It’s All in Your Head

by: Dan Renyi

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How do you train for climbing?

When I went climbing for the first time, my forearms and my fingers hurt so much that I had to stop after just an hour.

I was disappointed and asked my trainer: “Hey coach, how can I train for climbing?” He simply said, “With climbing.”

Today, after a number of climbs and via ferratas, I know it was not completely true, or at least not how I understood it then.

When it comes to whether you succeed or fail on a route, may it be rock-climbing or via ferrata, it is so not about the muscles. It’s much more about the mind.



Photo: Petzl


A little bit of yoga

I guess you also read about the interconnections of yoga and climbing. You know, breathing, flexibility, and balance, the core of yoga practices, add a lot to climbing as well.

It wasn’t very long ago that I saw a fellow rock-climber doing Nadi Shodana breathing close to the top of a 155-meter-climb.

But isn’t that more about the body? You might ask. I wouldn’t think so. Breathing — and yoga in general — calms and sharpens that part of your body which regulates just about everything: your mind.


gotta-do-whatPhoto: Olivia Hsu


A little more of visualization

Recently I read an article about a guy who had an open-heart surgery, and just 5 months later, he went back to climbing his regular 7a+ / 5.13 routes — while physically he wasn’t able to do more than two pull-ups. Surprising, isn’t it? It was for him.

To understand how this was possible, he interviewed a couple of pro climbers about their experiences just to conclude that tenacity and visualization are the keys to success.

First, that you are willing to make efforts even after the 20th failure and, second, that you practice even in your head by visualizing your moves and recalling the beta of the route.

In other words, you cannot complain that you are not strong enough or tall enough (that would be me with my 155cm or 5’1″ :-), because it’s not your physical lacks but your mental blockage, your disbelief, that cuts you from succeeding. Really.

But watch out, this mind-stuff is not just for rock-climbers. It is practically all the sports we love here: from alpine mountaineering to via ferratas.

Let me put this in a via ferrata context for you, coz I have a relatively vivid memory about one case.


ferrata 2d walk


A lot of facing your fears

Last weekend we went to the Alps with a group that was new to via ferrata. After a light intro (a short A route and a longer B-C), we decided to head to a via which I, as another not too experienced via ferrata climber, found rather difficult the previous day. T

he group was eager to have more and there was no other route which was easier, so we took the challenge.

It was hard and we were going slow, but it seemed to be going OK.  We were hanging from a D wall, the longest vertical of the route, when suddenly, in just 5 minutes, a storm struck us.

Not only was it heavy wind pushing us away from the wall but also ice was knocking on our helmets — after 30 Celsius degrees and sunshine just half an hour before.

A boy, climbing in the middle of the group, froze in shock. He couldn’t move. His mother and the guide were making serious efforts to get him going.

At the same time, 3 other people were hanging from the vertical wall behind him, waiting to be able to get away from the crux.


storm_end 1


The sudden change of circumstances and his struggle had their toll on the group. You could see how the people who had to witness his panic from behind — and that eventually he had to be roped — were slowly crashing.

It didn’t matter that someone had a number of ferratas behind her, or another was physically very fit. The people started to fall apart.

In the end we all made it to the top, even if it took us 3 times more time.

And when we arrived, we collapsed at one table of the hut, took a drink, and had a therapy session. 🙂

We were overwhelmed and happy; and we knew, it was all in the head.