Category Archives: Training Talk

Plateauing on Your Climbing Project? Try This! Suggestions to Help You Send (4)

Photo courtesy of Louis Arevalo

Photo courtesy of Louis Arevalo

Discussing mental training tactics is a murky pond at best; nothing illustrated this to me more clearly than reading “Evidence-Based Applied Sport Psychology,” and my ensuing interview with premier sport psychologist Dr. Roland Carlstedt. What works for one person perfectly might actually screw up another’s performance. Add to this confusion that athletes are often quick to blame mental issues as a reason for compromised performance, when in fact physical or technical deficiencies lie at the root of those supposedly mental issues. Add to this confusion yet again the reality that you can’t simply separate the head from the body and treat it as a separately operating entity, despite our cultural tendency to do just that, albeit often unwittingly. What a recipe for mucking everything up by suggesting any sort of specific mental training tactics, especially in any sort of blanket way, right?

Despite this, I’ll do my best here to hone in on 10 areas that involve using your mind more effectively that may help you send more quickly or break through a plateau (keyword: may!). These include the following:

  1. Don’t set a deadline or an expectation of outcome for any given day. It’s great to have a goal, but don’t expect or anticipate linear progress (i.e. improvement every single day) on your project. By the same token, don’t put an expected sending deadline on your project – even if you’re traveling and are time-limited. Work to enjoy the process of climbing every day without a sense of pressure, unless of course, you work well under pressure and enjoy it (I don’t). This comes down to knowing how you work best and what’s enjoyable to you. Either way, being okay with sending/not sending makes it more likely that you’ll have fun no matter what the outcome. Remind yourself that a year or five years from now, you probably won’t care nearly as much about whether you sent or didn’t send this particular route.
  2. If you struggle with distracting mental chatter while you climb, try giving your mind something to fixate on other than the outcome of your project efforts. One of the simplest tactics involves focusing on the breath, starting to breathe consciously and fully when you step off the ground, and keeping that breath going steadily throughout your climb as a kind of metronome for your movements. If this does not suffice, try repeating words to yourself that can drown the distracting chatter, such as “strong and relaxed,” “calm and strong,” or whatever works for you to cultivate the proper pacing and movement on the route.
  3. Set small daily goals, and have a number of them in mind each day you head out to attempt your project. Maybe you want to eliminate a hang, or refine some beta, or get a high point, or link a section that you haven’t climbed through before – or all of the above. If you achieve anything that represents progress, consider your day a success.
  4. Conversely, if progress on a given day isn’t possible, make a smart decision about what forcing the issue by continuing to climb when you’re too tired to progress will result in, and consider it a successful day if you pull the plug on climbing and opt for recovery and rest instead. Keep a big-picture perspective and understand that if you start to consistently low-point your project, you probably need more rest. Be disciplined and strong mentally about this. Rest.
  5. Be okay with whatever happens, and be logical rather than emotional in assessing a less-than-desirable outcome. Example: you fall off a move you have dialed. Instead of freaking out and saying, “I can ALWAYS do that move, what the heck is wrong with me?” and then proceeding to beat in the already-dialed move repeatedly and angrily, consider why you might have fallen. Were you tired? Not concentrating? Did you make a movement error? Were the conditions poor? Respond logically to the situation, not emotionally.
  6. Visualize the project while you’re away from it or right before you attempt it, or both. Visualization works better for some people than others, so you can feel free to experiment with whether running through the climb in your mind while you’re away from it or just before you attempt it, or both, works for you.
  7. Memorize the beta – all of it! More importantly than off-route visualization (in my opinion, anyhow), is to know that you have all of the beta dialed in and memorized, including the “easy parts” of the project. You want to know what to do on every part of the climb, to have it all worked out efficiently, so that you don’t waste your energy fumbling around figuring out what to do the first time you get through the crux.
  8. Cultivate a flexible mind. Even if you have the beta memorized, being able to quickly realize when what you’ve worked out isn’t going to work on the redpoint go and being willing to compensate and just try anything rather than taking is ideal. Just climb until you fall (so long as the fall is safe, as always), regardless of whether you’re out of sequence or doing something different than planned – you might surprise yourself and send. It happens!
  9. If you stop having fun, it’s okay to walk away from it– for a week, for a month, for a season, or forever. Remind yourself of this truth. You chose this project for yourself, probably because you thought it would be fun. If it starts to feel like a job or a chore, take a step back and ask yourself if it’s worth continuing, or if a break might be warranted. Calm your mind about “losing everything;” unless you stop climbing or stop trying hard routes completely for the rest of your life, you will probably gain much more out of trying something different for a while. A shift in perspective can be a valuable asset.
  10. Having more than one project at a time can be helpful in keeping the mind (and the body) from feeling stuck in a rut. Even if you have one main, harder project, having another or several other climbs that you can play on or attempt if you’re not feeling the love or the energy on any given climbing day can help keep a fresher perspective while simultaneously keeping the body from being trained to only one set of moves (and consequently more exhausted and at-risk for overuse injuries from repeating that particular set of moves).

