out of your comfort zone. How do you manage to be back into it quickly?

Sierra: I think I want to adapt to the situation. It’s not always easy to be out of your comfort zone. It’s better to attack it rather than sit there and worry about it. It’s always what I try to do. If I’m having a hard time, let’s go through it and learn from it.

Passion for rock climbing

Thomas: I know that in competitive rock climbing, you have to perform. That’s the main goal! Is there a place to express yourself in your own way of climbing?

Sierra: I believe that first it’s about performance. Everyone has their things which they are good at it and what they prefer to do. But it’s mainly performance.

Thomas: You can express more yourself when you are rock climbing outside, on your own terms…

Sierra: Yes, I think it’s easier but still I’m able to do it a little bit in competition. It’s definitely easier to express yourself when you are not in competition.

Thomas: What do you like so much about climbing a boulder, a cliff, a cave or a wall?

Sierra: It’s super fun. I like the feeling to get to the top especially when it was challenging for me. I really think it’s about that... It comes down to be able to accomplish a goal and that makes you feel great!

Thomas: To go outside facing a cliff or a big rock with some friends, is it something that makes you truly happy?

Sierra: Yes, it’s definitely more relaxing and it’s just fun to be with friends. Everybody is climbing. There is always a good story that comes out from a trip. I’m always enjoying days like that. Also, there are a lot of things which will happen and, of course, we are having an awesome time.

Thomas: Thanks Sierra for your input in rock climbing.

Sierra: Thank you so much.