Climbing and bouldering are complex sports. I love this aspect, and it was one of the reasons why I fell in love with it. You can find tons of guides on the internet about how to warm up before you hit the walls or the boulder gym. Likewise, there are many articles explaining how to stretch your different muscle groups to become maximum efficient.
But what about other methods of rock climbing preparation? Mental preparation for sports is important for any type of sport.
I have 8 tips for you:
- Fight fear of failure
- Improve Hip flexibility
- Work with your brain – it’s the best muscle
- Regenerate after training
- Manage expectations
- Know when to not climb
- Be honest about your weaknesses
- Find good climbing partners
Chances are high you know that you need to train your weaknesses, although you might not know how to exactly. This is all good knowledge. But have you ever had the feeling there are some other basic truths about climbing? Fundamental aspects which you fundamentally know exist, but are neglected by most of the people because they don’t grasp them consciously?
I know they exist, I have experienced what happens if you forget about them a lot of times. This happens most often when I had a day when I went home and knew that I could have done better. But also more recently when gave my best to keep them in mind – and it boosted my climbing a ton.
So without further ado, let’s have a look at these 10 fundamentals most people love to forget in their daily climbing.
1. Fear of failure
Fear of failure, number one killer of performance. It’s not just for climbing, in fact, many people are hindered in their ability to achieve success by it at work or personal life too. And the worst part: Most don’t even know about it, as this fear is not really consciously present most of the times. For most people, it’s a mere feeling, an unwelcome sensation, a thought in the back of your mind nagging you with “what ifs”.
Maybe you feel uncomfortable when strangers watch you trying a new wall the first time? Are you more comfortable climbing at a hidden secret spot with your friends? Well, I’ve got news for you buddy – unless you’re a chronic misanthrope (of which I actually know some) that’s fear of failure at work.
It is at work when these feelings arise, and it will stop you in dead your tracks from leaving your comfort zone and becoming better. Instead, you will play it safe and do what you feel already comfortable with. But playing it safe won’t let you grow – there is no progression, no new input, no motivation in your comfort zone. If you want to progress you need to dare something new. So yeah, your comfort zone, which is fear of failure at work, feels nice. It’s not called comfort zone for no reason – leaving it does not feel “nice” – but it’s crucial to leave it every once in a while to grow.
2. Hip flexibility is key
Your hip is important, bring your center of gravity over your feet, keep a stable balance – all these “newbie” pearls of wisdom are old you’ve heard them a hundred times. Of course, they are all true, but here is the problem: You have likely been climbing for a while, and the chance is at least medium that if you have a problem with hip flexibility and balance you won’t even know it.
I see a dozen climbers every time I go to the gym or the wall who have been climbing for years, yet they still ignore the fact that they continuously lack hip flexibility. No wonder they have difficulty moving their core precisely over their feet when they need to adjust their center of gravity. And they’re not even realizing it.
A typical sign: When they climb harder routes they complain that their arms and hands are shot after just a couple of routes and they don’t know why. Well guess what: If you severely lack hip flexibility and are climbing with a poor quality of balance all the time, your arms are compensating it.
It becomes blatantly obvious only when they climb an edge of a roof, where more flexible climbers are easily swinging by and they can’t even get the foot up. I’m no excuse to this, I have severe deficiencies in my hip flexibility, and to have a good movement range in your lower body and legs you need hip and core flexibility.
So, next time you climb, spend some 10-15 minutes training hip flexibility – you will benefit from it in the long run as it plays an important role in transferring loads in dynamic moves as well.
3. Your brain and mind wins the game
Strength and technique are important tools in your shed. But I see climbers who are fit, have good technique and endurance, but they still won’t make it to the more difficult routes.
On the other hand, I know some weaker climbers, who are just 100% focused and they send routes where everyone else was sure they couldn’t do. This is what I call mind game. What you can and cannot climb is first and foremost decided by your inner game – given that you have a certain level of strength and technique of course.
Most books recommend for beginners to not focus on hangboarding and supplemental training but instead just going out and climb as much as possible – not only to learn technique but also to develop an inner mindset needed to climb harder.
Especially when it comes to exposed climbing routes, mind game is king. You need inner will and power, a positive fundamental attitude and the will to fight. Climbing is a puzzle of movement, which you need to solve and then it’s all about the fight and inner strength to actually climb up.
Your body is changing after your training not during. If you set a hard training stimulus, your body will repair the broken muscle tissue so that next time the same stimulus hits it will be able to resist it. It’s the basic principle of any training routine.
But to repair your body first and foremost needs rest and a pause. The basics always work: Get enough sleep, make sure to follow training with a period of rest meaning no or only very light training, drink lots of fluids and eat up.
Not saying you should stuff your face with fast food, but get plenty of nutritious food (enough protein and enough calories so your muscles can grow) like pasta, lean meat, vegetables, nuts, and fruits.
Focus on non-processed foods – your joints and tendons will love it and you will minimize chances of inflammation and chronic pain.
5. Manage your expectations
This is closely connected to number three. If you expect something to be hard you will focus and give it all, if you think something is easy there is a chance you will be overwhelmed by how hard it really it is, and your performance may suffer.
If you climb 5.10 regularly and try a 5.11 route you cannot expect to succeed immediately. So don’t be frustrated if you fail, shrug it off and try it again. Give it some time, and you will progress.
6. Feel when to stop and not climb
No matter if you’re in overtraining, too tired or just planned something else. There are days and reasons not to climb.
Sometimes you just don’t feel like it and like with any other outdoor sport, it’s usually better to listen to your inner voice.
A good day of regeneration and relaxing is sometimes better than forcing it. How do you know if today is a good day to take a break?
That brings me to the next point…
7. Being honest about your ability and skills
You need to learn to develop a feeling for your own body and abilities. It’s an art and most people you meet in your daily life are so disconnected with their basic feelings that they need to rely on step trackers, heart rate monitors and their doctor telling them to take a break.
You need to go out, practice and get experience to develop this knowledge, go out and climb, make mistakes and learn from them.
Ask some elite climbers and they will confirm this: It’s crucial to be able to judge your own skills and abilities. And please be honest about it – everything else won’t do you any good in the long run.
8. Get good climbing buddies
Most of the motivation lies in your inner game. But having a good friend with you belaying you and helping you out, judging your technique etc is great. This is true for bouldering in the gym as well, where you are not really forced to bring someone with you.
It’s also okay if he or she brings some competence, as good-natured competition can make routes and boulder problems a lot more fun.
I’m not saying you should make every climbing session into a contest – but if it’s something you and your friends enjoy – why not?
Competition brings a new dynamic to climbing, caused by the fact that more than one person tries to solve a puzzle, come up with creative ways to find a solution for difficulties and push each other’s limits. Plus it’s way more fun to celebrate success over a problem with good friends than alone.
Try it out, you will see the difference it makes if you follow these 8 tips.
If you want to learn more about training and endurance, check out my other article.