Improve Your Sport Climbing (14): Mental Training, Part 9 (HARD)


Setting Goals

A significant part of my mental training game involves setting climbing and related training goals. In the old days of my climbing life, these involved mainly tangible route sends or bouldering achievements. This set me up for a ton of disappointment and negative self-talk, as I struggled often to achieve what I wanted to achieve in terms of concrete sending (overachiever? You bet!), and measured the successful outcome of all climbing days as send vs. no-send. No-send = failure = not a good day overall. Obviously, this doesn’t work very well for keeping the fun factor high from day-to-day, especially not for someone like me who generally happens to prefer enormous challenges bordering on impossibility in terms of redpoint-project selection.

Gradually, my mindset has shifted into a more productive way of approaching every climbing day and training sessions, too, in terms of using goals to motivate (not denigrate) performance and training improvements, both. Every day I climb or train, I set myself several ultra-short-term goals to guide me through the session. For an outdoor climbing day, these goals might include making it one move higher on a project, climbing a sequence in its entirety for the first time, reducing the number of hangs on a project, attempting a particular onsight I’ve been saving, climbing faster (pushing my pace, which tends to still at times be too slow for my own good), working out better beta on a troublesome sequence (or at the very least double-checking or maybe even checking for the 100th time that I haven’t missed anything that might help – because, yes, I still have great faith in technical trickery, despite all the strength/power work I’ve put in!), and so forth. For training, I might just make it a goal to get out into the gym, or to get through my weights session, or to try to add some weight, send a problem, work on pinches or slopers or dynos, do a move I haven’t done yet, or make sure I stretch my forearms/chest out after training, and so forth.

The point is that these little goals motivate and guide me through every second of my climbing and training days, making me feel like I’m accomplishing and achieving the micro-steps that will take me that much closer to my medium-term, long-term, and even longer-term goals. For those goals, I tend to allow them to be more fluid and less set in time, because it’s hard to predict when you’ll send a hard project or embrace a new level – and deadlines on goals can actually set you up for letdown and frustration if you routinely don’t make it in the time period you give yourself. Instead, I suggest having an array of goals that fall outside of the ultra-short-term range, some of which are closer and some of which may take you longer – and to use them to motivate but not to judge yourself in a negative or disparaging light.

If you find yourself never even close accomplishing your climbing goals, you might want to reexamine them and to create some more attainable goals to serve as stepping stones along the way. Consider including in these attainable goals some training goals that you establish by looking for the reasons behind your inability to reach the goals you’ve set (yet). A trainer, coach, or climbing partner who’s familiar with you and your climbing might help you figure out some appropriate training goals if you’re having difficulty identifying these on your own.

In my world, climbing goals and training goals go hand in hand. Training goals are informed by the climbing goals I have yet to reach; I craft my personal training plan in the off-season by noting what I struggle with during the outdoor climbing season, since all of my climbing goals revolve around sending hard-for-me sport routes outside. Whatever I have trouble with, whatever keeps me from “succeeding,” I now consider extremely valuable information for me to take into consideration, something I can use to make better training decisions in the future. Coupled with my mini-short-term goals, this angle enables me to view nothing as a failure – and I can almost always have fun on any given climbing/training day, as a result (and this was most certainly not always the case for me!).

Always having fun when I climb is a huge goal for me, actually – because I really don’t think there’s any point to climbing if it’s not fun. Part of the learning process along these lines has also involved making resting, rest days, and not overdoing it into goals for myself, as well as for backing way down in training sessions or climbing days when necessary; when my body says, “nope,” I listen instead of barreling on through with the schedule as planned – a do-or-die mindset that resulted in too many overtraining incidents in my past to count on one hand. This leads to the final topic/entry in this series on Mental Training – cultivating a solid, sound mindset for physical training.

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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