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Fitness & Health

25th Jun 2019

Olympic climbing hopeful shows unreal pull-up strength in the gym

At the age of 16, climber Molly Thompson-Smith became a world champion. JOE recently spent a day training with her at Depot Climbing Centre in Sheffield

Alex Roberts

Sponsored by PhD Nutrition

At the age of 16, Molly Thompson-Smith became a world champion in the sport of climbing

JOE recently spent a day with climber Molly at the Depot Centre in Sheffield, where she’s currently in training ahead of next year’s Tokyo Olympics.

Despite its acceptance as an Olympic sport, climbing hasn’t received the same sort of funding as sports such as swimming and gymnastics. This is where individual grit and work ethic come into play.

Molly has that in abundance, and when she’s not effortlessly zipping around the climbing wall with impeccable technique, she’s performing weighted pull-ups with an epic 40 kilogram worth of kettlebells attached. Weighing only 49 kilos herself, that’s pound-for-pound an unreal level of strength.

As part of the Dedication series with PhD Nutrition, Molly put JOE’s Dylan Evans through a climbing workout, supplemented with extra gym work for gaining super muscle strength.

Molly was a world champion before she even left school, so naturally began her ascent on the climbing world at a very young age.

“I was always sporty when I was a kid, I came from a sporty family, then I did climbing when I was 7 for my own birthday party. I didn’t care what my friends wanted to do!”

When she became a teenager, Molly made the decision to pursue climbing as a career.

“I got to my teens and it was more of a conscious decision to carry on with climbing through exams. That’s when I decided it was more than a sport to me – it was a passion.”

For anyone new to climbing who wants to improve, Molly’s advice is simple: just do more climbing (at least initially). While a youngster, Molly would train three times a week after school with a coach and a friend.

However, she’s also overcome her fair share of obstacles too. A finger injury may seem innocuous to most, but for a climber it can make or break a career.

“People were surprised I was back on the wall so quickly”, PhD Nutrition ambassador Molly says.

“I ruptured three pulleys at the end of my most successful competition, yet I’d just got third place at a world cup.”

Nine months after undergoing surgery on her horrific finger injury, Molly was back competing at the world championships.

She’d gone from crying at not being able to perform a standard pull-up, to repping out multiple sets with countless extra weights added.

Now, Molly’s sights are set firmly on Tokyo 2020.

“It’s the first time climbing will have been in the Olympics, and as a sport-crazy kid I watched every single Olympics and always wanted to be there.

“To be able to do it in something I’m so passionate about would be amazing.”

When you become more of an advanced climber, then it’s wise to supplement your climbs with the right kind of gym work.

Pull-ups, dips and dead hangs are among the best lifts around for conditioning as a climber.

How to perform a pull-up

  • Grip your pull-up bar with hands around shoulder-width apart
  • Take a pronated (palms facing away) grip
  • Straighten your arms and adopt a slight bend in the knees
  • Retract your shoulder blades
  • Pull your body up until your chin reaches the bar, contracting your lats all the way

You might be surprised to learn that there are different types of climbing. Molly put Dylan through the whole lot, comprising:

  • Slabs
  • Technical climbing
  • Steep climbing
  • An endurance circuit

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