|V4 boulder problem in Western Colorado|
There can be no doubt that climbing is almost equally mental as it is physical. So when is your mental state getting in the way? And what can be done to improve it? Here are a few tips to help improve your mental climbing acuity.
A. Fear- All climbing inevitably engages some degree of fear. Fear is good; it stimulates adrenaline which helps you focus and sharpens your body's abilities to perform. This is why we have adrenal glands in the first place. Only a great fool would call themselves a "fearless" climber. Those are the sort of climbers I don't like to partner with. However, excessive fears are debilitating and will ultimately hinder your ability to climb at peak performance. Two types of fears in particular are especially non-productive: fear of failure/embarrassment, and the fear of falling. Both of which are quite common and somewhat easy to remedy.
Fear of Failure- this is perhaps the silliest and easiest type of fear to rid yourself of. Being afraid of looking bad in front of your friends will hurt your performance. Don't hold yourself to the standards of others. While some friendly competition against your friends and/or peers will help keep you motivated, climbing is an individual sport. Measure your success against yourself only. Remembering that you are trying mainly to have fun and not send every climb you attempt the first time is a good way to keep yourself from falling into this trap.
Fear of Falling- this is a common and natural fear, and one that stands in the way of many climbers, especially ones that are at the beginner/intermediate level. While it is important not to ignore the possibility of a dangerous fall, being afraid to fall on well-protected routes is a major hindrance for your climbing. It will keep you from attempting routes at the top-end of your skill level and create a mental block on your climbing progress. This is evident for some climbers who will struggle with a certain move while leading but will fire through the same move when on top-rope. The best way to get over your fear of falling is to fall. Find a good belayer who knows how to perform a safe "soft catch" and take a few lead falls. On a safe climb, start with some short falls in the 5-8 foot range and build up to 15 footers. Soon you will learn to embrace and even enjoy falling and this fear will no longer be present.
Another important aspect of your mental conditioning is learning to focus. There are many techniques for focusing your mind, and you may have to find the ones that work best for you. Most trainers in athletics of all types, however, will teach you a combination of visualization, breathing, and meditation. Instead of staring up at a climb you are about to attempt convincing yourself it is too hard for you and imagining all the things that could go wrong, instead convince yourself that the route is within your ability and you are in the best condition to do it. Picture yourself making the moves in detail. Imagine yourself succeeding, standing at the top of the climb having sent it. And remember that if you don't there is always tomorrow. During the climb, if you find yourself starting to lose your focus, take a moment to breath a few times and re-channel your energy. Most of all, remember that climbing is fun.
Much can be said about nutrition and sports training, so I would go into too much detail here. Good nutrition, however, is a crucial part to getting your body to perform at its optimum levels and is therefore extremely important if you are training to climb. Eat well before a climb and after and you will find yourself feeling better and performing like you never dreamed. For the sake of this article I will break nutrition down into two categories: things that are good to eat, and things that aren't. For a more detailed nutrition regimen I would suggest seeking out any number of great resources that are already available.
THINGS TO EAT:
-Good carbs (in moderation) such as whole grains, oats, pastas.
-Foods high in healthy fats such as avocados, olive oil, etc. Remember that good fat is good and not all things that are "Low Fat" are healthy. Fat keeps your body satisified longer than carbs, making you feel hungry less often.
-Fruits and vegetables (but everybody knows this). If you struggle with the veggies, I suggest making smoothies or finding a taste for drinks such as V8.
-A high quality protein source is also crucial, lean meats relatively low in fat like chicken or turkey consumed as soon after a hard workout as possible will help your muscles recover and grow stronger. Protein supplements like Whey powder can also be helpful but avoid consuming too much protein, as it can lead to conditions such as gout.
THINGS NOT TO EAT:
-bad carbs high in refined sugars like soda, candy, milk chocolate, cakes, or any sweets. This group of foods is perhaps the worst thing you can consume for your body.
-Excessive amounts of saturated fat such as fatty red meats, butter, etc.
-And avoid excessive amounts of alcohol and drugs, these will certainly NOT help you to send that project!
V. SAMPLE ROUTINE
Here is a sample workout routine that can be customized to suit your particular climbing needs and current physical conditioning. This particular workout lends itself to gym climbing where you can climb a lot of pitches in a short amount of time, as well as mix sport and/or trad with bouldering. However, this routine can be customized based on what you have available at your local climbing areas.
A. 40 min jog. 5 min warm-up. 30 min running at a sustainable pace, gradually building in intensity followed by a 5 minute cool down walk. 3-4 times per week.
A. 50 feet of easy warm-up climbing 2-3 number grades lower than your hardest redpoint.
B. 250 feet (2-3 single pitch routes of 50-100' length) of onsight climbing from one letter grade to one number grade below your hardest redpoint (i.e. if your hardest redpoint is 5.11b, climb 5.10b to 5.11a onsight).
C. 100 feet of downclimbing
D. 75 feet of a project climb at or near your redpoint level. (recommended max: 5 attempts)
Or5-10 boulder problems at or near your redpoint level
E. 2-5 boulder problems with 15-25 pounds of weight (either in the form of a weight belt or a partially loaded backpack. Could also substitute 50-100 feet of weight routed climbing 2-3 number grades below your redpoint limit. (Avoid strenuous crimps while weighted as they can cause tendon injury. Instead focus on jug holds and other "open" grip positions).
F. 2 sets of 100 foot "sprints", climbing routes that are easy for you (3-4 number grades below your redpoint limit), focusing on moving fast without resting but still maintaining good form.
NOTE: It is recommended to alternate spending one day focusing on power and projects and the next focusing on reps and endurance on lower grades. Customize your routine to find and work your strengths and needs.
A. Push-ups- 2 sets (enough reps that push your muscles to near failure)
B. Sit-ups- 2 sets
C. Wrist curls- 2 sets (enough weight to cause muscle failure in 20-30 reps).
D. Reverse wrist curls- 2 sets
E. Other- consider your personal weaknesses. For example, if your weakness is pure strength focus on lat pulls, bench press, bicep curls and other strength exercises.
All of this is a very brief and abridged theory about getting better at climbing. If you are serious about improving your climbing ability, I would suggest using this article as only one reference. I recommend reading broadly about the topic. Motivation and passion will go a long way toward helping you reach your climbing goals. If you start to find that climbing is not becoming fun, stop and re-evaluate what you are doing. Be honest and trying to pinpoint the source of your feelings. Although training is not always enjoyable, keep your eyes on the prize and always remember that climbing is supposed to be fun. Be safe and enjoy yourself out there. Climb on!
OTHER HOW-TO ARTICLES
Beginner's Guide to Crack Climbing- An introduction to crack climbing sizes and basic crack climbing technique.
Mountaineering 101- A basic look at mountaineering, including recomended gear, training and technical skills and more.
No Trace Ethic- A guide to abiding "No Trace" ethic to preserve the place we like to mountaineer for many years to come.
Visit THE ARCHIVE: A list of most of our articles sorted by department