/ Mental training: climbing better, if not harder

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Jon Stewart - on 19 Aug 2013
I haven't seen a thread or an article on mental training for a while, so I thought I'd start one. A search brought up a load of Arno Ilgner stuff, and I've read the Rock Warrior's Way a couple of times and while I think it's excellent, it doesn't quite fit with my aims and what I intend to do out at the crag.

Even though I climb trad very regularly - as a student I have a lot of free time - I find it quite hard to get into the zone where I'm really comfortable on the rock and giving it my best. I often seem to find I have unhelpful expectations of a route: either I expect it to be easy and when it's hard it pisses me off, or I expect to find it desperate and I tentatively inch upwards, terrified, even though it's well within my capability and I should be storming up the thing.

My main problem, or one of them, is that I have to be utterly and completely sure that what I do is going to work: I can't force myself to try something that looks like it's going to propel me into the land of no holds. On a bad day, this usually results a whole world of dithering when the moves aren't even that hard.

What I'm looking for is tips to help climb quickly, decisively and positively - as opposed to slowly, indecisively and defensively. I'm not fussed about getting on harder routes and dealing with falling off them, but I do want to improve the style I climb in.

The bits of the RWW that I find a bit much are all the stuff about changing your motivation to become all hippy-dippy-Deepak-Chopra about it. If I'm honest, I really want to succeed on routes to feel good about myself - OK it's shallow but it would take years of therapy to undo that, and that's not what I'm up for! If anyone's got any thoughts at all on how to approach a trad route at your limit that you've wanted to do for years, or just how to put the odds in your favour of getting on a route and feeling good on it, jot'em down here. Or any links to good articles, or anything remotely relevant!

Thanks,
Jon
Coel Hellier - on 19 Aug 2013
In reply to Jon Stewart:

> I have to be utterly and completely sure that what I do is going to work: I can't force myself to try something
> that looks like it's going to propel me into the land of no holds.

This is a matter of "trusting the grade", being sufficiently confident that it will be ok. I suffer from this also! One way is to gather lots of beta (so long as you're not to pedantic about what "onsight" means).

Perhaps try more sport climbing, where you can go for it knowing that there is a haven not far ahead? Maybe also some falling practice, to get into the frame of mind of having decent gear and calculating that even if you do fall from the bit ahead you'll be ok.
Jon Stewart - on 19 Aug 2013
In reply to Coel Hellier:
> (In reply to Jon Stewart)
>
Cheers for the reply.
> [...]>
> This is a matter of "trusting the grade", being sufficiently confident that it will be ok. I suffer from this also! One way is to gather lots of beta (so long as you're not to pedantic about what "onsight" means).

Sometimes it's an irrational fear that there won't be sufficient holds, in which case "trusting the grade" is needed. But sometimes it's a longing that the route was easier, the hoping/wishing behaviour Ilgner talks about. This guess this bit of RWW I should revisit and try to concentrate on: seeing the possibilities in the holds rather than thinking "I WANT A JUG". Mastering the mind in this way is the tough challenge of getting to grips with aspects of meditation, not something that one can just immediately do. But I really need to try.

> Perhaps try more sport climbing, where you can go for it knowing that there is a haven not far ahead? Maybe also some falling practice, to get into the frame of mind of having decent gear and calculating that even if you do fall from the bit ahead you'll be ok.

These are things I've done a bit of, but I don't think I've managed to do enough to really get the benefits. I have taken a couple of proper falls this season though, which I think is helpful.

I think I can achieve a bit through better mental preparation and choosing the right route at the right time, without having to spend climbing time doing 'drills' or doing crap sport climbs that make me feel sad. The sport climbing one is interesting, I think it works for some people but by no means all. I have seen a couple of good sport climbers dither for England on trad miles below their grade, presumably because of the lack of security of knowing the moves and not having the option of sitting on the rope when you don't know what to do next. I find the two so different that I feel like getting good at sport would take a huge amount of time and effort that I'd rather spend doing trad. Redpointing badly is no fun at all, and of course we have a dearth of onsightable bolted routes which might be more useful for improving mental techniques for trad.
In reply to Jon Stewart:

> My main problem, or one of them, is that I have to be utterly and completely sure that what I do is going to work: I can't force myself to try something that looks like it's going to propel me into the land of no holds. On a bad day, this usually results a whole world of dithering when the moves aren't even that hard.
>

That's my climbing to a T. I hate climbing into the unknown and working it out when I get there, especially on steep, tiring ground.

