Mind Over Mountain: Mental Tips for Climbing
By Josh Horowitz PezCycling News
Unlike other aspects of cycling, climbing success is considered by most to be almost 100 percent dependant on fitness and natural ability. It occurred to me, however, that there is actually much more to it. Over the years, I've picked up numerous tricks and techniques that have allowed me to occasionally put one over on a stronger competitor. At the grass roots level, it is possible to just out ride your opponents, but as you get into the higher categories and the gap in ability narrows, strategy becomes increasingly important.
Practice the following psychological tactics to conquer your next elevation test:
I am a Strong Climber and I Love to Climb!
For most riders, the climb is won or lost the moment the looming incline comes into view. I cringe when I hear riders declare "I'm not a climber" or even "I'm a sprinter." Unless you are a world-class or professional cyclist, there is just no reason to limit yourself with statements such as these.
The rider who thinks to himself that he is not a climber will never be a great climber no matter how hard they train. Mentally, they defeat themselves before they even reach the base. These negative self-beliefs are powerful and deeply ingrained into the subconscious, but they can be overcome.
Next time you have one of these thoughts, write it down and then write down a positive thought that directly counteracts the negative one. For instance if you find yourself thinking, "I hate to climb and I'm terrible at it," you may want to write, "I am a strong climber and I love to climb!" Notice that the statement is 100 percent positive. Using the word "love" in your statement has also been proven to improve the power of your mantra.
Find 20 minutes on each ride to repeat this statement or affirmation to yourself. Say it out loud and with conviction. Think of the brain as having a type of muscle memory that can be re-shaped with training and repetition. If you do this consistently, you will be amazed at the results.
Negative thinking can cause a physical reaction. Riders who get nervous whenever the road ascends tend to tense up. They waste energy by clenching their shoulders and their arms. They lose their breathing rhythm and some (as ridiculous as this might sound) unconsciously hold their breath. Another result of this physical tension is a breakdown in efficiency. Their otherwise smooth pedal stroke becomes choppy and broken. As a result, their heart rate rises much faster than a rider with a similar power-to-weight ratio and they end up going off the back.
Try these two tricks. At night, when you are relaxed and lying in bed, close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Imagine yourself on a challenging climb. Visualize yourself feeling relaxed and pedaling smoothly. Conjure up emotions and feelings you've had while doing something cycling related where your confidence soars, such as riding in a paceline or sprinting, and translate that into this climbing scenario. See yourself spinning effortlessly and summiting in record time with very little difficulty.
Do this every night before you fall asleep. Make your visualization as realistic as possible; incorporating sights, sounds, smells and sensations. If possible, imagine a particular climb that you want to conquer. You punish yourself on the bike week after week. Why not add a few minutes of training each day which won't even require you to break a sweat?
Take the Pain
This may seem obvious, but be ready to suffer. I don't mean normal suffering--I mean be prepared to push yourself past the point of pain. Often an entire ride or race comes down to one moment on the slopes. How you respond at that moment will define you as a rider.
Depending on the situation, don't worry about conserving energy and don't look at your power meter or heart rate monitor. The heart rate and power you put out in a competitive situation will be much higher than what you can handle in training. In many situations, if you ease off on the climb, your day is over anyway, so what are you saving it for? If you are suffering, chances are so is everyone else. Holding on for that additional 10 seconds could be the difference between heartbreak and a personal best. Then, if you do get dropped, at least you'll know you gave it your all.
Don't Look Up
When you look up to see the top, you get a distorted perspective of the steepness of the climb. Instead, distort your view in the opposite direction. Look straight down at the pavement in front of you. From this angle, it will appear to your brain that you are riding on a flat road--and that's not so bad is it?
Often, I catch myself making an exaggerated pain face as if to express my suffering to the world. Instead, try a smile. The brain associates a smile with pleasure and happiness. Smiling while you are climbing can trick your brain into thinking that you are not in as much pain as you think you are.
For more climbing tips from Josh Horowitz, read 7 Tips for Climbing to the Top.