At 6’4″ and 330 pounds, Wes Schweitzer is built like a rock. He’s not the stereotypical rock climber body type, but his refrigerator physique isn’t exactly surprising either. That’s because the 28-year-old plays on the Washington Commanders offensive line and is entering his seventh season in the NFL.
Schweitzer trained traditionally for most of his football career, which began in high school in Arizona and continued to San Jose State University, then to the NFL, first with the Atlanta Falcons for four years, and now with the Commanders. “You know, I was running, I was doing deadlifts, bench press, squats, Olympic lifts, that kind of stuff,” he said.
But during his second year as a pro, Schweitzer began to experience severe pain, especially in his elbows. “I just felt super weak on the pitch,” he said. His trainer therefore suggested training with climbing holds, instead of traditional dumbbells. “With normal training, you’re just grabbing dumbbells, but the hand is designed to do all kinds of things,” he said. “It’s designed to hold crimps, flats, side pulls, pockets, all of it. Climbing holds are much more natural and varied holds.” Schweitzer began a variety of climbing-based training sessions, including attaching climbing holds to weights and performing bodyweight exercises on a climbing wall.
“After just one session of using these climbing holds, I instantly felt better,” Schweitzer said. “I went from feeling weak and in pain to feeling 100% again. The climbing hold[s] gave my arm a different stimulus.” His hyperextended elbows, which had given him constant trouble on the court, were back to normal.
For a while climbing holds were just part of his conditioning, but two years ago he decided to visit a climbing gym to see what the sport could offer him. ‘other. He was shocked: “I was one of the strongest in my entire football team,” he said. “I mean, I could lift almost 800 pounds, but I couldn’t even do a V0. I could barely hang on the wall. I was like, if I’m an athlete, I should be able to climb that. . .. It looked like a ladder.
“This experience showed me that there was so much more to what I thought strength and mobility was.”
At first glance, it might seem that rock climbing training and football training, especially as a lineman, would be opposite efforts. But Schweitzer thinks there is an immense amount of crossover between the sports.
“People have a weird mindset that if they lift more weight they will become a better football player,” he said. “But I hardly do upper body weightlifting anymore. I just do rock climbing and gym-style training, and every time I come back to weightlifting, I bench even more than I do. anyone on the team.”
Some of his teammates came to climb with him, but no one else adopted the same usual climbing as Schweitzer (he climbs once a week in season and twice a week off season). “It’s too off the beaten track,” he said. “I think other players think climbing is risky, but I will continue to let my performance prove how impactful it can be.”
However, one of the biggest things climbing has given him is not strength or mobility, but situational awareness. “When you’re climbing, you have to put your foot in a certain place,” he said. “You have to grab the holds in a certain way. You have to produce force in football the same way. I get a unique stimulus from climbing that I wouldn’t get with normal weightlifting. I’m compelled from standing on my toes, drooping knees… The body movements and positions in climbing are unique and always varied.”
Schweitzer also compared grabbing the shoulder pads of the player in front of him on the line to grabbing climbing holds. “During the game, my main goal is to grab someone and physically stop them,” he said. “And for those two or three seconds, I’m making hand contact, grabbing their shoulder pads. The front of the pad above the pecs is basically like a big jug that I have to grab on the fly,” he said. stated with a laugh. “It’s quite similar.”
It’s been two years since Schweitzer started climbing. He mainly does bouldering and toprope, up to V4 and 5.10a outdoors, and has also started leading sport routes. “[Climbing] completely changed my game on the pitch, and I feel a lot fitter,” he said. “I also just found a great passion for it. This is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I’m a climber who just played football.”
An obvious point of differentiation between football and climbing is weight. There’s no doubt about it, says Schweitzer, he plays better on the court when he’s heavier, and his build naturally makes climbing harder. Unlike some climbers, however, Schweitzer actually gained weight when he started climbing. “When I started climbing I was 315 pounds. I gained 15 pounds of muscle because that’s the strength it takes to hold my body weight up the wall.”
While Schweitzer isn’t the only heavy climber in the climbing spotlight, the narrative is often that the best body type for rock climbing is still light, lean, and lean with a long reach. Schweitzer doesn’t necessarily believe it. He plans to only drop to 250 pounds, at most, after he retires (at which point he plans to climb full time). “People always try to be so lean when climbing, and I don’t think they need to be,” he said. “Sometimes they could benefit from a little more weight, a little more muscle. It might help people do harder moves.” Sending 5.13 at 330 pounds is next to impossible, Schweitzer noted, or at least much harder than climbing that mark at a lower weight, but “I think I could set some really cool benchmarks as a heavier guy.” , did he declare.
He uses an Edelrid Ohm to handle the large weight difference between him and his belayer when leading climbing, but bouldering is a bit more difficult. Falling off a rock at 330 pounds can be sketchy. Schweitzer manages by picking issues with a flat landing or a low crux.
So far, however, he has had no problems. “One thing I’ve noticed in rock climbing is that no one knows how to drop and land in a squat,” he said. “Climbers often fall and land sloppy. In football you have to do all those box jumps, you have to be in a squat a lot. If climbers did a bit more of that cross training, they might have fewer injuries. jumping off rocks.” he said. “I had no problem jumping off rocks, even the tall ones.”
Although he has a passion for rock climbing, Schweitzer has made it clear that he doesn’t put one sport above the other. “I’ve had a long football career and I’m really happy both in the NFL and with my team. I want to keep playing football for as long as possible. But I also like climbing. And the Climbing, unlike football, is a sport you can do for the rest of your life. So I go rock climbing all the way. I buy training books, plan my outings, j love this.
However, Schweitzer doesn’t just like to climb routes and styles that are easy for him, and he doesn’t climb solely because of the benefits it has for his on-court performance in the NFL. He wants to climb hard all around.
“I want to do V10s,” he said. “I want to do multi-pitch routes. I want to climb El Cap. Obviously I can’t do that kind of stuff right now because I have to focus on football. Right now I’m bouldering for l summer, I climb Castle Rock here in California.” He noted that he hopes to send V5 away this year.
Schweitzer also doesn’t think his escalation is hindered by his 330-pound weight (which he’ll have to maintain, to some extent, as long as he plays professional football). “I don’t think I peaked even at this weight,” he said. “Everyone says you have to be as skinny as possible. I disagree. I don’t know what my limit is, but I know I haven’t reached it. I want to keep going.
“I want to challenge the idea of what a heavier person can do on the wall.”
Owen Clark is a freelance writer living on the road. In addition to spending time in the mountains, he loves motorcycles, bigaI, video games, and lime pie.
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