One thing I've tried with some success is going bouldering with a mental cue of momentum (mental and physical), by which I mean having that as my sole thought as I start to climb. I then tried to transfer this to trad.
johncoxmysteriously - on 19 Aug 2013
In reply to Jon Stewart:

>we have a dearth of onsightable bolted routes which might be more useful for improving mental techniques for trad.

Do we?? My impression is that every disused quarry in the Peak District is full of them and that it won't be long before most of the trad limestone gets Gibsonised either.

jcm
Jon Stewart - on 19 Aug 2013
In reply to johncoxmysteriously:
> (In reply to Jon Stewart)
>
> >we have a dearth of onsightable bolted routes which might be more useful for improving mental techniques for trad.
>
> Do we?? My impression is that every disused quarry in the Peak District is full of them

That impression is correct, buy they don't count.

> and that it won't be long before most of the trad limestone gets Gibsonised either.

I'm not entirely sure what spirit that's meant in, but it's certainly not to be taken at face value!
Fultonius - on 19 Aug 2013
In reply to Jon Stewart: It sounds to me very much like the thought of the unknown is paralysing your ability to commit. This probably stems from either fear of failure, fear of falling, or both.

So, while you may not want to "push your grade" or "deal with falling off", maybe you need to embrace the thought of it, the possibility of it and then decide if the route is worth it.

I think the dithering may be a result of you not being fully in tune with your motivations as to why you want to attempt the route.

Do you climb for the problem solving? For the fresh air? For the fear (sounds like it's not this).

Maybe you're climbing too much, but with not enough focus? I find I can commit much more readily to unobvious sequences when I'm really psyched for a route. Be careful you're not just "going through the motions"


Maybe you should go out and get on some well protected, hard, strenuous, blind routes and just battle, battle, battle. Force yourself to overcome the inertia and just commit. Falling is fine, failing to commit is not.



Disclaimer: I may be waaay of the mark.
1poundSOCKS - on 19 Aug 2013
In reply to Jon Stewart: I did something on a route yesterday, when I was running short of gear and traversing away from the last small cam's I'd placed (and didn't trust). I took 2 deep breaths, very consciously and deliberately. I instantly forgot about the last gear (which is where my mind was) and I didn't start to think about what was coming up (which I might normally have done), my mind returned to the present, and I climbed to top with a bit of confidence. Okay, it was technically an easy route for me, but I wasn't having a good day and I'd climbed the whole route very tentatively, so it was nice to take something positive out of it.
deacondeacon - on 19 Aug 2013
In reply to Jon Stewart:
I may come across as patronising but I'm just not very good at writing :-)

What is your real fear? Is it hurting yourself or is it failure to climb a route?

You have a particular style of climbing that you're very good at (bold slabs and technical aretes) which if you stick to brings success, joy, riches etc.
When you get stuck into more 'traditional' climbs you tend to find them desperate and it feels like you just scrape up them. The only way to start cruising the routes that aren't your style is to get lots of mileage in until they are your style (but you probably already know this).
Having a good solid base in all styles of climbing will make pushing your grade much less intimidating as it won't matter so much what is thrown at you.

Also with regards to climbing efficiently, it was you that taught me to always be pro-active when climbing a route. If you're not placing gear or actively resting you must advance up the climb.
If you want a secret tip that most people don't use enough, it's that if you are really pumping out and gibbering, down climb to the nearest rest even if its 30' away or in my case usually the floor.

I think you already know the age old answer to how to be a better climber is

WORK YOUR WEAKNESSES

CorR - on 19 Aug 2013
In reply to Jon Stewart:
My solution is to prepare by looking at the route as much as possible a suss out where the gear, rests and cruxes are.

I remember getting super scared on a route I bailed like a bitch. When I tried it again the only thing in my mind was the blank section before a peg where I got stuck the last time I tried the route. I was crippled with fear and just managed to flop onto a nut below the blank bit. I didn't bail and was surprised to see a massive jug that I had missed just above my head.

