Tag Archives: mental training

Improve Your Sport Climbing (15): Injuries, Part 9 (HARD)


So I’m Injured, Now What? (III) – Mental and Emotional Challenges

In addition to physical pain, the mental and emotional aspect of climbing injuries should not be downplayed or underestimated, especially severe injuries that put you squarely on the sidelines for a lengthy period of time and/or call into question your body’s ability to handle what you want it to be able to do (climb!). It’s common to feel depressed, irritable and unmotivated when injured, and it’s also common to feel guilty about having such feelings, e.g. “I don’t have a right to feel depressed; I still have all the normal luxuries of my Western life so I’m just being selfish by having these types of feelings at all.”

While we undoubtedly enjoy an incredible quality of life compared to many other places in the world, one that allows us the indulgence of filling our free time with things like rock climbing, this doesn’t take away from the fact that a sudden decrease in physical activity – and especially one that’s so engaging and consuming as rock climbing (or any similarly pursued athletic endeavor) – can lead to a cascade of mental-emotional impacts, suffered as a result from the abrupt removal of the regular activity level and the consequent mental-physical-emotional disruption. In other words, it’s not just you being a selfish person for feeling badly that you can’t climb; it’s your whole being reacting to the situation – and you feel it in your mind as well as your body. And if you’re going to feel guilty that not climbing is making you feel depressed or down or grumpy, you might as well just feel guilty all the time about climbing even while you can climb, too – the same rules apply; it’s a privilege to have the freedom to climb at all.

So don’t feel badly that you feel badly; this is unproductive and will only make the feeling bad even worse. Instead, try to acknowledge your feelings and accept them as valid, and do what you can to mitigate symptoms and find joy in the process of injury recovery. How to do this will vary for each individual. For some injured folks, being around other climbers or hearing about rock climbing only compounds the sense of depression at not being able to participate (sort of like hanging out and drinking water while all your friends are getting hammered to hilarity on the hard stuff); for others, being around climbing and climbing conversion gets them outside of themselves and helps remind them of what they’re working back toward being able to do.

Another great perspective to keep is to remember that all is not lost – that you will not “lose everything,” which is a common fear for injured climbers/athletes. Depending on how long you’re out, you will lose some fitness, sure, and if you’re out for a substantial time with no climbing-relevant physical activity (a month or longer), you may experience some strength loss, too. But, it takes the body much longer to lose strength gains than it does to make them; the body is reluctant to let go of such hard-fought gains (strength gains take a long time to manifest when compared to endurance gains). Also, once you’ve worn a path into your body once, it’s way easier to get back to that level again than it was to get there in the first place; the body “remembers” where you were (not exactly correct, but a good image/way to think about it). And your brain does remember how to climb, though it may feel rusty at first when you get back. You will not be starting at square one, and you’re likely to get back to where you were before the injury much faster than you might expect.

Staying physically active, as mentioned in the previous entry, is a great way to help decrease withdrawal-from-climbing and concern-about-future-climbing symptoms, as is a proactive rehabilitation/climbing-training plan that is workable without causing further harm while you’re injured. Another coping mechanism is to delve into an entirely different activity (physical or not) that you normally don’t have time to do while you’re climbing but that you’re interested in, like taking an online or community course on a topic of interest, volunteering for a worthy cause, and so forth. Keeping yourself occupied instead of spending your normal climbing/training time perseverating on what you can’t do and feeling sorry for yourself can go a long way to keeping your spirits relatively high, which in turn can actually influence the pace/outcome of your injury in terms of healing time.

“Emerging and converging evidence support the perspective that the mind and body are inextricably linked and function in an integrative manner to mediate the manifestation of maladaptive autonomic nervous system responses (ANS) that can result in symptoms and eventual illness, and in the realm of sports, drive competitive anxiety, reduced attention, diminished motor control and consequent poor performance. … Identifiable mind-body processes and interactions that have been harnessed therapeutically to ameliorate symptoms and promote well-being have also been shown to enhance self-regulation and improve performance.” (from Evidence-Based Applied Sport Psychology: A Practitioner’s Manual, by Roland A. Carlstedt, Ph.D.)

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!

“Evidence-Based Applied Sport Psychology:” A Layperson’s Review of the Gold Standard for Athletes’ Mental Training

Image courtesy of dream designs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of dream designs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“About 80% of all athletes and clinical patients that I see who come to me voluntarily (not part of team and mandatory sport psychology services) are in the high range for hypnotic susceptibility (HS; a cognitive style independent of being hypnotized) making them extremely ‘placebo’ prone and likely to believe whatever they are told and are thus vulnerable and apt to ‘see’ and ‘feel’ effects that often can not be documented. All athletes should be tested on this measure and two others (neuroticism and repressive coping) that are strong predictors of pressure performance tendencies, intervention amenability and suggestibility/placebo proneness. Practitioners should especially be tested for hypnotic susceptibility so as to recognize outcome biases that are associated with high HS that can lead to a dual-pseudo placebo effect that will do little for your game/performance.” ~Dr. Roland Carlstedt

Every so often, I read a training book that impacts the way I look at an aspect of training or training in its entirety on a deep, foundational level – a book that transforms my approach to and perspective on the subject matter at hand, shedding clarity and deepening my insight in ways I never imagined it would when I first picked it up. “Evidence-Based Applied Sport Psychology: A Practitioner’s Manual,” by Roland A. Carlstedt, Ph.D. (Springer Publishing Company: New York; 2012) is such a book – it has profoundly altered my comprehension of mental training, much in the same way that “Periodization-5th Edition: Theory and Methodology of Training first opened my eyes up to the wide world of evidence-based physical training, and the way that “Advanced Sports Nutrition: Second Edition” did for my understanding of the ideal athlete diet.

