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How to Turn a Bad Climbing Session Around

Updated: Apr 26

No one asks for a lousy climbing session. Some climbers may label themselves as masochistic, but imagine a climber rolling up to the gym thinking, "Yep, today I want to fall on all my projects, rip a flapper, struggle to send the climb I sent two days ago, and fall on a warmup climb - for good measure." If someone else were around and heard the inner dialogue of that climber, they'd whip their head around real fast, eyebrows shooting up in question.

No. Going to the gym is the time to have fun, release stressors and anxiety, catch up with friends, and escape from the rest of life's demands. Thus, having a climbing session start to go downhill can be frustrating and infuriating.

Before continuing, let's clarify that a "bad" climbing session can mean something different to each climber. To you, it may be failing to send the climbs you sent a week ago; to someone else, it may be falling on moves they know should be easy. It could also be "bad" because you're struggling mentally and lacking enthusiasm (maybe you didn't sleep well, are stressed about work, or have a busy schedule). Sometimes, all you can manage is to plow through a session that turns sour. But the good news is, even if it doesn't feel like now, it can turn a lousy climbing session around and end on a good note.

The following five strategies will help you turn a not-so-great day at the gym into one that leaves you driving home with a smile. At first, combatting the voice telling you that the climbing session is a ruin may feel unnatural. But, with practice and time, it'll become more accessible to shut down the negative thought spiral and make the most of any climbing session, bad and good. Although each of the five strategies is effective, combining them in the order listed is a powerful method to shut down negative thoughts and adopt a positive mindset for the rest of your time in the gym. 

5 Strategies to Turn a Bad Climbing Session Around

climbers having a climbing session


  1. Breathe

When you feel frustration, anger, rage, or other strong emotions bubble up, step back from the climbing wall and breathe. Don’t think about the climbs you can’t send or the move you keep falling on. The emotional turmoil threatening to command your session needs time to cool off. Focusing on each inhalation and exhalation, counting your breaths, or deploying any breathing technique you are familiar with will help you regain a level head.

Walking away from the climbing wall is also helpful as you do this. Go into a yoga room or the bathroom, or sit facing away from the climbing wall. There may be limitations to the effectiveness of the deep breaths if you try to perform them while staring down the climb(s), causing you frustration.

  1. Reframe Your Thoughts

Once you are calmer and have come down from the emotional high, you’ll want to work on reframing your thoughts. Instead of focusing on what you haven’t done/can’t do, focus on what you have accomplished and give yourself grace. The best way to explain this strategy is using examples of inner dialogue:


Negative thought: “I am climbing horribly today. I have fallen on every climb I’ve tried.”

Reframe: “My climbing today hasn’t been my best, but I showed up to the gym and have tried hard. Maybe I won’t send anything today, but I can keep trying and learn from each attempt.”

  1. Remind yourself of why you climb.

In addition to reframing your thoughts, it can be helpful to remind yourself of why you climb. It’s easy to become caught up in the emotions of the moment when you aren’t performing to the standards you set for yourself. But did you begin climbing because you thought you’d send everything or be a prodigy from day one? Most likely, no. We’d wager you love climbing because of the challenge, the community, and the mental and physical strength it rewards. When the physical and psychological challenge feels overwhelming, remind yourself that the process of ascending the wall or boulder is what you love. Remind yourself of the wonderful people you’ve met at the gym, and remind yourself that you have become mentally and physically strong through solving boulder problems and sending your projects.

  1. Adjust the Session’s Goals

Once you’ve taken deep breaths to recenter yourself, reframed your thoughts, and remembered all the positives that rock climbing has given you, it’s time to adjust the session’s goals. Or, in other words, meet yourself where you’re at that day. For example, if you have come to the gym wanting to repeat challenging climbs but are falling frequently, turn the session into an endurance day! However, you need to adjust so that your new goal is something accomplishable so you can head home with a smile.

  1. Look at the bigger picture.

If the first four strategies don’t help you turn your climbing session around, try looking at the bigger picture. That is similar to reframing your thoughts but with a broader view. It is one subpar day in the gym. There are plenty more days to come in and try again. Everyone is off their game occasionally, but it doesn’t make you a lousy climber or a failure. There’s so much more to climbing and life beyond reaching the top of a boulder or wall (especially one made of plastic and fiberglass).

Hopefully, you rarely have to employ these strategies, but they are simple, practical tools to keep in your back pocket for the day when, inevitably, you aren’t accomplishing what you’d hoped. At a minimum, stepping away from the gym mats and focusing on your breath can do wonders to calm your mind and body. If you need more work reframing your thoughts, remind yourself what you love about the sport, adjust your session’s goals, and look at the bigger picture. And always remember to give yourself grace and take pride in showing up at the gym regardless of the day’s outcome.

Let us know below if the five strategies are helpful, and if you feel so inclined, share any tips that help you overcome a bad climbing session. We, and others, would love to hear from you!

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