Moral of the story is if you have the gear Don't Stop! Just keep going and have your little tiff after the belay is clipped.
Alex@home - on 19 Aug 2013
In reply to Jon Stewart:

i used to be a bit like that - sometimes paralysed by an inability to move upwards even when i knew i should be able to cover the ground, all too ready to make excuses that today's not the day - even though there were loads of routes that i aspired to being able to climb.
what changed? the impending birth of our 2nd child.
why? 2 children + full time job + everything these bring means i have very little time to myself so i have to make the most of every opportunity i get. i don't have the luxury of being able to make excuses any more as i don't know when the next opportunity will come. this has focussed my mind better than anything else i've ever tried and made me more determined to get on my aspirational routes.
this approach also makes me climb more positively when i'm climbing within my limits so rather than place a bit of gear and think for a while and try to work out the next 3 moves i try to just make the next move and trust that something will present itself. and if it doesn't quickly enough then climb back down. don't spend too long getting pumped if there's a rest not far below
John Kettle - on 19 Aug 2013
In reply to Jon Stewart: Sounds like some classic anxiety management issues to me. AS others have said you need to identify what it is you are anxious about (failure, falling, looking rubbish etc).
There are numerous ways to manage anxiety, try reading 'The Chimp Paradox' or 'Feel The Fear And Do It Anyway'. Don't write them off as cheesy self-help books until you've read them!
Jon Stewart - on 19 Aug 2013
In reply to Fultonius:
> (In reply to Jon Stewart)

Very interesting post, lots to chew over, thanks.

> I think the dithering may be a result of you not being fully in tune with your motivations as to why you want to attempt the route.
>
> Do you climb for the problem solving? For the fresh air? For the fear (sounds like it's not this).

I think my motivation for climbing is basically like chasing a high from drugs. I guess I'm addicted to the feeling I get when I've pulled through the crux on a hard route, where the moves are cool and in an amazingly exposed position, and I'm on the victory straight home. It isn't just the pursuit of the physical difficulty for me - routes which are just a struggle from the start to the finish (cracks basically) don't give me such a massive buzz (unless they're on an incredible crag). It's boldness, exposure, and cool moves on small holds that give me a rush which I am forever chasing.

> Maybe you're climbing too much, but with not enough focus? I find I can commit much more readily to unobvious sequences when I'm really psyched for a route. Be careful you're not just "going through the motions"

This is crucial. Sometimes I find myself on a route and I just don't like it. The only reason I'm climbing it is because I started it and I don't want to be pussy and back off. Choosing routes that I am really psyched for, and adequately warmed up for, and not far to knackered or sweaty or whatever to climb is crucial.
>
> Maybe you should go out and get on some well protected, hard, strenuous, blind routes and just battle, battle, battle. Force yourself to overcome the inertia and just commit. Falling is fine, failing to commit is not.

Maybe. Thing is, I think pushing my grade and falling off is best done on non-committing, single pitch crags where I can just ab for gear and what have you. But what I really like is climbing on big tidal sea cliffs, with massive overhangs and traverses and that kind of jazz that make them a bad place to push it too hard...


Jon Stewart - on 19 Aug 2013
In reply to 1poundSOCKS:
> (In reply to Jon Stewart) I took 2 deep breaths, very consciously and deliberately. I instantly forgot about the last gear (which is where my mind was) and I didn't start to think about what was coming up (which I might normally have done), my mind returned to the present, and I climbed to top with a bit of confidence.

It's getting into these habits as soon as I start to procrastinate that I think is the secret. Recognising the procrastination and having an immediate response (like two deep breaths) that gets me out of it could really help.


Jon Stewart - on 19 Aug 2013
In reply to deacondeacon:
> (In reply to Jon Stewart)

> What is your real fear? Is it hurting yourself or is it failure to climb a route?

That is really difficult question, and I think it's all mixed up together and difficult to unravel. The fear of falling (even if its safe) is just a natural fear, which (to do a bit of amateur psychology) other fears like failure and being seen to fail piggy-back onto. Separating them all out and giving an honest, truthful answer about what I'm scared of when dithering is really quite difficult. It's a mixture for sure.

> You have a particular style of climbing that you're very good at (bold slabs and technical aretes) which if you stick to brings success, joy, riches etc.

