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Q&A with Piper Kelly

When and how did you get started climbing?

I started climbing when I was about 8 years old. My dad climbed a bit when he was younger, so he started taking me and my sister to the gym. Then, we met the coach of the youth team, and I started competing when I was 12.

What motivates you to climb and why do you find it appealing?

I truly think rock climbing is the coolest sport in the world, I love both the competition and lifestyle aspects. I have always found competition appealing because I like the mental and physical challenges of pushing myself to perform my best. I especially love the added challenge of speed competitions, because I have to stay so focused the whole time and really strive for perfection. When everything goes well, it is an amazing feeling.

How long and in what disciplines have you competed in?

I started competing when I was 12, and always competed in bouldering, lead, and speed. Speed started to become my favorite, and at 16, I made the Youth US Team in speed climbing. Since then, I have primarily focused on speed, although I started to train bouldering and lead more again for combined competitions.

What do you like or dislike about each of the disciplines?

I like how mentally challenging speed is. During speed competitions, every move has to be perfect or you risk being knocked out of the competition. I had to do mental training to get better at speed competitions, so I think that aspect is really cool. When it comes to rock climbing outside, I have always preferred lead climbing, and the same goes for competitions. I also like the mental challenge of one try in a lead competition, but I also like getting in my “flow state” on a lead route. Everything just feels so good! I also like the excitement and energy in bouldering. Bouldering is all about pulling hard moves, so bouldering comps are always super fun and high energy, which I enjoy.

Have your motivations to compete changed over time?

Ever since 2016 when I first made the US team, I have been pretty much always psyched on competing. Of course, I get a little burnt out sometimes, and I always enjoy fall season at the Red, but for the most part I enjoy doing the competition circuit.

How many days a week are you training? What disciplines are you training for each week? 

On average, I train 6 days a week. That includes 4 days of lifting and 4 days of climbing. What discipline I am training depends on the season, but a lot of my year is speed climbing. During speed season, I speed climb 2 or 3 days a week, and do power-focused training the other days. If I am also trying to train lead or bouldering, 1 or 2 days are partially dedicated to training those disciplines.

How do you train differently for each climbing discipline?

Speed requires a lot of time on the wall, because it is all about muscle memory and flow. Off the wall training is similar to bouldering, as I do a lot of campus boarding, weighted pull-ups, or Moonboard. For lead climbing, I do a lot of laps and circuits. My weight lifting changes depending on the discipline as well. During speed and bouldering, I do heavier weights but less reps, and during lead I do lighter weights but more reps.

Talk us through your favorite speed climbing workouts/training with and without PD® auto belays.

My perfect speed climbing workout starts with about a 45 minute warm-up. My warm-up consists of regular climbing, dynos, and dynamic stretching. Then I will do 5 to 10 speed runs, trying to be as fast and clean as I can. If it’s a perfect speed workout, then there are no slips!

Next, I’ll do some doubles on the speed wall to work up my power endurance. PD® autobelays make it easy to train by myself, or for my coach to focus on filming my runs and watching instead of having to belay me. Lastly, I will finish up with some ab work and stretching.

What does your diet look like as a competitive athlete?

I try to eat healthy more than I concentrate on any specific diet. I do count my calories, but that is more to measure my macros than the calories I am consuming. I struggle to eat enough protein, so tracking my calories helps me ensure I will have enough energy to train hard.

What do you do to stay motivated in times when you are feeling tired, discouraged, or when you get injured?

I am injured right now, and will be for quite a long time. What’s keeping me motivated right now is coaching. I love climbing, and I love being in the community, and coaching is a way to keep doing that even while I can’t climb. Watching other people who are psyched on climbing always makes me more psyched, and watching kids crush my project or my personal record is definitely motivating!

What are “fast twitch” muscles and why are they important in climbing/speed climbing?

“Fast twitch” muscles can generate explosive power quicker than slow twitch muscles. This means that fast twitch muscles get tired quicker. In speed climbing, however, all I need is about 8 seconds of explosive power! Fast twitch muscles are super important in speed climbing to provide the power to get up the wall. I train my fast twitch muscles by doing things like box jumping, hurdles, or speed squats.

Where do you typically train and how does your routine change when you are traveling?

I typically train at Epic Climbing and Fitness when I am home, and Mosaic when I am at school. I also usually go to a separate weight gym, like the YMCA or my school’s gym. It is hard to train as consistently when I am traveling as I do at home, but I try to stay consistent by making a schedule just like I do at home. However, it is also important to go with the flow, and give your body breaks when it feels like it needs one, even if it is not a rest day on the training program.

