What Motivates Us to Train for Rock Climbing – Survey Results

In my first book 50 Athletes Over 50 Teach Us to Live a Strong, Healthy Life, I identified that what kept the over-50 athletes I interviewed engaged in their sports and motivated to train, was joy. In fact, in the book I isolated four distinct joys from analyzing the data from my interviews with the over- 50 athletes. Specifically, the joy of movement, the joy of good health, the joy of accomplishment and the joy of association were the four joys that I isolated as being important for this group. Further analysis of the data suggested to me that of these joys, the most prevalent for over-50 athletes were the joy of movement and the joy of good health, with the joy of accomplishment and the joy of association being somewhat lower in importance.

I decided to see if these joys were significant motivators for climbers. To do this, I surveyed hundreds of rock climbers, ranging in age from 15 to 60 years, and after providing the context above, I asked them the following questions.

“Please rank-order the four joys with respect to how significant they are to keeping you engaged in and training for climbing.”

More than 180 climbers responded to the survey and the response is summarized below.

The rank order of the four joys is:

  • The joy of accomplishment – 54%
  • The joy of movement – 24%
  • The joy of good health – 15%
  • The joy of association with other climbers – 7%

The rock climbers surveyed said that the joy of accomplishment is the most important joy in keeping them climbing. The survey also asked what factors other than these joys keep climbers engaged in climbing. I found it interesting that most of the responses to this question were actually related to the joy of accomplishment. Some examples of these responses are listed below.

“The joy of exploration/being where the majority of the world will never be.”

“Desire to improve and succeed at new challenges.”

“Personal goals, such as routes, grades, etc that I would like to climb. Upcoming trips that require more specific training, i.e. training for an alpine climbing trip or ice climbing trip.”

There were some responses that were outside the four joys that I had identified in my research, and a few of these responses are listed below.

“The joy of being in the mountains.”

“It gives me an excuse to travel excuse to travel.”

“I want to be better than my friend, and steal his girlfriend.”

I found this last one particularly funny. There were some other funny responses that I’ll share with you if you buy me a beer sometime.

Second, with about half the popularity, is the joy of movement, which 24% of the respondents said was the most important joy in keeping them engaged in rock climbing. I find it interesting that both the joy of accomplishment and the joy of movement both require training in order to fully experience the joy. In order to move well over the rock, we must train our body and mind to move efficiently and effectively and learn specific climbing movement techniques. Without this training, most of us won’t fully experience the joys of accomplishment and movement to its fullest.

It appears as though the joy of accomplishment and the joy of movement are very important to climbers in keeping them engaged and motivated to train for climbing. For me personally, I love the feeling of reaching my climbing goals. I love even the thought of reaching my climbing goals. I find it very satisfying to send a sport route that I have been projecting. I love sending a traditional route in good style. I love sending a boulder problem that initially seemed impossible for me. I get very inspired by climbing wild features that seem improbable and exciting, and it is the joy of accomplishment that provides fuel that sustains this inspiration and translates it into the training and effort required to make those inspired thoughts reality. I also love the feeling of executing new and exciting movements while climbing. I love moving my body in wild and wonderful ways against gravity, as I make upward progress on a route.

If you are anything like me and the climbers that I surveyed, you want to push yourself to improve in your climbing. You get inspired by things that either feel or look impossible, or at least appear challenging to you. You get excited by the thoughts and visions of yourself in the throws of doing such things, and even anticipate the feeling of joy you will receive when you clip the anchors, grab that finishing jug, or complete the crux pitch of the climb you desire. At some level, you find joy in accomplishing something extreme.

As with nearly all things in life, accomplishments and skills do not tend to come without some sort of training or preparation. And if they do, they are not as satisfying as the accomplishments requiring great effort. I tend to remember most vividly the climbs that required dedication, preparation, or skills to either complete successfully or escape safely. On project climbs where I exuded great effort and many trips to complete, I can often recall fine details of many of the moves for months or years. The traditional climbs where my partner and I pushed ourselves out of our comfort zone are often the source of campfire stories, recounting the challenges we faced and how we managed to get up or down from the climb.

Given the importance of the joy of accomplishment and the joy of movement in keeping us doing the sport we love, and the role that training plays in helping us extract the most out of our climbing experiences, do you feel that you are training effectively? Are you seeing the progress that you would like to see? Please leave a comment below on how you feel about your training. What’s been working and what hasn’t.

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