We've teamed up with professional rock climber, physical therapist and coach Ofer Blutrich to discuss some of the most common things we all experience in climbing
By Ofer Blutrich
Image: Manabu Yoneyama
Imagine you are standing underneath your project, looking up at the holds, getting ready for your next redpoint. You take a big breath and rub your hands into the pockets of your organic climbing trousers to keep them warm. The route you want to send more than anything, and you’ve worked so hard to get where you are.
This is your big goal -- your big project, maybe years in the making. You know you could send it today, right now.
Image: Manabu Yoneyama
With all the investment, your expectations are high, but will you send this go? All you can think about is the finishing jug and the sensation of relief you will have when you finally clip the anchors. But can you do it?
Does this situation sound familiar to you? If the answer is yes, then be forewarned, as this might be the worst mental state to be in when you are about to have a redpoint burn on your big project. With such high expectations and pressure, it can be hard to execute. So, what’s the solution to this stressful mind-state? Tapping into the "zone" and climbing with flow.
We’ve all watched a climber sending their hardest project, seemingly reaching the top without effort. Climbing with a calm and a grace rarely seen, you may recognize that they are in the zone - an elusive and desired state of mind.
The zone is a magic state of mind that lets you climb in a “flow” state without thinking too much, just doing. What is flow state - according to headspace.com “that sense of fluidity between your body and mind, where you are totally absorbed by and deeply focused on something, beyond the point of distraction.” As a climber, it allows you to execute a climb perfectly, yet somewhat unconsciously, free from the nagging mind or negative thoughts. Moves tend to feel easier, we get less pumped, we make unconscious, yet successful, decisions if we make mistakes. Sometimes we can’t even hear the people on the ground, or exterior sounds. The holds feel perfect and nothing can stop us. This zone is the key to challenging redpoints.
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In my climbing career as a professional rock climber, I tried to find this flow state as much as I could and developed a system to trigger this high-performance state of mind on command. I was aiming to get into the zone on every single attempt, but to my surprise it seldom happened and when it did, it was mostly unexpected.
Many of you may have felt the same unexpected magic flow - it tends to happen when you've lost hope of succeeding on your project. Those moments where you just give one last try, or when the conditions are not perfect, or even times when you aren't feeling 100% confident.
Can you see the common thread with all of these situations?
Controlling our expectations is the key to getting into the flow state. Getting into the zone will happen when the climber can reduce expectation and focus on executing the moves, one move at a time. It seems so simple, but it is so hard to do.
Although the desire to enter a flow-state every single time I climb may not be possible every time I tie in, over time I have developed three key strategies that help me get into flow state more easily.
Image: Manabu Yoneyama
Before my attempt, I meditate for one minute to reduce any anxiety about success or failure. I got into this habit through an app called “One Moment Meditation”. In this one minute, make yourself focus on the next single thing in your day, the next simple task you want to do. Focus on just tying your shoes, or checking your belayers device, instead of the results of your attempt.
According to an American study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information, our brain doesn't know the difference between actual climbing and visualisation. Visualisation actually activates the same neuron network that will be active in the attempt itself. By visualising, you can practice climbing without climbing. Visualisation is key, because when you get to the actual climbing, it’s as if you have already practiced the route several times. Plus you can save time, skin, emotional expenditure and energy.
Focus on the moment
It can be hard, but it’s important to focus on being present. Focus on the movements of your hands and feet. Focus on executing each movement perfectly. If you master this, you might just find the anchors arriving sooner than you expected! Don't think about the hard crux coming up, don't think about clipping the chains, don't think about the result, just focus on what’s in front of you. You can not control the results, you can only control the process that leads there - so focus on performing your best, one move at a time, and the result will take care of it's self.
Getting this flow state is somewhat magical, but when you can master this skill, redpointing can be enjoyable and less stressful. I can only say that some of my best experiences in climbing have been when I was climbing in the zone. I wasn’t thinking about the glory of clipping the chains, my focus was on performing the moves and executing my best. By climbing that way, I feel accomplished no matter what the result.
Do you have any tips for getting into the zone? Comment below to share your experiences.
Ofer is a physio therpaist, professional rock climber, coach & speaker based in Israel and is a long term friend of the brand.
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