The four things you need to train and aren't

After running a number of Weakness Assessments and Improvement Packs with different people, I find it fascinating to help people dissect their climbing and discover what they should be working on.

Here's four areas I bet need some of your attention:
  1. Head games
    How often do you fall off? I believe three out of four climbers are not where they want to be with their 'leading head'. Symptoms are excessive nervousness before climbing, constant shying away from goal routes, uncontrollable shaking while climbing, excessive sweating, holding breath etc. No-one is perfect in this area, it's a sliding scale. The first thing to do is simply acknowledge the issue! Recognise that this is something that is limiting your potential, and commit to working on it. How to do this? Well, discuss it with your climbing partner. Make the decision to attack this together. Read my fear of falling article and put its suggestions into practice. Falling is crucial to improving as a climber.
  2. Core strength
    It doesn't matter how strong you are (or think you are!) in the core, you can always be stronger. Watch some circus videos on youtube and realise how weak we 'strong climbers' actually are and how far climbing has to go in this area. I train people every week who are now incredibly strong in the core, and yet when we push their climbing to the limit, it's very noticeable that the area that often gives out first is actually the core and not the fingers or forearms. Being incredibly strong in the midsection will allow you to unleash your power, and will allow you to endure for longer. Decide to do some core training every week.
  3. The opposite of what you train
    Most people train the same way repetitively.
    "A night in the gym doing laps and then a day at the crag where we do five or so routes."
    "And how long have you been doing this?"
    "Years I guess!"

    Well snap out of it! It's time to train differently for a while and shock your body with some different training stimulus. If you do the above, it's time for some bouldering sessions at the gym. If you climb trad, go and do some sport climbing. If you've been redpointing/projecting non stop, it's time for some hard bouldering as mid-week training and onsighting lower grades on the weekend. The key is to mix it up. Try two months of this and two months of that. You'll improve in the long term as a result.
  4. Self-limiting beliefs
    Recounting a recent conversation with a training client...
    "So what do you think your weaknesses are?"
    "Bad finger strength, I can do every other 22 around, but I can't do ZYX climb"
    "I don't see a finger-strength imbalance. In fact, your finger strength is very good. You can certainly do XYZ climb"
    [the next day via text message]: "Lapping XYZ climb's all in the mind. Feeling psyched. Good work coach."

    The lesson? We all have little bits of errant code in our programming which are not serving us. In fact, they are self-limiting beliefs or programs. If you can identify these, you can begin to break them down. One way to do this is to challenge your own perceptions about what you believe to be possible. This is one of the main things a good coach does, but you can do it yourself. Have a think now about what you "know you can't do". Now ask yourself "why is that?". Could there ever be a situation where you could do it? What would that situation look like? What would be required?

    If you do this exercise you'll find your perceptions are often wrong. How good is that?


Ryan F said...

Thanks for posting this. I like how you started with head-strength as the first area that needs training.

I know that this is true for myself. Any thoughts on how to go about gaining mental strength?

Lee said...

Hey Ryan

I continue to believe climbing is about 80% mental.

If you have read my fear of falling article, and don't have fear while on the lead, then this is good. You're already ahead of the curve.

To train mental toughness, it's about doing things that take you outside your comfort zone. Being in the comfort zone and cruising does little to build mental toughness.

What am I talking about?

Well, get on (safe) routes that for whatever reason you're scared to try. Don't yell "take!". Don't grab the draw -- take the fall! Don't slump on the rope, come off fighting. Don't just "let go". Give 100% rather than holding some in reserve. Basically, try harder and be brave!

You won't be able to do this on every climb (it can be mentally exhasting), but the more you do it, the better your head will become, and this will transfer into benefits on every route you climb.

Training the mind beats training the body 9 out of 10 times.