This book has proven so fascinating to me that I got in touch with Dr. Carlstedt, who graciously provided me with a few direct quotes (including the one at the top of this entry) to complement the quotes I’ve pulled from the book and included at the end of this entry.

“Mental training has its place and can be beneficial, it’s just that the onus is on the practitioner to demonstrate the extent to which it is or is not having an impact using rigorous empirical investigative methods.” ~ Dr. Roland Carlstedt

Image courtesy of Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Master isolated images / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

First, I’ll warn you, though; if you buy this book and you’re not a sport psychologist (I’m not), be prepared for a staggering amount of statistics, acronyms and studies that can prove quite difficult to follow at times. Instead of allowing these to overwhelm you, I suggest that you focus your attention on trying to grasp the conceptual ideas that are presented as a result of all of the research and evidence backing them.

I am most certainly not an expert in this area after reading this book – not at all. I’m not a sport psychologist, and I won’t be able to implement all or even most of the protocols Dr. Carlstedt suggests in his book to help clients or other climbers/athletes achieve better mental outcomes. I simply do not have the resources or expertise to do so. However, what I can do is a) help guide clients toward a more thorough understanding of the role that mental training should play in their overall climbing/training plans, b) try to dispel some of the rampant and unproven misconceptions and myths surrounding mental training, c) explain that mental and physical training are inextricably interlinked, not separate entities that can or should be treated as such, and d) explain that just as with physical training, there is no one-size-fits-all or quick-fix paradigm for mental training; appropriate interventions vary from individual to individual and depend largely on each person’s psychological profile.

“It’s all about variance explained, or how much of the performance equation (outcome or mental training effects) can be explained on the basis of predictor variables (e.g., a mental training method). If your practitioner has no clue what this means and is incapable of designing an intervention efficacy study of your mental training regime, you will not be an informed athlete. Athletes need as much reliable information on the mental games as most have acquired or sought regarding the physical and technical game.” ~Dr. Roland Carlstedt

Image courtesy of dream designs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of dream designs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

When I find myself highlighting and wanting to share quotes from virtually every page of a book, I know it’s worth its weight in gold. I’ve picked out six (of so many!) tantalizing nuggets to whet your appetite below – but really, if you want to learn about what the science says about psychological training for athletes, Roland Carlstedt, Ph.D. is the probably the No.1 person on the planet to listen to (just check out the link above for his credentials – pretty impressive).

Image courtesy of ddpavumba / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of ddpavumba / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“Previous research, in its totality, has been unable to explain more than 1% to 3% (per predictor measure and less than 10% on the basis of all psychological factors combined) of the variance in the performance equation that can be attributed to psychological factors, despite anecdotal notions that sport performance is mostly ‘mental.’”

“…[A]thletes are often quick to attribute their performance woes to psychological factors when, in reality, technical and/or physical deficiencies are at the heart of their inability to perform as well as they think they should.”

“…[W]hat you do on the playing field will be the final benchmark of performance. The same applies to other interventions or mental training. I will never guarantee that a procedure will work, as should no other practitioner.”

“Being told to apply some generic visualization intervention or engage in progressive relaxation or a patterned breathing routine is unlikely to improve a tennis player’s poor backhand.”

“Ultimately, the goal of mental training is to get an athlete to unconsciously set off a cascade of brain–heart–mind–motor events that occur without any effort or thought when things are going well, regardless of the situation (whether routine or critical moments).”

And finally: “The lack of systematic evidence-based approach to applied sport psychology can significantly hinder athletes from achieving peak psychological performance and obtaining valid and reliable information on their psychological response tendencies and mental performance during training and competition. Unfortunately, many practitioners are not aware that something may be missing from their practice repertoire, training/education, and knowledge base, or are reluctant to admit to such (even more so among highly credentialed or “experienced,” “star,” or supposed stalwart practitioners). Yet, the field and many of its practitioners continue to tout and promote their methods with utmost confidence to the extent of guaranteeing the validity and efficacy of their methods or approach.”

prAna Life: Yoga Mind, Climbing Mind

Vrschikasana in pincha mayurasana, my 2nd day of practicing this asana.

It’s STILL snowing in Wyoming (nothing new & different), so I took this opportunity (after some solid days of climbing training) to start teaching myself a new asana (pose), pictured above — Vrschikasana in Pincha Mayurasana, or Scorpion Pose in Forearm Stand. It definitely still needs lots of work, but it’s a start; I have no idea if I’ll ever get those feet to touch my head, but who cares?! Read how practicing yoga and the process of learning new poses  has helped improve my climbing in ways I never imagined it would in my latest prAna life entry, Yoga Mind, Climbing Mind: Exploring the “Whys” of Learning & Mastering Movements.