We recently started trying out a new training method. The idea is to climb six days a week and rest one. However, instead of full on until you break down and can’t move climbing sessions, they are kept to only one hour exactly. Three days on, 1 rest then three more days. As someone who loves projecting, the idea of being able to work on my project that much was appealing. When I find a climb that I really like, it is all I can think about. That being said, climbing so often isn’t all glamorous. We have faced some really tired days of feeling worse than ever too. Not doing as well as you did before can be annoying, frustrating, and sometimes just heartbreaking. Ultimately, it is all a part of the process and what makes climbing something we love so intensely.
Recently, my climbing brought me to a realization. It is something I have heard before and kept vaguely in the back of mind for consideration, but have recently understood in my own way. Sometimes in climbing it is better not to think about it. We are taught so many things in order to become better climbers. We are taught to read routes, which is certainly important. We are taught to focus on footwork, focus on breathing, practice technique, and learn from mistakes. This doesn’t seem particularly difficult until you are climbing at your limit. When you are trying so hard that it feels like magic is pulling you up the wall instead of what you are actually doing because this climb doesn’t seem possible with your own natural abilities, it is hard to think about anything let alone this whole list.
That is part of why practicing below your limit and warming up well is important. On an easy climb, thinking about all these things is nothing. It’s easy to not even think about the climb or climbing in general while doing laps on something easy, but it is better if you do. If you practice these thoughts when they are effortless to practice, they become ingrained in your mind and come naturally later when you are trying harder. This is when it is good to really focus on these things.
When climbing at your limit, these things certainly still do deserve some consideration. You want to try to read the route before starting. Figure out what you want to do or try. You want to then pay attention to mistakes with a quick mental note so you can improve next time. (If it is hard for you to notice mistakes, ask a climbing partner to help you by watching or video tape your climbs and play them back). However, once you get on that climb, it is better if things are so natural you don’t need to actively think about them because there is also a benefit in just going for it and having confidence.
I have been working on a climb where there is one move that I need to execute that doesn’t feel natural to me. For some reason what I need to do isn’t comfortable. It also is one of those moves where I need to do it right in order to progress. Mistakes mean falling. It’s at my limit and I’m not strong enough to just power through a mess up yet. Knowing this has made it so that when I get to this move, I significantly slow down, put a lot of thought in, and every time fall. Slowing down zaps a lot of energy I could conserve by picking up the pace, and thinking about it zaps a lot of confidence. It is like my mind starts thinking, this is where you fall and therefore, I fall.
My climbing partner said to stop thinking about the move. It is one of those things that sounds so easy you’d think to roll your eyes and say “oh yeah that’s it,” but in this case that really is it. You see the thing is that while I’ve fallen a lot, I’ve also done that move many times. I just hadn’t moved on from it. I knew the move. I knew I could get the move. Yet when I slowed down and thought about it, it let doubt creep in. Even though I could do it, I would in that split second think about how high the chances were that I wouldn’t do it. Climbing is just as much a mental game as a physical sport. Allowing that doubt or fear to take over, quickly leads to failure.
I remembered a lesson in the Warrior’s Way clinic. We had to climb without thinking. It didn’t matter if we stayed on the same route or if we did moves right. What mattered was getting up the wall as quickly as possible without thinking. The benefit to this is learning that our bodies naturally know how to keep balance. We move to maintain it. Some climbs call for us to move in ways our bodies wouldn’t naturally, but for the most part it should flow naturally. When we think too much about it, we often take away from what our bodies are naturally able to accomplish and often letting them do it would make things much easier. There is a benefit to both. There is often a definite benefit to having confidence. When we believe we can do things, we try harder and typically find success. When we doubt, we often take the easy way out and accept any failure as inevitable.
I decided to turn off my thoughts and try to climb fast without thinking. I knew the moves. I had worked them out before. I told myself I could do it, and I kept confident. I focused on breathing instead. I climbed quicker than before which helped me keep more energy. Slowing down and putting a lot of thought into it, also meant that I was gripping hard and holding positions longer, which can both be tiring. When I got to that move, I just went for it and I was successful. My body knew what to do, I just needed to believe it. I ended up getting three moves further than before just by that simple change of mindset.
When we are climbing, it is naturally to blame physical aspects for our failures. I’m not strong enough. Not tall enough, or not short enough. I can’t crimp well or can’t pinch well or I just can’t do slopers. Sometimes those things are true. However, when they are true it is important to work on your weaknesses instead of allowing them to be an excuse. It is also important to consider that it might be how you are approaching the climb mentally. Are you scared of falling? Scared of failing? Doubting yourself too early? Losing focus? Mental training is just as important as physical training. Sometimes even more so.
Find what your mental weaknesses are and strengthen them too. I have a fear of falling. In order to help with this, I often take practice falls on a climb. When I get scared, I fall either there or a move below so that I can assure myself the fall is good. When you purposefully take falls, you can prepare yourself to land well and fall well. This means my practice fall will be safe, but it will also show me what falling from that height and position is like. This way I can adjust the crash pad accordingly. Also by practicing, I am taking away the unknown. This means when I fall instead of panic about what will happen, I know what will happen and position for my landing accordingly. This also means I sometimes stack a couple of pads. People around me sometimes make fun of me for this, but the real importance of it is clearing my head. It might not actually be making a huge difference, but it gives me a calmer feeling and prevents me from thinking about falling, which means I’m focusing on climbing. Everyone assess risks differently. Everyone thinks about things differently. Sometimes how we think or feel effects us more than what might actually be the reality of the situation. It is important to find what you need individually to strengthen your mind for climbing. Sometimes the less you think, the better your climbing will be.