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Goal Setting and How to Improve This Year

Goal setting is hard. It can be difficult to know what is a good goal and what is not. We talk about goal setting for outdoors and training

Goal setting is essential to progress. While this past year has asked us to reset our goals over and over again, it seems that the goals we set today will become approachable in these coming months. New cases of COVID-19 are dropping all of the time and, with each province’s restrictions in effect, should continue to drop for at least the next two weeks. What does that mean for us?

From a training perspective, it means a variety of things depending on your recent levels of motivation and general accessibility to a climbing wall. From a goal setting perspective, it means that it is time to outline our season.

Goal setting, in climbing, is best pursued as a function of what you already want to do. The first step here is taking an honest assessment of your skill and strength levels. Are you out of shape? If so, how long might it take to get back in shape? A session? A week? Two months?

Whatever your answer, recognize that it has been a hard year for everyone and that it is okay if you do not feel as strong as you once were. Furthermore, it is important to appreciate that the simple fact that so long as you have maintained an even mild interest in climbing, your technique has likely improved. This is true for all grade ranges, though is visualized in a different context at the higher range. At a certain difficulty, “thinking about climbing” is replaced with “obsessing over projects.” However, this level of direction works well for professional athletes and is practiced by Matt Fultz.


Once we can recognize where we are, we need to make goals in relation to that position. To do this we need a time frame. Realistically, with enough free time, each of us could climb significantly hard than we might already, but this term free time cuts in two directions.

The first is the amount of time we have in a week to train. Realistically, we should be able to progress, given enough stimulus, with three 2-3-hour sessions per week. If we are unable to meet these considerations, then we need to consider supplemental training. If supplemental training is impossible, then we need realign our goals with a slow progression. If we can gauge the rate of our progression, we can assess the possible time frames of our goals. If this sounds complicated, or too difficult to measure precisely, then it might be worth following Canadian Developer Tim Clifford and his example.

Make it easy. Take a year. Reset the goals each year. Once we have our time frame, we can look at our goals. Ideally, these goals are things that you are genuinely excited about achieving.

Clifford sets goals according to his position and his psych. Each year, he sets three goals.

The first is that goal you believe you can achieve. Perhaps this is a route that you punted off before lockdown, or maybe it is a dream route that, at this point in your climbing career, has become accessible. Take it down! Breaking down routes, even those that only challenge you a little, will help you become the climber that you want to be.

The second goal should be one that you should be able to achieve if you work very hard. This goal is harder to plan for, because it might not happen. On the bright side, it is theoretically within your limit and simply requires your giving it good attempts and good training. This route should be inspiring. You should want to do it for a number of reasons. The more reasons you are drawn to a route, the easier it is to work it.

The third goal is the dream project. This is the line that you do not believe you can do. This should be something that inspires you like goal number two, but that you recognize will only come if you are able to complete goal number two. Having this goal in mind can help inspire the training that you might not otherwise do without this in mind.

With these three goals you can tackle the year, however, these are not the only goals a person might have. Elite climbers often set themselves training goals as well. It is worth following the same format as the above. The only difference with training goals is that they are almost all achievable. If you wish to hang on 6-millimetre grips or complete one-arm hangs, or weighted pull-ups at a certain weight, you can do it. It only requires focus. However, this is easier said than done, and a person must have quite a lot of focus to go from no being able to do a pull up to a one-arm in a single year. To that effect, setting training goals can get a climber lost in the weeds. Training hard is important, but if you are training for climbing, consider that which will help you on the wall. It is probably not a year-long pull up program. Then again, maybe it is.

Featured image of Zoe Beauchemin by Ilya Sarossy.