Academy: Visualization

Part of our "Toes to Knows" Climbing Academy series--covering climbing from footwork to mental preparation.

Tags: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced, Mindset

Sending a hard project that you’ve worked on or a long time can be nerve racking. The internal pressure to succeed can be more fear-inducing than taking a whipper off the crux. I use two techniques to help mitigate this pressure: visualization and pre-route mindset. In this post, I’ll covering visualization.

Visualization is a learned skill. When you first start out it can be difficult to maintain sufficient mental focus to create enough acuity to make visualization useful. Like any skill, your ability will increase with practice.

When to Visualize

I use visualization at three times in my route sending cycle:

  • At the base of the route before each send burn
  • At good rests before a tricky crux sequence
  • When I’m away from the route and want to get in a few virtual laps to help refine sequences and mindset

Visualization is powerful, in part, because it can help you take burns on a route without taxing your muscles or skin. A great example of this is during youth bouldering competitions, where climbers have 5 minutes to send each boulder. Each actual lap on the boulder is physically taxing. Visualizing the moves both before your first attempt and in between actual burns is an excellent way to get more practice without using muscular energy.


When you visualize, try to increase the acuity so you can vividly experience the all aspects of the key sections. If you’re struggling with a foot sequence, replay that sequence in your mind, feeling the pressure on your feet, the weight shift in your hips and the pacing with which you place each foot. If you’re focusing on a crux dyno, imagine the feeling in your fingers as they grasp the hold and the body tension needed to keep your opposing foot from popping off. Highly acute visualization helps create high-quality execution.

What to Visualize

I keep it simple and visualize two things:

  1. Beta
  2. Success

Visualizing Beta

Climbing is different than a lot of sports in that the playing field changes with every route you do. In limit climbing, subtle movements can be the difference between success and failure. Unless you have the route completely dialed, visualizing the beta for key sections of the route can be extremely helpful.

I used beta visualization when sending a recent project. There was a crux sequence high up on the route where my intuition wanted to jump my right foot from left to wide right in one quick motion. This worked, but it was more powerful than a doing a foot match in between before moving the foot wide right. On my first send burn I forgot the match-foot beta, and couldn’t hold the more powerful move. The next time I got to that high point, which was months later, I visualized that key foot sequence at a good rest not far below. I rolled through it several times in my head before launching into the crux. This time my execution was perfect, I stuck the crux dyno and sent the route!

If I’m not very familiar with a route, such as when I’m trying to send on my second or third try, I’ll rehearse/visualize a lot of the route before stepping of the ground. The more rehearsed I am, the more I know which sequences are key and I can restrict visualization to just those areas.

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Visualizing Success

I find visualizing success to be very effective in many aspects of life. As pertaining to route projecting, I usually break it down to focused visualization on one key move for the route. The key move might enable me to send the whole route, or it might just get me to a high point for that day. I repeatedly visualize myself succeeding on that movement several times. Acuity is key. I imagine the feel of the hold, create the body tension, and whatever other keys are required to stick the move. I replay it multiple times until I feel confident in my ability to stick.

Visualize, then Forget!

After you’ve visualized a sequence or move, it’s best to forget about all of that and try to flow through the climb. Your body will remember the sequences and your mind can be focused on simply staying on the wall.


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