Improve Your Sport Climbing (14): Mental Training, Part 8 (HARD)

Your Mind On The Climb (2)

M8

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

(Continued from the previous entry…)

Dealing with stressful situations efficiently and effectively: A strong on-the-route mental game means that you can handle stress without allowing it to impact your performance negatively. This takes time and training. Stressful situations while climbing can come from both external and internal sources. External sources of stress include (but aren’t limited to) barking dogs, disruptive or unpleasant people of any age, lightning storms, breaking holds, competitions, or beta that looked or felt like it would work but doesn’t work in the moment. Internal sources of stress include the brain screaming that you can’t possible do another move, your own expectations and pressure you put on yourself to succeed, or even internalizing imagined or real external pressures, like knowing that some people are watching you climb and thinking they expect a performance.

Some people react to such stressors more negatively than others, but no matter who you are and how much you feel, you can learn to moderate the negative impact of added stressors on you through effort and training of the mind. Acknowledging the feelings but working to ignore them by replacing them with positive imagery is the starting point for this, instead directing the mental focus into the present moment, to the task at hand, which is climbing, and not worrying about the outcome or focusing on it. Consider disruptions happening around yourself as an added challenge; they’re “distraction training” and can be used to help you stay more solid mentally. When beta turns bad, instead of giving up, try something – anything! – you might surprise yourself, and the more you go for it, the more you’ll realize what your go-to moves are and what works best for you in a pinch when what you’ve planned or anticipated goes awry. In a competition (as well as climbing anything, really) remind yourself that five years from now, neither you nor anybody competing or watching is likely to seriously care about the outcome of the present moment; this can let you just focus on climbing and enjoy it for what it is – climbing. Which is supposed to be fun!

Self-talk while climbing/staying in the present moment: This ties into the above, of course – staying calm and confident and relaxed within yourself as you climb, telling yourself that you are strong and that you can do whatever’s coming up next, and also holding the sense that so long as you give it your all, that’s all you can ask for and you won’t be frustrated or disappointed by the outcome. The goal of every day is to try your hardest when you’re fresh enough to do so, to understand and be gentle with yourself and your body when it’s not recovered for full-on effort, and to not berate yourself for what you don’t accomplish on any given day. Staying present with yourself and just enjoying the moment-to-moment challenge of climbing and immersing yourself in the joy of movement is to remember and honor why you climb at all – for the sheer pleasure of climbing and the creativity it inspires and the enhanced sense of totality of a unified being living in the present moment. Feed your brain positive messages, and your body will follow; saturate it with negativity and your body will also follow. Staying positive before, during and after climbing leads to more overall positive outcomes and enjoyment of every day of climbing and training (and even rest days, too).

Breath control/modulation: I’ve written about breathing in an earlier entry in this series, but it’s worth pointing out that breathing is an autonomic function that we can also control voluntarily – meaning that bringing your awareness back to your breath and training yourself to maintain that awareness while you climb (so you don’t hold your breath through hard sequences and deprive your muscles of much-needed oxygen) is a huge and often overlooked advantage. Do not be lazy about this. Train your breathing until it’s subconscious to breathe deeply and fully while you climb, no matter how hard the going gets.

Acting as if: I think the phrase “Act as if” comes from Thinking Body, Dancing Mind: Taosports for Extraordinary Performance in Athletics, Business, and Life as a suggested mantra (of many); it’s a good one to employ in those sketchy situations when doubts crop up. If you simply tell yourself to act as if you’re strong enough or have enough left to do a sequence or move, sometimes the results can be quite surprising. Try it out. I’m not saying it’ll always work, but it’s a good way to get a little extra out of a tired body by pushing it with a solid, positive mental prompt.

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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