Scottish Climber Robbie Phillips Shares How He Trains and Becomes a Better Climber

Climber Robbie Philips
Photo credit: Euan Ryan

Hey guys, my name is Robbie Phillips and I’m a climber from Edinburgh, Scotland. To be honest, I reside anywhere my White Ford Transit is parked – this is my home on the road. At the moment, it’s parked below the Tre Cime di Lavaredo in the Dolomites (Northern Italy) as I’ve just been climbing here the last week, but today I’ll pack up and drive off to Magic Wood in Switzerland.

I’ve been lucky enough to be able to create a career out of climbing. When I left school, I went to work in a climbing wall (Edinburgh International Climbing Arena) as an instructor, which was where I learned the skills to coach and routeset (make the climbs for competition and commercial use). I eventually became the Head Scottish Team coach and a member of the GB coaching team, working mainly with young climbers under the age of 18 who wanted to climb and compete at both National and International level.

I’ve since moved on from coaching competition climbers and these days I work with my sponsors Patagonia (Clothing), Edelrid (Gear), Scarpa (Shoes), Edinburgh International Climbing Arena (The Worlds Largest Climbing Centre) and Clifbar (Nutritious Bars). I also write regularly for Climbing and Outdoor magazines as well as public and motivational speaking for businesses, schools, events and my own lecture series.

Climber Robbie Philips

How and why did you get into climbing?

My mum took me to a climbing wall when I was quite young, which I absolutely loved, but somehow I forgot about it and we never really went back much. It wasn’t until I was much older (15) when I was doing the Duke of Edinburgh award at school that I got re-introduced to climbing. I can actually remember the moment I saw “Climbing” as a potential sport to do and I thought “yeah… climbing! I loved that! I should go do that!”

It was pretty exponential from there… I started every Friday; then every Tuesday and Friday; then it was Wednesdays as well; then both days on a weekend!

I’d done Rugby and Tennis for a long time, but I wasn’t passionate about them, I just did them. I think I was more passionate about going out into the hills near my house with my friends and playing gigantic games of Hide and Seek, which lasted all day into the night!

I think at heart I am a really adventurous spirit. I spent nearly everyday with my Grandad until he died when I was 15 – he was a huge inspiration to me. A Chief Engineer of oil tankers, he travelled the world and told me stories of his life living on ships, seeing strange new places and spending months and years of his life away from home. I wouldn’t say this part I enjoy, but it’s necessary, and to some extent I think it does mean you appreciate your friends and family back home even more!

Indeed when my Grandad died I didn’t really know what to do with myself. I’d only just found climbing and I think immersing myself in that helped me to cope for a while until I had come to terms with everything.

Climber Robbie Philips

Why is climbing important for you?

I’ve made climbing my life so its probably as important to me as food or breathing. A day without climbing feels empty. Some say I put all my eggs in one basket, but if you love something, why not? Over the years, climbing has been a teacher to me. It taught me lessons in patience and humility. It also taught me that life is precious… What I do is really dangerous and that when I go out climbing, there is a very real possibility that I could severely injure myself or even not come back. Sounds pretty gruesome, but with this possibility, it really does make you appreciate that the only thing that really matters in life is your day to day happiness and of course the happiness of those around you. I live a very simple existence; not as simple as some, but I’m always working on making mine simpler and easier as time goes by, for me this is the best way to live.

Climber Robbie Philips

How do you train and become better at climbing?

When I am home in Edinburgh, I train every day at Edinburgh International Climbing Arena. It’s the World’s biggest climbing centre and a marvel of both architecture (the building is incredible) and world class training facilities!

I train lots of different aspects from strength/power/endurance to technique/skill and even the mind in many different ways. For me, it’s important to be specific with my training; for example, if I want to improve strength, I look at what type of strength I need and train that. This could be fingerstrength on one-finger pockets for example. In that case, I would simulate climbs or use special training apparatus called fingerboards to more specifically target this focused area; basically I’ll be hanging on one finger a lot!

I am also very aware that in climbing, technique and movement are paramount to being able to get the most from you physical abilities. I believe that you must train this in conjunction with the physical elements of training in order to gain the most effective transfer of strength to skill appliance.

I don’t have a coach; I am kind of my own coach right now, but I do seek the advice of other climbers and friends when I need help and support. I do believe that having a coach, mentor or just someone who can help guide you is an incredible asset – for sure the quickest gains are made when someone is there to spot your mistakes and point you in the right direction. Saying that, you learn from making your own mistakes, but having someone to prevent you going in the wrong direction for months on end certainly speeds progress!

How do you prepare for events/races?

Aside from climbing, I do a bit of running to keep general cardio up and work core and antagonistics in the gym.

Climber Robbie Philips
Photo credit: Euan Ryan

How do you eat and sleep?

I don’t follow a specific diet, although I have in the past. At the moment, I prefer to just eat healthy and as much as I want as the kind of projects I’m undertaking require a lot of energy!

When I’m on a Big Wall, I take up a lot of Clifbar products such as Clifbars, Builder’s Bars, and Clif Bloks for during the day so I have access to fast energy when I need it.

When I’m training at home, I try and get 8 hours a night. When I’m on the road travelling it varies, sometimes I need to get up early for working on specific projects that might only get good conditions early in the day, or other projects might work better later in the day – it all depends.

I don’t take supplements, although I do drink a shit tonne of Yorkshire Tea! That’s more of an addiction I’d say.

Climber Robbie Philips
Photo credit: Euan Ryan

How do you handle injuries and recovery?

