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Category Archives: Effort

Trainer to the JStars: Part 1

Over the past six months we’ve been extremely fortunate to have the opportunity to train one of America’s most accomplished sport climbers. I can say unequivocally that the experience has been one of the highlights of my varied climbing career. It’s every coach’s dream to work with the very best athletes within a given sport, and we are no different. While we have tremendous confidence in our program, and its long track-record of producing results for mortals like us, we’ve long ‘fantasized’ about recruiting an elite-level guinea pig for some next-level experimentation. Would it work for a top-level athlete? Can it be adapted to the full-time climbing schedule of a legit pro? There was only one way to find out, but we needed a strong climber with an open mind.

Over the last summer, Mike ran into our mutual friend Jonathan Siegrist at Wild Iris. Jonathan’s work ethic is unparalleled, and his tick list speaks for itself (over 100 5.14 sends, multiple 5.14 flashes, and numerous 5.14c and d first ascents), but he’s also extremely intelligent and thoughtful. He respects our sport’s history, while pulling out all the stops to carve out a bigger and better future. He’s the kind of climber you can’t help but root for. The two discussed our upcoming book (which Jonathan graciously offered to review for the back cover) and Jonathan mentioned that he was looking to try a more structured approach to his already legendary training habits. Mike eagerly volunteered our services to help him develop a new training strategy.

Jonathan crushing Moonshine, 5.14d, at the Wild Iris last summer. Photo Mike Anderson.

Jonathan crushing Moonshine, 5.14d, at the Wild Iris last summer. Photo Mike Anderson.

Jonathan was the perfect candidate for the Lazy H Training Laboratory. When he’s committed, he’s unstoppable, but he also brings a healthy amount of skepticism to the table. He’s worked hard to get where he is, and he’s not inclined to risk his hard-earned fitness on the flavor of the month. He had been talking with various training gurus around the country, and after a sneak peak at our book, he felt our program might be the right approach for him.

In November the three of us finally got around to hatching a plan. I met with Jonathan at my home in Evergreen to discuss his goals, strengths, and weaknesses, and to develop a strategy. Jonathan lamented that he had basically been at the 5.14d-level for the past three years. Granted, it’s a grade most of us would be satisfied with, but the great ones are great precisely because they’re never satisfied. Prior to this, he had made pretty steady progress throughout his career. He had tried many different things but couldn’t seem to break through this plateau. He had some impressive goals on the horizon, and he was extremely determined to take his climbing to the next level in order to achieve them. He wanted to put himself into position to firmly establish the 5.15 grade in America. As we sat at my kitchen table, he summed up his motivation in a simple manner we can all relate to: “I want to send man! I’m not getting any younger.”

Quote2We talked about his normal climbing and training approach, reviewed some video of his recent achievements, and generally tried to create a general picture of where he was, and where he needed to go. With all the humility I can summon, I’d like to think I see a lot of myself in Jonathan’s climbing. He likes to flash the same styles of routes I like to project 🙂 Ignoring magnitude, we have similar strengths and weaknesses. In that sense, I felt well-qualified to design a training plan he could use to deliver himself from Point A to Point B, but I had a significant fear. Jonathan was already one of the best climbers in the world, so clearly he was doing something right. The last thing I wanted to do was somehow make him worse (or cause an injury) by tinkering with his approach. You don’t just paint over the Mona Lisa and hope that you end up with something better.

The over-arching strategy was to improve Jonathan’s explosive power (from a physical standpoint) and aggressiveness, since these seemed to be the clear limiting factors in his climbing. We hoped to accomplish that in two primary ways. First, we wanted to drastically cut back Jonathan’s training volume to facilitate higher-intensity training. At that point, Jonathan was performing a super-human volume of climbing and training: “I learned to train very much in the vein of Tommy [Caldwell] — beat yourself up like crazy. Usually my training days would be doing 3-4 hours of routes or boulders in the gym in sets, then weight room for a series of opposition / finger board for an hour, then an hour run. I go on like this for 2 or 3 days in a row and then 1 day off completely. I rarely take more than 1 day off and I never take off a week, etc.” This was obviously a huge factor in his success as a climber—it gave him the ability to hang on forever, and it helped hone his technical skills. These strengths are evident in his climbing, and the routes he likes to climb. Clearly we didn’t want to sabotage those strengths, but something had to be done about his power, and you can’t train power effectively when you’re tired.

