How to Get Strong and Climb Better: An Interview with Crusher Sheila Binegas

This interview was first published in Vertical Life, Australia’s online climbing magazine.

Thanks to Nick Fletcher for allowing me to publish some of his great shots on my blog.  All the photos in the interview are his, check his work out here and here.  

When I first started climbing I set a ten year goal of doing a V10 . . . Yep, I had a ten year goal to do a V10 when I first started climbing. That’s really weird isn’t it?!”

After eight years of bouldering and rigorous training Sheila Binegas 33, topped out on Steve Austin (V10) at Sissy Crag, Sydney. Now ten years into her climbing career, Sheila is setting her sights on the future: harder grades, more systematic training and a new Sydney Bouldering Guide. met with Sheila to chat about her take on projects, setting goals and achieving them.

For the first 8 years of your climbing career you were driven by a singular goal.  Why V10?

It was a grade I thought was achievable in the time frame I set. I loved climbing from the beginning so the goal made me focus. I have always been goal-oriented and headstrong, it’s just my personality. It has helped me out a lot in the climbing world and it’s shaped where I am now.


Nick Fletcher Photography


It’s an ambitious goal. How did you break it down?

My main short term goal was to climb V5 within 2 years, so I did lots of bouldering in the lower grades to build up to that. Climbing my first V5 in 2005 was a milestone because I knew there were so many great problems to be climbed within that grade. The following year I climbed my first V6 and V7, so it was a really rapid progression.

For my medium term goal I wanted to break the V8 barrier and I gave myself 4-5 years. Paratroopin at Frontline was my first V8 in 2007, so I was on track. I plateaued after this and it took a few years to snap out of it and step up to a new level.

Did you ever think you might not achieve your goal?

Yes, around 2008 when I stopped improving it got me really worried! I knew then that I had to start doing something different to break out of the rut. This was when I seriously started looking at training properly.


Nick Fletcher Photography

What changed?

The first couple of years were pretty laid back, I just climbed a lot! I didn’t really start training until 2009 and even then it wasn’t very structured. Now I know what, when and how to train to peak at the right time. I’m more disciplined.
This year I’ve started to do a lot more general body conditioning and strength training with Mark, my trainer. Before my Rocklands trip I started doing a systematic training program: 6 weeks of pure endurance, then power endurance and then power. I really wanted to be in good shape and that systematic training really paid off.

You sent Steve Austin ahead of schedule. What did you do next?

I set some new goals! I want to be able to do a V12, so that means a completely different training plan. I needed to think: what do I need to work on, what type of training do I need to do to get there?


Nick Fletcher Photography

What would you say to climbers who are thinking about setting their own climbing goals?

I’m not naturally talented or naturally athletic. I got here because I worked at it. Set short, medium and long term goals for yourself based on what you want to do, not on the people around you. Be really honest with yourself and work on your weaknesses. Train your strengths but focus on your weaknesses, it will make you a better climber.

Can you tell me a bit about your newest project, the Sydney Bouldering Guide?

I’ve been thinking about it for a few years and this year, with the help of a few others, I decided I’ve just gotta knuckle down and do it. The community needs it, especially for people who have just started climbing. I remember my guide book was always in my bag when I first started bouldering outside. It will be nice to give something back and get people to the new areas, not just Sissy and Frontline. It will reduce the pressure on the more established crags too.

How will it differ from the old guide?

First of all new topos, full colour glossy images. There are a lot of cool new micro areas, little crags with between 10-20 problems of really good quality.

You’ve got a lot of projects which seem to demand a lot of energy. What do you do to unwind?

Well, I’m glad I don’t bake cos I really like cakes, that would be bad! I read a lot of historical fiction. It’s interesting to see how people lived in certain periods and compare it to how we live now, I find that fascinating. I like catching up with family, sometimes when I’m out climbing I can forget that I have family who want to see me. I have a little nephew who I love, I can’t wait until he grows up and I can get him on a bike and out climbing.  

Thanks Shay, good luck with all your new projects.  

Sheila is sponsored by Prana, Moon and Mountain Equipment.  


Sheila Binegas /digest: about the interview/

A few months ago I caught up with my friend and super-psyched boulderer Shelia Binegas. The plan was to have a chat about a piece I was working on for Vertical Life Magazine and to have a boulder session while we were at it.  I wanted to interview Shay because she had told me something recently that got me thinking.  Her new personal trainer was going through the routine pre-training questions with her and one of them was: what do you do if you don’t achieve your goals?  I thought about this.  Change my approach?  Reconsider my training program?  Shay’s response was different.  She just thought it was a really weird question.  Why would you need to even consider this?  According to Shay, if you set realistic goals and work to achieve them, you will.

I’m not sure what it was about this that piqued my interest.  Maybe it was her confidence.  Her complete lack of comprehension of unmet goals.  Her matter-of-factness about simply planning, training and achieving climbing goals while I’m floundering in the mid-grades after how many years.  It seems logical but was so far from my approach to climbing.  Whatever it was, it led to our meeting and this blog post.


I don’t consider myself a boulderer.  I love the idea of it and have fun when I do it, but I don’t do it much. My bouldering experience is limited to a couple of bouldering holidays and the odd gym session.  I don’t own a pad, use liquid chalk, take a boom box to the crag or climb in a crop top and beanie.  I’m so out of touch with bouldering that I can’t even make a good joke about not being a boulderer without relying on clichés I read on the internet.  

Shay and I met at Sissy Crag on Sydney’s north shore early on a week day. I had been there once before and remembered it being a dank, seedy little cliff.  The place was unrecognisable, scrubbed clean and dust-free.  Shay told me that someone had dragged a gurney to the top of the cliff and sprayed the whole place out with the high pressure hose.  Classy?

The sandstone was more featured than I remembered, with pale wisps and sweeping arcs of ochre and orange accentuated by white chalk.  A cool breeze rose from the river below and rustled in the gums. Birds chirped. 

Shay was psyched.  Sissy is her local crag and she’s probably done every problem she can there hundreds of times, but she was genuinely amped and it was awesome. We warmed up on a V1, one Shay assured me was one of her favourite problems of all time and you know what? I believed her.


As driven as Shay is by goals, her key motivation is that she absolutely loves to climb. I have a few friends like this – friends who are profoundly inspired by simply being at the crag, moving on the rock, sharing the journey – and they are amazing to climb with.  Their goals may differ but their motivations are the same. Just to climb, because climbing is an awesome feeling, a constant puzzle, an amazing gift.

We ended up having a really great session.  I got summarily spanked and left humbled, strategising and trying to figure out a way to get back down there for another go. I haven’t been back since, but I brought that psyche back with me to the Blue Mountains and am loving climbing more and more.



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