Improve Your Sport Climbing (14): Mental Training, Part 7 (HARD)

Your Mind On The Climb (1)


“What good is a prepared body if you have a scattered mind?” (From Divergent, by Veronica Roth)

All of the physical training in the world can fall by the wayside, unused or underused, if your mental state while climbing doesn’t support and enhance your physical capabilities. Even if you have a great mental game off the rocks – daily visualization, positive attitude, belief in yourself and your abilities, a disciplined and informed approach to training, and so forth – this can all go to waste if you aren’t able to tap into your brainpower and use it to your advantage when you’re going for a peak performance. Doing this involves the following:

Reading sequences from the ground: Technically this happens right before you embark on a problem or a route, but it’s still a key part of utilizing your brainpower to its fullest capabilities, and it’s also good exercise that can help you improve at reading sequences ahead of you while you’re climbing. So before you step off the ground, whether you’re onsighting, redpointing, inside, outside, competing, or just clowning around with friends in the gym, always look at the route/problem in question and try to visualize exactly how you’ll climb what’s in front of you. Knowing where you’re going in advance and having an idea of how you’re going to get there can save you valuable time when you’re actually climbing, making for a more efficient and less draining effort and yielding greater success.

Looking ahead & planning en route: When you’re already climbing and you get to a resting position, use this time not only to bring your heart rate and breathing down (more about breathing later in this entry!) but also, to look ahead at what’s coming up and visualize yourself performing the sequence perfectly. If you’re redpointing and you know what’s coming, this is easier, of course, but it gives your brain and body the cue of what you want to happen and can help shut down voices of doubt, feeding yourself positive imagery of success instead. If you haven’t been on the route before, holds you couldn’t see from the ground can come into your field of vision, and you can also up climb and touch what’s available and look around for options and then return to the rest while you work to piece together what sequence you feel will be most effective for you to try – which brings us to the next on-the-route tool: downclimbing.

Downclimbing: Like so many parts of successful climbing, downclimbing is not just a mental tool, obviously. It’s the physical act of reversing sequences and getting back down the rock without taking or falling, which is often harder than climbing up into a position. Cultivating a deep well of knowledge about how and when and why to downclimb takes training, meaning you should definitely put some time into training climbing down. Knowing if and when you can or should reverse a sequence can be the difference between sending and failing, and sometimes, between wholeness/injury or even life and death. Diligent training can render this into an automatic response in certain emergency situations, so that when you know you can’t do the next move or that you’d have a better shot if you had more rest or that you need to climb into it with your hands or feet on different holds, your body just reverses direction back to the last rest, where you’ll shake out and prepare for what’s ahead. Downclimbing can also actually be a lifesaver if you find yourself unwilling or unable to perform a sequence, and/or you do not have the proper gear to protect yourself for the effort – instead of falling, you can downclimb back to your last piece of pro or to the ground.

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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