Between 1994 and 2001 I collected information on climbers that included grip strength, back and shoulder strength, hip and groin flexibility, endurance, core strength and performance level. It started as a master's thesis project. It continued out of my curiosity AND because people I coach like very tangible numbers. The tests are outlined in the book I wrote in 2001, published by Stackpole Books, Climbing Your Best. I was married then so the author's name is Heather Reynolds Sagar... you can still find it on Amazon. Below is a link to scores. I have added some new tests because whether you boulder or rope climb, scores can be different. I do not yet have enough numbers to actually run an analysis, but if you want me to test you, I can and we can increase the data.
Each member of the group stated their goal... "get stronger," "climb better," "better mental game..."
Each person expressed a desire to improve with varying degrees of depth in the explanation. Makes sense... we humans are wired to continually improve. If it was not innate within us to improve, to go from being fed and carried by our parents, we would have died off as a species thousands of years ago. An infant wants to explore its surroundings. A toddler wants to walk, then run. And a climber on the easier routes will naturally want to get on the harder routes, unless the will and determination have been squashed in other arenas of life and walking away from potential failure has become the new normal.
There is now scientific research that is showing that this desire to continue to "grow" or "improve" is to blame for our midlife slump... (yes, it's a real thing). Humans spend much of their 20's and 30's creating prosperity in life... prosperity that can be in the form of professional development, personal bests in various activities, having children, buying houses. No surprise then when a group of people in their 20-30's would tell me they want to be stronger, or have better technique or mental game. It is natural at that age to want to build on ones ability.... to produce results.
A number of factors go into one's ability to perform or let's use the example of climbing the next level route. The variables are going to include your strength and flexibility, your sequence, the techniques you use, focus, attitude, and your belief in the ability to do it.
Onsighting roped routes, warming up, even multiple failures on a roped redpoint project are all things that will bring down my psych. But find me a project with a move I need to figure out. Make it short so I can keep my focus and make it not super reachy and I am in heaven. I love the problem solving nature of climbing. Then make it outside instead of inside, give me a supportive strong climbing partner and we are talking a great day for me.
Knowing what gives me joy in the experience informs the goal I set. Yes, I still want to improve performance, but more importantly, I want to find a hard project with a move I need to unlock. I need to learn a new way to move. That may include needing to be stronger or more flexible. It will definitely involve setting up my training with just one or two partners who are willing to work on what I am on. And it will mean something outside. All I need to add is the actual timeline for accomplishment.
So before you train...
Understand your strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, your attitude, your ability to perform.
Then understand what motivates you, inspires you.
Create a goal that is clearly defined - this route or problem, in this period of time. This means shopping for the right experience. If you love the thrill of competition, name the one you want to attend, name the level of difficulty you want to complete either onsight or within a specified number of tries.
If it is adventure that fills you with inspiration, decide on the destination and the routes you want to send. And pick the dates.
The next step is two fold: train or practice in preparation and let go of whether it actually happens. This step repeats every time you train or try to have it happen. You have to let go of the outcome and be in the moment. Practice just being in the moment.
Unfortunately, this is also a time of year with a lot of change... not just the leaves, but often schedules. Even if you happen to be single, young and work a job that has a consistent schedule, you are perhaps being influenced by the influx of thousands of University students. Line ups are longer, sidewalks more filled, traffic moving more slowly. There is usually a faster pace in the store line-ups and more noise in the coffee shop, climbing gym or you can't get your regular spot at your favourite Yoga class. MOVEMENT is all around us. And the stillness to focus and remain focus is more elusive.
FOCUS is essential to hard ascents.
Let me say it again... as a coach... FOCUS IS ESSENTIAL TO SENDING HARD.
If you have sent routes and you were not focused, I would argue it is not the hardest thing you can do.
So How to Cultivate focus... try this meditation to create more steadiness and focus.
The above link (Steadiness meditation) will take you to a meditation practice in soundcloud. This practice can be done in a seated position or lying down on your back in a comfortable position. The key is to be comfortable so you will not have to move through the practice.
