Meet seven Colorado athletes whose superhuman training programs and otherworldly self-control over their diets allow them to push their bodies to extremes—all for a shot at being the very best.

August 2013

Alex “AJ” Johnson
Professional Rock Climber
Age: 24
Height: 5 feet 8 inches
Weight: 135 pounds
Average weekly training hours in season: 40
Hometown in Colorado: Boulder

Training with Professional Rock Climber, Alex “AJ” Johnson from 5280 on Vimeo.

Finger strength. Alex “AJ” Johnson says it’s the single most important asset for bouldering, a sport that requires athletes to clamber up, down, and across low-to-the-ground rocks, sans ropes and harnesses. Johnson has always been able to hang onto just about anything for long periods of time. That inherent strength propelled her to the top of the sport quickly (hello, the North Face sponsorship), but she continues to toughen up those all-important digits by doing timed hangs on small wooden ledges with a 30-pound dumbbell hooked around her waist. ◗ Though most of her competitors are more genetically suited to the task (smaller, more muscular), the Wisconsin native has one inborn attribute they lack: “dude-size hands,” as she puts it, large enough to palm a basketball. Johnson also got a bit of a head start. As a kid, she scaled trees, houses, and churches before she found what her parents considered a more constructive outlet—the climbing wall at a local gym. Now, she’s turned that adventurous spirit into a career. She climbs year-round—outside when the weather allows, or at the gym. She cross-trains by sprinting for one-minute intervals on a treadmill or going on three-mile jogs. She kayaks when she can make time and meets a trainer four to five times a week to do body weight exercises like one-armed pull-ups at the gym. Johnson avoids lifting, which builds heavy muscle mass not conducive to climbing.  ◗ Her efforts have paid off: Johnson won bouldering’s highest honor, the World Cup, in 2008 and 2010. But she continues to push herself, knowing she still has work ahead of her: like eventually forcing herself to trade her current mealtime staples of Taco Bell tacos and Coke for salads and water.