Last week, Rémi Samyn, age 36, ex-coach of the French team reached his ultimate goal that he had set for himself at the beginning of this year: the Orsay roof 8C in February and his first 9a route with « Sang Neuf » 9a in Pierrot Beach (Vercors). Both achievements are the culminating point of a serious preparation effort and the realization of child’s dream become reality. Fantic-climbing.com had a talk with him about this process and about his training vision for outdoor projects.
Part 1 : About the sends
– Why did you set these goals in January?
I was on vacation, away from it all, reflecting on the meaning of my life after having gone through a troubled period. The Olympics in 2024 are coming up fast and I realized that I would be 40 years old and that it was time to follow my dreams as a climber rather than suffer any regrets later.
– How did you specifically pick these projects?
I like the idea of mixing climbing types, the 8C boulder and the 9a sport climb in rock climbing were psychologically challenging for me. I made choices that were compatible with my job and schedule, projects easily accessible and in my favorite style.
– Did you time the sending period for each project?
Yes, when you push your limits it is necessary to be in the best physical conditions. The roof of Orsay in the winter and Pierrot Beach in the summer were strategic choices.
– How was the process for these two achievements?
The Orsay’s roof was the extension of a project I started 3 years ago. The second part grades 8B, to which you have to add the sequence of the first part that’s already 8A boulder. I did this boulder after only 6 weeks of preparation without really thinking I was ready to do it.
For “Sang Neuf” it was quite the opposite. A new project that I tried for the first time at the end of May. And the day of the send everything was set perfectly, it was THE day of the performance, it had to be that day and not tomorrow.
– How precisely planned was your training?
My planning was very precise from the start as I plan a gradual ramp-up. First a bouldering goal that would allow me to increase my level of strength and power and then transition to an endurance project, “Sang neuf”. The “stay at home” order was an unforeseen event to deal with, but that’s the magic of training: scheduling to adapt better.
– What’s the key for you?
Beyond the hundreds of micro details that need to be readjusted, the key has been determination. The rage to win, the visceral urge to succeed. It gives me immense satisfaction, self-confidence, and a lot of gratitude towards the people who supported me in this challenge, because alone it would have been much more complicated.
Part 2 : How to schedule a climbing plan for outdoors
– For you, what are the essentials for bouldering and sport climbing at your fullest?
To perform in bouldering, it’s essential not to give up when struggling with movements seemingly impossible. Climbing has the magic of making the impossible possible and this is particularly true in bouldering. Learning these new movements leads to rapid and spectacular progress. Do not give up even if it seems out of reach at first, stay focused. Special attention should also be given to the shoes you are going to use to send and boulder at your limit. Unsurprisingly, the one thing to develop is strength, maximum intensity and long resting times.
In sport climbing, you have to find the right combination of weather conditions, cold enough for good grip but not too cold to avoid numb fingers… The condition of the skin is essential for your flow in climbing. When it comes to what type of training to focus on (strength, power, endurance and so on), it’s difficult to say, it all depends on your physical abilities and the type of route you’re attempting.
– The setting of goals in climbing, a delicate step… Any advice?
Glad you ask! For me, in the first place, it’s desire that should be the priority and the most important thing. Motivation will remain the best weapon for success. Then, for equal desire, your choice should go towards a project that will suit your strengths better.
– What about the training planning? How long for an average training cycle?
The most important thing on an ultimate project is to have intermediate goals that split the schedule in several distinct phases. You have to schedule your training in order to build up gradually, step by step, that allows to maintain a high level of motivation. A cycle usually lasts a month, 3 weeks of training and a week of recovery. Personally, I prefer extending the rest period between two cycles every other cycle. To be clearer, every two cycles it is interesting to take a two week break. It’s more efficient in my opinion.
– How to mix all the aspects of training? Strength, resistance, fingers, arms, body tension, flexibility, mental, technique and so on?
This is a vast topic. Even if you gave me several weeks I’m not sure I would have enough time to answer. And you would have to provide me with several litters of coffee!
In short, after 20 years of training experience, I am convinced that good long-term progress comes through balanced training. It’s more effective in the long term but also lowers the risk of injury. For this I will refer you to the “diamond model” that I developed in 2018 in the 100% training special issue of Grimper magazine. The idea is to keep the right balance between all the essential aspects of climbing: physical, technical, tactical and mental. Only at the end of the preparation, during the last 6 weeks preceding performance, do we deliberately focus on one particular aspect (eg. 70% of technical work for a slab project).
– It’s quite common these days to hire a coach to perform. Is it really important?
