On my bookshelf, there are several books about mental training for climbing. If you don’t want to read a whole book about it, I have summarised the most important parts of this article.
What are the benefits of mental training in climbing?
Mental training helps effectively in dealing with limiting factors like fear of falling, fear of failure, and negative thought patterns.
Mental Training – Climbing
The fastest way to increase your performance is through the mind, that is, the quality of your thoughts. This applies to all areas of life, be it sports, work or relationships.
Climbing professionals use mental training
In professional sports mental training is the norm – The effort is minimal, the effects are absolutely worth it. In the following I describe the best 6 plus 3 additional methods to optimise your mindset.
You want to climb better? Then you can’t avoid training your psyche as well as your finger strength.
6 Mental-training Hacks for Climbers
1. Comfort zone
Learning is like rowing against the current. If one stops, one drifts back.Laozi
Learning only takes place if you have the courage to leave your comfort zone – willing to confront something new, something previously unknown. The unknown is transformed and absorbed, it becomes known, understood, and inevitably leads to growth.
Those who want to reach their full potential (no matter in which area) must face the fear of the unknown.
In climbing this means to continue climbing when your arms are pumped and your psyche signals discomfort; it means to accept the challenge even though you feel fear; it means to try what before seemed impossible.
Moving your limits – mental training
By leaving your comfort zone you will push your limits, take your skills to a new level, increase your self-confidence and redefine your personal opinion of what is and what is not possible.
“Comfort-zone-traps” we all fall into:
- Climbing or bouldering below your limit.
If you want to get better, make it a habit to climb routes at and above your limit. Falling practice will certainly serve you well.
- Only do routes/boulders that suit you.
No overhang, slabs or chimney? No matter which rock and which kind of climbing, take the challenge, learn new movement patterns and improve your technique.
- Beloved holds.
Crimp, Sloper, Pinch, Undercling, Pocket… Choose the routes that are full of your least favorite types of holds. Strength and self-confidence grow with every new challenge.
Fear of falling is what keeps many of us in the Comfort Zone, and falling practice is the only remedy against it. Read more about it in my article “How to overcome the fear of falling“.
2. Focus – mental training climbing
The ability to concentrate on the essentials, the ability to mentally remove everything unimportant has a significant effect on your climbing performance.
Focus on the essentials
If your attention wanders, the “flow state” is gone – and suddenly you think about falling, your climbing partner or some other distractions. In such cases I advise: bring the focus back to the wall, concentrate on what lies right in front of you.
Concentrate on breathing and on the next move.
In climbing, thinking too far ahead is counterproductive. There is no point in thinking about the second crux if you are still busy with the first one.
- Breathing is the most reliable way to find the focus again. Breathe consciously and focus on the next movement.
- Proceed step by step and do not think too far ahead.
- Let the body climb.
Listen to your body and trust it. Block out everything unimportant and surrender to the movements. Your chances of success are better if you don’t think in words and sentences but trust the intelligence of your body and climb intuitively.
In order to train focus and concentration...-drum roll- exactly what you need is: meditation.
You practice not to be distracted by unimportant thoughts. You train the ability not to chase after every thought, but instead just let them move past like clouds in the sky.
Meditation is a tangible mental training tool for more focus when climbing, bouldering, and lovemaking.
We Tested Rock Climbing Shoes.
Take a look at the 9 Best climbing shoes.
3. Reduce pressure
It’s about the correlation between self-esteem/self-image and performance.
If the self-image is too closely connected with the climbing performance, a “weak” climbing performance can (in the worst case) ruin the whole day.
Dissolve your false self image
The connection of self-image and performance varies from person to person – but, in some form and measure it is present in everyone.
If you allow this to get in the way of climbing, your movements will become stiff, rushed and you will find climbing becomes extremely exhausting.
Take the pressure off … and do it consciously.
Take a minute before the route, sit down and let go of your self-image. Climb because of the joy of climbing. Concentrate on the process (feeling the movement) and not on the end result (sending the route).
Climbing as a game
No matter what others (or yourself) think about you, approach it playfully, free yourself from rigid thought patterns and try something new. You will suddenly become freer and better at climbing.
Make it not about climbing a certain degree or route, but about learning something.
If you manage to make constant learning and growth your main goal, you can be successful in any route.
4. Surround yourself with positive people
As already mentioned, a positive attitude and positive thoughts are essential to improve your climbing (or anywhere else).
Negative people are energy suckers
A fairly safe method to cultivate negative thoughts is the company of negative people. Every person is surrounded by a certain aura, and something of this aura always rubs off on other people in the immediate environment.
Our thoughts and actions have an effect on our environment.
If you don’t want to make life harder for yourself – then don’t let anyone drag you down.
Who wants to go climbing with a negative, nagging and cynical person? Surround yourself with positive, encouraging and motivated people and you will find it easy to be positive yourself.
You reap what you sow. If you exude positivity, you’ll have it thrust back unto you.
