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Zoe Steinberg: Be Stubborn, Overcome Your Mind, and Try Climbs That Are Too Hard For You

For this week's interview FrictionLabs got in touch with Zoe Steinberg, a strong young climber from New Jersey. Even though she's only 19, Zoe already posseses more climbing wisdom than most seasoned veterans. Learn from her – and pay special attention to her dieting tips at the end :)

Zoe Steinberg hanging out at the crag

Tell us about yourself: How did you get into climbing? How many days a week do you climb? What type of climbing do you do?

So as a brief overview about myself, I am 19 years old, and am a sophomore in college at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA, studying neuroscience and psychology. I enjoy fishing, playing with dogs, a dry sense of humor, long walks on the beach...oh, climbing-related. My bad.

I first got into climbing when I was about 9 years old, when a gym called The Gravity Vault opened up in Upper Saddle River, NJ, about 4 miles away from where I grew up. My little brother went to a birthday party there about 6 months after they opened, and shortly after that, my parents were looking for a way to keep me and him busy one weekend, and took us there to climb a bit. And so began years of youth programs, team practices, begging/bumming rides whenever possible, and overall obsession with climbing as much as possible. Now, 9 or 10 years later, I still push myself outdoors and compete at an international level, but juggling training with doing well in school, as well as coaching and route setting at the gym I train at, is a real balancing act. Usually I climb between 3-5 days a week, for 2-4 hours a session. In addition, I cross train by doing calisthenics and lifting weights about 4 days a week.

I grew up as a sport climber, boulderer, and comp climber, but have since started branching out, and have recently taken up trad climbing and am working my way into multipitch climbing as well. I try to do it all. Except ice climbing. Basically, if I can use FrictionLabs chalk while doing it, I’m psyched on it.

Zoe Steinberg sport climbing
Friction Labs® Loose Chalk
Friction Labs® Loose Chalk

What’s your pre-climb ritual?

Usually, the biggest thing for me before I climb is that I need caffeine in some form. I usually start training around 7 pm after a full day of classes, and sometimes after work, so a cup of coffee a bit before starting up is definitely key. The other important thing for me is actually a pretty recent development. I am in the process of recovering from a finger injury, and as part of making sure I do not reinjure it, I’ve started incorporating a long, comprehensive warm-up into my workouts. It takes about 15-25 minutes, which can come close to cutting into my training time, but it seems to be helping both my finger, and my overall climbing, which makes it well worth it.

Why do you climb? Keeping it simple is fine, but don't be shy about taking this answer as far down the rabbit hole as you want to go. We'd love to hear it.

I’ve always been told that I have a stubborn streak. I like to think that I am relatively easy-going, but the number of times I have done stupid things just to prove wrong the person who told me, “there’s no way you can do that”, probably borders on unhealthy. That being said, climbing is a sport that has stood out to me because it rewards that tenacity. In climbing, there really is no “right way” to do a given climb. If you send, you did it right, and it’s that simple. As a result, I can be a stubborn pain in the neck about beta, and as compulsive as possible about training, and see positive results stem from my determination.

In addition, I love the problem-solving nature of both competitions and climbing outside. Putting a cap on the amount of time or attempts I get to figure out a climb during a competition brings out some of my best performances, and spending time outside with great people doing the sport I love while laughing, messing around, and enjoying some of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been is something that I wouldn’t trade for the world.

Zoe Steinberg bouldering in the climbing gym

What do you think is your personal biggest weakness in climbing? How do you address it?

From a purely physical perspective, I have always been best at burly, powerful climbing on crimps and pinches on steeper angles. So from that standpoint, I would say my weaknesses are more delicate face and slab climbing on slopers.

However, I would say that my head has often been my biggest weakness, in that I have previously wound up psyching myself out from doing well at a comp or sending a route because I convince myself that I am not strong enough, not as good as the other competitors, don’t have enough experience, etc.

How I address these issues depends a lot on what the thoughts going through my head are. Thinking that I am not strong enough to send a route is an easy one – I become more motivated to train hard and come back to send. The other issues are trickier, because they are somewhat out of my control. Lately I have found that if I remind myself continuously that I climb because I love it, not because I need to win, and that I will still love it no matter how poorly I do at an event – and for me to give myself the best chance possible to do well – I need to go in with no expectations. I can perform at my best on a much more consistent basis, and enjoy doing so more.

What's your favorite climbing gym?

I love being able to train at the Philadelphia Rock Gyms. Great setting, awesome people, and 4 locations all close by...I’m really fortunate to have such a great gym to climb at.

Zoe Steinberg sport climbing outside

What's your favorite place to climb outside?

The Red River Gorge is where I started going on trips with my team and my friends when I was 12, so it will always hold a special place in my heart. Lately though, I’ve been really psyched on the New River Gorge – it has really helped me with my face and slab climbing skills, and miles of 100 ft bulletproof sandstone is ridiculously inspiring to me.

If you could give a single tip to a new climber, what would it be?

Try things that are too hard for you, and don’t give up on them. Don’t worry about looking dumb or failing – as long as what you’re doing is not dangerous, you’ll only get stronger.

Zoe Steinberg climbing in a bouldering competition

Tell us about a time you were in a funk and felt like your climbing skill wasn’t improving. How’d you get out of it?

I’ve had several periods during my climbing career where I have felt as though I have not been improving, or that I’ve been stuck in a plateau. Each plateau has been slightly different, so I have handled each one of them slightly differently. The most consistent aspect of dealing with these funks has been taking time off of training, and climbing just for fun. If I am unable to find enjoyment in that, then I usually force myself to take a week or two off of climbing, to make sure I don’t get burnt out. I want climbing to be a lifelong pursuit for me; I would rather lose an event or even a season in order to enjoy it for the rest of my life as much as I do now.

Zoe Steinberg sport climbing outside
Climbskin Double-Sided Hand & Finger File
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Climbskin Double-Sided Hand & Finger File
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Given how much you climb, what are some techniques you use to prevent injury?

It’s funny that you ask this as I am just now recovering from a finger injury. Most climbing injuries aren’t traumatic – they are caused by repetitive stress. I try to train in such a way that minimizes repetitive stress. I do not close crimps while training, nor do I campus more than once every week to 2 weeks on crimps (I campus at absolute most once a week for 45 minutes). I try to do workouts on slopers and pinches over crimps. Most importantly, I stop if things hurt in a bad way. Bad skin is one thing, but there’s no point in pushing through pain if it means a torn pulley or a blown ACL.

Zoe Steinberg at a climbing competition

What was your "aha moment" with FrictionLabs?

I had heard people talking about FrictionLabs, but at first I didn’t react too much. I used to use only Frank Endo chalk, but then got a batch of 8 lbs that was all bad, and figured I may as well give FrictionLabs a try. I used their chalk at the Red in the middle of July, and didn’t feel like I was sliming off of everything, which made me decide to use their chalk at the IFSC Youth World Championships last August, where I competed in Italy, outside, in 90-degree heat, in the sun. The stickiness held up outrageously well, so from then on I was sold.

Zoe Steinberg sport climbing outside

Anything else you want to share that you think readers might be interested in?

I don’t diet at all...I eat pretty much anything, and will eat everything put in front of me. I’ve been called both a goat and a garbage disposal because of that. It’s kind of my claim to fame.

Where can readers learn more about you?

Instagram: www.instagram.com/zoesteinberg

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