I have been lucky not to have too many really bad injuries. The main ones have been small finger injuries common to climbers such as the classic A2 Pulley tear. At the moment, I’ve actually got a finger injury in my right hand ring finer, which I am dealing with by doing regular massage, lots of lower intensity climbing to encourage recovery but not to push it over the edge and making the injury worse.

When I’m home from this trip, I will have a recovery stage training cycle to promote recovery and keep me fit for climbing for when I return to maximal intensity training. This will mainly involve a lot of mileage climbing, endurance training and core/antagonistic training in the gym.

Climber Robbie Philips

What is your best advice people new to climbing?

I think a lot of climbers new to the sport get sucked in by the training fads and videos put up by professional climbers and coaches that involve high intensity strength training using training tools such as fingerboards and campus boards. I’d recommend that instead of throwing yourself into the deep end with this sort of training, to actually just enjoy climbing and pushing your level in a more natural way for the first few years. I would say that about 90% of your time training should be actual climbing, and only 10% anything else like pull up bars, fingerboards, etc…

What usually happens with climbers new to the sport who get sucked into this intensive training style is:

  • Get injured and have to take time out;
  • Develop bad climbing techniques which makes it harder to progress;
  • In the long run, won’t enjoy climbing as much because they end up focusing too much on the training side of things and less time on enjoying the movement of climbing.

I actually have an on-going training series called, “The Process” where you can get some cool tips and training advice.

Best advice for people who have been climbing for years?

The world of climbing has changed dramatically since I started climbing around 12 years ago. Climbing walls have grown massively in popularity and a new style of indoor climbing has evolved where the use of HUGE plywood/fibreglass volumes are now used to create weird and wonderful boulder problems, which involve a much more dynamic and core intensive style.

Although this new style is fun, it’s actually got very little translation to actual “Rock Climbing”. It’s interesting because now when I go to climbing walls, it’s not uncommon for me to be out-climbed regularly by focused indoor climbers because I’m not very strong indoors. These indoor climbers generally can’t perform to the same level on rock that I can. It all depends what you enjoy and what you want out of climbing, but what I do see a lot is really amazing indoor climbers not achieving the results they want on rock because they spend most of their time indoors jumping between big slopey blobs and very little time actually pulling on smaller holds. It’s also really important to get out on rock as much as possible if you want to perform well on rock. Indoor climbing if done right is the most effective form of training to develop specific strength for climbing, but if done wrong, all your doing is burning calories and developing big pulling muscles that look at the beach 😉

Climber Robbie Philips

How do you balance normal life with climbing?

My normal life is very climbing orientated. All my friends are climbers so even outside of climbing, I am hanging out with climbers. It does give you a very skewed perspective of what is normal. When me and my friends go on a night out it’s not uncommon for folk to point at us and comment on why we all look like we’re dressed to summit Everest! That’s right… I don’t own any “normal” clothes… just climbing stuff!

I don’t have children. My girlfriend is a climber. My parents aren’t climbers but they understand the obsession.

My calendar is planned out 12 months in advance with training/work/trips already organized.

I missed my prom at school because I was competing at the World Championships in France… I don’t regret this. I don’t think I miss out on too much though, I have nights out with friends, I go to the pub with my mates and I listen to music, read books and do all that sort of normal stuff too. I don’t make a lot of money being a professional climber so I can’t afford to buy a house, but I’m quite happy living in my van for the time being.

Climber Robbie Philips
Photo credit: Euan Ryan

What kind of climbing shoes and clothes do you use?

I am sponsored by Patagonia for clothes, Scarpa for shoes and Edelrid for gear – so that’s the kit I use.

For me Patagonia is a wonderful company and brand to be involved with because of their ethical approach to business. Also, their clothing is as good as any out there and I can perform to the highest level in it, so I can’t complain… I’ve got it good there!

Scarpa shoes were always my top choice and now I am a pro on their team so this has worked out perfectly. They are designed by Heinz Mariacher and a friend of mine Nathan Hoette, two amazing climbers and shoe designers. Heize has changed the world of climbing shoes for the better and is producing the worlds greatest climbing shoes for us to wear… once again, can’t complain!

And Edelrid I’ve been with since I was 18! They are for sure the most innovative brands in the climbing gear world, the inventors of the kern mantle rope (what all climbing ropes are based on now) and their design team has some of the best in the industry!

Climber Robbie Philips

What has been your best sport purchase below $100 and your other favorite gear?

I bought my “Girlfriend” for £50 on sale at TK Maxx. She cooks the meals, cleans the van and speaks the German so I don’t have to… I’d say it was a very good deal!

One new piece of gear that I just got from Edelrid is the Ace Climbing Harness. It’s super lightweight, packable and perfect for Sport climbing and Big Walling alike.

Also, my new rope from Edelrid, the Canary Pro Dry 8,6mm is by far the best rope I’ve ever used! We had it on our “5 Towers” ascent and it was for sure a life saver for us!

My favourite piece of clothing was my Patagonia Nano Air Light Hybrid, which sadly got stolen from the base of a climb in the Dolomites about 2 weeks ago… I was GUTTED! It was a really breathable but warm piece, which I used a lot in the Alpine.

Climber Robbie Philips
Photo credit: Euan Ryan

What will the future bring?

I’m looking forward to finishing the “Alpine Trilogy” over the next year. I have one climb to do “Des Kaiser Neue Kleider” and then I will have completed the trilogy! I’m also going to do a trip to South Africa and Madagascar next year, which I really can’t wait for.

Visit Robbie Philips on his website and follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter

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