The Cool Kids of Climbing
There’s an Ernest Hemingway quote that says “There are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering; all the rest are merely games.” The truth of that statement is debatable, but the American novelist’s message is clear. True sports have an element of risk. In the case of “mountaineering,” or rock climbing to the modern man, it’s a matter of life or death.
Matt Lloyd has never known life outside of climbing. Born in South Africa, he moved to Colorado at an early age and started doing it for fun. Eventually, he went pro and began coaching at the age of 15. Back then, climbing was more of a “lifestyle” sport. Generally, people viewed it as a hobby–a thing you did if you wanted to escape society and live in your van. Even though Matt was a pro, he says the sport was largely unregulated and it wasn’t profitable as an athlete.
Today, the world of climbing has changed dramatically. In 2017, The New York Times even called it one of the fastest growing niche sports. Climbing heroes like Alex Honnold, Conrad Anker, and Jimmy Chin have caught mainstream attention through breathtaking documentaries and widespread social media followings. People are flocking to upscale state-of-the-art climbing gyms as a way to meet people and stay fit. What used to be purely a fringe lifestyle hobby has now become part of the culture of cool.
An Indoor Gym for the Outdoor Athlete
When Matt opened his gym Mountain Strong in 2013, he didn’t realize how serendipitous the timing would be. Both CrossFit and climbing were on the rise, and together with his friends they created a program for the outdoor athlete looking train smarter, build strength, and become more athletic. From kayakers to skiers to ultrarunners, Mountain Strong catered to the “outdoorsy” population of Denver in a way that no gym had before.
“I wanted to fill this space for people who didn’t really want to be in the gym,” says Lloyd. “The reality is that you can’t go out and climb eight hours a day, every day. You’ll get injured.” By combining high intensity training, Olympic lifting, and climbing technique, Matt provided a way to help people get stronger inside the gym so they could maximize their performance outside of it.
High Stress Situations Produce High Strain
About three years ago, Lloyd bought a chest strap to monitor his heart rate while he was climbing outside. When he got home to download the data to his computer, he was surprised to learn that his heart rate was elevated for hours on end, sometimes reaching 190 bpm. While climbing was definitely strenuous, he never would have guessed that his body was reaching anaerobic training zones like an endurance athlete.
As he started integrating technology into his training, Matt stumbled upon WHOOP after chatting with some NFL players at a sports rehab facility in Denver. WHOOP came into the conversation when players were discussing how veteran athletes with lots of experience still struggled with injury and recovery. Lloyd then purchased a WHOOP for himself and started wearing it on all his climbs to get an idea of what his body was actually going through and what his limit should be each day.
What he discovered fascinated him. While his chest strap did register elevated heart rate, it wasn’t correlated to anything actionable. With WHOOP, Lloyd started to see clear patterns of strain and recovery that became critical to mitigating risk on his climbing routes. He also began monitoring the differences in strain based on climbing difficulty, altitude, and outdoor vs. indoor routes using the WHOOP Live feature, which captures calories and strain in real-time.
Below is a typical climbing day for Matt, along with a video where he chronicles four different climbs, both inside and outside, and the differences in how it affected his heart rate.
Fear and Risk in Denver, CO