If you do not have access to Soundcloud in this moment, you can simply follow these steps:
- Watch the flow of the breath. Count backwards from 12 with each exhale until you reach zero. At zero, continue to watch the flow of the breath.
With each inhale move your awareness with the movement of the breath, in through the nostrils, down into the abdomen and continuing the movement down to the base of the body, the pelvic floor.
Take your time, repeating this awareness and gradually focusing your attention solely on the movement of the breath.
This awareness may gradually become more vibrant with effortless awareness on the inhale flow of the breath.
As you exhale, feel or sense the energy of the breath, the vitality and nurturance being seated at the pelvic floor, in the region at the base of the spine.
As this awareness begins to collect the energy of the breath, the light that rides on the breath collects and is seated at the base of the spine. Feel or sense this creating a sense of steadiness, stillness. A deep abiding sense of comfort, ease.
Rest in this awareness of ease, steadiness and stillness.
Rest for a few minutes in this sense of ease and restful awareness.
When you are ready to return, take a deeper breath in, gradually becoming more aware of the body. The hands and feet may make some subtle movements, gradually drawing you back to the present.
Opening the eyes as you are ready.
The root of all our differences, whether it is how we are perceived at work, how we perceive others, is rooted in our past experience, and our value. But the choice we make on what we say and do, is rooted in our intention.
Perception, how we understand a situation; Intention, is what we want as a result of our response.
To place a bolt and make a climb safe, perhaps, we will be perceived by others through their lens, not our intention. Another hot button issue in the climbing world is grading routes. In my backyard, there have been a number of routes re-graded by folks years after their initial ascents by other people.
What is the intention? We cannot always know for sure.
What is the result? Depends on the perception of the climbers who now climb those routes.
The end of the day... everybody is right from their own perception of the situation. BUT those who intend to support the community, the growth of other climbers, AND TAKE ACTION affirming that intention, those will be the people who, in the end, will be respected and admired by those who can see it.
What is your intention?
Not everyone can be THE BEST, but everyone can BE THEIR BEST.
To be your best doesn't mean making the podium. It doesn't mean sending the hardest routes.
It means doing what you love, what excites you. It means doing the best routes you can do. It means that you do not let the voice of fear and self doubt to rule your life.
What is at the core of your soul? Do you understand what you are supposed to do on this earth?
I don't mean the things that you do to get through the day. I mean --
What is the thing, the gift you have that you are supposed to share with the world?
Getting to know your strengths.
You can listen to the following recording or just read the description below.
Take a moment to get quiet, to turn off the music, the TV in the background. Have a pen or pencil and a notebook ready. It is preferable to write this than to type it. With eyes closed, and the body well supported, take 10 breaths allowing the inhale and exhale to balance. Sense the breath move all the way into the abdomen and feel the body relax. Notice the thoughts that move through your mind. Allow the thoughts to be there, just don't follow them. To the best of your ability, be a witness rather than the thinker. Non judgement if you do follow a thought, just come back to the position of noticing.
After a few minutes, in this state of awareness, allow yourself to contemplate, experience the moments where you have gone through struggle, where you have felt the chips were down and you were challenged. Re-live the experience or experiences. Allow the focus of your awareness to rest on how you move through the challenge. As if watching a movie, witness how you navigate the challenges. What qualities did you bring to bear? What attitude, what resources did you draw upon? What intention did you set for yourself that propelled you forward?
When you have fully re-experienced these moments and have identified, noticed the qualities, open your eyes and write them down in your journal. Be as descriptive as you need. Allow yourself time to really explore these qualities, these strengths and positive intentions that you have.
If you experience yourself thinking thoughts of self doubt, or that perhaps you are exaggerating, it doesn't matter. Write as if you are writing about someone else. In fact, it could be helpful to exaggerate the qualities.