How have you had to adapt your training since the COVID pandemic hit?

When quarantine started, my training completely changed. I had no access to a gym for almost 3 months. I knew I would probably lose some strength, so I worked on things I normally avoided that would make me a better climber. These were things like finger strength, stretching, and hip mobility. I also couldn’t lift weights like I used to, so my workouts were more crossfit-style than traditional weight lifting. I also ran a lot, and even did my first half marathon in May.

What’s the biggest competition you’ve been apart of?

I competed in the 2018 World Championships in Innsbruck, Austria.

What is your most memorable moment from a competition?

My most memorable moment is probably winning the PanAmerican Championships in 2018. The final race was super fast and close, and at the top we didn’t know who had won. The screen with the times was at the bottom of the wall, so I remember waiting to see the time, then instantly bursting into tears when I realized I had won, and set the US National record. My good friend John Brosler won the gold for the boys right after me, so it was an amazing night for Team USA.

Tell us what it’s like behind the scenes at an international competition?

The coolest part of international competition is the international community you get to be a part of. Everyone is so nice and friendly. We compete to try to beat ourselves, not necessarily others, so everyone
always cheers for everyone. The warm-up area and transportation can be a little chaotic at times, but overall it’s just a fun time hanging with friends, and getting to climb cool boulders and routes while doing it.

Competition climbing is on the rise for younger and younger climbers around the world. What advice do you have for young climbers for preparing mentally for competitions?

The best advice in my opinion is just to have fun. Climbing is fun, that is why we compete. The routes and boulders at competitions have taken hours to create, so might as well enjoy the chance to climb them! Put in the work during your training, and at competitions, be confident in your training.

Do you prefer climbing on plastic or real rock?

This is a hard question, because I love both. I love competing, and some of my best memories are from competitions. Right now in my life, I probably have to say plastic, but I hope to keep climbing outdoors way after my competition time is over.

What is your favorite crag(s)?

The Red River Gorge is my favorite place to climb. My favorite crags there are Drive-By, Bob Marley, and Bear’s Den.

What climber(s) do you look up to most?

Janja Garnbert for sure. She is just so good, graceful, and strong. She is beautiful to watch, and I love her confidence on every move of every route that she does.

What’s the most scared you’ve been while climbing?

I started leading when I was about 13, and I remember being terrified anytime I was above my draw back then. Recently though, the most scared I’ve been is when I didn’t have enough to draws to finish my project, but I was above the crux. I ran it out and managed to send!

From breakfast to burritos, what does your perfect day look like?

My perfect day starts around 8am. First, a workout and a walk, and then a nice healthy breakfast. Usually, it is avocado toast with an egg, or oatmeal. During the day I like to spend time outside with my friends. Then in the evening, I head to the gym for my evening training! I like to climb for 2 or 3 hours, then do a workout after. After climbing, I eat a big, protein-heavy dinner, before getting ready for bed. I like to watch Netflix, World Cups, or outdoor climbing videos before going to sleep, usually, my bedtime is around 11pm.

Tell us about your favorite t-shirt?

My favorite T-shirt is a Mickey Mouse shirt my dad got from Disney World when he was in high school. It is slightly too big on me and soft, and I love wearing it. The grunge/dirt bag look matches my vibe 🙂

What music do you have in high rotation right now?

I listen to a lot of rap. My favorite artists are J. Cole, Kendrick Lamar, and Lil Wayne. I also like older music, like Beastie Boys, The Ramones, and Violent Femmes. Lastly, if I am wanting something calmer, I like Harry Styles, Billie Eilish, and Chance the Rapper.

The one must-have item for life on the road?

Gnarly Nutrition protein powder. I mentioned I have trouble eating enough protein, so I usually supplement with Gnarly protein powder. Being on the road, it can be easy to accidentally skip meals, or get a meal without protein, so I always bring my protein powder with me.

What other sports are you in today?

To be honest, climbing is my entire life, and almost always has been. I love to run, lift weights, and do yoga, but I see that as training for climbing.

Favorite climbing and non-climbing movie?

My favorite climbing movie is probably Rotpunkt. Alex Megos has always been an inspiration to me, and I liked the personal insight into his life.

As for nonclimbing movie, probably “This Is the End“, it is so funny,
and I love when that group of actors get together!