A tall, steep sport route can be daunting, intimidating, and sometimes even a little scary. It should not be surprising, then, that your thoughts and emotions in the minutes leading up to a climb will strongly influence how you perform on the route–it might even predetermine the outcome.
Rushed preparations and scattered, fearful thoughts usually give birth to a shaky performance, whereas a calculated, well-know preparation process and targeted, confident thinking will help set the stage for a solid, if not exceptional, performance. This exemplifies the power of preclimb rituals.
There are two parts to an effective preclimb ritual: proceeding through a preparatory checklist and the triggering of emotional anchors.
Like a pilot’s preflight checklist, a climber’s preclimb preparations should consist of every single activity, big or small, that is necessary to ensure a safe, successful journey. For example, my typical ritual begins with getting a proper warm-up and engaging in some mild stretching. I then begin to suss out the major aspects of the climb, such as the path, gear requirements, a rest positions. Next, I take a closer look and attempt to identify key holds and as much of the sequence as possible. Following this, I perform a few minutes of mental rehearsal and associated visualization, as I try to feel the moves and pre-program in the ascent. Upon gaining a sense of confident about the route, I put on my shoes and tie into the rope. I complete my preclimb ritual by taking a few slow, deep breaths, extending my posture (standing tall with shoulders back), and cracking a smile in anticipation of the great fun that awaits me. This entire ritual typically takes between ten to fifteen minutes, although it could take more or less depending on the length and complexity of the climb, and it leaves me in an ideal state to make my best effort.
Develop your own unique rituals based on what makes you feel most prepared and psyched for a route. Think back to some of your best past performances to gain some clues as to what to include. What did you think and do in preparing for that climb? What did you eat or drink, how did you warm up, and how long did you rest between climbs? Awareness of all the factors—big and small—that led up to your best performances is a key to being able to reproduce similar results in the future. Experiment with different rituals and analyze what seems to work best. Upon developing a ritual that works, stick to it and use it before every climb!
Have you ever experienced the relaxed pleasure that washes over you when you hear an old song that instantly connects you to some great past event? This experience exemplifies the power of anchors at transporting past emotions into the present. Your brain associates the song with the emotional state of a distinct period earlier in your life; upon hearing that tune, these emotions are relived in the present. Knowledge of this process empowers you to recall the positive emotions of a previous ascent to aid your performance in the present.
If you’ve been climbing awhile, you should have a few great ascents that you can leverage in this way. If not, then tap into some other great life event where you felt exceedingly confident, positive, and successful. Either way, your goal now is to relive this event by creating a brief mental movie that brings as many senses as possible into play. Most people find that bright, crisp visualization is the most effective way to trigger past emotions; however, listening to a particular song can be powerful anchor, too. Experiment a little in order to discover what works best for you. Be creative and overlook no details in reliving the past event, and you’ll learn to consistently release powerful emotions that yield great performances.
Final Thoughts & Actions Before Climbing
The final, and most important, part of a preclimb ritual is to double-check your knot and confirm that your belayer is attentive and ready. Having made this final safety check you can now engage the rock with complete focus—as you leave your worries and concerns on the ground—and enjoy the process of climbing the route. As in going through your preclimb ritual one step at a time, you must attack the route one move at a time…and let the outcome unfold organically. Do all of the above, and you put your self in the best position for a successful, enjoyable ascent!
Copyright 2015 Eric J. Hörst. All rights reserved.
One of the greatest training-for-climbing hits is Hypergravity Isolation Training (aka H.I.T.), an advanced protocol for training maximum grip strength. Not to be confused with the “HIT” program performed by body builders, this highly specific grip training method involves climbing with weight added to your body (simulates “hypergravity”) and on identical finger holds (grip isolation).
It’s now been more than 20 years since I developed this Nicros training system and protocol, and H.I.T. workouts are now used by thousands of climbers across the U.S., Europe, Asia, Australia, and South America as part of their training program. In this article I’ll introduce you to the basics of H.I.T. Strip™ System training.
Why is H.I.T. so Effective?
Hypergravity Isolation Training meets the four fundamental requisites for training maximum grip strength for climbing: 1. high intensity contractions for the duration of the exercise, 2. muscular failure in less than 30 seconds (ideally in less than 20 seconds), 3. the grip is trained with the body in climbing-specific positions (and movement), and 4. a specific grip position is isolated and used until failure (or near failure). While many other grip-strength exercises meet one, two or three of these requirements, only H.I.T. meets all four.
In top photo shows me training on 3rd generation H.I.T. Strips™, a unique platform I develop for optimal H.I.T. workouts. Notice the 20-pound weight belts around my waist, as well as key factor that both hands are in the two-finger pocket grip position. The Nicros’ H.I.T. Strip™ System provides identical pocket, crimp, and pinch grip holds on which I can “ladder” up and down on using climbing movements.
Most important is to add weight to produce failure of each grip position in 10 to 20 total hand movements (which should take just 15 to 30 seconds). Wall angle is critical—I suggest 50-degrees past vertical, although you can use angles between 45 and 55 degrees past vert. Feet simply step on resident holds on the wall and your body can turn as it would while climbing steep rock. Obviously this exercise is very climbing specific, and it targets—actually hammers!—specific grip positions in a way they rarely, if ever, get worked in normal climbing activities (i.e. in doing a climb you are typically grabbing holds of varying shape and size). For intermediate and advanced climbers, there is simply no better way to train grip strength.
H.I.T. Strip™ and Pinch Details
Nicros H.I.T. Strips™ feature incut rounded first-pad crimp holds on each side, one-and-a-half pad rounded pockets (fingers on), and a rounded two-pad bucket hold in the middle. The two H.I.T. Pinch holds (mounted just above the strips) are medium-sized, slightly positive, and angle inward to make for a natural wrist position while gripping. The strips come with a moderate texture (ideal for commercial gyms), though, I advise home users to sand down the edge texture a bit.
While owning a H.I.T. Strip™ System provides you with the ideal platform for hypergravity training, you can also perform H.I.T. Workouts without the specially designed H.I.T. Strips™. You simply need to arrange 10 identical crimp holds, 10 identical two-finger pocket holds, 8 or 10 identical pinch holds, and 5 identical rounded buckets. Of course, purchasing these holds may cost a lot more than the H.I.T. Strip™ System. Furthermore, I find the obvious nature of the H.I.T. Strips™ makes the laddering more straight forward and discourages you from cheating by grabbing other holds on the wall. Learn much more about the H.I.T. Strip™ System and Hypergravity Isolate Training by following the links below.