Quote3The second part of the plan was to mesh the Rock Prodigy program elements with Jonathan’s already-Herculean training schedule. Jonathan wanted to prepare primarily for a lifetime goal-route he hoped to try in late spring 2014, so we had time to complete two short training cycles. This was huge, as it gave us the flexibility to take some risks the first season, and then tweak the program in time to get the best results for the all-important spring season.

We skipped the Base Fitness Phase since that is the last thing Jonathan needs, but recommended a complete Strength and Power Phase. Jonathan’s finger strength was already quite good, but we really wanted to see if we could make some improvements in that area, and we felt that hangboarding provides really important preparation for the power training activities we wanted to emphasize later in the cycle. Jonathan took straight to the hangboard. He has an analytical mind, and a slightly sick love of suffering — traits that are well-suited to the hangboard.

“So dude. I was getting super frustrated because I felt like I was constantly slipping off the hang board and shit was getting so much harder even with perfect temps, so I took the board down and inspected to find that I've literally worn the texture off...”

“So dude. I was getting super frustrated because I felt like I was constantly slipping off the hang board and shit was getting so much harder even with perfect temps, so I took the board down and inspected to find that I’ve literally worn the texture off…”

We really wanted to emphasize Limit Bouldering and Campusing, especially aggressive, explosive movements on the wall. Jonathan is wicked strong with crazy lock-off strength, which allows him to do many hard moves statically, but that’s oftent not the most efficient way to do a hard move.   During our first meeting in November, I took him out to my barn and asked him to do an “explosive pull-up”. Despite cranking out numerous 1-arm pull-ups with each arm, he just couldn’t do an explosive pull-up. His muscles didn’t know how to contract quickly. He was super impressed to see me do a double dyno on the campus board with ease (after a few minutes of coaching, Jonathan was able to do one too). Our plan hinged on making some significant strides during the Power Phase, both in terms of contact strength and climbing style. We really wanted to get Jonathan swinging around and going for it on dynamic moves.

Since Jonathan is essentially a full-time pro, and not restricted to the Weekend Warrior approach, it was important that he get regular days outside to keep him sane and psyched. To that end, the Power Endurance Phase would be performed entirely outdoors on Jonathan’s Las Vegas-area projects. On a micro-scale, we prescribed a two-days-on/one-day off schedule in which he would train inside, per the RP method, on the first day on, and then climb outside on projects (or indoors on gym routes if the weather was no good) on day two. Occasionally he would go three days on, climbing outside the second and third days. This ensured he had a rest day before each training session, so he could really get after it with high intensity work.

Quote4One of the really cool and fun aspects of this experiment is being on the receiving end of Jonathan’s limitless psych. We would periodically receive random stoke emails with little blurbs like: “Dudes, I really think the training is working.”, “training works!”, “I’m super stoked! It’s definitely working. I’m really excited to imagine what I’ll feel like after finishing this”, and “…this shit works!” It’s always super cool and motivating to get one of these emails, but in my heart I’ve always been my own worst critic, and harbored significant anxieties about the results of our experiment. I was seriously anxious to see how things would work out once Jonathan returned to a serious project.

During the spring of 2013, Jonathan started trying a new, gob smacking project in Arrow Canyon. It took him a week that season just to work out the moves. After several weeks of work, the temperatures became unbearable, and so Jonathan moved on without a redpoint. After about six weeks on our program, we were all excited to see how The Arrow Canyon project would go when he returned in January 2014. We were all a bit surprised by the initial results. On only his fourth day back on the project, La Lune was born: “In some ways it was strange to work myself up. I just thought it was going to be such a big battle, and then I came back and, it’s all relative, but it felt quite easy compared to the way that I was climbing on it and the way that I felt about it last year… It was very clear to me almost immediately that the training had worked, and I was climbing at a higher level than I had last year.”

Jonathan's masterpiece La Lune climbs the right side of the arching cave.

Jonathan’s masterpiece La Lune climbs the right side of the arching cave.

Jonathan went on to polish off several other Vegas area routes, including completing the FA of Spectrum at The Promised Land. Then it was time to get back into training mode, and prepare for his primary goal of 2014. It was pretty rad to see Jonathan crushing on routes that were really pushing him the year before. That said, Jonathan asked for our help because he wanted to get to a new level, and we hadn’t achieved that yet….