You want to attract good people into your life, the best invitation is to be a good, positive and a fun-loving person yourself.
Decide again and again to be that person, and don’t accept being around any negative people – in the climbing gym or anywhere else.
- The 30 Best exercises
- 3 Training Plans
5. Visualization – mental training climbing
Climbing is a very technical sport that requires extreme precision, especially as the grades get more difficult. Climbing on tiny holds on an overhanging wall – there is no room for bad technique, the wrong beta or imprecise movements.
Every move and every step fits perfectly. The many individual movements combine to create this ingenious climb, with the glorious “flow feeling” that every climber is searching for.
Visualization is fantastic for remembering and practicing the individual moves of a certain route. Every single top athlete uses conscious visualisation. If you want to climb better there is no way around it.
What happens during visualisation?
The vivid imagination (visualisation) of certain movements or situations activates exactly the same parts in the brain as the actual activity would do.
Visualising as “real” training
This means that our brain does not differentiate between “real” and the mere imagination of it. Brain and nervous system go through the same processes associated with those movements.
For our body it´s as if the movement is really happening.
Mastermind Mental Training for climbers and boulderers.
The book is full of practical tips and tricks from climbing legend Jerry Moffatt.
Visualisation helps to climb the route faster, more precisely and with less effort.
Due to physical limitations, everyone has only a certain number of climbing attempts before total fatigue sets in. Climbing in the mind allows you to increase the amount of training considerably.
All top athletes use visualisation
Professionals like Adam Ondra invest a lot of time (up to 1h before a route) into visualisation. Visualisation is powerful and should be part of every climber’s toolkit – along with harness and climbing shoes.
Climbing Perspectives of Visualisation
- You imagine exactly what you see whilst climbing.
- How your hand moves to the hold, where you place your feet, how you pull up the rope to clip, etc.
Imagine to leave your body and watch yourself climb from a distance. As if you are watching a video of yourself.
Tip: Film yourself climbing a difficult route. Climb the individual passages and use the video material for your visualisation.
Inside vs. outside
In this video one of the most difficult routes in China is climbed, the special thing about the shot: a constant change between inner and outer perspective and a great example for how your visualisation could look like.
How do the movements feel?
Feel your fingertips, how the sloper creates friction on your palms, how you pull yourself against the wall with your left big toe to bring your body’s centre of gravity close to the wall, etc.
Combine all 3 perspectives
Imagine and feel everything in the smallest detail. Always combine the kinaesthetic image with the other two and switch back and forth between inner and outer perspective as needed.
Imagine the entire process from start to end vividly.
Go through each move, feel the texture of the holds and the rock, how and when you hang the quickdraws, chalk, shake out in rest positions, how you fight your way through the crux and move smoothly from hold to hold towards the anchor point.
Watch climbers who are better than you – and learn.
Watch them closely – how they move, where they grab the hold, when they build up tension and how they position their body. Memorise the movements and visualise each position.
Visualise in a relaxed state.
Make it a habit to visualise in the evening before going to sleep. (Before and after a nap have proven to be highly effective as well).
Stay tuned and keep practicing even if it is difficult at first.
If you still find it difficult to maintain your vision, don’t be discouraged, that’s normal. Your visualisation skills are getting better every time – you can train it like a muscle.
A good climbing harness is:
We tested 14 climbing harnesses – take a look at the 6 Best Climbing Harnesses.
Your thoughts will influence your climbing performance. Positive or negative.
Pay attention to how you communicate with yourself before attempting a route.
Often, we are not aware of what we are thinking all day long. Try it and listen to yourself – especially when you are standing in front of a difficult route.
Examples of negative self-talk
I’m too tired, I’m too weak, it’s too hot, I don’t feel well, I shouldn’t have eaten so much, I can’t get the one move right, I don’t have enough stamina, maximum strength, finger strength, I’m too immobile, the route doesn’t suit me…
Depressing words and phrases become beliefs and we carry them around with us, completely unconsciously and often since childhood.
With regard to climbing, negative thoughts have the effect of a lead-weighted jacket. They drag you down.
Improve self-talk in 3 steps:
Step 1: Identifying Energy Thieves
Consciously pay attention to those sentences, phrases and words which drain your energy (putting yourself down in any way).
Step 2: Replace with positive phrases
I can do it, I am strong, full of energy, I am ready, I can perform all the movements, I always find a solution even in tricky situations, I always find a good resting position, deep breathing is my strength, I stay relaxed in difficult situations, I move as cool as a cucumber… no matter, the main thing is that it feels good and helps.
No, cannot, won’t
The words “no”, “cannot”, “won’t” have no place during communication with yourself. Be actively engaged in achieving the goal, in what you want. Ideally your thoughts revolve around words that are related to the desired result.
Do not try to avoid something unpleasant but focus on the desired result.