This question is particularly relevant to me since as competitor I have experienced both situations. My answer is clear, it’s much more effective to have a coach than not. Alone we tend to get stuck into harmful routines, we take all blame for what does not seem to work, we are oblivious to what works and what doesn’t. On the other hand progress inevitably comes from all the kicking in the ass that a coach gives us. Knowing is one thing, hearing out loud from someone is a different thing. Progressing implies analyzing things objectively, which is very difficult to do by yourself without a trainer.
– What’s the most important thing in the coach-athlete relationship?
– Still many people train themselves, how do you make the best of this?
In this case, you must first have a strong ability for questioning yourself. You also need to know yourself well and have in-depth knowledge in all areas of training: physical aspects, mental preparation, body language analysis and a tactical-mental approach to performance.
Part 3 : General questions about training for outdoors
– What are the main mistakes to avoid in training processes?
Most of the time I notice a lack of both intensity and recovery times in the training process. The volume of work is often put forward while climbing is a discipline of strength. This is the most common mistake.
However, intensity should not be the main focus for people who have been climbing for a short time. As a beginner, start by increasing your amount of practice, your “volume” of climbing. But keep in mind that eventually it’s the intensity that will keep you progressing.
– How to manage the highs and lows during the process?
The best example I have known in my competition career at this point is Jérôme Meyer. From him I understood that you shouldn’t try to maintain a peak of good shape for too long. Accepting to slow down when you are at 100% of your potential is not easy, but it is essential. On the other hand, in times of fatigue or lack of motivation, it’s best to lower the intensity and indulge in lower grades boulder problems or routes. This allows to let the body recover while appreciating a feeling of success.
– What importance do you give to recovery and nutrition in training?
Two aspects that are essential for me to succeed at your limits. Recovery helps you build intensity into your training. Diet, while often taboo, is a factor in climbing performance. Like it or not, the power to weight ratio matters. It is a personal choice not to go on a draconian diet, and I totally respect it. But there is no denying the fact that lightness is an asset for a climber. The management of its diet must be intelligently linked to the work of physical preparation.
– Rest days. In the training phase and in the realization phase. How to optimize them?
During the training phase, rest is purposefully incomplete, as it is essential to impose a minimum training volume. In the realization phase you need to rest a lot, more than you’d think. My advice would be to systematically add an extra day of rest to what you would naturally do. And when I say “rest”, I mean actually staying home, reading a book, doing some stretching, or watching Netflix. Not, run up 3000 m of elevation in the mountains, going paragliding or do a body tension session. Did I make myself clear?
– Having a solid base of strength seems to be one of the fundamentals in climbing. What kind of exercises are important for you?
For the strength development for outdoors, I would advise to focus, in that order, on: finger strength, strength of the pelvic girdle muscle chains (body tension) and triceps, which are often too weak to use 100% of your bicep strength. There are countless exercises for that… as long as the movements are well mastered and there is intensity there will be progress!
– Many climbers practice additional cardio training as physical preparation. Which do you think are the most compatible and which ones to avoid? What about body work outs?
Cardio activities often have the disadvantage of building muscle mass in the lower body. It’s very pleasant, but for my part, I stop doing those towards at the end of the preparation process. When it comes to work outs, in addition to standard exercises, I recommend integrating gentle sessions of proprioception, antagonist muscles workouts, mobility and flexibility. For a climber, yoga, gymnastics or even surfing are very interesting activities.
– In the realization phases, what are the things to focus on?
Resting and letting go. You have to create a craving for climbing in order to face your project with motivation, physical freshness and good skin. The bigger the investment is, the longer the wait should be too. You need to accept to let things happen, to unplug your mind when your feet get off the ground.
– How do you translate all that to successful day outdoors?
The idea of good preparation is to be able to trust it, so when you’re ready to go, be self-confident. Much like a child trusts his father blindly when he throws him in the air and then catches him up.
A very effective way is also to focus your attention on the action: pace, breathing, beta, body tension, etc…
Sometimes, when it’s not enough, it is necessary to start some self-reflection, a discussion with your trainer or a mental coach.
– For you, what’s a successful training session? And what’s a successful training process?
A successful workout is one where I managed to reach my maximum intensity without hurting myself.
A training process is successful the moment it teaches me something. Reaching the goal is a personal satisfaction but it is not enough to validate the process. You have to keep joy in the center of the journey and find a balance between, on the one hand, the pleasure of training, of living the process and, on the other hand, the satisfaction of achieving your goal.
“Live your dreams rather than dreaming your life”