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Mental Fitness, a must for climbing.

Submitted by miagi on 2002-04-07

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One of the most challenging aspects of climbing is the mental game. In any sport you must be both Physically and Mentally strong. In this article I will suggest some mere tips to help with the mental aspect of climbing. Remember, everyone is "different", therefore people have "different" ways of coping with "different" Situations. The intention of this article is to help you realize some ways you can get fit.

      Each climber has his own "mental barrier", as I like to call it. The barrier is a persons reaction to the rate, or the look of a climb. For one person, this barrier might be at a 5.8. For another climber it might be a 5.13a. The barrier is when you look up at the rock, and wonder if you can actually do this; opposed to looking at the rock and saying "this will be cake". The barrier is also encountered during the climb when the climber is presented with a very hard move or crux. When you reach the barrier during a climb, each climber has his own way of looking at it. Some typical things people think are the following:

1. One might think "God! Now what" looking frantically because his strength is failing, "Oh *&%&, I might fall". Panic as we like to call it disrupts are ability to focus and therefore creates a barrier.
2. The mental safety barrier - One might think during the climb when he places a hold "I don’t know about this hold, I might slip, just not sure." The climber fears his safety a little too much. Climbing includes risks which we all must take. You have to climb hard to get anywhere. Dnyoing promotes this thought ALOT. The climber fears he will bank off the wall and injure himself in some way since he has no "real" contact with the wall. He feels he can't stabilize himself if he doesn’t make the hold.
3. Worry of Physical Weakness - If your hands or feet or any other muscle for that matter starts to cramp, the climber gets worried that he might not be able to finish the route.

4. Questioning ones self - This happens during and at the beginning of a climb when you look up. Sometimes you'll look at the holds your presented with, and question if you can do it or not. Regardless, all climbers will still climb, but that thought will linger in their head. Avoid this.

These are just a few of the stereotypical scenarios that various climbers go through. Regardless, all climbers know of when they have a mental block. Usually if you have failed you know the feeling of “I wish I could have tried harder”.

So how can I focus?

Focusing is the key to the mental aspect of climbing. It is important to understand yourself and your abilities.

Find out how to relax. Some of us meditate while others listen to music. Take deep breaths and relax before a climb, or listen to upbeat music and jump around to get warmed up. These are two ways you can get prepped for a climb. During the climb, don’t feel pressured. If you are into a hard move or crux just relax and go with your instinct on what holds you need to pass the move. Never think “too” much when making your moves. I find that lingering on the rock (without being in a rest position) is one of the worst things you can do during a climb. Why? Well for one it tires you physically. Secondly, it gives you time to think bad thoughts. It really does. If you keep active (climbing the rock without much lingering) you will not have as much a tendency to think of falling or failure. This is the better method opposed to hanging on the rock and desperately looking for a "hold that dosent test your physical ability" which can lead to bad thoughts. Climbing can come naturally. We have a natural tendency to keep balance and find ways to keep that balance. You don’t need to study a book of technique moves. Usually, most of the moves come to you by themselves, because you have a tendency to equilibrate your body. Some moves are complicated however and take time to learn. The next step in focusing is to only think of rock climbing, and absolutely nothing else! Sometimes at social gatherings, climbers tend to worry about how they will look (skill wise) compared to other climbers. Do not worry about anyone other than yourself. Don’t even worry about your belayer. Your belayer has responsibilities all his own, and he/she can take care of them. If they state a problem to you, then that is different; then, tend to that problem. Just think about the climb, the moves you are making, and if it helps – the joyful thought of reaching the top. Next, is what I like to call the “P&^$ed off factor”. Failure brings on really wretched thoughts. For me, it simply P*&%es me off. Sometimes this can be helpful. If you get really ticked off sometimes, it can lead to you really “letting it out” on the rock. I’ve found that when I’ve built up such anger, it has helped me to tackle some cruxes. So, am I suggesting you get P&%$ed off? No, not at all. I’m saying Harness the Power that you have . If you are getting P&*%ed off, don’t let it get too out of control. It can be negative. If you fail again and again, even though you used everything you've got, it might lead to you saying, “I just can’t do it, I’m not cut out for this.” You can do it, just take a breath, gather your thoughts and strength, and try again later.

So, of course this is not all of the mental aspect of climbing. It can never be. Every person has their own way of coping with the stresses of a climb. Two principles though that you should follow: Either be relaxed and focused if you think that is your way to get mentally fit, or be Pumped up with blood flowing hard. Make your own little pre-ritual for all I care. If it can help you focus, then do it! If you need to sacrifice a squirrel to the climbing gods well....I don’t recommend it but if your getting focused I guess so ;)

All in all, you cannot really “read” on how to get mentally fit. You are the only one who can do so. You need to find your strengths and weaknesses, and learn how to harness the energy presented by both of them. This article is a mere explanation of guidelines you can follow to finding your strength, and learning how to keep it. Good luck, don’t think bad thoughts, and climb.....just climb.


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