Articles

Self-Asessment: The Breakfast of Champions

Improving your climbing begins with getting to know your patterns at the crags, in the gym, and in life in general. You must become aware of your climbing-related strengths and weaknesses in each area of the performance triad–technical, mental, and physical. You must make it your prime directive to correct weaknesses, train intelligently, and make course corrections when you are not improving. It’s also vital that you closely examine your goals and level of commitment to climbing–are you willing to make the sacrifices necessary for reaching your goals?

Identifying personal weaknesses requires a paradigm shift–a dramatic change in the way you see things–because it’s human nature to think about and practice the things at which you excel. Consequently, your strengths could be viewed as a “weakness” because they consume the time and energy you could be using more productively elsewhere.

mental-strength-faints-roof

Cindy Mai pulling Faint's Roof 5.10a, Annapolis Rock, MD. Horst Photo

Too many climbers (myself included) have wasted precious years practicing and training the things at which they already excel, while the “ball and chain” of their weaknesses unknowingly holds them back.

For instance, many climbers think “more strength” is the panacea to their climbing woes (of course, physical strength only makes up about one-third of the “climbing performance puzzle”).

It really requires an awakening for most climbers to realize that, in aggregate, technical/strategic flaws and ineffective thoughts and life patterns are a much greater contributing factor to the overall quality of climbing performance.

Improving your climbing begins with getting to know your patterns at the crags, in the gym, and in life in general. You must become aware of your climbing-related strengths and weaknesses in each area of the performance triad–technical, mental, and physical. You must make it your prime directive to correct weaknesses, train intelligently, and make course corrections when you are not improving. It’s also vital that you closely examine your goals and level of commitment to climbing–are you willing to make the sacrifices necessary for reaching your goals?

Identifying personal weaknesses requires a paradigm shift–a dramatic change in the way you see things–because it’s human nature to think about and practice the things at which you excel. Consequently, your strengths could be viewed as a “weakness” because they consume the time and energy you could be using more productively elsewhere.

Too many climbers (myself included) have wasted precious years practicing and training the things at which they already excel, while the “ball and chain” of their weaknesses unknowingly holds them back.

For instance, many climbers think “more strength” is the panacea to their climbing woes (of course, physical strength only makes up about one-third of the “climbing performance puzzle”).

It really requires an awakening for most climbers to realize that, in aggregate, technical/strategic flaws and ineffective thoughts and life patterns are a much greater contributing factor to the overall quality of climbing performance.

Introspection and curiosity are key attributes you must foster because, at least on the first superficial glance, your real-life experiences with failure on a climb will almost always appear to result from a lack of strength. But what about all the underlying causes that may have led to premature fatigue–poor footwork, bad body positioning, over-gripping of holds, climbing too slowly, dismal focus, a botched sequence or missed rest, unreasonable fears, or a lack of energy due to poor diet or dehydration? As you can see, the other two-thirds of the climbing performance puzzle (technical and mental) determine how effectively you use the physical strength and energy reserves you possess. I estimate that the average climber unfortunately wastes up to 50 percent of his strength and energy due to lackluster technique and poor mental control. It’s like having a 30 mile-per-gallon car that only gets 15 miles-per-gallon as the result of a horrible tune-up and a heavy foot!

The moral of the story is that the best training program for climbing should include lots of climbing and constant self-evaluation. Spending three or four days a week on the rock (or an artificial wall) deliberately practicing skill and refining your “climber’s mindset” is far more beneficial than spending those days strength training in the gym. This is not to say that you can simply climb a lot and ignore all the other facets of performance. The best climbers clearly focus on putting the complete puzzle together, and this undoubtedly includes a targeted, sport-specific strength training program. However, if you can do 10 fingertip pull-ups, you are probably strong enough to climb most 5.12a routes! So, search vigilantly for the true, often underlying causes of failure on routes. That’s the ultimate secret to optimizing your training program and establishing new “personal bests” on the rock.


Copyright 2004 Eric J. Hörst. All rights reserved.