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How To Set Climbing Goals

What do you want to accomplish? Whom do you want to become? What do you want to look like or feel like in one year? How about five years? These are hard questions for sure, questions that you might not have asked yourself recently or even have the answers to. However, if you have concise and measurable goals already set for yourself you can probably answer these questions with relative ease.

The truth is you need set climbing goals if you want to determine the direction of your life, and especially if you want to determine the direction of your health or fitness. Your objectives, dreams, and ambitions cannot be achieved if you do not know what they are. Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar compares this concept to shooting a bow and arrow asking “how can you hit a target you can’t see? How can you hit a target you don’t have?” Well if you haven’t already, it’s time for you to determine what your target is and set a long-term goal for yourself.

You need to set a goal that is specific to you. It doesn’t matter what other people think you need, it’s about what you want to achieve. Maybe you want to run a marathon, climb a 5.12, lose weight, or summit Everest. Whatever your dream or objective is you can achieve it. We’ve laid out a few tips to help the process of setting and achieving goals a little easier on you.

Be Concise and Specific

Athletes that set difficult and concise goals for themselves experienced greater levels of improvement than athletes that set vague and/or easy goals for themselves (Latham, 1985). You need to know what you want. “I want to be a better climber in a year” is a whole lot more vague than “I want to climb a 5.10 one year from today.”

Being even more specific, you may narrow this focus to, “I want to climb Cat Walk in Red Rock” or “I want to be able to comfortably climb 5.10s in Origin.” This logic applies to all realms of health and fitness, not just climbing. “I want to lose weight” is going to be less concise or effective than “I WILL lose 10 pounds!”

Be Prepared to Climb the Ladder

Be prepared to use short term goals as stepping stones for your larger objectives. Jim Wendler is a notable weightlifting coach as well as an accomplished strength athlete. At one particular competition he lifted (military press for those interested) an incredible 300 pounds, accomplishing a long-term goal he had set for himself. When asked what his next goal was he simply stated it was “to lift 305.”

Wendler understands that a long-term goal is just the highest rung on a very tall ladder. If you want to climb a 5.11, but only currently climb 5.8, you’re going to have to climb 5.9 and 5.10 first. If you want to lose 10 pounds, first you have to lose one. Recognize that you are at the bottom of the ladder, each rung on that ladder is as important as the top.

A practical use for this mindset would be to be to consider that each time you put on your climbing shoes for a training session you are making your way up the ladder. Each time you challenge your body and push further than you originally thought you were capable, you have made incremental strides toward your goal. If you are a 5.10 climber, then climbing every 5.9 in the gym will increase your strength, stamina, and skills to climb 5.10 more confidently. So by training, even below your maximum threshold, you are continuing forward progression thereby making your way up the metaphorical ladder.

Use Visualization

Utilizing visualization and similar psychological skills training has been shown to have positive effects on athletic performance (Williams & Krane, 2001). In one particular study swimmers who participated in 45 minute of “visualization, relaxation, and concentration” exercises per week displayed increased “mental toughness, hardiness, self‐esteem, self‐efficacy, dispositional optimism, and positive affectivity.” Additionally these swimmers increased their athletic performance when compared to a control group.

What this means is you should be taking some time each day to slow down, relax, and visualize what you want to be accomplishing in the near and far future. Before a difficult climb mentally picture the moves you will be successfully making. Before a busy day at the office visualize everything you are going to accomplish and how you are going to accomplish it. Visualization can be both a powerful and effective tool for reaching your short and long-term goals, make it part of your routine.

A great way to put this into practice immediately is by miming the movements of a route or boulder problem prior to ever tying in to climb. By getting a good mental picture and pre-visualizing your successful send, you are able to increase your chances at success dramatically. As climbing routes increase in difficulty, it becomes more and more critical to have a plan before jumping in head first. Climbing is like chess in this way - you must think three moves ahead.

Brace Yourself for Highs and Lows

Physical fitness is kind of like playing the stock market. Stocks rise and fall in prices, but the general idea is you want to own stocks that are gradually increasing in value. Adopt a similarly mentality in regards to your physical fitness. If you’re consistently training, you’re going to see a gradual and steady improvement in your fitness. No athlete consistently increases their performance without experiencing plateaus and declines. Don’t let it discourage you if you experience a temporary decline (it will occur), just keep working towards your goals.  

You might be able to climb a 5.11 this week but you pump out on a 5.10 next week. Whatever, it’s no big deal, these things happen. Similarly you might be able to do 50 push-ups this week and only 40 next week. Take it all in stride and get back in the gym, just try to maintain an upward trend in your accomplishments.

Mental focus is also a large component of your capabilities from week to week. Are you feeling stressed? Have you gotten enough sleep? These factors, among others, can affect your physical performance in a negative way. While exercise is an excellent way to blow off stress, battle the anxieties of the workweek, and maintain an overall sense of well-being, sometimes you just need rest. Do not deny your body what it needs.

Moreover, you may also want to consider cross-training to prevent burnout. Obsessive focus on a single goal 100% of the time is a great way to burn out. Factor in some time to cross-train to provide balance in your life and training. This is also a great way to get perspective on your goal when you are facing it from a different angle through a complementary sport. Is not sending your project getting you down? Go surfing!

Keep a journal and reflect

Feedback regarding your progress will increase the effectiveness of goal setting (Latham, 1985). The easiest way to accomplish this is by keeping a log or journal of all your workouts so you have something to reflect on. Every few weeks take a look at the log and provide yourself some feedback regarding your own accomplishments. You might look back a month or two and say “Wow! I’ve really improved” or you might say “Wow. I’ve really missed a lot of workouts and my progress is staggering.”

Keeping a log is an effective way to track your progress. Make it a habit to fill out a journal during or after every workout. If you consistently write down your workouts you’ll have an honest account of your progress towards your goals. It can also make for quite the souvenir to reflect on.

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