I think that I tend to make choices on the basis of past learned behaviour. Perhaps many people do, perhaps only a few, I do not know, but I do know that this behaviour limits the scope. In my case, I’ve started my exercise trajectory with lifting weights and I generally tend to come back to it when I train for other sports. After weights, I did kickboxing, salsa, and competitive running for significant amounts of time. And since 2007, I discovered climbing. It’s a sport that I love and hate for a multitude of mental, social, physical, and emotional reasons.

The mental…
Climbing is about planning ahead, it’s about looking at a route (a series of grips and steps) and imagining yourself climbing through those, after which you hopefully manage to. The way it has transformed my life is that I have learned to see plenty through a similar lens. If you envision the steps that you take to reach a goal, you will reach it or get closer to it than if you don’t. And (hopefully) nothing is impossible.

The social…
I’ve made tremendous friends since I started climbing, but I tend to make tremendous friends during many activities. The difference here is that you are literarily entrusting your life onto others, which is a bond that is as strong as family nearly. Because of this, I’ve also lost some friends, because the trust was not earned. But you tend to look at people in the same way in other areas of life as well. Is this a person that will hang on to me if I fall?

The physical…
I am not typically built for climbing, but I can say the same for running as well. Then again, every sport has sub-sports. In running, I was always better at sprinting because of the explosive nature of it and the way my body works. In climbing, your greatest advantage is not just strength or endurance, but also weight. And I tend to be a tall, rather heavy person. This is a battle I fight with every time I climb, particularly in areas where upper body strength (which is equally affected by body weight and technique) is required. Therefore my route of choice tends to be flatter, though there I like to do difficult flat ones as well, because they are more about puzzling and technique.

The emotional…
The hardest saved for last. What does it do to a man or woman to not win? What does it do to get older and see all the young ones passing you by? What does it do to be too thin & frail, too fat, too injured, or in some way incompatible, at least in your mind? And, what does it do to be afraid of heights or to do something that you never succeeded at before? It’s a tremendous experience, climbing, and mainly because you have to face demons every time you do it. If you look at beginners or pros, there is always that new challenge, that unclumb route, that move that your body just doesn’t seem designed for. You learn, tremendously, by experiencing, step by step, how to accomplish something. Your fingers hurt, your feet and knees can hurt, your core, your back… a lot of pain is the natural companion of sport, but the learning that you do is what keeps you going.

In my case, I mentioned my physical ability and how it affects my actions. But there is also the emotional part, the mental endurance and the fear of heights, both of which seem nearly impossible to train, but in fact just require trying and trying again in different ways.

The Impossible Training
Sometimes it seems like there is no way to train for climbing except by climbing. Here are the focal points:

  • Get your strength to weight ratio right, meaning you need to have strength but keeping your weight low. The top-performers have lower than 5% body fat (source), but that’s certainly not for the food lovers amongst us… In my view then, the only option is aerobic exercise to compensate for the increased caloric intake. 
  • The type of strength is hard(er) to train for: grip strength, static (isometric) strength, core strength, and other muscles contribute to performance, but typically the more you train outside of a climbing environment, the more you build unnecessary bulk. 
  • The mental and emotional strength is nearly impossible to train for outside of a climbing environment, just because much of it depends on exposing yourself to difficult conditions, that are not easy to replicate elsewhere. But you do need to train these, as much as everything else. 
So here a brief insight of what I spend much of my free time with. Hope to see you on the rocks soon 🙂