Check back next week for “Trainer to the JStars: Part 2″

Note: If you haven’t already heard it, we highly recommend Jonathan’s Podcast interview with Neely Quinn on Trainingbeta.com. Jonathan talks extensively about his collaboration with us and the results of his new training approach. The podcast was the source of many of Jonathan’s quotes in this article.

*All quotes are from Jonathan’s personal correspondence, blog posts, and the interview with Neely Quinn.

 

Lander Days – New Post on RCTM.com!

Check out Mike’s new post on “Lander Days” over at RockClimbersTrainingManual.com:

“The family and I just got back from a great week in Lander. If you’ve never been, Lander is a throw-back; it’s a small community at the foot of the Wind River mountain range in Wyoming, so the pace of life is a little slower, and life is a bit simpler. When we’re in Lander, for whatever reason, there is no TV watching or any of those distractions. Instead, we’re outside a lot, and we spend time with great friends. On this trip we were fortunate to stay with Steve and Ellen Bechtel, and BJ and Emily Tilden. Thanks for the hospitality!  When we first arrived, I was in the midst of my Power phase, so I sought out powerful routes to supplement my training. That’s a big reason we were in Lander in the first place, to climb at the Wild Iris…..”  Continue Reading

Lander Days

Typical June weather at Wild Iris, but it's always temporary.

Typical June weather at Wild Iris, but it’s always temporary.

The family and I just got back from a great week in Lander. If you’ve never been, Lander is a throw-back; it’s a small community at the foot of the Wind River mountain range in Wyoming, so the pace of life is a little slower, and life is a bit simpler. When we’re in Lander, for whatever reason, there is no TV watching or any of those distractions. Instead, we’re outside a lot, and we spend time with great friends. On this trip we were fortunate to stay with Steve and Ellen Bechtel, and BJ and Emily Tilden. Thanks for the hospitality!

Lucas's favorite time of the day...heading home!

Lucas’s favorite time of the day…heading home!

When we first arrived, I was in the midst of my Power phase, so I sought out powerful routes to supplement my training. That’s a big reason we were in Lander in the first place, to climb at the Wild Iris. I think there are only a few crags in the US that are suitable for honest-to-goodness training on rock, and Wild Iris is one of them, when it comes to Power (The Red is great for endurance training). Also, early in your season, it’s a great idea to get some easier (for you) routes under your belt to get the rust off, and build confidence going into more difficult projects. To that end, I picked out a couple 13+ routes to try to tick off quickly. The first was Adi-Goddang-Yos, a short, powerful 13c at Rising from the Planes wall, made famous in Eric Perlman’s epic film, Masters of Stone. A hold had broken since the filming, but the route had been re-climbed at least twice since then, at a slightly harder grade. It now requires a pull off a small crimp (my specialty 🙂 ), followed by a very powerful undercling move. I was fortunate to send on my second burn, and was able to play around on some harder routes for the future.

I was lucky to be the first person in the Western Hemisphere to try the super hot Tenaya Terifa, an aggressive high performance shoe that will excel on steep terrain. It has a chiseled toe that is great for pockets. I also like that it is a lace up because I can get on a tighter fitting shoe and still get it on over my grotesquely oversized heels.

I was lucky to be the first person in the Western Hemisphere to try the super hot Tenaya Tarifa, an aggressive high performance shoe that will excel on steep terrain. It has a chiseled toe that is great for pockets. I also like that it is a lace up because I can get on a tighter fitting shoe and still get it on over my grotesquely oversized heels.

My next climbing day, I targeted White Buffalo, a short crimping test-piece on a 30 foot boulder in the campground. You probably remember Mark’s account of this route from last fall: Roped Bouldering in Cowboy Country

I had been intrigued by this line for years (as I’m sure everyone who’s ever camped at the Iris is too), and finally had the opportunity to try it with the right fitness and good weather. We got an 0500 start in Lander to ensure good conditions, and an opportunity to get a couple burns before the sun warmed the face too much (it gets morning sun).

The day before I had just watched BJ Tilden trying his latest sick project at Wolf Point (see below). It was incredibly inspiring. He hasn’t sent yet, but on that attempt you could tell he was really going for it 100% on every move, even though the moves were really risky, low-percentage dynos to small one and two-finger pockets. There were probably five separate occasions when the crowd was sure he was falling, but he hung on and kept moving! It was quite an example.

