My revelation about mental training

Vertical Mind, mental training for rock climbers

Vertical Mind

The following is an excerpt from Don McGrath and Jeff Elison’s best-selling book Vertical Mind.

“I have long been a student of training for rock climbing. I have read virtually all the books written in English on the topic. I was a nationally ranked distance runner in college, and from that I have a training mindset. I am familiar with most of the concepts in the literature regarding how to train for rock climbing. I have tried many training plans, some with success and others with no success.

Over the years, I have developed a physical training style that suits my body and works for me and the expert/elite level at which I currently climb. At age 49, I have found that keeping a high level of general fitness is very important to my climbing. It helps me avoid injuries, recover well from workouts, and to have the general strength and endurance required of the climbing that I like most, hard sport climbing. Given this, I do some sort of resistance or weight training two times per week and some sort of aerobic training two to three times per week. Each of these cross-training workouts lasts about an hour, including the warm up and cool down. I have also found that climbing often (3-4 days per week), and not to exhaustion, yields the best results for me.

While I had more or less refined a physical training program, through trial and error, I had not spent nearly as much time or attention on mental training. As I began consistently climbing at the 5.12+ to 5.13- grades, I began to feel as though it was my mental strength that was holding me back, rather than my physical strength or technique. I found that I would sometimes avoid getting on my project for various reasons, most of which were mental and not physical. For example, I would become preoccupied with a fall, rather than the climbing. I would develop a high level of anxiety when I was close to redpointing a project, and this often would delay my successful completion of the route.

This revelation are why I began studying mental training for rock climbing. My studies revealed many instances from my past where my failures were due to mental factors. I knew I was on the right path to improving my climbing. In the following paragraphs, I describe just a few of the instances that reinforced how my mental state was holding me back more than my physical ability or technique.

I recall an eye-opening event when I was learning to lead-climb at the 5.12 level. While climbing one day with my good friend and climbing mentor Fred Abbuhl, I was struggling on the crux of a climb named Eyeless in Gaza (5.12b). This crux involved making a hard clip from a powerful side pull, followed by small hand holds before reaching a good rest position.

I was having a devil of a time making the clip at the crux. I would get into position to clip and immediately get tired and yell “take.” After watching me do this four or five times, Fred yelled that I should not be having a hard time with the clip. Like that was helpful!

He told me to forget about the clip and instead climb into the clipping position and see how long I could hold that position. I did this and found that I could stay there for nearly a full minute. Hmmmm. Now, that was helpful! Could it be that my brain was telling me that I was tired, overriding my true physical capability? It certainly seemed so.”

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