What I learned from Ice Climbing for Life

4 Legs Fitness
5 min readFeb 14, 2019

Better we raise our skill than lower the climb.

(Royal Robbins, American rock climbing pioneer)

Ice Climbing in Austria

Climbing ice is a wonderful activity. Can be very tough and is in many aspects very unique. Being strong, fit and courageous helps but does not necessarily mean that you are a good ice climber or that you enjoy the activity. Thankfully I usually do these trips with the exceptional instructor, guide and friend Joe Fratianni. If you go ice climbing and take the time to reflect a bit, there is a lot that can be learned from it, which is also transferable to many different situations in life. In this article I’d like to summarize some of my personal take-aways that I am motivated to cultivate further.

The toughness factor

With ice climbing you constantly challenge yourself. You want to know your limits, otherwise it would be boring and you would not do it. Inherently you are constantly out of your comfort zone and you constantly have to find ways to deal with it.

Ice climbing — like life itself so often — confronts you with hard problems. Being out of your comfort zone you are confronted with the New. Hence, there are often situations in the ice where you feel unstable, insecure, you are not 100% certain if your holds actually all hold and you may struggle finding your next reliable base to hammer in your ice axe or your crampons. Like in life this is very often a matter of perspective. A slight change in positioning of your body may open up completely new opportunities for better bases. Your comrade who may secure you from the top or bottom may be able to see things from a different angle and give you valuable advice of new areas that you have not seen or did not think of. My point is to not give up easily but to change perspective — even sometimes to take a step back to see things differently and maybe clearer.

It’s a mental game

Ice climbing is not a walk in the park. Naturally it is inconvenient. You are obviously cold and wet all the time. You are exposed all the time. You feel a certain degree of fear all the time. So, like in life in general, the attitude makes a big difference. Approaching ice climbing with a mindset of Positive Thinking will lead to a positive experience and less likelihood of getting injured. Also, you are a lot more fun to be around with, which leads to my next take-away.

You are not alone (hopefully)

In ice climbing like in life it is critical for success and happiness to surround you with the people who are good for you and make you happy. It is just a lot more fun to go ice climbing with people who you harmonize well with, with similar values and with whom the chemistry is right. After all, your life can depend on the fact that you can rely on the other person with 100% certainty. This becomes absolutely crystal clear when you practice ice climbing.

Generality vs Specificity

Of course it is important and always good to have a solid (fitness) foundation. In my book “From Healthy to Athletic” I describe how to combine and master the four ingredients to superior, general fitness: resistance training, cardio, nutrition and recovery. And I believe I do have a fairly good level of general fitness. But then the step to become really good at a specific activity is more substantial than people usually think. This is the Principle of Specificity. You may be a good Crossfitter with excellent core and upper body strength but you will struggle transferring this ability to pole dancing. You will need to specifically train pole dance to be a good pole dancer. I observed the exact same phenomenon when starting ice climbing. I thought: I am fit. I can do lots of pull-ups. I’ll do well at ice climbing, too. Turned out not to be the case. There is a lot of technique (eg, the effortless flick of your wrist to hammer in your ice axe to save energy), specific moves and learning about your body that helps you become better and improve your economy of motion. This is important so that you can actually sustain a whole day of ice climbing and have fun doing so. This is where an experienced coach (like Joe in my case) comes in and can accelerate your learning and progress. These principles of Generality vs Specificity applies to many areas in life not just fitness or sport but also career, music, how you interact with people and any skill really.

In Summary: “To be tougher, just be tougher!”

I read this quote by Jocko Willink, former US Navy Seal who among other things now runs his Jocko Podcast, first in Tim Ferriss’ really useful book “Tools of Titans.” I like the simplicity and the powerfulness of this quote. Way too often we overthink things and hesitate. We should more often just be more courageous and just take the leap of faith. “Fortune favors the brave” as the Romans said. Ice climbing is one of my ways to cultivate this being tougher. I recommend everybody to find his/her own ice climbing.

I read about a related idea on Brett & Kate McKay’s blog the Art of Manliness. Guest author Wayne Levine introduced the importance of finding one’s non-negotiable, unalterable terms — or N.U.T.s. N.U.T.s are those things in life that are most important for you and define you as a person. I believe that finding your N.U.T.s, grabbing them and pursuing them increases your self-awareness and is one element of happiness and well-being. Coming back to Royal Robbins’ quote from the beginning: One of my N.U.T.s is certainly to constantly working on improving myself in those areas that are most important for my life.

Thanks a lot, Joe and Denis, for an amazing couple of days ice climbing in Austria.

More about 4 Legs Fitness

4 Legs Fitness describes a holistic fitness and health concept that covers four essential areas: resistance training, cardio, nutrition, and recovery. Our mission is to provide practical, actionable advice for people with busy lives. With 4 Legs Fitness we integrate scientific insights and experiences from all four areas essential for fitness into one concept that is effective and easy to execute. We describe more details in our book “From Healthy to Athletic: How to Master the 4 Ingredients to Superior Fitness.”

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4 Legs Fitness

Four areas are key for fitness and wellbeing: resistance training, cardio, nutrition and recovery. Check out our lifestyle concept on 4legsfitness.com