BJ Tilden on his super-sick Wolf Point project. This think might be 9a+!

I think we all aspire to “climb like Sharma”, really going for it on every move, no matter how desparate.  Sometimes we pull this off in the gym, but for whatever reason many of us seem to hold back when we’re on rock.  Perhaps its the sharpness of the rock, fear of incurring a skin injury (or a real injury), or just fear of falling or failing.  Further complicating this is that certain types of climbing, like long enduro routes or technical on sights, punish over-gripping, and so foster a “don’t try too hard” mentality that can be difficult to overcome when we switch climbing styles.  While the RCTM advocates a “Smarter, not Harder” approach, we all need to remember that often the great climbers are great because they really do try harder than everyone else.  Just trying hard in the moment of the redpoint will not make the difference between climbing 13d and 14d, but all the opportunities along the way, over many, many years, of trying just a little bit harder in the gym, on the campus board, every time you’re on the rock, can eventually add up to that difference.  While Mark and I are not always brawlers on the rock, we are in the gym, and we try extremely hard in training, day-in, day-out, which is one of the reasons we’ve had success with our training.  And though we aren’t at BJ’s level, when the moment is right, we are able to whip out some pretty concerted efforts on a rope every now and then (just yesterday I belayed Mark on the send of his newest Clear Creak 5.14, and it was pretty cool to see him dynoing five times in a row, between insecure holds, eight feet above the last bolt, especially since I was around in the early days when he was much more timid).

So, when I got to White Buffalo, which has some painful and powerful crimp moves, I channeled my inner-BJ…I wasn’t going to pace myself, just give 100% effort on every move, ignore the pain, or thoughts of failure and just try like hell! It worked, and I sent on my second go. It’s the first 13d-in-a-day I’ve done, and my first 2nd try. I’ve done a few in 3 tries, so this was a minor break through. More importantly, I had some confidence to head into some harder projects.

I’ll let my photos do most of the rest of the talking….

America's latest Super-Crag, Wolf Point.  This was my spring goal, that I had been dreaming of and training for for months.  Finally made it!

America’s latest Super-Crag, Wolf Point. This was my spring goal, that I had been dreaming of and training for for months. Finally made it!

I decided to try a beautiful 14a that BJ had put up called King Thing. It’s a commanding line, on a flawless sweep of limestone up the center of the cave. The moves are outstanding, without a stopper crux, but no opportunity to shake in the first 50 feet or so. You can watch BJ climbing it at about the 48 min point of this film, Wind and Rattlesnakes.

 

Steve Bechtel climbing on Remus, 13b.

Steve Bechtel climbing on Remus, 13b.

One of the best parts of the trip was making a couple new friends. First was Rob Jensen, shown below. It turns out, I grew up about 45 minutes from him (he’s from Springfield, Oregon), and we lived in Colorado at similar times, yet I’d never met him. He is also another proud owner of an Ascent Rock mechanized climbing wall, so we had much to talk about. He is a pillar of the Las Vegas climbing community, and hosts numerous climbers in his “garage” for epic training sessions.

Las Vegas climber, and all-around awesome dude, Rob Jensen climbing "Dominant Species" 5.11d.  That's Red Canyon in the background.

Las Vegas climber, and all-around awesome dude, Rob Jensen climbing “Dominant Species” 5.11d. That’s Red Canyon in the background.

I also met and climbed with Kyle Vassilopous. He moved to Lander last year from Bozeman, MT, and he is super-psyched to put up new routes. He was a pleasure to climb with because he is extremely psyched, and didn’t balk at my desire to start early for good temps!

Recent Lander transplant Kyle Vassilopolous warming up at Wolf Point.

Recent Lander transplant Kyle Vassilopolous warming up at Wolf Point.

Dr Tom Rangitsch has been the driving force behind new route development in Lander the last few years. He’s hiked more cliffline than anyone in town and discovered lots of new crags. He put up many of the best routes at Wolf Point, including this new addition, Full Moon, 5.13b, a 40 meter pitch that overhangs about 6 meters over the length. It started as a 30 meter 12c called Bark at the Moon, and this is an extension to that route. The first anchor is at the first draw visible in the photo. In this picture, he’s at the crux of the extension which is a really cool sequence on small crimps. I was lucky to get to belay him on the FA, then he belayed me a couple days later when I tried it. I wanted to go for an on-sight, and Tom did a great job of biting his lip as I flubbed the beta…luckily I was able to recover, and made the first on-sight of the route. It’s a great route Tom, thanks for the hard work!!!

