Improve Your Sport Climbing (14): Mental Training, Part 6 (HARD)




Visualization/Memorization: Visualization is a HUGE component of using your mind to bolster your performance and training outcomes. For awesome directions on how to effectively implement visualization for sports performance enhancement, check out The Power of Visualization and Teaching Athletes Visualization and Mental Imagery Skills.

For climbers, especially redpoint climbers, a key part of effective utilization of visualization is to memorize every single move you’ll make on your project, including breathing, clipping, how long to stay at rests, shouting, nuances of core positioning, foot placements, hand positions, and so forth. The more details you can retain and repeat in your brain during your daily visualization sessions, the less likely you’ll be to forget what to do in the moment. And yes, this might take years of practice to refine your visualization/memorization skills to this level of detail.

You can start to drill your ability to memorize at the gym. Get on a boulder problem once, then turn away from the wall and try to remember all the handholds you used in order. The next time, add in the footholds. After practicing this for a few months, you should notice a marked improvement in your ability to recall sequences even when you’re not at the gym or on the route outside. This practice will help you start to develop a method to remember that works for you when you get on a new project outside.

My method: I start by memorizing the handholds I use during the crux(es), then I memorize the crux feet, then the crux clips. Then I move out from there, recalling the moves before and after the crux, as well as the clips, breathing, rests, and so forth. I visualize projects 2-3x each a day, minimum, when I’m actively working them. It only takes 10 minutes or so to put in a solid visualization effort. For me, visualization works best either when I’m sitting or when I’m walking – not when I’m distracted by things like television or cooking dinner or the like.

Added to the intricacy of memorizing movement and persistent dedication required for visualization to really work, you also will still ideally be able to improvise in the moment if things don’t go as planned, too – so you do not want be totally attached to the visualization. When you get to a sticking point on the climb and you can’t move on as planned, you still want to be able to take advantage of another option that might work if it’s available, making the decision to go for that in a split second and letting go of the plan. This leads to the topic of the next entry: Mental Tactics for the Crag.

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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