Train Like a Pro: Q & A with Magnus Midtbo
After 10 years of being the Norwegian climbing champ and blasting through 9b, Magnus Midtbo is still hungry for more. Magnus sits down with Sublime Climbing to discuss everything from how he learned to crank out endless one-arm pull ups and his scariest climbing moments to what’s next for him.
photo credit: MadSkillzMedia
Almost every climber has seen your Youtube video, where it looks like you turn off gravity on the campus board, what are some beginner exercises you started with to help develop that crazy strength?
Upper arm strength always came easy to me. I started doing one arm lock offs, working my way up to being able to do a one arm pull up. That was my first goal. After being able to do a one arm, I started focusing more on dynamic strength, such as double dynos on biggest holds on my campus board. I always felt my fingers would get sore before the rest of my body on a normal climbing session, so I used whatever energy I had left to train my upper arms and body. I liked the weightless feeling it gave me. But we are all different in that way. For some it might be the opposite, with their body getting sore before the fingers. As long as you train your weaknesses I don’t see anything wrong in improving your strengths as well. In reality I just did whatever motivated me.
photo credit: Henning Wang
You’re synonymous with intensely powerful climbing, but climbing harder routes requires so much more than just muscle. How did you develop analysis and problem solving skills for climbing?
Problem solving is not something I spend much time on, even though I probably should. Whenever there are new problems at my gym, I go through them and give a good flash burn. The best training for problem solving for me is going to a new gym trying new routes and boulders.
Which are you more proud of, your mental skills or your athletic skills and which do you think is harder to keep up?
My athletic skills. My only real mental skill is that I’m stubborn. Not necessarily a good thing in every-day life, but a good quality in sports, which I guess has been important for me to be able to develop my athletic skills.
How much time do you spend at the gym per day/week?
This is the hardest part. When people ask me how I train, I have a hard time coming up with a good answer. The truth is I mostly do what I feel like. People want a formula, though I don’t think one exists. If there is anything I have learned, it’s how all the top climbers train so differently. Which is one of the things I love about climbing. You need to find your way. The only thing I feel the top climbers all have in common is the motivation for climbing and being true to themselves and their goals.
I will try to explain my training though. Some weeks I don’t spend any time in the gym. It all depends on what I’m training for. What works best for me is doing hard periods of gym climbing with rock climbing in between. I usually do 10 days of gym climbing. More than that I would just get too sore and mentally tired for it to have any effect. During those 10 days of gym climbing I climb almost every day. Maybe only one rest day. Around 4 hours in the gym every day. As well as a small session at home on my crash pad, doing sit-ups, push-ups etc. There is really not a whole lot of planning behind my training. I mix it up often and I’m not afraid to try new things.
What do you think has been your greatest development enabling you to consistently climb at such a high level?
What is most important for me in order to improve, is staying motivated. I’ve learned not to force motivation. If I’m not motivated there is not really any point to me going climbing. Whenever I’m not psyched I should just do something else. A couple of times I have forced it, knowing I wasn’t psyched, but still went climbing just because I felt I had to. That's when I have had my lowest lows.
photo credit: Henning Wang
What is your Achilles's-heel in climbing?
Technical climbing on small holds, where you are not able to cut your feet.
What’s your scariest climbing moment?
Have not had a whole lot of scary moments. A couple of trad climbs have been scary enough. Masters Edge in Peak District felt pretty scary since it was my first time trying something hard not on bolts. But the scariest I think will have to be a 7a onsight I did in Sweden. Also trad. From the ground it looked like the crux would be in the beginning, but I was wrong. After 10 meters of irreversible climbing and no placements for protection I got to the crux really shaky. A sketchy technical granite crux. There was no way I was gonna jump 10 meters with only one crash pad surrounded by sharp rocks. Luckily I kept it together, climbed to the top and got away in one piece. I really like the thrill of trad climbing and hope to do more of it in the future!
What climbing projects have you been working on?
