Training to overcome a plateau was only the first step. Mentally owning new strength and destroying old self-limits was crucial for breaking through.
Physical training comes naturally to me, self-discipline to push my body past its comfort zone, whatever the training session I’ve written down says to do. Mentally owning newly gained strengths, and applying them confidently, is a whole other step that can make or break you as an athlete.
After nationals this February I ramped up my conditioning for few months. I committed to a regular training schedule at the gym – mainly focusing two biggest weaknesses – one arm lock-offs and contact strength. As expected, I got stronger, but it turned out that was only the beginning of the progression process. I then had to learn how to be confident in moves that had been previously heinous!
Lesson #1 – Erase preconceived limitations of your abilities
After about two weeks of working on it, locking off on overhangs became physically possible. Yet after years, almost my entire climbing career, of relying on power or my lower body and core to lock-off, I had conditioned myself mentally to only try that move as a last resort, thinking I would most likely fall.
It took conscious effort to engage the muscles in my back that were previously underdeveloped and trust that I would be able to hold my self close to the wall. I actually started talking to myself :
“Yes, you can hold this.” Engage shoulder. Core tight, Push with the foot. Release other hand and latch the next hold.
A little over a month into the training cycle I went out to Leavenworth and warmed up on problems I’d never been able to do the crux moves on before! Feeling strong in that position felt like having a new toy or mountain bike. A new move I could add to my tool kit. So stoked!
Applying this to onsighting or an old project, anytime I improve my skill set I’ve found it is just as important to adjust my mental perception of my climbing. I have to overcome pausing at a crux or at certain styles of moves that I’ve strengthened. Go into such sequences with focused confidence, telling yourself what you need to do, then do it, regardless of what your past outcomes have been before training.
How? Practice going for moves outside your comfort zone.
Take time to attempt moves, in a low pressure environment, that you don’t believe you have a shot at sticking. Shut your mind off and just go for it!
If you become strong enough to break through a plateau, you have to mentally erase preconceived boundaries to let yourself improve.
Fast forward a month or two to the start of the IFSC 2015 World Cup season in Toronto. As expected, the problems were technical but powerful.
Lesson #2 – Don’t forget your strengths when focusing on your weaknesses.
I had continued climbing throughout my training, 1-2 hours on campusing days and 2 hours on days before or sometimes after. However, I spent most of this time climbing focusing on that lock-off weakness, drifting my climbing to a more static style. When it came time for the comp, I was so determined to execute overhung, static moves that I actually forgot to just go powerfully to some holds!
I also had to switch my outlook on the comp problems. In the past I’ve had a “just try hard and see what happens” attitude, whereas now most seemed possible or flashable. Being strong enough to top the problems but not serious enough to flash them was frustrating, and I left the Toronto comp wanting to work on mentally owning new strength.
I needed to expect to top the problems, and utilize my original, powerful, leg intensive style of climbing that got me to these comps in the first place.
So that motivated me to stay focused another 2 months until Munich, Germany for a redemption shot at the last WC.
I left iso in fight mode. Confident, reading every move and sequencing the muscles I would need to engage to control tricky transitions.
With a bit of luck from a storm bringing in lightning and colder temps, I topped 3 problems and controlled all 5 bonus holds, finishing 12th in my group out of a total of 89 female competitors, the largest WC comp in history.
Now I will get in a few more weeks of this training while waiting for it to cool a bit in the NW, then go back to some longstanding projects. Excited for this Fall!!!