Start with the Mind: A mental approach to training and preparation

Photo: Ariadna Prat Barnadas

Words & Photos by: Jonathan Siegrest

Ever seen that one girl or guy at the gym that absolutely goes 100%? In every effort you can tell they are giving everything to their climbing. They are the first ones to arrive and last to leave. They can not be distracted by crowds or bad music or top-rope birthday parties. Never mind their actual climbing level, their strength is that they try hard. Their drive is not physical – it is mental. These climbers have the most potential to improve.

Before you push your body I believe you must prepare your mind. There is no short cut to growth, and training should be hard as hell – or it will never work. So how do you prepare for this challenge? How can you condition your mind to truly push your body?

Regardless of which training routine you choose, the best foundation is drive. Drive is in your commitment to growth, it is your persistence, it is your execution. No matter how talented you might be, how exceptional your gym is, or how much you paid for your gear – without this drive your training will never work.

Foundation
Set a goal. Not simply to improve, or to ‘get better’. Set an actual performance goal. One of the most important pieces of setting goals is recognizing the space between you and the accomplishment. A goal must be something that is currently unachievable – something that requires you to grow. Something that intimidates you, that scares you. Something that feels on edge but not so unrealistic that it’s unimaginable. What you need is something to motivate you in moments when you want to give up. A dream that pushes you through hours of training and motivates weeks or months of dedication and sacrifice. Simply wanting to improve is far too nebulous, set a performance goal that you will one day test yourself on.

Once you have established the goal you can begin to route your path. In the map of progression you currently stand at Point A, your goal at Point B. You recognize the distance between the two points and now you must find what strengths and skills you will need to improve or acquire along your path. Ask someone else for feedback. A good friend who knows your climbing or a trainer or a total stranger. Beg for their honesty and hopefully they will help you find your weakness. Research your goal, learn everything you can about it. With all of this information only now is it time for you to choose your method of training.

Lastly, prepare for battle. This will not be easy. At times it will suck. In-fact, now might be a good time to make sure this goal is meaningful. Imagine yourself succeeding – how does it make you feel? Will it be worth it?

Photo: Ariadna Prat Barnadas
Photo: Ariadna Prat Barnadas

Photo: Ariadna Prat Barnadas

Persistence
Persistence is paramount. Progress will be slow – but try to accept that every little part is important. As your drive might have ups and downs, try to envision every single session as the most important session. There are no easy training days – every day is the day. Arrange your life so that you can maintain your training and rest your body completely from exercise and stress when needed. Try your best to remove distractions.

Track your progress. Quantifiable changes are very important to record. Firstly, because at the end of the cycle it’s so important to see how far you have come. Did the training actually work? Secondly the little improvements will help motivate your persistence. Week to week you should notice little changes and this fuel is just what you will need when you’re half way through and beat up from the grind.

Keep your goal in mind always. Imagine every hard working session is like accomplishing your goal. Imagine yourself within a few moves of finishing your boulder problem or sport climb or big wall – down to the last second if you can finish this session, imagine yourself fighting for the climb and succeeding. Let the goal motivate your training and likewise later on the training will motivate your goal.

Photo: Ariadna Prat Barnadas
Photo: Ariadna Prat Barnadas
Photo: Ariadna Prat Barnadas

Photo: Ariadna Prat Barnadas

Execution
No more preparation, it is time to perform. Trust in the work you have done. Your body has adapted and now you have arrived at Point B on your map. Despite how prepared or over-prepared your body might be, your mind will still be your strongest asset.

Maybe your goal comes easily and you’re back to the drawing board quickly… but probably not. A lot of times the body requires even more adaptation on the actually climb than we predicted. Be patient. If all of the ingredients are there, there comes a time when you need to surrender to the climb. All you can do is try – you can never control all of the variables. One of these tries will be the right try and everything else will line up. Surrender to the goal – you can do it; just maybe not today, or tomorrow, or this trip. Remember the hours and weeks of sacrifice you went through to get here. Remember what it felt like to stand at Point A and look across the expanse towards this crazy goal. Now you are here.

Win or lose there is always a lesson. If you succeed take the experience and help it fuel your next goal. Draw inspiration from the long road of preparation and the eventual pay off during every heinous training session next time around. You know the process, and you trust in your own capabilities.

If you fail, take careful note of why. Bad weather? Unlucky? Or were you really not prepared? Which variables can you change next time around and which one’s were out of your control? Ask a friend for their honesty. The worst thing you can do is not learn from this failure.

The body is like our tool. We all know that training is about adapting the body and improving this tool, but it’s in the mental approach where we learn to really operate it. Even the best tool is only as effective as the technique that drives it. Mind first, body second.

Photo: Ariadna Prat Barnadas
Photo: Ariadna Prat Barnadas