Tag Archives: positive thinking

Improve Your Sport Climbing (14): Mental Training, Part 10 (HARD)

M10

Cultivating an Ideal Training Mindset

Training for climbing beyond just climbing to train for climbing isn’t for everyone. This is not because most climbers wouldn’t stand to benefit from employing some climbing-specific exercises in the weight room (for example), but because for some folks, this kind of training takes all the fun right out of climbing, period. And that’s 100 percent fine, of course. Anyone who is happy with their current climbing level and the way that climbing/bouldering as a training method serves them/enables them to improve or stay at the same level should stick with that, because if it’s not broken, there’s no need to fix it.

However, if you, like me, discover that using climbing-specific training methods beyond simply climbing can and does help you reap tangible benefits, learning how to cultivate a solid training mindset can enable you to reap even greater rewards from each session. (btw, I don’t consider this “cross-training,” because the exercises are climbing-specific; in my mind cross-training involves training by participating in other sports/activities not specific to climbing, and it isn’t really applicable or effective for sport-specific training programs, but more on that in another entry!).

After you’ve identified what areas need the most attention in training and have a sound training plan in hand, you have to actually be able to commit to the program to make it worth anything. In other words, the most awesome training program in the world on paper is worthless if you cannot adhere to it enough to see results in your climbing ability. This is where personality (partially determined by your genetic predisposition) and life circumstances/schedule can really come into play as far as what will work for you. Are you internally motivated? Externally motivated? Do you need a coach/training partner/both, or do you prefer to train alone? How much time do you have to train? Do you have the right equipment? Do you have the discipline to push hard in training but also, to know when to blow the whistle on yourself and to stop before you’re injured?

The toughest part of training for me at first was learning to really embrace what I “hated” and to realize that I hated it because it was what I needed to work on the most. I’ve observed that it’s a common tendency for humans to gravitate, consciously or subconsciously, toward what we’re good at and to avoid or skip over what we’re not as good at. However, if we can stare what we are relatively not as strong at right in the face and attempt to make it stronger with time and dedication, it can gradually become something that we don’t mind as much – and that possibly, in time, we learn to love.

This has happened with me – I love steep climbing now and slopers and dynamic movements and pinches, and I also enjoy doing pull-ups(!) and lifting weights; all of these things I didn’t used to like much at all (understatement), but that’s because they were hard and painful and not fun. It’s happened with people I coach, too. Now, when I find something (a motion or type of hold, for example) I don’t like that relates to my climbing ability, I know that this most likely means I need to work on it in order to enjoy it more, if this is involved in an aspect of climbing I want to improve at.

As an aside here, there’s absolutely no problem with people deciding they don’t care to be good at a specific angle or style of climbing. It’s totally a personal choice. For example, if I’m never good at granite friction slab climbing, I’m okay with it. But a part of me always wanted to learn how to enjoy steep, dynamic, thuggy climbing, because it looked so fun – and that’s a different thing, to want to be good at something but not putting in the time/effort/proper training for it, rather than not caring to improve at it or wanting to master it.

Along with cultivating the right set of circumstances to promote your adherence to a smartly planned training program informed by your own individual goals, strengths, lifestyle, schedule, current fitness level, and climbing-related areas that need work, you’ll most likely need to make a longer-term commitment to training than you might expect or want to. Seeing real-world climbing-performance results from training takes time, and jumping from program to program or only training sporadically with no real consistency will not yield the most effective, efficient results – nor will rigid adherence to a schedule no matter what. A disciplined and committed but also flexible and malleable approach that involves consistency in training along with an understanding that missing one or two workouts here and there really doesn’t matter is the best approach. Too much commitment and a set-in-stone mentality about training can lead right into overtraining and overuse injuries – the topic of the next series.

Training smartly is a long-term endeavor that will always be a work in progress, and you’ll have to have faith that what you’re doing is worth it and will help you improve your climbing ability. Your program will change with the seasons and with your gains from training and with any new knowledge acquired from your not-sends and struggles, too…but at the same time, you’ll want to keep it somewhat consistent so that you do, indeed, see gains in the areas that need the most work. For most people, myself included, the first year or two of training using a more structured, less-“climbing-is-the-only-training-I-need-for-climbing” approach is the most difficult time; it requires a leap of faith because you’ll give up some climbing time, and it also takes a serious amount of time for most people to see real, tangible, on-the-rocks improvement – but boy, when you do, you’ll be likely to get hooked. I certainly did!

Read more about the latest advances in sports psychology in Evidence-Based Applied Sport Psychology: A Practitioner’s Manual. It’s an information-packed (read: dense) and fascinating read on the mind-body connection and why different people benefit more/less from different approaches for mental 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!

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

M9

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!

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!