Next Up: Plateauing on Your Climbing Project? Try This! Suggestions to Help You Send (5): Off-Season Training

Plateauing on Your Climbing Project? Try This! Suggestions to Help You Send (3)

Photo courtesy of Louis Arevalo

Photo courtesy of Louis Arevalo

It’s easy to get stuck in a performance rut on a project that is at the edge of your ability level, repeating the same performance every single day you climb. The most standard scenario seems to go as follows: climb up to sticking point, fall, pull back up to hard move, rest until pump dissipates and power returns, pull back on the rock and continue climbing to anchors. The problem with repeating this same pattern over and over again is that it actually trains your body to be less likely to quickly adapt to sending the route. This is a great real-life illustration of the athletic training principle of specific adaptations to imposed demands (SAID): when you do this, you are training the hang (rest period) into your body, not encouraging it to push through that place of difficulty.

You can take several approaches to stop training and ingraining this hang (or multiple hangs, as the case may be), and you can combine these approaches or employ a different one each day. The approaches I use most commonly are the following:

  1. Pull back on and continue climbing immediately with no rest, so your body is almost as fatigued as it was when you fell off (if you’re impossibly pumped, a variation if this is to rest for 10 seconds or 5 seconds and then try to continue – and then start to decrease that rest time and work toward pulling right back on);
  2. Lower down to several moves before your normal falling point – maybe all the way back to the last rest or shake-out spot on the route. Attempt to climb from there through the sticking point move and continue on. You can do this once, or do it several times in a row – being aware that climbing the hard section repeatedly is likely to be quite fatiguing, so multiple repetitions are usually best saved for the final effort of the day;
  3. Deliberate low pointing, in which you’ll take at a place well before your sticking point, most ideally a place on the route where you can normally rest and shake out on the rock (so you’re just giving yourself a better rest where you can normally rest anyway). After resting here, get back on the route and attempt to continue and climb through the sticking point area without falling. Gradually decrease the resting hang until you are resting on the rock again, hopefully now with the ability and confidence to climb through the former sticking point.

In addition to trying to break a “hanging habit,” several other on-route tactical changes can provide effective ways to help you send more quickly. These include the following:

  1. Beta reexamination. I most often employ this in two circumstances. One is if I do encounter a specific sticking point, even if I have the beta dialed, I will revisit the technical solution I’ve come up with – in other words, how I’ve worked the beta and wired it in – to see if I’ve missed anything, if there’s a more high-percentage solution instead of stubbornly sticking with what I have worked out. The other circumstance is if I watch another or several other climbers on the project, and they come up with a different way to do something that I have worked out – even if it’s not the sticking point for me. If what they’re doing appears to be way easier for that section of climbing for them than what I’m doing there, it’s worth checking to see if that works better for me. A key to this second circumstance is to know that if you do have beta dialed in, the first time you try someone else’s way it might feel awkward or not right because you don’t have it as wired – so it’s important to not immediately dismiss it in this case. I will usually play around with the new beta and try it out anywhere from five to 15 times before I decide whether it’s worth integrating into my beta for the climb.
  2. On-route resting can make or break your send, so really honing in on the amount of time you should spend at each rest and shaking out the ideal amount for your body to recover but not start to dip into diminishing returns from resting can help you send. I use breath counts at rests, assigning a certain number of breaths to each rest. This is not rigid, though – if I feel like I need more rest I’m okay with staying a little longer, or if I need less, I’ll leave earlier. But generally speaking, figuring out how to utilize rests intelligently and effectively can make a huge difference in your sending potential.
  3. Tied in with resting, your pacing on the route can also impact your success rate. Every climber has a pace that tends to work best for him or her, but it’s often the case that people who tend to climb slowly climb more slowly than is ideal, and that people who climb really quickly climb more quickly than is ideal. Finding that natural pace that works best for your body takes time and effort; it’s worth it to try to push the pace if you are slow or to slow down and breathe if you tend to climb quickly, and to observe if this makes a difference in your overall performance. In general, shaking out on every hold isn’t ideal, nor is never shaking out at all.

