Visualization is often used by athletes to boost performance. Learn some of the whys and hows behind this powerful tool and how it can help you become a better, more confident climber.[/mpc_textblock][vc_column_text]As athletes, we tend to utilize any tool available to us in the hope of achieving our goals. This is no different for climbers, and like many other sports and activities, the mental aspect is just as, if not more, important than the physical one.

If you’ve ever watched a climbing competition, you’ve undoubtedly seen athletes miming the moves erratically with their hands, going over the sequence in their mind prior to taking on the wall. They do this so that they can focus on the physical requirements while climbing, and not devote extra time and energy to figuring out the sequence on the way up.

Climbing differs from other sports in that each climb requires a distinct mental devotion.

In basketball, you generally know that your goal is to put the ball through the hoop. Tennis requires a ton of mental energy to put the ball back over the net in play—this becomes the foundation of every calculation beyond the return. However, in climbing, we approach each route with a varying degree of knowledge about it. The goal for many people is to simply get to the top, but the process in achieving the top of each route can change drastically and requires a symbiotic combination of mental fortitude and physical prowess to flow through the route. This is where visualization is key in achieving success.

Visualization—or the process of forming a mental image of how a situation will play out—comes in handy on climbs that are projects, or worked repeatedly to redpoint. Prior knowledge of the movement, body positioning, clipping stances, footwork, rests, and holds is necessary. The first step in visualization is to commit all of these elements to memory. The next step is to apply what you’ve memorized to the wall.


At its best, climbing is a choreographed dance across the rock—but everyone dances differently. I may dance in a more grounded, hip-hop-like style that appears thuggy and powerful on the rock, whereas someone else may dance in a playful, lilting fox trot that flows smoothly. Your dance depends on your body, your style, your development as a climber, and all of the emotion you bring to climbing.

Understanding how you move best is important to adequately visualizing a route. Visualization encompasses zoning out all else and executing everything seamlessly in your mind before you even step off the ground.

You will find that you climb best when you can flow unencumbered by erratic thoughts and movement.

Physical practice is always important, but repeated attempts can waste valuable energy when you otherwise have the capacity to make those attempts in your mind. Climbing is oftentimes a game of centimeters, and placing your foot in precisely the wrong spot—no matter how close it is to where it needs to be—can result in your entire mental state crashing down around you. But there is no need to think that when something feels wrong, you cannot overcome that momentary lapse.


Visualization has many forms, but the easiest way to begin the process is to simply close the eyes and run through everything you need to do to properly climb the route. And studies show that a positive approach is crucial. Thinking, “Don’t put my foot there,” for example, increases the likelihood that you will place your foot where you don’t want it to go. Psychologists call this “Target Fixation.” This term refers to a phenomena in which humans become so focused on something, whether positive or negative, that their risk of colliding with that object increases. Positive visualization and thinking are paramount to the success of this tool. Seeing yourself do everything perfectly beforehand will reinforce the physical process even more. For example, a simple study conducted by a researcher from the University of Chicago included three groups of basketball players: One group practiced shooting free throws, one group visualized shooting free throws, and the other group split time between practice and visualization. It turns out that the group that dedicated time to both outperformed the other two groups extensively. This simple yet powerful concept extends to climbing.

It takes plenty of practice to find results with visualization, and you may find that it’s hard even to visualize only positive outcomes. The mind is a vast and odd place, but dedication and determination in using this tool can supplant the vastness, even if only for the 5 minutes it takes to climb the route. So next time you find yourself tieing in or chalking up for another attempt on your project, take a breath, close your eyes, and visualize yourself dancing up that wall. [/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]