Improve Your Sport Climbing (14): Mental Training, Part 5 (HARD)



Positive Thinking

Your mental activities and overall state of mind when you’re not actually in the act of climbing can have a crucial impact on your outcomes when you are climbing or training, or even resting enough to support your peak performances or training efforts. Two key areas to consider here are positive thinking and visualization. Today’s discussion revolves around the first; the following entry will cover the second.

Positive thinking includes not just how you think about yourself as a climber, but your overall status quo state of being. Are you pessimistic or paranoid, or do you tend more toward optimism and thinking the best of yourself and others? The more positively you can frame your world, the more positive your outcomes tend to be…and this carries over into climbing, too. This doesn’t mean that being positive will make sending routes happen way faster, necessarily, but having a more positive worldview does mean that you can probably cultivate more tolerance for difficulties and are able to spin them more positively to yourself, making you more able to enjoy the moment (and to be a pleasant and fun climbing partner, too).

An example of the above is to shift a frustrating moment of being unable to do a move on a particular climb or boulder problem into an awesome moment of success for yourself. You can do this by reflecting on the move in question and analyzing why you’re failing on it – what muscle group(s) or motions are you struggling with, and why? As you figure this out (perhaps with the help of a coach or climbing partners), you can look to find solutions to help remedy this issue.

So the moment of frustration/failure turns into a successful moment of getting taught directly about something that you need to work on to improve your overall climbing game – a much more valuable experience in the big picture than just traipsing up a climb with little or no difficulty. Cultivating this mindset 100 percent of the time isn’t likely to happen overnight, mind you – or maybe not ever – but it’s good to have it wired as your fallback default mode of thinking about such things instead of perpetual negative self-talk about how weak you are and how much you suck and so forth.

If you’re not sure you are using positive thinking to your greatest advantage, start by paying attention to how often you think something negative about yourself, your body, your climbing ability, or even your rest days. For example, many climbers and other fitness-obsessed types have difficulty handling rest days (or even rest periods between efforts on routes or boulder problems), even when their body would make the most gains from more rest and they could actually improve both training and performance outcomes. Little negative inner voices whispering that you’ll lose fitness if you don’t adhere strictly to a training or climbing schedule can lead you to overtrain and also, to get disgusted with your body’s inability to handle what you’re willing to dish out to it should injury occur.

Staying positive and working to curtail negative thoughts and words about such issues can lead to more positive outcomes overall. This isn’t to say you have to walk around with a fake smile plastered on your face all the time (though it has been demonstrated that smiling has a whole host of positive health effects, not the least of which is an improved mood – I’ve even experimented with smiling at rests on routes; I’m not sure if it helps, but I’ll try anything, and smiling is easy).

Negativity, including a regularly negative state of mind, increases stress, and stress does not help you reap the full benefits of your efforts to improve at climbing or to put in strong climbing performances (not to mention a full enjoyment of your life). Stress can have a detrimental impact on your body’s healing time, your sleep quality/quantity, your digestion and your hormones, among other adverse effects, so keeping your thoughts positive and your stress levels low can together lead to improved climbing and training efforts, both.

This multipart series of blogs and articles starts here, in case you have to catch up – you’ll also find a full table of contents, complete with links, in that entry. My designation of each area as “easy,” “medium” or “hard” is purely subjective. I’ve arrived at the designations from my personal experience garnered from 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You may find some of the areas harder or easier to change. You also might not agree with me or my take on things. That’s fine – feel free to take it or leave it as you wish! Also, remember that the information I provide here is purely offered as advice and that no exercises or training program should be undertaken without receiving medical clearance from a healthcare professional.

One other caveat: As will be true for all of the entries and articles in this series, if you’ve already mastered or maxed out the topic at hand to the best of your ability level, you’ll reap far fewer benefits or none at all from my suggestions – good for you that you figured it out, but sorry I couldn’t help you out more. Happy climbing and training!

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