AFTER A LONG DAY OF WORK OR SCHOOL, the powerful draw of the couch-Netflix-takeout trifecta can be irresistible to even the most psyched “climb until you bleed” type climbers. Who wants to go to the climbing gym when you could just surrender to mindless entertainment and fatty food? Whether a dip in psych is brought on by bad weather, injury, or just not feeling it, motivation is a struggle for everyone at some point.Despite dealing with darkness for 20 hours a day in winter, bad rock, and even worse weather in her home country of Finland, Anna Liina Laitinen has managed to earn the reputation of being one of the most motivated climbers out there. It’s common to see Laitinen with tape on every finger tip and a headlamp on in the pitch-black, going amuerte over and over until she can’t pull off the ground anymore. She’s even gotten overuse injuries from her abundance of psych. “I wouldn’t describe myself as a crazy physically talented climber,” she says. “My talent and gift has been more related to motivation, love for the sport, challenges, and being dedicated and driven. But I do lose it sometimes.” In the following article, Laitinen shares how to stay motivated for climbing, with small steps you can take every day and big-picture advice to reframe your entire perspective on climbing.
Laitinen uses future climbing trips and specific projects as goals to work toward, and a way to tailor her training. She maps out training sessions around her work schedule, often fitting in up to 11 sessions per week. Her training routine is usually eight or nine sessions spread out over four or five days, doubling up sessions on certain days. She goes to the climbing gym in the morning to do her systematic training, where she does more “boring” training with a timer, then maximum deadhangs with weights and campusing. In the evening, she warms up with cardio and then climbs with her friends for fun. If there’s time, she’ll go to the weight room. “I love feeling trashed,” she says. When she has less time to climb, she focuses more on high quality climbing and projecting. “Sometimes less is more,” she says.
One thing that’s crucial for Laitinen, to avoid overuse injuries and to keep her body strong overall, is doing other sports or cross-training. She likes to run and goes to a regular gym to do core, exercise opposing muscle groups, and do physio. She also works in easier activities to keep her moving, like mushroom hunting in the woods or just walking. Newton’s first law of motion states that “a body in motion stays in motion; a body at rest stays at rest,” which applies directly to climbing. Laitinen finds that the more active she is on a daily basis, the more she wants to stay active on a daily basis. After a period of rest, whether forced or not, often that very first workout back can be the hardest to get done. You might have lost strength and get annoyed at how much you’ve moved backwards. Laitinen says she loses confidence as well as the routine and flow of her training. For her, coming back can feel overwhelming because there is so much to do. Her secret is to just jump on the wall and start moving. When she’s inside, she rapid-fires all the easy climb one after another and just lets her body climb. “That blocks all the pointless thoughts, helps clear the head, and prepares you to get to the flow state much easier. Focusing on a physical aspect like breathing and moving helps to keep your mind quiet, get the flow, and forget the fear or pressure of sending on a redpoint.”After time off, if you can get yourself to the gym or the crag at all, pat yourself on the back. However painful or frustrating a session might be, know that just by showing up, you’re putting in the time and doing the work. Then starting that second session might not be so bad.
Climbing is such a complex and diverse sport that challenges us not only physically, but also technically and mentally. Laitinen thinks the mental part of climbing is the most important, “Because (when you know how to hack your mind, motivation, and flow, or control your fears, you can utilize your physical potential—and everything you’ve trained for.” The mental aspect is the most underrated part of training, even though it’s the key for performing well. Laitinen recommends getting outside your comfort zone as much as you can. “It’s hard but you should challenge yourself to do that a little bit every day,” she says. That can be anything from forcing yourself to talk to a stranger if you’re shy, to trying a boulder problem that’s not your style in front of a group of people. To prepare for the pressure of competition and deal with insecurity about falling in front of people, Laitinen used to do her second climbing session in a day during the busiest time at the gym when she was already tired. “I realized that no one actually gives a damn,” she says. “People are so focused thinking about themselves and what others might think about them, that they don’t actually have time to sacrifice a thought how you did on that pink boulder on a Wednesday. Feeling pressure to perform well might kill the motivation and make you want to try the route another time. Remember that ‘sometimes later usually becomes never.’”Climbing has helped Laitinen to channel her feelings and deal with hard issues, like breakups and her mom passing away. When she has gone through these times, the most helpful thing she’s found is to accept the slump. “At first I was scared that I had changed and I have just simply lost my motivation and passion. But I got over that with time and by studying my own motivation and feelings.” She took time to think about things, realizing that climbing was a huge part of her social life and identity, so when she’s not climbing, she’s not seeing her friends or following her normal routine. She has experienced depression and felt totally lost when she wasn’t climbing. She tried other sports, but nothing gave her the satisfaction that climbing does, and that realization renewed her drive to get psyched on climbing again. Changing her attitude was critical. She evaluated what things had gotten her motivated and psyched in the past, what her reasons were for low motivation, and what factors contributed to that: bad weather, feeling weak, having a lack of confidence, fear of failure, bad company, not inspiring training facilities, injury, plateau, etc. Once she pinpointed those things, she could address them directly. “Could I somehow affect and make a difference on the negative things?” she asked herself. “You can’t really affect the weather, but you can have an effect on your attitude.”
- Focus on the things you CAN do instead of the things you cannot. When you get injured, make a list of the things you can do and focus on that. Don’t wallow in dark thoughts and ignore that little voice in your head that says, “I can’t climb, I can’t climb, I can’t climb, I only wanna climb.”
- Make going to the gym almost too easy. Fold the clothes and put the training gear next to the front door, whether it’s for a morning run or a gym session.
- Try something new. Maybe it’s a new training place, plan, exercise, or friends, but shaking things up can reignite your psych. This can be as simple as switching from bouldering to sport climbing, or outdoor to indoor.
- Have a plan or a small goal. This can be for the day or a longer period, like a month. Seeing progress provides a lot of motivation, but it demands dedication to training. After an ankle injury, I couldn’t dyno (which I used to love), so I sucked at them. When I recovered, I set a small goal to do at least one dyno per session. Having a little baby challenge involved made it more fun.
- It’s all about the people. Surround yourself with right people! Having motivated partners can be contagious.
- Embrace the discomfort. If the difficulty of training is enough to keep you out of the gym, focus on how good you will feel after, physically and mentally. Remember that “Great things never come from your comfort zone.”
- Be patient with yourself. Whether you’re tired or just having a low motivation day, set goals for the session low. Just go with the flow and crawl to the gym if you have to. Try to at least to stretch or do exercises with a rubber band. Or set a goal to move slowly on the wall or run for five minutes. You might end up feeling better and have a full session or a 30-minute run!
- Fool the body. Fooling your body might get you in a right mood. I’ve seen boulderers put chalk on their hands way before they even climbed, using what they called “psych chalk.” When I’m trying hard I tie my hair up tight, and conversely when I’m trying to onsight hard and be relaxed, I keep my hair loose and wear baggy clothes. (It might be silly, but it works for me!) When I’m tired before a gym session, I do a couple sets of aggro pull-ups (or some other kind of dynamic warm-up). That activates the hormones and your neural system, which affects your energy levels. After working out, you will feel much more energized than before starting.
- Good gear and preparation. Going outside to climb in the cold will be much more pleasant with proper gear. And if you’re lucky, you have a stoked friend who’s from a rainy country with bad rock and doesn’t complain!
- Rest. Remember to do that too. It is hard to be patient and treat resting like part of the game to improving. Pretend it’s a challenge just like any other training exercise, something to be worked at and ticked off when it’s done.