I spend every winter/spring in Spain. Every year there are new projects, except one route that has been breaking me for a couple of years now. Neanderthal in Santa Linya. When I first started trying it I did not think it would be any different. I thought I had gone through the redpoint process enough times to tell roughly how long a route would take me after going through it the first time. But this one had me fooled.
photo credit: Dan Morris
What has prevented you from getting them?
I could probably write a book about that - A long and whiny book that no one would ever want to read. But I will try to keep it short and light. My main frustration was with the conditions. It seemed that whenever I was psyched and fit, the route would be wet. After falling of the crux more than 30 times, it turned into an obsession. It was all about doing it and not so much the journey - The different journey every route takes you on and you should learn from.
I put everything on hold to do Neanderthal. I rested whenever the route was wet, which was pretty often. The whole cave could be dry, except that one spot on Neanderthal where all the water would seep out of. Waiting for good conditions made me weak, but I would not go anywhere else until I had done the route. It was just a bad circle. This year I went through the route once and realized I had no motivation to spend yet another season on it. So I decided to leave it for now and try other routes instead. So for I don’t regret that decision one bit. I have had tons of fun doing other routes and feel I have gained so much motivation!
What's your motivation?
Improving motivates me, but the better you get, the harder it is to improve. One step back two steps forward is how it feel like. Sometimes maybe even two steps back. It’s hard to measure progression, but whenever I do a new route that used to feel really hard I feel like I have improved and it gives me a whole lot of new motivation. That is probably why I had such a hard time on Neanderthal. I felt no progression for such a long time.
I’m also motivated by many other climbers. Whenever I need a quick fix of motivation I click into someones blog, or see a film on youtube. I prefer watching shorter films on youtube and Vimeo, because I feel they are more genuine most of the time.
What training have you been working on for Neanderthal?
I’m not a huge believer of specific training in the gym for outdoor projects. I would just go to Spain as fit as I could. Doing more boulder training in the gym before I left since I loose that climbing long pumpy routes in Spain. The specific training for the routes I do on the routes. Linking as much as possible until I send.
You've had a lot of fantastic moments, what do you feel is your greatest moment?
Exactly 10 years ago, in 2005 I felt like I had a breakthrough. After becoming World Youth Champion, doing my first 8c and World Cup finals, I decided to really go for it and see how far I could take my climbing. The moment I took that decision was the greatest!
photo credit: Henning Wang
What's your greatest disappointment?
There has been a lot of disappointments, but not really one that sticks out. I have had seasons where nothing felt right. Whenever I was psyched and ready to climb hard I would just get sick and had to start from scratch again. It affects the motivation, and is just a bad spiral that is hard to get out of.
As you mature in the sport what lessons do you want to leave with those who are just starting?
As cheesy as it might sound I would advise them to follow their heart and do what motivates them. Not get caught up in improving by numbers, but improving as a climber. Stay hungry and never be satisfied for too long.
What has climbing taught you?
Physically climbing has taught me how adaptable the human body is. How something that feels impossible all of a sudden goes. On a deeper level I guess climbing has made me more reflected and structured.
What’s next for you in climbing?
Climbing is a rapidly growing sport on a global scale, and Norway is no exception. In Oslo where I live the demand has outgrown the supply. A couple of years ago we started talking about creating a big enough gym in Oslo, for everyone. Frictionwalls is a company I have worked with since I was a little kid. We have put up new gyms all over Norway. All of them are doing great. So we thought, why not make a gym of our own - the biggest one! Back then it was far fetched, but we slowly started working on it. Looking for a suited location. Last fall we found it. It felt like now or never. So we decided it was gone be now. Along the way, we have involved more people who we think can benefit the project. You can see a few pictures on my facebook feed.
I can’t wait for this gym to open. Not only will it be great for me to train in, it will be good to be a part of something bigger working together with some of my best friends towards the same goal; offering the best climbing for everyone from beginners to pros.
photo credit: Norrona
Magnus is currently Sponsored by Norrona, Petzl, Beal, Five-Ten, FrictionWalls.com, Tyrili Klatring, Varri, and Norges Klatreforbund