The process of preparing for peak performance begins before you ever pull onto the rock. Set yourself up to perform your best using pre-climb rituals that ground your body and mind in the moment.

Before you even think about leaving the ground, take the time to prepare your gear, body, and mind for the climb ahead. Here, Max Donovan inspects his rope and reads his route as part of his pre-climb ritual.

Climbing at your limit requires intense concentration. When you’re working through a tough project, all your energy—both physical and mental—needs to go toward the climb. Losing focus can mean the difference between a send and a heartbreaking fall, or even just a shaky and distracted performance that doesn’t actually teach you anything about the route. But the right headspace doesn’t always come easily. It takes careful preparation to get your head in the game. 

The body and the mind both thrive on routine. Climbing, however, is anything but routine. New movement patterns, insecure body positions, and daring decisions so far off the ground aren’t exactly standard behavior…at least as far as human physiology is concerned. 

That’s where pre-climb rituals come in: a checklist of thoughts and actions that send the signal to your brain and throughout your body that everything is a-ok. Performing the same ritual before every climb helps establish a sense of relative normalcy. Grounded in stability, you can then zone in and dig deep. 

An effective pre-climb ritual doesn’t need to be long—in fact, the shorter and simpler, the better. You’re more likely to get into the habit with a quick routine that doesn’t take much effort. Save your energy for the climb! 

When creating your own pre-climb ritual, first think back to some of your most successful experiences on the rock. What did you do, think, or feel immediately before your peak performance? And on the opposite end of the spectrum, consider the lead-up to your most disappointing climbing experiences. What distracting, anxiety-provoking, or unhelpful behaviors do you want to avoid right before hopping on a climb?

Start with what you can glean from those memories. Then, build your pre-climb ritual from these building blocks. 

Gear Prep

No matter how many times you’ve put on a harness, it’s always a good idea to take a closer look. After all, even Lynn Hill failed to tie her knot properly once—and fell 85 feet as a result. No one is too good for a gear check. 

There’s no better way to make sure you’re all set than to include a gear check in your pre-climb ritual. It’ll put your mind at ease so that you can focus on the climb without fear for your safety. Give your harness, knot, rope, quickdraws, belay device, chalk bag, knee pads, etc. one last review before pulling on. Don’t forget to give your partner a solid once-over as well, and have them do the same for you. A fresh pair of eyes might notice something you missed on yourself. 

Mental Prep

No two climbs are the same. Do something to put the climb in front of you at the forefront of your brain. This could look like reading the route—looking for cruxes, rests, clips, and style variations—and saving that information as mental snapshots. 

You can take that internalization a step further by visualizing the flow of the route and imagining yourself working through it. Try to incorporate all your senses into this mental image: sight, touch, smell, sound, and even taste. What will the rock feel like under your fingertips during this particular move? What will your breathing sound like? Can you taste the salt in your sweat as it runs down your cheek? Get as specific as possible in order to paint a distinct picture of the climb in front of you. This practice takes out a lot of the guesswork that can throw climbers off in the middle of a hard climb. It also helps build your confidence ahead of time.

Once the climb is clear in your mind, settle on a word or phrase to guide your mental state. You could be your own cheerleader with a motivating chant like, “Just keep moving,” or give yourself specific instructions like “Hold tension”. Choose a mantra that makes you feel supported and focused. Prime yourself for the climb with a few rounds of your word or phrase before you leave the ground so that it’s the first thing on your mind once you pull on. 

Physical Prep

By this point, you should have already completed a thorough warmup including stretches, muscle activations, and a bit of cardio to get your heart rate up. But don’t forget to cap that off with a few movements right before you climb. If there are any particularly strenuous moves waiting for you up there, now’s the time to give those parts of your body a little extra TLC. Shoulder rolls, arm circles, leg swings, and finger flicks are all good ways to quickly lubricate your joints. 

Finally, use breathwork to set the tone. Take a few deep, relaxing breaths into your belly if you’re overly jittery. Or, stoke your internal flame with a few power breaths to shake off fatigue. 

Piece together your pre-climb ritual from these components based on what you know of yourself and the climb. Trim it down to the essentials so that the whole thing takes just a few minutes from start to finish, and practice it until it becomes second nature. You’ll soon find yourself feeling more focused, calm, and confident on the wall than ever. 

Once you complete your pre-climb ritual, you’ll be in a better headspace and physical state to tackle the challenges ahead. (Image courtesy of Rotpunkt under the Creative Commons license)

Key Components of a Pre-Climb Ritual:

  • Gear prep: Ensure that your gear is in good condition and ready to support you on the wall. Always double check your knot and the belayer’s setup! 
  • Mental prep: Consider the specific climb at hand, and give it prime real estate in your brain using observation and visualization.
  • Physical prep: Cap off your warmup with specific stretches and activations that light up key muscle groups. Use breathwork to match your energy level with the style of the climb. 

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