How Galina Parfenov Combines Professional Climbing and Powerlifting

Climber Galina Parfenov

My name is Galina Parfenov and I’m a personal trainer and professional climber. I’m currently the head trainer at Steep Rock, a new climbing gym in New York City. I also have my own coaching business, Galina Parfenov Training, and work one-on-one with climbers and powerlifters.

I’m originally from Moscow, but have lived in Connecticut for most of my life. I spent three years in Colorado for college, then moved back east to be closer to my family. I’m definitely more of an introvert, even though I love working with clients. Actually, I’m pretty sure that in elementary school I didn’t talk up until fourth grade.

Climber Galina Parfenov
Photo credit: Esther Dionisio

How and why did you get into climbing?

I was always super active as a kid, doing everything from gymnastics to karate. After I quit karate, I was in a bit of a rut, and didn’t really know what to do with myself. I was never interested in ball sports, gymnastics days had passed, track and cross country seemed dreadful, and the trampoline gym was too far away. I was still playing violin and painting, but I desperately needed a new sport.

Then one day in seventh grade, my art teacher, who I had known for over a decade, randomly invited me to go out climbing with her. She’d been into hiking for most of her life, but had recently ventured more into the climbing and mountaineering side. I jumped at the opportunity — climbing just seemed like the perfect new sport, especially coming from a gymnastics background. We went to Pinnacle, a small crag in Connecticut, where Natasha gave me shoes, chalk, and a harness, and put me on my first top-rope climb. I knew as soon as my feet left the ground that I was going to do this for a long, long time. That same night I found a small gym in New Haven, about 15 minutes from my house, and signed up for the youth team.

Why is climbing important for you?

When I started climbing, I was hooked instantly, but I never could have predicted just how much it would shape the course of my life. Climbing gave me a community in which I felt completely comfortable, where I could talk to anyone about basically anything. I met some of my best friends and biggest mentors through climbing gyms, climbing trips, and social networks.

I went to college in Colorado in large part because of the climbing. My spring breaks were spent at climbing crags, not Miami beaches. I spent most of my college life in and out of chemistry labs, yet the only places I’ve worked at since then are gyms. I started my own coaching business geared specifically towards climbers and I’m currently working full-time for Steep Rock. Climbing has pretty much had an impact on every aspect of my life.

Climber Galina Parfenov
Photo credit: Taylor Scicchitano

How do you train and become better at climbing?

Besides mentors and role models at the gym, I never really had a coach, for climbing or powerlifting. When I first started climbing, I didn’t know much about training, other than what we had learned at gymnastics, and most of my free time was spent scavenging the internet for new exercises, programs, and protocols. Unfortunately, there was not very much climbing-specific research or literature, and what little was out there was trial-and-error based, with no real scientific basis.

Although, climbing is still a relatively new sport, training protocols have come a long way thanks to people like Eva López and Mark and Mike Anderson. I’ve also grown a lot as a climber and a coach, and my training has become much more organized and methodical. I used to be that climber who did hundreds of pull-ups each week, campused for 2-3 hours at a time, and took absolutely no rest days.

Now my training cycles between powerlifting and climbing phases, depending on what I’m more psyched on. All my programs, both climbing and lifting, are based on weightlifting and powerlifting protocols that have been around for decades, and have been proven to be effective. Any program I give to a client is one I’ve tested out on myself. Right now, I’m transitioning from a lifting phase to a climbing phase, and starting to incorporate some finger and climbing-specific upper body workouts. The idea is to run the climbing phase through the fall, then go into a full-fledged powerlifting program in the winter, when conditions are not as good for climbing.

Climber Galina Parfenov
Photo credit: Kevin Duong

What are the hardest parts of climbing?

I think for me, the hardest part of climbing is the mental. If I’m lagging in some area physically, I’ll write up a plan and get myself up to par. With the mental aspect, it’s a bit less straightforward, especially when it comes to keeping a cool head during hard outdoor climbs and competitions.

Over the past few years, I’ve found that listening to music and focusing on breathing helps a lot. Earlier this summer, when I was working on my hardest climb to date, I’d prop a small portable speaker on a tree and blast Lady Gaga’s “Joanne” on repeat during every session. I ended up doing the climb while listening to “Just Another Day.” Lady Gaga is one of my all-time favorite artists and the song just had such a calming effect and completely shifted my mindset from being very negative and doubtful to just being in the moment, feeling the sunshine on my skin, and taking the climb one move at a time.

How do you prepare for events/races?