As you review what you have written, consider that these strengths are your gifts. It is these vary gifts that you are meant to strengthen and to use to express yourself fully in this world. It is when you call on these qualities that you are your best self. So continue to strengthen them and continue to use these strengths to work with your weaknesses. In my own life, my greatest weakness is a fear of not being of value, of failing. But my greatest strength is my ability to see possibility, to be tenacious. When I use my tenacity and dream of possibility, it becomes easier to overcome the fear of failing or of not receiving the recognition I long for.
I hope this has helped you see a path forward too... Good Luck.
Hands move from one hold to the next. The foot steps up and the body shifts its centre of gravity to load the new holds in the best way possible. Head turns and the gaze looks upward.
It is only one move, a fraction of a second. It is what the camera captures, a glimpse of a body on a rock face.
Inside it is a totally different story and one that may elude the camera lens. Inside the chatter could be driven by fear, the fear of falling or failing. The uncertainty in ones ability causing the hands to grip the holds tighter than necessary and the leg to slightly quiver. Breath moving in a shallow and quick repetition.
Perhaps inside is excitement and joy, prompted by the curiosity and newness of the experience. The climber naive to all that could go wrong. Anchors not holding, rock falling down from above or the inattentive belay, not really sure what is going on either. The joy allows the hands to relax more and the breath to flow more freely through the body.
The only evidence of the climber's true experience is locked in the facial muscles, expression around the eyes, the lips. If the camera captures the expression, more may be revealed to those who do not know the climber. But for those who know their partner, the experience is a different one.
Perhaps it is mirror neurons that allow the knowing to occur even when the climber and partner are not looking at one another. Perhaps it is borne from the habit of experience, watching the climber react when s/he climbs. But it is as if you read the others' mind. You know when s/he is clipping and play the rope out before being asked. You read the subtleties of your partners movements, stance and you know the degree of uncertainty or comfort. In much the same way a mother understands the uniqueness of the cries of her child, where others just think to try a myriad of things; diaper change? food? rocking?
In the ideal partnership in climbing the inner world of the climber is understood and supported with the means, the words or silence that is needed. Whether it is someone knowing when to give a power spot or tension on the rope, or when to give rope, take in rope or give beta (information about the route), these partners are priceless. They are the partners one finds and doesn't want to leave. They are the person who can call you out or be there when the chips are down. These partnerships are deeper than friendships. These partnerships are forged in patience, shared experience and understanding, awareness, empathy and celebration of the meaningless successes. Mostly these partnerships are shaped by kindness and caring; truth and the freedom to be oneself. To accept oneself in the light of another's acceptance... that is a powerful bond.
It's the season. The granite still has the cold bite in the early morning. The sun warms the skin and at least along the coast, the bugs are at bay. Why then, oh why, am I so unmotivated to climb?
One of my climbing partners had a goal he pursued relentlessly, dedicating himself to the gym four or five times a week for months. Finally, spring arrived and he went to Smith Rocks with attaining his goal of 5.13a. Within a matter of days, he had done it. In fact over the course of two and a half weeks, he managed to send a 5.13b and a 5.13c. He returned triumphant and complete.
In the days that followed he stopped climbing, his dedication to the craft waining. Within a month, he started considering giving up climbing all together. He seemed unhappy, drinking more and climbing even less.
To create that inspiration, it is essential to know what give the process meaning. Test yourself with these questions:
1) Who do I love climbing with? How can I create that sense of connection with him/her?
2) What route or climbing area is so aesthetically beautiful that I cannot help but be inspired by it's line?
3) What project or climbing adventure will inspire the story I want to share with my future children, my friends when I am too old to climb?
4) How will I grow from trying a route or boulder problem that currently maybe doesn't inspire me? Or maybe it's a climbing trip I need to grow from this comfort zone?
5) How can I inspire others? Sometimes it is about giving away what we long for the most,
The granite was sharp, biting into the skin with a burning sensation. She continued to look around her for the next hold. The route was pretty easy, but the terrain was new to her. This was the first time she had ever gone climbing, invited by a friend and she had said yes without really thinking about what it would mean.
