The Mental Fitness of Rock Climbing

North Table Mountain, Golden, CO at Sunset.

Rock climbing is not only tough on your body, but its tough on your mind as well. One of the most challenging aspects of climbing is your mental game. I have days when I climb slightly above my grade and I rock it. Then I have other days when I climb something perfectly at my grade and my head just isn’t in it, fear kicks in and all of the sudden I freeze and I can’t go up or down and I don’t know what to do.

In a recent interview with Crux Crush Hazel Findlay says,

“There is no where near enough attention paid to the mental side of climbing than the physical. Everywhere you see ways to be stronger and fitter, training programs, diets, but climbing performance is mostly to do with your mental state and strength. So my advice to any climber, sport, bouldering, trad, alpine is to train your mind as well as your body.”

So how can we train our minds? The biggest part of any physical challenge requires a sort of mental mastery. We must learn to stay calm and in control of the situation. We need to accept the risk, recognize it and climb with it. if we cling to the thought of falling, then our attention will waver and falling will probably happen. But instead we should focus on getting to the top, knowing there is a risk but moving fluidly and with precision.

Bouldering at Swan Mountain in Dillon, CO.

When I am climbing something tough, I will try to completely focus on my footwork, and I will carefully search out my holds and feet before making a move. I climb slow and controlled. If I rush the moves, that is when I end up getting stuck somewhere because I didn’t think before I made moves, and am not where I want to be mentally or physically.

Developing awareness is a big part of climbing. Being aware of what is around you, what you can use, what you can’t use and what your risks are. One of the biggest hinders in developing a better mind for climbing arises from sticking with what is comfortable. For me, I am challenged by crack climbing and I will avoid it at all costs. But what I really should do is step out of my comfort zone and practice climbing cracks.

Remembering to breathe while climbing something hard is important too. Taking deep breaths brings more oxygen to your muscles, giving them more power to do what you want them to, whether its holding on to something tough while you figure out your next move, or making a big move to the next hold. You need to keep breathing to help your body sustain the climb.

At the Top of Royal Flush (5.9) on Mt. Royal, Frisco, CO.

This mental exercise is a big part of why I love climbing, it is the physical and mental aspects that really help to develop who I am, and how I react in certain situations, even outside of climbing. Fear has been a big part of my life, and will continue to be, but how I handle that fear, is what’s important. Climbing helps me to learn to accept fear and move with it onto the next hold, the next route, and the next adventure.


To read more check out this great book The Rock Warrior’s Way by Arno Ilgner.