Aidan Roberts: European Champ indoors and 8B outdoors in three years of climbing

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 05/08/2015
Euro champ Aidan Roberts. Photo: The Circuit Climbing Magazine.

16-year-old Cumbrian Aidan Roberts made competiton history last week by becoming the first British Junior to ever win a European Championship. He's also solid outdoors: after just three years in the sport he can climb 8B. Sarah Stirling finds out his training secrets.

AR: When I realised I'd won I was kind of disbelieving and even now that feeling hasn't really gone away. it's yet to fully sink in. The European Championships. It was never going to be easy. I still don't know how I won it in a field of competitors so much stronger than myself!

The problems weren't particularly my style. Most of the blocs were very powerful and I wouldn't say I'm a particularly strong climber, but I found loop holes. Like, I did a dynamic move static on my third bloc. I'd say the final bloc suited me best: moving up a steeper wall on small crimps.

I think the way the British team is being handled is great. I'd say we are on a upwards trajectory. It was good to see us overtaking teams with far better funding and competition experience. I think there is a very positive attitude to our progression onto the world circuit.

Yes I've been climbing for three years and have bouldered 8A. 8B actually... ha ha! I recently climbed Steppenwolf in Magic Wood. I started climbing indoors, and found the transition to rock easy as I live in the Lake District where there is so much great outdoor climbing.

I'd say motivation is the most important key to improving at climbing. I find training very useful and use a Beastmaker for finger strength - though I wouldn't advise people to jump straight on one of these in the expectation that they'll get strong and be able to climb hard!

Movement in climbing is as important, if not more important, than strength. I'd advise people trying to improve to just get plenty of climbing experience on different angles and styles of climbing.

I'd say it's important to be a technical climber before a strong one. It's easy to get strong when you're weak but it's so much harder to get technical once you're strong. Outdoor climbing is always beneficial in my eyes. The subtleties outdoors are so much greater than indoors that you become a better technical climber.

The majority of my training revolves around a 50-degree board in my stable. I don't  have easy access to climbing gyms so I have to make do! I built my board myself with help from friends and the holds are all wooden, made by Dan Varian through Beastmaker. I find it important to keep power endurance topped up in the run-up to the competition season in bouldering, so I often do sets of 4 by 4s or shorter circuits.

I do about hour-long sessions on the Beastmaker, too, which include sets of two-arm deadhangs and one-arm locks. My sets contain six hangs of six repetitions. Each repetition is seven seconds long with three seconds rest between them. I have two minutes rest between hangs and five minutes rest between each set. I usually do three sets and the hangs can be adapted to each climber individually. I also lead climb, so I try to do circuits to keep up my power endurance and fitness for that too.

I'm vegetarian so my diet is probably different from most climbers. I tend to get protein from foods such as eggs, hummus, beans and pulses. In the run-up to competitions I don't eat refined sugar, but other than that I just make sure I don't eat too much fried food or anything too fattening.

Climbing is a growing sport but there is not much money in it so there's no where near as much scientific research into training as you'd find in other sports like cycling.  I find this interesting as it makes training more experimental and results less predictable so it gives the opportunity for everyone to be at the top of the game!

WATCH: BMC Junior British Bouldering Championships 2018 on BMC TV

It's no coincidence that some of the top climbers like Adam Ondra started so young but I wouldn't say it's the only way. You hear a lot of the media saying that the only way to be in the game is to start young and I think this can be demotivating for climbers who start late. I'd say if you're motivated then it doesn't really matter how late you start.

Competition climbing is a great way to meet new people and have fun, but it all originated from outdoor climbing. There's so much more variation on rock and for some people the pressure of competitions isn't enjoyable. Either way I'd say outdoors on rock is purer climbing. I enjoy the greater subtleties on rock and the satisfaction of climbing great lines!

I enjoy both bouldering and leading pretty equally. I'm far better at bouldering though, as my training facilities favour that. In the future I would like to try and even this out so I can perform at a high level in both disciplines. Outdoors I have done very little leading though it is something I'd like to get into more after this competition season.

I'm relatively new to competition climbing and I still haven't decided whether it's for me yet. At the moment I enjoy them and I will continue with them for this season. I'll decide next year whether I'll continue to compete or not. I think I could easily go either way.

Who inspires me? Well I get some coaching from the outdoor boulderer Dan Varian and I find his attitude to climbing inspirational. His desire to develop new lines and climb amazing sequences of moves as opposed to big numbers. Plus, he's brutally strong!

Outdoors I'd like to just climb a lot and tick plenty of classics. I'm yet to go to Font so hopefully October! I don't really have any experience of the World Circuit so I don't know what to expect but I'd like to make semi-finals in the Junior World Championships.

Where would I like to be in ten years? Well, a dream would be to have a period of my life where I could climb outdoors and compete for a living. However this involves some heavy sponsorship and I don't know if I'm good enough to get that, sadly!

If I continue with competitions then I'd like to aim for significant progression on the World Circuit. Obviously winning a World Cup would be the ultimate achievement! Outdoors I'd like to develop some of the best and hardest lines out there and ten years seems like a long time for me to do it!

UPDATE: 22nd August 2015

We've just heard that Aidan has made the third ascent of Neil Gresham route Freakshow 8c at Kilnsey. He completed his first major outdoor sport climb in just two sessions. Congratulations Aidan!

AR: The route was Freakshow, a impressive line climbing directly through the roof. The first ascent was claimed by Neil Gresham only a few weeks earlier. I chose the line because of the great moves, the outrageous angle and the more bouldery style.

The first session I felt pretty tired and I got all the moves and linked it in three sections but didn't feel that close. On my next session I had a bad start and couldn't get past the first crux until my last go of the session where I think I got pretty psyched and found some extra energy. In general I feel pretty unfit at the moment as I've been more focusing on bouldering this season so I was pretty boxed, it was quite a fight!

It was quite a surprise and a little scary when I reached the lip as I'd never tried pulling over before. I was pumped, the rope drag was strong and I felt as if I could have actually dropped it there but it was satisfying to get it done!

The GB Junior Boulder Team are sponsored by the Route Setting Association.

WATCH: The 2015 BMC British Bouldering Championships on BMC TV


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