I've changed a bit, I'm quite into steep, pumpy stuff with good holds and good gear now, and I'm a bit wobbly on the bold slabs and stuff now. Probably 'cause all the ones in Yorkshire were green and could be anything up to 3 grades above what was given!

>
> Also with regards to climbing efficiently, it was you that taught me to always be pro-active when climbing a route. If you're not placing gear or actively resting you must advance up the climb.

Exactly.

> If you want a secret tip that most people don't use enough, it's that if you are really pumping out and gibbering, down climb to the nearest rest even if its 30' away or in my case usually the floor.

I'm actually pretty good at this.

> I think you already know the age old answer to how to be a better climber is
>
> WORK YOUR WEAKNESSES

Except if your weakness is horrible gritstone cracks, in which case it's alright just to ignore them. I had a look at Tom Thumb the other day. From the ground that is, I went and did Savage Messiah again instead - great route with cool moves!
Jon Stewart - on 19 Aug 2013
In reply to CorR:
> (In reply to Jon Stewart)
> My solution is to prepare by looking at the route as much as possible a suss out where the gear, rests and cruxes are.

I've done some bad planning on routes recently. I started up a route at Gogarth - E1/2 so should be OK for me but not necessarily a pushover - and before I'd realised what was going on, I was getting into a hard, bold crux before I'd actually considered how best to protect it or where the route really went. As it suddenly dawned on me, 'this is the crux, and it's actually quite hard' I had to totally reassess the situation, get some more gear, work out where I thought the holds were etc, and a fair old bout of dithering ensued. Not smooth.
Kevin Woods - on 19 Aug 2013
In reply to Jon Stewart: I just read this last night and it's like opening a door to the other side.

http://onlineclimbingcoach.blogspot.co.uk/2007/11/fear-of-falling.html
Tom Last - on 19 Aug 2013
In reply to Jon Stewart:

Hi Jon.

Have you done much deep water soloing? Might be worth a shot for some quick confidence boosters. Find a few pushy, steep S0s. Go for a swim first, with a mask, so you can see that the water is very deep. Then get on them and don't stop until you're at the top or until you peel off.

Much the same light heartedness as may be found with sport climbing - but with all that hair-raising sea-cliff ambience thrown in for good measure.

Routes to write home about too, tim Monks reckons...

"...soloing Freeborn Man for the first time is a major life event comparable to driving your first car or burning down your first public building.

Cheers and good luck (I have the exact same issues)
Tom
Lessworkmoreclimbing - on 19 Aug 2013
In reply to Jon Stewart:
I too have been wondering how to feel in the zone, confident and flowing, more often. Everyone I speak to seems to agree it would be good but no-one seems to have put energy into finding out how to achieve it. My hunch is that climbers could learn from other sports in the same way that we have learned/ are learning physical training techniques. And for a fair few of us it could be the weakness we would most benefit from working on, or at least one which could improve climbing/ grade without having to get any stronger! We've used Eric Horst's training books and have just bought his mental training book, "Maximum Climbing". Can't report on it yet as it only just popped through letter box. Maybe someone else has read it.
Nath93 - on 19 Aug 2013
In reply to Kevin Woods: Thanks for that Kev, certainly given me a new perspective on it and something that has happened with me before but i never put two and two together and didn't use it to my advantage again.
Jon Stewart - on 19 Aug 2013
In reply to Tom Last:
> (In reply to Jon Stewart)
>
> Hi Jon.
>
> Have you done much deep water soloing?

No - interesting idea! Sounds way more fun than sport climbing.

> "...soloing Freeborn Man for the first time is a major life event comparable to driving your first car or burning down your first public building.

Great quote!
Jon Stewart - on 19 Aug 2013
In reply to Kevin Woods:

Good blog post, ta. Will read it a few times.
johncoxmysteriously - on 20 Aug 2013
In reply to Tom Last:

Not sure who Tim Monks is, but that quote is in Into The Blue, though slightly different - leaving school was in there, and passing your driving test rather than your first car. Definitely top five quotes material, though, up there with 'Worcester to Llanberis, one hour thirty-five minutes', 'rain, seabirds and dance drugs', and 'of course, it's much less serious since mobile phones were invented'.

jcm

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