I haven’t competed in a while, mainly because I got really burnt out on it as a teenager. But if I do go back to it, I’ll use a more climbing-specific periodized program to peak for a big competition. Same goes for a difficult outdoor route– I’ll cut back on the lifting, up the finger training, and taper the week before. In general, if you’re interested in learning how to structure a training program, I’d check out more powerlifting-specific literature, such as Rippetoe’s Starting Strength and Practical Programming, Tuchscherer’s RTS Manual, and Tudor’s Periodization.

Climber Galina Parfenov
Photo credit: Mike Bowsher

How do you eat and sleep?

I don’t really have a specific diet, but I do like to go through phases where I track macros. Macro tracking, or flexible dieting, involves trying to eat a certain quantity of fats, carbohydrates, and protein each day. In other words, it doesn’t matter what you eat, as long as you hit your numbers.

Generally, I try to get 50% of my nutrients from carbs, 25-30% from protein (at least one gram per pound of bodyweight), and 20-25% from fats. As an active person you want to have a fairly high-carb diet, which is something I see a lot of climbers try to limit. Tracking doesn’t take much effort once you’re used to it, and is a very effective and sustainable method of optimizing performance. That being said, I’m not super strict with it, especially on weekends when I’m eating out. When I’m on vacation I just like to have a good time not worry about what I’m eating, especially since I’m generally not training while traveling.

I don’t do much for supplements, other than protein powder, branch chain amino acids when I have extra spending money, and preworkout if I have an early workout and need a little boost. I haven’t used creatine personally, but I’m definitely a proponent of using it to build strength during the off-season. Other than climbing and lifting, I love hiking, swimming at our local waterhole, and just being outside and walking around and listening to music and podcasts. Regarding sleep, I just aim for 8-9 hours per night and wear earplugs because New York isn’t exactly the quietest place.

Climber Galina Parfenov
Photo credit: Andy Lu

How do you handle injuries and recovery?

Injuries are the worst and when I can’t workout I’m pretty miserable. But it’s definitely possible to work around injuries. If you have a finger or shoulder tweak, you can squat and do more lower-body focused movements, and if you have a lower body tweak, you can hangboard and do pull-ups and presses. It still sucks but it’s better than completely giving up on everything. I don’t have any chronic or recurring injuries, mainly because I make an active effort to work on weak points. But I’ve had everything from pulley strains to rotator cuff strains and even a partial hamstring tear. That being said, most of these occurred when I wasn’t really doing any mobility work or taking any preventative measures.

Ever since I got a warm-up routine in place and started being a bit smarter with my training, I’ve found myself pretty much injury-free, knock on wood. Recovery really depends on the type of injury. For instance, for pulley injuries, there’s really not much you can do, other than rest and ice. The hamstring was slightly more involved because after a couple weeks I was able to do more active rehabilitation, such as walking around, flossing, foam-rolling, and stretching. There’s no magic formula for a quick recovery, but sleeping enough and eating more always helps.

Climber Galina Parfenov
Photo credit: Mike Bowsher

What is your best advice people new to climbing?

Just climb! Go into the gym and talk to and learn from other climbers. Climbers are just about the friendliest people around and the vibes at climbing gyms are completely unlike normal fitness gyms, where everyone just zones out with their Boses and Apple earbuds. There’s no need to do any type of training other than maybe some band and barbell work for injury prevention and general strength. Trying to do climbing-specific training right away will just lead to injuries.

Also, try to get outside. Gym climbing is great for training and conducive to gymnastic movement, but it is just a training tool. I’ve worked with kids before who were crazy strong yet had never climbed outside. It’s honestly the best and will take you incredible places with incredible people.

Best advice for people who have been climbing for years?

The number one rule of training is that if you keep doing the same thing, then you’re going to stay at the same level. In other words, if you’ve plateaued, it’s probably time to switch things up. I used to go into the gym and do the same campus routine three times a week, and made essentially no progress over the course of months. Now I make sure to progressively overload (whether that means adding weight to my deadlifts or doing a harder climb on my four-by-fours) every workout.

Also, limit bouldering! Limit bouldering is exactly what it sounds like — doing small links of difficult moves that are at your limit. Without limit bouldering, it’s pretty difficult, if not impossible, to increase your climbing level. I see a lot of climbers focus on endurance rather than difficulty, which completely misses the point. Endurance is good for building a base and allows you to do longer link-ups, however it will not increase your ability to climb hard.

Climber Galina Parfenov
Photo credit: Masha Parfenov

How do you balance normal life with climbing?