Dr. Tom Rangitsch going for the FA of Full Moon, 5.13b.

Dr. Tom Rangitsch going for the FA of Full Moon, 5.13b.

Thanks everyone for the hospitality, we’ll be back soon to finish off our projects!

Focus – New Post on RCTM.com!

Check out my new post on “Focus” over at RockClimbersTrainingManual.com:

“Focus is all about summoning maximum concentration and attention at the moment it is crucially needed.  Most climbers think of this when its time to send, but the ability to summon and maintain sufficient focus is also vital during daily training.  With training cycles that last for months, often involving several weeks of training on plastic, maintaining this focus can be quite a challenge.  When I have to post-hole through two feet of fresh snow to get to the Lazy H for a workout, the moment of tying in for a difficult send may be the furthest from my mind.  Regardless, the effort & attention given to the ensuing workout, completed two months before booting up below my project, could have as much bearing on the eventual outcome as the effort put into the redpoint attempt….”  Continue Reading

Focus

Focus is all about summoning maximum concentration and attention at the moment it is crucially needed.  Most climbers think of this when its time to send, but the ability to summon and maintain sufficient focus is also vital during daily training.  With training cycles that last for months, often involving several weeks of training on plastic, maintaining this focus can be quite a challenge.  When I have to post-hole through two feet of fresh snow to get to the Lazy H for a workout, the moment of tying in for a difficult send may be the furthest from my mind.  Regardless, the effort & attention given to the ensuing workout, completed two months before booting up below my project, could have as much bearing on the eventual outcome as the effort put into the redpoint attempt.

Although the constant need to cultivate & sustain focus can be draining, repeatedly going through your process can help “hone your instrument” so to speak, making it much easier to manifest that vital focus when it comes time to perform on the rock.  Everyone will have a slightly different process for getting into the proper “zone”, and many climbers have different ideas on what that zone should look like.  For example, some folks prefer complete silence while others want their mates shouting encouragement.  When I’m in my “zone” I don’t hear anything at all, so you might as well save your breath 🙂

Below are some strategies you can try, some geared more towards training activities, and others more towards performance:

1. Eliminate any external distractions.  This may take some foresight, a bit of planning, and perhaps a significant amount of negotiation.  If you expect to get good results out of a training session, you can’t be answering phone calls between sets.  The rest period between sets is meant for resting.  There is no extra time built in for doing chores.  Spend your rest time analyzing the previous set, making notes in your training log, shaking, chalking and otherwise preparing for the next set–physically AND mentally.  Here are some things I do to facilitate this:

– Set up a block of time when family, etc will leave you alone.  Discuss this with significant others ahead of time and provide a weekly or monthly schedule if necessary so they can plan around your obsessive/compulsive behavior 🙂

– Isolate yourself from others (if needed).  Some training partners can be a great aid, others just want to gossip.  My wife understands that it’s best for everyone if I’m left alone during timed workouts, but I enjoy company for less rigid workouts like Limit Bouldering

– Turn off/unplug phones, laptops, etc.

– Select appropriate music.  Music can be a powerful aid for cultivating the right mood, which is key to achieving the proper state of arousal.  I prefer Heavy Metal for hangboarding, and Hip-Hop (we used to call it “Rap” when I was a boy) for bouldering/campusing.  Avoid radio, or other sources of noise that you can’t control.  Especially avoid things that will make you laugh, as this can completely ruin a workout.  A few years back I was listening to sports radio while hangboarding when Dan Patrick told a story about his child’s field trip to a local zoo.  This was just after “March of the Penguins” came out.  At one point one of the children disappeared, only to re-appear a while later drenched from head-to-toe.  It turned out this child had jumped into the penguin tank, kidnapped a penguin, and stashed it in his backpack.  The image of this soaking wet child with a stowaway penguin strapped to his back kept popping into my head during hangboard sets.  You can’t squeeze hard while laughing, and so several sets were essentially wasted.  As John Cusack said in Hi Fidelity “I just want something I can ignore” (at 1:21 in the clip below).