Which of those sentences are more powerful?
|Avoid failure||Focus on the result|
|I will not hesitate.||I climb well and with precision.|
|I will not forget to breathe.||I breathe deeply and calmly.|
|I will not become nervous in the moment.||I am focused and climb effectively.|
Step 3: “Positive Self-Talk” is a learnable skill
…which you can practice and improve. Everyone has a starting point, a starting mindset which you can constantly improve. Accept your current attitude and pay attention to the quality of your thoughts in every conscious moment.
Become a master of your own thoughts and push your climbing skills to the next level.
- Super save and durable
- Soft catch
- Best bang for the buck
Fear and climbing. The 3 big fears
1. Fear of falling
Probably the most widespread fear in climbing and quite rightly so. Behind it is the innate survival instinct of the entire history of mankind. If you want to survive, be sure not to fall from a height – It makes sense.
Fear – an old instinct
It is important to control this instinct as much as possible, because fear drains energy, attention and focus from us.
Fear manifests itself in our body and becomes clearly visible, making us hesitant, rigid and immobile.
If you have ever had a fear of falling, you are in good company – because we all experience this fear.
Learn to climb without fear:
“Climbing – How to Get Over the Fear of Falling | TODAY.”
Learning to deal with fear
We lose sight of what is important and can no longer fully devote ourselves to the enjoyment of climbing. Moreover, performance suffers considerably.
Deliberate “Falling practice” is the only way to control this fear and with a little patience, you will overcome your fear of falling. You can find step-by-step instructions for fall training here: 9-Steps Fall Practice.
2. Fear of failure
The fear of failure arises at an early age and we all carry it around with us since then, to varying degrees. It is one of our life tasks to confront this fear and replace it with a healthy and beneficial attitude.
It is all about consciously confronting and overcoming fears. And as we all know, climbing is an excellent way to do this.
Mental Training Climbing – Book Tips
In the course of my life I have repeatedly come across books about the “Way of the Warrior“. Carlos Castaneda, Dan Millman, Robert Spencer and Arno Illgner. Arno has written a wonderful book by combining the teachings of “Warrior Literature” (The Rock Warriors Way) with climbing.
Goal oriented vs. process oriented
The fear of failure has no basis for survival on the path of the warrior, because with the right attitude there can be no failure. “Failure” is goal-oriented and thus linked to a certain result. If this result is not achieved (e.g. the targeted 7a route during a climb for example) then one is deemed a failure.
However, if the focus is process-oriented then it is more about feeling joy in doing and every “failure” is seen as a possibility to learn. If you fall in an easy route you can calmly occupy yourself with learning from it.
What a pity if we have to realise at the end of our lives that we have been chasing the wrong things with the wrong ambition, have reached our goals again and again but have never enjoyed the journey.
Practical tips against fear of failure during climbing.
- In the moment.
Focus your attention on the things that are right in front of you. The foot position, the next hold, quick and precise climbing to the next rest position.
- Change your attitude from Result to Process.
Do not focus on the result, but on what you can learn from each specific route and from climbing in general.
- Be rational.
Are your fears justified? Evaluate the facts logically and approach the situation like a scientist. Instead of assuming the worst, ask yourself what is realistic.
3. Fear of pain
This is not about the “real pain” which protects us from injury, but about enduring unpleasant situations. The fear of pain leads us to give up too soon and not push ourselves enough, and thus we will never reach our full potential.
Climbing a 30m route at the limit is comparable to a 500m sprint – both of them hurt like hell!
You can learn to endure this pain.
Climbing further and putting in maximum effort even though your muscles are burning, and your fingers are ready to let go of the holds.
Make the decision to push yourself a little bit further, not giving in to the pain, step by step, to constantly redefine your pain threshold and push your limits.
Train your resistance to pain.
Learn to feel comfortable in situations where you would have otherwise given up already.
Every time I enter the bouldering season, I need 2-3 sessions until I am able to push myself to the limit again. Too often I catch myself giving up too soon. Once i “remember” what it means to really push myself – i am ready to climb harder routes again.
3 mental training tips for climbers
Relax your facial muscles while you climb. A tense face signals stress and danger to the body. Even if climbing becomes strenuous or hectic, try to stay as relaxed as possible. Pay attention to a “deeply relaxed” facial expression and stay cool.
Too little sleep is a performance and mood killer. If you want to tackle your project, have a great climbing day or if you are on a climbing vacation – make sure you get enough sleep (8-9h minimum, even more when climbing hard).
Everybody has heard it at least a hundred times, but it is still the most underestimated method to calm and strengthen body and mind. Through proper breathing you can quickly and easily regulate your fears and emotions.
Breathe deeply into your abdomen. By breathing calmly and evenly, you are signalling to your body that there is no danger. If the body relaxes, the mind will follow.
Flooding the body with oxygen
Try to fill your body with oxygen before entering a route. Flood every fibre of your body with oxygen.
It is easy, take a few quick and deep breaths and try to inhale more air than you exhale. Do this for 1 minute and your body is energised and charged with oxygen.
For more information I advise you to google “Ice man” (Wim Hoff). Here I have linked Wim Hoff and a short video about his ingenious breathing technique: