Importance of Preclimb Rituals

Angry Birds (5.13c), Red River Gorge, KY.

Angry Birds (5.13c), Red River Gorge, KY.

A tall, steep sport route can be daunting, intimidating, and sometimes even a little scary. It should not be surprising, then, that your thoughts and emotions in the minutes leading up to a climb will strongly influence how you perform on the route–it might even predetermine the outcome.

Rushed preparations and scattered, fearful thoughts usually give birth to a shaky performance, whereas a calculated, well-know preparation process and targeted, confident thinking will help set the stage for a solid, if not exceptional, performance. This exemplifies the power of preclimb rituals.

There are two parts to an effective preclimb ritual: proceeding through a preparatory checklist and the triggering of emotional anchors.

Preparatory Checklist
Like a pilot’s preflight checklist, a climber’s preclimb preparations should consist of every single activity, big or small, that is necessary to ensure a safe, successful journey. For example, my typical ritual begins with getting a proper warm-up and engaging in some mild stretching. I then begin to suss out the major aspects of the climb, such as the path, gear requirements, a rest positions. Next, I take a closer look and attempt to identify key holds and as much of the sequence as possible. Following this, I perform a few minutes of mental rehearsal and associated visualization, as I try to feel the moves and pre-program in the ascent. Upon gaining a sense of confident about the route, I put on my shoes and tie into the rope. I complete my preclimb ritual by taking a few slow, deep breaths, extending my posture (standing tall with shoulders back), and cracking a smile in anticipation of the great fun that awaits me. This entire ritual typically takes between ten to fifteen minutes, although it could take more or less depending on the length and complexity of the climb, and it leaves me in an ideal state to make my best effort.

Develop your own unique rituals based on what makes you feel most prepared and psyched for a route. Think back to some of your best past performances to gain some clues as to what to include. What did you think and do in preparing for that climb? What did you eat or drink, how did you warm up, and how long did you rest between climbs? Awareness of all the factors—big and small—that led up to your best performances is a key to being able to reproduce similar results in the future. Experiment with different rituals and analyze what seems to work best. Upon developing a ritual that works, stick to it and use it before every climb!

Emotional Anchors
Have you ever experienced the relaxed pleasure that washes over you when you hear an old song that instantly connects you to some great past event? This experience exemplifies the power of anchors at transporting past emotions into the present. Your brain associates the song with the emotional state of a distinct period earlier in your life; upon hearing that tune, these emotions are relived in the present. Knowledge of this process empowers you to recall the positive emotions of a previous ascent to aid your performance in the present.

If you’ve been climbing awhile, you should have a few great ascents that you can leverage in this way. If not, then tap into some other great life event where you felt exceedingly confident, positive, and successful. Either way, your goal now is to relive this event by creating a brief mental movie that brings as many senses as possible into play. Most people find that bright, crisp visualization is the most effective way to trigger past emotions; however, listening to a particular song can be powerful anchor, too. Experiment a little in order to discover what works best for you. Be creative and overlook no details in reliving the past event, and you’ll learn to consistently release powerful emotions that yield great performances.

Final Thoughts & Actions Before Climbing
The final, and most important, part of a preclimb ritual is to double-check your knot and confirm that your belayer is attentive and ready. Having made this final safety check you can now engage the rock with complete focus—as you leave your worries and concerns on the ground—and enjoy the process of climbing the route. As in going through your preclimb ritual one step at a time, you must attack the route one move at a time…and let the outcome unfold organically. Do all of the above, and you put your self in the best position for a successful, enjoyable ascent!

Copyright 2015 Eric J. Hörst. All rights reserved.