3 Things That Will Make You Climb a Grade Harder This Year

A few years ago, while on a trip to the climbing paradise of Kalymnos, Greece, I was loaned a copy of Arno Ilgner’s The Rock Warrior’s Way. It immediately made an impression because, unlike other training manuals I had read with their “do finger pull-ups until you weep” advice, Arno’s book dealt with the mental aspect of climbing.

In my opinion The Rock Warrior’s Way (Desiderata Institute, 2003) is a must read for any rock climber, if for no other reason than the practical tips it provides. Granted the start of the book can get a bit “new-agey” with its talk of “becoming conscious” and “manifested energy” but after Chapter 2 there’s a wealth of knowledge that will help improve your mental fitness for climbing.

I’m living proof the techniques suggested in Ilgner’s book work. During that trip to Kalymnos I went from struggling up 6c to confidently leading 7c by incorporating the three things listed below into every one of my climbs. Today, I still use these techniques and I promise that if you do too, you’ll climb a grade harder this season. (Of course, you need to get out and climb too. Sitting on the couch and ruminating about these points will not levitate you up the walls.) Happy climbing!

#1. Smile before every climb

Whether it’s a warm-up jaunt on a 5.7 slab or a 5.12 offwidth project, take a moment before beginning any route to smile. The idea is to get into a headspace that is relaxed but conscious. Sure that 15-foot roof looks daunting but if you pause to smile, you’ll remember just how much you love this sport. Alternatively, that 5.5 you’re putting up for your punter friend might seem boring but if you smile beforehand, guaranteed you’ll enjoy it more. Oh, and you look better when you smile. (And climbing’s all about how good you look anyway.)

#2. Exhale

You hear belayers shouting to their trembling rope guns all the time: “Keep breathing man!” What you don’t hear is specific advice about how to breathe. So here it is: Breathing is a two-way process and in order to benefit from a great intake of fresh oxygen, you must expel all the air in your lungs first. If you’re nervous on a route, or you’re about to tackle that crux section, exhale all the breath out of your lungs – blow out through your mouth and then use your diaphragm to push out the last puffs of air. After that you’ll be forced to fully inflate your lungs and all that sweet oxygen will help calm you and feed your gunned forearms. Remember: when your belayer yells “breathe” what he’s really saying is “exhale everything man!”

What would you name this hold?

#3. Name it. Don’t judge it.

As climbers we do this all the time when offering beta: “So you crimp off that nasty edge and then throw for the heinous sloper before reaching the ‘thank Jesus’ hold.” Wonderfully descriptive? Yes. Technically accurate? Not in the slightest. What we focus on in statements such as that one are the judgments – “nasty,” “heinous” and “thank Jesus” holds. Try this instead: the next time you’re scoping a route, offering beta or contemplating the next 10 feet of a climb, name the holds for what they are: “Reach for the three-finger crimp with your left hand, bump your right to the palm-sized sloper and then deadpoint for the large ledge.” By sticking to the technical descriptions of what you observe, you’re no longer obstructed by judgment. Instead you’re concentrating on exactly which areas of your hands and feet are going to be making contact with the rock at certain times. (Or, in the case of the route “Max Headroom” in Skaha, what part of your head is going to be shoved into the rock at what times.)