But she was hooked. It wasn't the sunny day, the cool people she was hanging out with, or even the route. It was a feeling in her heart. It was as if she knew who she was. Focus, present to the experience, no attachment to a specific outcome, curious. All of these elements allowed her to feel like nothing else mattered. She was in relationship with her Self completely. The voice inside her that continually measures how to respond to the current situation was quiet. Because the voice was in awe.
Success is more than getting to the top, it is being in love with the process.
Take a moment to be quiet and reflect on the most memorable experience you have of climbing. Consider the moment in fullest detail. Remember it as if you were in that moment again. Sense the feelings it is bringing up for you, feel the sensations in your body, the sounds. Steeped in the memory, now ask yourself what does climbing mean to you, in only three words - what does climbing mean to you? Trust the first three words you hear. If you want to think about it, you will lose the truth. Trust what comes and then reflect on how the three words relate to you and climbing.
For example, you may have a words like connection. But as you reflect on connection, it may be a connection to something primal within yourself. Not necessarily connection to other climbers. Once you know these words, you can now make sure you create climbing opportunities that allow you to experience that. It may be somewhat challenging to experience that connection to something primal when you are climbing in a gym with loads of people and loud music. Doesn't mean you wouldn't do it, just means the expectation for what the experience will offer is realistic.
And there were things for me.
I choose the warm ups and we went around the other side of the boulder for the routes and I noticed the damp ground and thought with frustration, "dang, we should have brought a tarp." Then looking at the steep overhanging lines, I noticed the wetness of the holds, and the closeness of the edge of the pond to spotting the top out. But trying to be supportive, I just got ready to climb. Those first holds were pretty wet, and the steepness was pretty challenging. After a few tries, I gave up on the start holds, feeling like all the desire zapped out of me after the first moves. I watched as there was some hesitancy in the others on the top out moves. "Hmmm, that's where I will be pumped and scared of falling," I thought. My frown probably deepened. It was then that the snakes sunning themselves on the trees leaning over the pond behind us were noticed. Deep breaths... not a fan of snakes. These were not poisonous to my knowledge and seemed to be sunning themselves contentedly, but still, not a fan.
Still I tried to engage in support for others and even trying to assure them that I was game to keep trying, I discussed the need for me to bring more grrr through the body, not just the upper arms on the route. Every few moments distracted by whether these snakes were moving closer or keeping their distance.
Then more people arrived, more crash pads covered the ground, more conversation, more climbers vying for turns on the same routes. And of course admiration for the snakes and more snake conversation. Sigh....
I didn't send. Not even sure I could say I enjoyed the day. The truth is, I did not take responsibility for my day. I mean, I did to some degree. I showed up, I climbed and supported others. But I didn't look at what I wanted to climb, I didn't build excitement about the possibilities for climbing that day. I just tried to climb and be supportive of others. But others can't get excited for you if you are not excited yourself.
You get back what you give. We are the creators of our experience.
My day was meh because I approached it WITHOUT excitement and a sense of engagement and possibility. I approached climbing that day like it was just something I was going to do, like I might approach doing the dishes, rather than how I would prepare a meal for friends and family. Sure my focus was on the other people I was with, but that only put a sense of pressure on them to 'make my day.'
Lesson learned - Own it, take responsibility for your experience.
Neurons that fire together, wire together. There is a TED talk. Another name for it is neuroplasticity.
In the book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg discusses this concept as the root of making positive changes in your life. It is hard to stop doing things, unless you do (choose to do) something different. Replacing an action with a new action is key.
Consider what you do when you fall. What is the first thing you do when the climbing gets hard? Look down? For a lot of people this would be the habitual action - look for where you will fall. Then you fall. The more times you repeat this - feel insecure, uncertain, look down, fall. This is repeated and becomes the habit that can prevent you from climbing harder.
Try this... just go to your local gym and watch people. Watch the same person climb a number of routes. Select a climber who is trying something that they will fall off or find very challenging and may fall. Notice if they look down OR if the fall trying.
Then notice your own choice.