Crazy Strength: Matt Phillips Crushes Rock Climbing with One Arm

If you’re running low on motivation and need a boost of inspiration, then sit back and relax, Matthew Phillips has you covered. Phillips, 16, is the youngest member of Great Britain’s Paraclimbing team.

Unlike most climbers who have full use of their two upper extremities, Phillips was born missing his arm below is right elbow. This hasn’t stopped him from achieving his goals and thriving at the sport of paraclimbing.

Strength comes in all forms, so when I stumbled upon Phillips’s latest Instagram post shared above crushing the peg board better than most athletes. I knew I had to reach out and learn more about this young paraclimber.

Jake Boly: Can you give a little background about yourself for readers?

Matthew Phillips: I’m Matthew Phillips, I’m 16 years old, I was born missing my arm below the right elbow. It’s made life interesting for sure, and I’m a rock climber. I’ve been climbing for about 3 years now and I’m on the GB Paraclimbing team. So far I’ve competed in one round of world cups and took first twice and second once.

Boly: What got you into paraclimbing?

Phillips: For many years I was a national swimmer, however swimming isn’t a particular thrilling sport. I started to look for alternatives and my mum suggested that I attend a paraclimbing event in London. I went and managed to come in second, despite it being my first time competitively climbing. From there I found proper coaching, which led me to my coach Robin O’leary and I haven’t look back since.

Boly: That’s amazing. Do you have any tips for someone who wants to climb more, or possibly make paraclimbing their primary sport?

Phillips: The best piece of advice I can give is to just…go for it. I think many people are put off by the danger that could be involved, but in reality, there is very little danger.

I would recommend finding a local wall and climb, then go down for a taste, and if you enjoy it then go again. If you like it and you’re looking to get good at climbing, then I would suggest looking for proper climbing coaching.

Boly: Coaching, got it. How important is strength training in your sport?

Phillips: Strength training is massively important in climbing. Climbing is great as it uses so many of your muscles. Finger strength is very important in climbing too, as it allows you to hold those tiny edges. To me strength is the base of all my climbing, if I didn’t have strength, then I would definitely not be as good as I am.

Boly: What are the best exercises someone can do to become stronger at climbing?

Phillips: For beginner, the best exercises are to just climb as much as possible. This will help establish a good base of climbing strength overall, as nothing works the muscles more specifically than just climbing.

For advanced climbers, I would massively advise working on finger strength. The use of a fingerboard – basically a device with a number of slots of varying depth – allows the user to properly train their fingers strength specifically.

Boly: For beginners having grip problems, do you have any beginner recommendations to improve grip strength?

Phillips: For beginners and grip strength, the best way to develop finger strength is to use the jugs (large and deep holds), I’d recommend to do max hangs, as this involves hanging for as long as u can on these jugs to build up the strength. A word of warning, never over do it, and listen to your body. Also, make sure to warm up thoroughly.

Boly: What’s one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced so far with climbing?

Phillips: In climbing, I think the biggest challenge has been looking passed my disability and seeing that I can do anything. My mind game has been massively important throughout my climbing.

Boly: On that note, what’s the story behind your right arm?

Phillips: I was born without my arm below the elbow. No one really knows why, but hey it doesn’t seem to have stopped me.

Boly: Do you have any final thoughts you’d like to share about climbing?

Phillips: Climbing has been a huge turning point in my life and has helped me to be a better person. I’m not saying that it will do the same for everyone, but rather that you should find that thing or sport that will help you be who you really are.

Phillips is a strength athlete that has clearly found his niche and continues to crush his sport. It’s important to remember that everyone starts somewhere and if you’re thinking about trying something (like climbing), then take Phillips advice and…just go for it. After all, what do you have to lose?

Feature image from @matthew_paraclimbing Instagram page. 

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Jake holds a Master's in Sports Science and a Bachelor's in Exercise Science. Currently, Jake serves as one of the full time writers and editors at BarBend. He's a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and has spoken at state conferences on the topics of writing in the fitness industry and building a brand. As of right now, Jake has published over 1,100 articles related to strength athletes and sports. Articles about powerlifting concepts, advanced strength & conditioning methods, and topics that sit atop a strong science foundation are Jake's bread-and-butter. On top of his personal writing, Jake edits and plans content for 15 writers and strength coaches who come from every strength sport.Prior to BarBend, Jake worked for two years as a strength and conditioning coach for hockey and lacrosse players, and was a writer at the Vitamin Shoppe's corporate office. Jake regularly competes in powerlifting in the 181 lb weight class, and considers himself a weightlifting shoe sneaker head. On the side of writing full time, Jake works as a part-time strength coach and works with clients through his personal business Concrete Athletics in Hoboken and New York City.