Alex Johnson and Angie Payne are two fiercely fit women who scale massive boulders as their day job. The dynamic duo are both vibrant and beautiful while serious and savvy about their sport.
Johnson and Payne are great friends who spend their days together training for hours on end and tackling impressive climbs. They have each other to go through the ups and downs of the sport and remain tight as can be through it all.
Johnson is a professional climber and a five-time United States national champion. She is also a two-time Bouldering World Cup gold medalist. Payne, also a professional climber, became the first woman to climb grade v13 in the Rocky Mountains, in 2010.
At the 2015 GoPro Games, both women competed in the Bouldering World Cup events. Ultimately, their love for climbing is what gets them up early and keeps them going all day.We caught up with them there to find out what makes them tick — and what makes them successful.
When did you start climbing?
Alex: I started climbing at birthday parties when I was young. I continued to climb in the gyms until [age] 19, when I transitioned outdoors. Everyone helped by showing me how to find boulders, which routes to take and the best places to go. The support in the community is amazing and always has been.
What is your training program?
Angie: It is hard to be a great indoor and outdoor climber at the same time. It's similar to road biking versus mountain biking; it almost feels like two different sports.
Alex: During the spring, we climb indoors, and then the summer through winter we climb outdoors. We climb at least four days per week for at least a few hours at a time. Some days consist of a run in the morning, then go climb, followed by a workout in the gym.
We also love to do other sports outdoors, like biking and swimming, as an active recovery. Biking is a great complement to climbing since it is very quad intensive and a lot of power comes from the legs on a climb.
We are in the gym two days per week. The workout consists of upper body and core exercises. Typically it will be two pulling moves and two pushing moves — for example, weighted pull-ups followed by a chest press.
What does your nutrition program look like?
Alex: We eat a lot while training, since we're expending so much energy on the rock. It's so important to stay fueled so you never bonk while climbing. The meals usually contain a high-quality protein, like salmon, and complex carbohydrates (sweet potatoes, beans) and nutrient-dense veggies.
Angie: Since we are constantly on the go for training and competitions, we need quick fuel that will stabilize blood sugar and feed our muscles. Kind bars are the best for that. We always have a bar before and/or after a climb or workout. The Strong and Kind line are such a good substitute for savory foods like steak.
What is your favorite part about your sport?
Angie: We love the process. There is something so amazing about trying something challenging every day. There's a lot of failure in the sport, but that is one of the reasons why it's so great. Since success is less frequent, it makes it that much sweeter.
Alex: Climbing keeps you engaged mentally and physically. No matter how great of a climber you are, there is always something more to tackle. Every day is different out there, with so much subtlety. There's another boulder to conquer, which is really exciting.
How do you prepare mentally for the competitions?
Angie: It is really important to keep your emotions in check and become a fast thinker. The competitions run in five-minute heats, so you do not have a ton of time to get to the top. At the same time, the day is a marathon of heats, so it can be physically exhausting. It's similar to playing two soccer games back to back.
Alex: At the U.S. Team training camp, we had different challenges that got us mentally ready for competitions. One exercise that was really helpful was only having one shot to climb to the top. This was mentally challenging since we did not have multiple attempts. It became a practice we use quite a bit, since it really gets your mindset strong for events.
What do you do to let loose or relax?
Alex: I usually take the summers off. It's way too hot to climb during that time in Las Vegas, so I hang by the pool and do other things away from the sport.
Angie: Since we love our job so much, it can be hard to actually disconnect from it. I find it beneficial to take time alone in nature and do something other than climb.
Do you have any food cravings or guilty pleasures?
Alex: Fast food! I will eat In-N-Out a couple times per week when I am not training.
Angie: I am such a sweets person. I love cookies, brownies and ice cream.
Fun with silhouettes, Red Rocks. Trad climbing in Zion was wonderful, but the boulders in Red Rocks were calling my name. So, I’ve spent the past few days easing back into it, goofing around, and taking ridiculous photos like this one of @alexjohnson89. Oh, and bouldering…we’ve even done a little bit of that too!
Do you have any advice for climbers who are just starting out?
Alex: Don't be afraid of it, whether it's heights, the physicality of climbing or getting started. Just jump right in. You will get more and more comfortable the more you go.
Be OK with failure. It's just part of the sport. Look at it as part of the process rather than any kind of loss. Climbing is like running: Anyone can do it. You just have to practice.
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