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  • Writer's picturewillhammersla

What is Training?

Mindfulness and meditation seem to be 21st century buzz words, with a multitude of apps available to us on our smart devices. We all in some way seek some sort of mental calm, and with the speed and distraction of technology only increasing, this mental focus is becoming harder and harder to find.

Athletes are in no way exempt from this struggle and I am sure we can all relate to the feelings of over-thinking. I’ve seen this pop up for lead and boulder athletes time after time, but I think boulder rounds are particularly challenging for this, as you get time to stop and think, and even worse, a 5 minute break to reflect and remember or lament!

Climbers looking at a competition route
Sascha Lehmann and Alex Megos review the route in Budapest

So how do you deal with this and how do you find your flow? Or should you be consciously analysing your movements and directing your thoughts? Can you think yourself out of a spiral, use your self talk to change your mindset? Is this even what you should aim for?

At the outset, it is of course important to note that everyone is different. We all require different stimulus in different ways to find that flow state, but in my experience there seem to be a few commonalities we all share. Standing in front of a boulder wondering what the solution is, or having tried something and been unsuccessful. What do you do? What are the next steps?

During training, sometimes as a coach you step in, discuss something that you saw, a foot adjustment or timing, then the athlete tries again and tries to link their body feeling to your observation. With that change in Euopean cups, where they have introduced forerunning for boulders (videos of them being climbed), coaches now have the opportunity to take part in this problem solving, but should they?

In world cups at least, you can’t communicate with the athlete, they are on their own, on the stage. They have to do it. The hope is that during training, your suggestions have linked closely enough with their feeling, so they can feel their way to the right solution. They can quiet their mind enough to listen to their body.

Climber touching holds
Jonas (UHU) Utelli samples the holds at the spray wall in Shanghai

I think this idea, this feedback of attempt and body feel, sits at the heart of why we see over powered climbers struggle to come up with inventive solutions. We probably also have that climbing friend whose answer to almost everything is to get stronger. To the point where they can’t feel anything anymore and don’t understand why they can’t squeeze hard enough yet.

Flow state is relatively well discussed in athlete circles and it is the feeling that everyone is searching for. Most of us know the equation pretty well, and some of us have been lucky enough to feel it. In the words of Csikszentmihalyi (the person who originally named ‘flow state’), there are eight characteristics of flow:

  1. Complete concentration on the task;

  2. Clarity of goals and reward in mind and immediate feedback;

  3. Transformation of time (speeding up/slowing down);

  4. The experience is intrinsically rewarding;

  5. Effortlessness and ease;

  6. There is a balance between challenge and skills;

  7. Actions and awareness are merged, losing self-conscious rumination;

  8. There is a feeling of control over the task.

Csikszentmihalyi went further to suggest that 3 conditions must be met to enter flow state:

  • The activity must have clear goals and progress. This establishes structure and direction.

  • The task must provide clear and immediate feedback. ...

  • Good balance is required between the perceived challenges of the task and one's perceived skills.

The key part of finding this feeling though, the part where training comes in, is the skill part. With climbing being a problem solving sport, we usually talk about finding the solution, or solving the problem, but I would argue that what we should be aiming for is ‘knowing’ the solution. Our training should expose us to enough stimulus to make us stronger, but also smarter. So that when we see a climb we can’t help but see the solution, much like reading. I mean, try to see the letters  on the screen without reading them? The feeling in front of a climb, and on the wall should be like this. To stop thinking, and start intuiting.

So the main part of this observation is to make sure that your training isn’t just focused on the fitness part, but also the part where you develop your intuition skills, the seeing and feeling part of your performance. So that when you step up on stage, you can trust in the process and just DO. The goal, so it would seem, is to stop thinking, and instead feel what needs to happen. Allow that brain body connection to take over and find your flow. The question of course is then how does one go about doing this? The secret, like anything else, is that there is no secret and that it takes time and consistency. You need to build a habit of intuitive climbing. Spend the time problem solving and analysis, yes, but then spend time intuiting and climbing with yourself. The hardest part of course is to quiet your mind enough so that you can be present and listen to your body.

“We are what we repeatedly do……” Aristotle.

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