Summing it up: Stop training the hang, revisit your beta, use rests intelligently, and explore pacing adjustments.

Next Up: Plateauing on Your Climbing Project? Try This! Suggestions to Help You Send (4): Mental Work

Plateauing on Your Climbing Project? Try This! Suggestions to Help You Send (2)


Off-route tactical changes might help you in your efforts to bust through a plateau. Consider adjusting variables such as your warm-up protocol, amount of rest between efforts, project attempts per day, and being attentive to proper hydration and fueling. Read on for pointers in how to revise your approach in each of these areas to help facilitate faster sending.

While warming up is necessary for peak performance no matter who you are, experimenting with changing what you do to prepare for your project efforts can make a difference – particularly if you are a climber who likes to climb lots of pitches to warm up, or conversely, one who shirks the warm up entirely. People who say they don’t need to warm up are risking injury and underperformance – this is basically just like saying, “I’m too lazy to figure out an intelligent warm-up protocol that works for my body.” Bodies function better with a warm-up; warming up makes muscles more elastic, speeds up reaction time, and allows for better nutrient transport to and waste removal from working muscles, among other benefits.

But – you can also warm up too much and undercut your performance, as a recent study demonstrated, an interesting read on perception vs. reality in warm-up protocols. Of course, everyone’s ideal warming up routine will not be exactly the same, since different bodies function differently. But playing around to figure out exactly how much of a warm up and how hard you need for optimal performance can help you send, and being aware that the right warm-up for you might vary depending on your project, too (meaning that when you tackle a new project, your old warm-up routine might not be ideal for your new project).

In a similar fashion, knowing how long to rest between attempts at a project route can be the difference between a send or a fail, as can knowing how many attempts to give per day. This really depends on the route and on you as a climber, and again, it is up to you to figure out the ideal amount of resting time between efforts to give you the best chance to send. For me, an hour off between go’s is usually standard for a hard effort.

For attempts per day, mine can vary from one to four, as this has to do with the style of the project and how hard it is for me. My general rule is that if the moves start feeling inordinately harder than normal or I start flailing on moves I can usually do, my efforts for the day are over, no matter what I thought I might be able to do that day. Another more subtle aspect to be aware of is that the first time you link through moves that you haven’t done before – say taking the route from three hangs to two hangs, or two to one – you have increased the intensity of your effort, and you may be unable to repeat such an effort that day even if you’re used to giving more than one burn per day. You may also need more days off to recover fully from this increased intensity. It’s your responsibility to understand this effect and to make the most of it – with full recovery, your body will be more likely to be able to repeat or even surpass that effort on your next day on the project.

Getting into great detail about what it means to hydrate and fuel properly is way beyond the scope of this article, and I’ve written about this in detail before. Suffice it to say here that you should be attentive to regularly sipping small amounts of sports drink containing 6 to 8 percent carbohydrates throughout a day of difficult efforts, as well as making sure you refuel right after each difficult effort with a small amount of well-tolerated solid food – not right before! Feeling actively hungry or thirsty during a climbing day is best avoided, as is feeling overly full/gassy or being waterlogged from drinking too much at one time. Dehydration can result in a serious performance deficit, as can underfueling. Make sure you’re supporting your body’s efforts by staying comfortably hydrated and fueled throughout each climbing day.

Summing it up – if you’re plateauing on your project, on the days when you’re out there trying it, consider employing the following tactical changes: Change your warm-up protocol. Rest more between burns. Do fewer burns. Eat/hydrate more appropriately.

Next Up: Plateauing on Your Climbing Project? Try This! Suggestions to Help You Send (3): Tactical Changes (On-Route)