Monday, November 8, 2010

Go Rock Climbing and Take a Mental Break from Mountain Biking

Lead Climbing
Climber: Greg (me). Photo: Sydnah Swails.
Your decision to participate in other sports and exercises can either make or break your long-term performance as a mountain biker.  I outlined the reasons behind this fact in my philosophy of cross training post.

Rock climbing is one of the best sports that I have found to naturally complement my singletrack addiction. There are 3 reasons for this: It demands a different mindset, it works different muscle groups than cross country mountain biking does, and it works the same muscle groups as downhilling.

Different Mindset
The general mountain biking mindset is utilized in many other sports. The endurance mindset of mountain biking helps you to push yourself to the absolute edge of your body's aerobic and energy capacities, and then beyond that edge. The same endurance mindset is utilized in swimming, back country skiing, cross country skiing, strenuous hiking and backpacking, mountaineering, and any sort of running sport.

The trail-tactics mindset of mountain biking allows you to read the trail at speed and make split-second decisions about how to handle your bike in order to overcome those obstacles. Sports such as downhill skiing, snowboarding, white water kayaking, trail running, mountain boarding, dirt biking and more require this same use of instantaneous terrain-reading and decision-making skills.

Rock climbing, on the other hand, requires a uniquely different frame of mind to succeed.

If you aren't an avid rock climber, a description of the mentality that a successful climber must possess may sound strange. In one sentence: Rock climbing is an even mix of yoga and weight lifting, with a healthy dash of summit fever borrowed from mountaineering.

Rock Climber
Climber: Andrew K. Photo: Syndah Swails.

The relationship between mountaineering and rock climbing is very apparent due to the fact that the second naturally arose from the first. The most common characteristic that they share is the deep thirst to get to the top, which is what we're so concerned about as rock climbers. This thirst, referred to by some as "summit fever" in some contexts, is wholly unique to climbing disciplines. This does bleed over a little into mountain bike rides with a distinctive high point, but in general, the climbing-drive while mountain biking is fueled by the promised downhill adrenaline rush on the other side.  In rock climbing, the simple sense of accomplishment stemming form overcoming such a daunting physical feat is the drive that motivates.

The weightlifting mindset is also fairly obvious. Rock climbing requires intense, brief periods of hard effort, and the mental drive to push hard and fast instead of slower/more sustained and longer like on a mountain bike.

The yoga mindset may not seem related at all to the sport of rock climbing from the view of an outsider, but any avid climber is aware of the similarities between the two sports.  Yoga requires a very inward focus and an intense conscious awareness of the location and movement of all of one's body parts. Rock climbing requires the exact same precision and focus.  The successful climber must know exactly where his hands and feet are going, exactly how to move his body to get them there, and basically must be constantly aware of his body position at all times. Mountain biking, on the other hand, relies much more heavily on practiced reactions and reflexes.  When bombing downhill at 25+ miles per hour it is impossible to individually analyze every motion required to negotiate the barrage of roots and rocks.  Rock climbing requires a much more deliberate and focused approach. 

Rock Face
Climber: Greg (me). Photo: Sydnah Swails.

Why this Is Important
The unique difference between the mountain biking and rock climbing mindsets is valuable because it allows you to take a break from mountain biking for a while and rejuvenate.  Going hard after the same mountain bike goals day after day, week after week, 12 months a year can get old after a while.  Mixing your athletics up is vital to keeping things (your life) fresh.  The inherent differences inherent in rock climbing allow it to refresh you mentally as well as physically. 

The next time you're starting to feel burnt out on your mountain bike, go try rock climbing instead!

Part 2: Rock Climbing your way to Being a Better Mountain Biker and an Accomplished Athlete

Your Turn: Are you a rock climber and a mountain biker? If so, do you agree with my assessment above? If you don't rock climb, what other sports do you participate in to "keep things fresh" so that you don't get too burnt out on the mountain bike?

PS: Share this post on Facebook, Twitter, etc., get me a screenshot to prove it, and you'll get entered to win a free t-shirt. Click here for details!


Loving the Bike November 8, 2010 at 11:38 AM  

Great post and pictures, my man. I think it's great that you're using climbing as a good cross training tool for riding.

I've done some indoor climbing, but never out on real rock....I need to do that sometime.


Greg Heil November 8, 2010 at 2:06 PM  

Yeah dude, it's a real rush! And thanks for the kind words. The photos were all taken by my sister-in-law Sydnah: she's freaking talented with a camera!

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Greg Heil is the Editor in Chief for He's been writing and publishing online since before blogging existed.

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