2. Keep mental reminders at hand.  During training, it can be extremely helpful to keep the ultimate goal in mind, to remind yourself why you are enduring this discomfort.  In addition, more specific mental cues can be equally helpful while progressing through the individual steps of your routine.  Here are some examples:

– Make permanent notes in your training plan log sheet.   These can be anything from “tape Middle finger base here” to “Remember to squeeze on this set” to “Breathe!”

– Place photos, posters, inspirational messages, etc near your training apparatus.  You may find your eyes wander during monotonous activities like hangboarding, so give them something to look at that will help direct your attention back to the task at hand. For example, friend of the show Jonathan Siegrist used a sharpie to write “Try Hard!” in the center of his hangboard.  I like to post photos of the routes I’m training for.  I have some behind my hangboard and some in the Lazy H.

– Post a list of personal bests near the apparatus.  Although the ultimate goal may be weeks, months, or even years away, give yourself something to strive for in the here and now.

– Make notes on keys to your project.  This can be anything from one or two key points, to several pages of blow-by-blow beta for an entire route.  Keep in mind that endless detailed descriptions can be overwhelming at the moment of truth, so try to come up with no more than a handful of the most critical reminders, such as where and when to shift your hips when executing the crux dyno, details on how to grasp an irregular hold in the crux, or reminders to relax in certain sections or get “aggro” for others.

– Remind yourself of good habits.  Concepts like remaining calm, breathing deeply & continuously, and trusting your beta are universal to all routes.  Keep this in your mind and repeat them to yourself like a mantra while you climb.

– Utilize verbal cues.  If you find your mind drifting, be ready with verbal cues, which can help jar your attention back to your current activity.  These can be as ridiculous as “na-na-na-na-na-na-na-na- CLIMBING!” (sung to the tune of the Batman theme), or something more specific such as repeating the name of your upcoming project or long-term goal.

 

3. Control your breathing.  As The Rock Warrior’s Way points out, breathing is the key to the mind-body connection, in that it is a subconscious activity that can be controlled consciously.  Utilize this link to keep your mind calm and attentive and your body relaxed and supple:

– Start your huffing and puffing before you start the training activity or performance.  Its much easier to maintain a good breathing routine once you’ve  already started, not to mention that it can help to start a strenuous activity with fully oxygenated blood.  I also find that starting this rhythmic breathing while I’m booting up helps to calm my nerves and send a signal to my belayer that I’m getting into my zone.

Rest points provide a good opportunity to re-enforce mental cues.  Think about your planned performance through the ensuing section, in terms of movement beta (“shift hips left before reaching for right-hand gaston”) as well as your mentality (“trust the beta and breathe!”).

– Re-establish a good rhythm.  Whenever you get to a rest point, a clipping stance, or while chalking up, note your breathing pattern, take a few full deep breaths, and try to maintain it.  You can practice this using the “Finding Calm” drill described on page 63 of the RCTM.

– Focus on breathing during your training.  Often while climbing difficult sequences good breathing habits are the first thing to go.  This is understandable since the mind is pre-occupied with route-finding and other critical activities.  This is often not the case while training, where movements are simple/non-existant or well-rehearsed, so use these opportunities to force yourself to breath properly under severe strain.  Hangboarding is perfect for this, but so are Supplemental Exercises, Linked Bouldering Circuits, and Route Interval where you are climbing relatively simplistic terrain that you have dialed.

4. Establish a routine.  Hopefully by now you have a reliable process that you can count on to get yourself into your “zone” when needed.  If not, observe some of your local heroes and adopt some of their behaviours.  Once you’ve figured out what works, practice it in your daily training and out on the rocks.  Most things improve with practice.  Here are some things that help me get into my zone:

– Do things in a consistent order.  The order is somewhat arbitrary, but try to keep it consistent, and try to get deeper and deeper into your zone with each step.  For example, when I show up at the crag, I usually like to drop my pack, then run over to my project to re-assure myself that it’s still there.  Half joking, but seriously I want to know that my draws are still on it, figure out if there are other suitors I will have to coordinate with, make sure no key holds are wet, etc.  Although I can’t control any of these things, having the information as soon as possible allows me to plan around any inconveniences.  If I know the draws aren’t fixed, I can incorporate a dogging burn to hang the draws into my warmup.  If the route is wet, maybe I can delay the start of my warmup to coincide with a likely time when the route will be dry.  This simple ritual helps me relax once I arrive at the crag, and allows me to focus completely on my warmup, rather than worrying about some catastrophe I can’t control.  Once I’m warmed up, I like to migrate to my project well in advance, providing plenty of time to get ready to go.  The first thing I do is verify the draws are in place, then I stick clip the first bolt if “necessary”, then I tape up if necessary, tie in, sip some water, discuss my strategy with my belayer, and then I start putting my shoes on.  I’m chalking up throughout these steps, but one finally dip and wipe is always the last step.

– While performing on rock, identify a point during your preparation where you stop the chit-chat with your belayer or other bystanders.  For me, once I start to put my climbing shoes on I’m in game-face mode.  If I have pointers on where I want the belayer to stand, direct the rope, etc, I discuss those before my hiking shoes come off.

The process of booting up provides a good opportunity to transition from recreation mode to performance mode.

–For timed training sets, get a feel for how soon before the start of the next set you need to arrive at the apparatus, chalking up, etc.  For hangboarding and LBC’s or other timed intervals, I prefer to never leave my zone once the workout starts, but if I get pulled out, I want to be back to focusing on the ensuing effort at least 60 seconds before the set starts.

5. Keep your eyes “caged”.  Vision can dictate where your mind is at, so try to keep your eyes focused on things that will re-enforce your mental focus.

– While training, stare at your fingers, the timer, the next hold, or a motivational photo; whatever you find most effective at keeping your train of thought on the current set (i.e. not at the cute blonde in the sports bra).  Same goes for rest intervals–don’t go gazing out a nearby window or flipping through your iPhone.  Focus on your training log, your apparatus, and any mental cues you have available.

–Limit your depth perception.  This trick may take some practice, but it can be very helpful.  Particularly while performing on rock, try to see no more than 5 or 10′ ahead, unless at a rest, but even then keep your eyes on the route and only on the route.  Often during a redpoint or onsight ascent, we are anxious about a looming roof or other distinct crux.  Obsessing over that point won’t help you fire the slab 30′ below it.  Keep your eyes focused on the climbing immediately in front of you.  Obviously on an onsight you need to plan ahead somewhat, but generally long-range planning should be done from the ground or from a good rest stance.

– Don’t look down!  A bit facetious, but seriously, the only thing you need to see when looking down is your last piece of solid pro and an attentive belayer.  Everything else is a distraction waiting to happen.  Granted, it may be prudent to down-climb during a challenging onsight, but at that point the way up is down.  Focus on the task at hand: the series of moves immediately in front of you.  I attribute this tactic to my earlier success as Big-Wall Free Climber.  To this day I have few recollections of the view down El Cap, but many memories of the view up.  Teach yourself to ignore things that aren’t relevant.  5.12 is 5.12, whether you are 80′ off the deck or 800′.  And the ground is just as deadly either way, so there is no need to waste attention on the added exposure.  There will be plenty of time to admire the view from the summit.

6. Be your own CheerLEADER.  You know your belayer is just dying to shout at you while you climb, so give them something to shout–something specific that YOU will find helpful.  When you’re outside, get your belayer involved, or call upon the peanut gallery to re-enforce key points during the effort.  Same goes for a training partner or partners during training activities.  Some recommend cheers include:

– Any specific, subtle crux beta that you are inclined to forget (i.e. “One – Two – Three – Four, flag that leg or you’ll barndoor”, but less lame)

– Reminders to breath at points where you are inclined to stop breathing (cruxes, dynos, awkward sections, or core-intensive sequences)

– Re-assurances like “You can do this!” or “You got this!”  Avoid diminishing the objective with comments like “This rig is easy”/”you should be able to hike this thing”.  Presumably its a challenge for you, and that’s why you chose it.  It will be hard, and you should be prepared to try hard during your ascent.

– Encouragement to try hard during stopper sequences: “Allez” if you’ve been to Europe and you want everyone else at the crag to know it (otherwise “Go for it”, or “come on” works almost as well) 🙂

– Finally, if you find such things distracting, ask the gallery for silence before your start, or ask your belayer to ask them once you’re in the zone.

If you have any tips or tricks of your own for cultivating focus, please share them in a comment below!

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