Hard to say, since my normal life IS climbing. I work at a climbing gym, most of my friends and social circles consist of climbers, and even my free time usually involves some form of lifting or climbing. That being said, I try to avoid the climbing gym on weekends and go hiking and spend time with family instead, and most of my vacations are non-climbing ones. It’s super important to me to keep this balance because in college my life was 100% climbing, and everything else (except maybe school and grades) was secondary. I’d wake up at 5:00 am every day to go to the early bird open climb at City Rock, then I’d go home, cook breakfast, go to class, study, eat dinner, and go to sleep around 9:00 or 10:00. On weekends, I’d go climb outside with my gym friends. No boys, school events, non-climbing trips, non-climbing friends, wild nights out. Nothing fun really, because all I cared about was how hard I could climb, and my entire happiness depended entirely on how good I felt on the wall that day.

I realized at one point that I was putting barely any effort into actual important things, like relationships with friends and family, and that even climbing was bringing me more stress than joy. That’s when I decided to take a step back and, for the first time in nearly ten years, take a clean break from the sport. I started focusing on lifting instead, started going out more, and really just lived life and stopped being so performance-centered. This happened in the second half of senior year and it was by far the most fun I had in college, and made me wish I had just one more year to do things differently. I ended up barely climbing for three months the summer following my senior year. And when I came back into it, I had a completely different perspective. I didn’t feel like I had to climb and perform to a certain standard, and I found myself itching to get on the wall again, the same feeling I had that first day at Pinnacle Rock, but had lost somewhere along the way.

Three years later, I’m happy to say I’m climbing the hardest I’ve climbed to date, spending most of my free time with my family, living life as much as possible, and still itching to get on the wall.

What kind of climbing shoes and clothes do you use?

I recently decided to venture out a bit and try the Scarpa Instinct VSRs. It took me a good ten minutes to get them on my feet (perks of buying the smallest shoes possible), but as soon as I did, I knew it was going to be an amazing shoe and that I really should have tried them years ago.

As for clothes, I don’t really have anything specific that I wear, although I do have at least a dozen pairs of Under Armour compression shorts. I’ve also been designing my own clothing for the past couple years, so I usually just like to wear that. I just came out with a “Deadpoints & Deadlifts” design, catered towards my friends and clients who climb and lift.

Climber Galina Parfenov
Photo credit: Esther Dionisio

How do you bring things with you?

I use my Organic Roll Down Pack pretty much everywhere I go. The nice thing about these is they never run out of room because you can adjust how much you roll down the top. Also Organic makes their packs out of the same material as their climbing pads, meaning they’re basically indestructible.

What has been your best sport purchase below $100?

My number one purchase in the past year is definitely Voodoo Floss. I first found out about the product through a powerlifting buddy who had recently gotten into climbing. Voodoo Floss is essentially a long resistance band that you wrap very tightly around an appendage in order to restrict blood flow to one area and channel it to another. You keep the floss on for 60 to 90 seconds and run through a series of stretches. The idea is that by increasing blood flow to an affected area, you are able to intensify the stretch and break down scar tissue. I’ve used the floss for everything from rotator cuffs strains to partial hamstring tears, and I’ve even heard of some climbers cutting out small strips and using it on their fingers. After using the floss just one time, you immediately experience an increase in range of motion and mobility, hence the name Voodoo Floss. I’ve also used it on all of my clients, and every one has been shocked by how well it works.

What other favorite gear do you have?

I absolutely love my Metolius quickdraws. I call them my baby draws because they’re so small. A lot of my guy friends hate them because their fingers are too thick to use the tiny carabiner gates, but they fit my hands perfectly. Unlike other types of draws, they weigh virtually nothing, and you barely notice them on your harness when you’re climbing, even when you’re carrying 20+ draws.

Climber Galina Parfenov
Photo credit: Mike Bowsher

What will the future bring?

In terms of climbing, there are certain benchmarks I’d like to hit, such as climbing 5.14 on rope and V13 bouldering. There are also a bunch of places I’d like to go, such as Spain and Kalymnos. For lifting, I would love to hit a 400-pound deadlift once my hamstring is fully healed, and maybe a 200-pound bench someday. But I’m also at this point in my life where I’m super career-focused, and I really just want to grow myself as a coach and trainer.

My goal is to open a powerlifting gym in the next two years, probably in New York, because it’s pretty badass to own a gym in New York. And once that has taken off, I want to live out of my car and travel the country for a few months, or maybe even a year…you know, the typical climber dream.

Sports I’d like to try…I’m not sure if this really qualifies as a sport, but I would absolutely love to go paragliding. And maybe get more into surfing and parkour, and finally get that first ollie on a skateboard. And an iron cross on rings, that’d be pretty freakin’ cool.

Follow Galina Parfenov on her website and Facebook

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