Project Description

Direct Download: LINK
Date: June 3rd, 2015

About Arno Ilgner

Arno Ilgner is known in the climbing community for his work helping people overcoming fears and be overall mentally stronger. He began climbing and quickly realized that the mental aspect of it was paramount to sending hard climbs. So he started studying up, and resonated with the Warrior’s Way philosophy he found in the Carlo Castaneda books about Don Juan.

He started applying those tenets to climbing, and soon had an entire program built upon them. He now has books, clinics, and a dense blog devoted to helping you find peace, strength, and bravery in your climbing. I was honored to interview Arno Ilgner and really delve in to how he changes people’s perceptions and fears in climbing.

What We Talked About

  • Overcoming fear of falling
  • How to stay present and not psych ourselves out on climbs
  • Overcoming fear of failing (and fear of succeeding)
  • How to deal with our big egos getting in the way
  • Exactly how he trains people in his clinics

Links We Mentioned

Training Programs for You

Please Review The Podcast on iTunes!

  • Link to the TrainingBeta Podcast on iTunes is HERE.
  • Please give the podcast an honest review on iTunes here to help the show reach more curious climbers around the world 😉


Neely Quinn: Welcome to the TrainingBeta podcast where I talk to climbers and trainers about how we can get a little better at our favorite sport. I’m your host, Neely Quinn, and today we’re on episode 23. We’ll be talking to Arno Ilgner. Arno is the guy behind The Rock Warrior’s Way. His website is and he trains climbers how to be mentally better at climbing.

He does clinics, he’s written books, he has a big blog, a podcast of sorts, and a lot of information out there on how to overcome fear of falling, fear of failing, fear of dying, not trusting your belayer, fear of succeeding, and everything in between. I had a lot of questions for him. I struggle with fear in my own climbing so this was a really interesting and illuminating interview for me so I hope you like it.

Before we get into that I would like to get down on my knees and beg for an iTunes review from you. I think that there’s some really great information in these interviews that I get to do with all these people and I would love for more climbers to find out about these interviews. The one way to do that is to get some great reviews up there on iTunes. If you go to iTunes and you find the TrainingBeta podcast, you can find the review section on there.

I would be so psyched if you would write a review, and thank you so much for everybody who’s put reviews up there. I can’t believe how positive they are sometimes. I mean, I sometimes sit here and ramble on this microphone by myself in my little apartment and I have no idea if you’re going to like it or not but I guess what my guests and I are putting out there is worthy so I really appreciate you listening.

Which, by the way, I just found out in this month that in May of 2015 we had 32,000 downloads of the podcast which just blew my mind. When I first started the podcast last year I was psyched to have 100 people listening per month so to have 32,000 of you listening to this, I’m just totally honored so thank you for that. Thank you for your support.

Before we get into the interview, another way that you can support TrainingBeta and keep this podcast going is to check out our training programs which I will tell you about later. We have something for everybody up there on For route climbers, for boulderers, for people who want to make their own training programs, people who are interested in nutrition and injury prevention, so when you guys purchase those programs it helps keep us doing what we’re doing and keep me behind the microphone with all these amazing climbers.

That’s that and without further adieu, I will introduce you to Arno Ilgner. Enjoy the interview.


Neely Quinn: Welcome, Arno.


Arno Ilgner: Thank you for having me, Neely.


Neely Quinn: Yeah. Thank you so much for being on the show. Like I said to you earlier, a lot of people have asked for you to be on the show because when I think of you, I think of the mental side of climbing and fear issues and things like that so I’m really happy to have you on this training podcast because I think it has a lot to do with how we perform as climbers. So, thank you.


Arno Ilgner: Yes, I mean it’s a really interesting area for me. It has been for quite a while but I think it’s something that’s going to be interesting and helpful for a lot of your listeners.


Neely Quinn: Yeah, hopefully. For our listeners who don’t know who you are, can you give me just an elevator spiel of who you are?


Arno Ilgner: Well, I started climbing when I was in high school. That was about 40 years ago and it took about 20 years of climbing and working in other jobs until I finally decided to create a career in climbing. The whole concept of mental training and fear was intriguing to me so it was about the mid-1990s when I started working on developing Warrior’s Way mental training method. It took a lot of teaching it to students to refine the material but it’s been kind of a long journey and so far we’ve got a couple of books published and several trainers across the US to help teach the material to people that are interested in it.


Neely Quinn: So you teach those/some of those clinics yourself, right?


Arno Ilgner: I do, yes.


Neely Quinn: Tell me – I’m going to ask you more details about the books and the clinics but tell me, in general, what are you teaching?


Arno Ilgner: Well, mental training but there are a lot of different ways that you can approach mental training. Warrior’s Way approach to mental training is, well it centers on, attention and how you’re utilizing it. That’s the core concept that everything we’re teaching centers around but it’s really a practical way of applying it in your climbing. That’s the essence of it.


Neely Quinn: Okay, so let’s get into some details. First of all, with The Warrior’s Way, why did you choose that name for all of your stuff?


Arno Ilgner: Well, I chose it because, at the time – this was the early-mid 90s – I was reading Carlos Castaneda’s books and other books on what you might consider warriorship literature. Dan Millman, Charles Tart, Robert Spencer, they all write about maybe what you would consider a warrior ethos or what’s required of us when we’re facing stress, risk, and challenge. You might consider it kind of an archetype for acting courageously when we need to.

I have some military background so the whole concept of the warrior approach to life and challenge was interesting to me, but the name was really spurred on by reading those warriorship literature books like Castaneda and Dan Millman.


Neely Quinn: Okay. You said that you chose to make climbing your career, right? But a lot of people would go in a different direction. They would have made clothing or gear or something like that. Did something happen in your climbing career that really made you want to focus on this and teach other people about it?


Arno Ilgner: Yes. I was considered someone/a climber who was able to deal with his fears well. I had done some first ascents in different areas of the country and so people were telling me, ‘Oh, these first ascents that you put up, they require a lot of mental discipline and ability to deal with fear,’ so I had that sort of a reputation but I had no idea why I was able to put up what you might consider routes that required a higher degree of mental focus when a lot of other climbers were not.

I started investigating it and asking climbers that were also known for being able to deal with their fears, like Mark Wilford or John Bachar and so forth, and they couldn’t really give me any definitive answers so when I started – I realized that I wanted to dig into it more and see if I could create something that climbers could tangibly wrap their mind around to understand how to focus their attention better and deal with their fears better.

When I started investigating it I found that it was as interesting to me as climbing was. I think that’s really an important piece of anything that we do, is the motivation behind what we’re doing. A lot of people get into climbing because they’re motivated for the love of the sport, the movement, or the kind of places that climbing can take them. Studying something like mental training or if you’re going to choose to open a climbing gym or if you’re going to choose to be a manufacturer’s rep, some of these different areas for working in the climbing industry, I think we really need to look at our motivation also and make sure it’s something that we genuinely, intrinsically, want to do.


Neely Quinn: Yeah, I agree. Follow your passion.

So my question is also about how I also think a lot of people have less fear, in general, and then people like myself have more fear, just innately. For whatever reason. Obviously, you think that you can train people to not have that fear but I mean, is this something that you’ve noticed too? Some people are just less fearful and therefore better at doing scarier things?


Arno Ilgner: Absolutely. There’s a whole range of how fearful we are. There’s a whole nurture/nature debate about: do we come into this world predisposed to be fearful or not to be fearful? And then the nurture part is: what can we actually do about it or train ourselves to be less fearful?

Definitely, there are people where their brains are just wired a little bit differently. Maybe it doesn’t have to be wired a lot differently. Maybe just a little differently but there is a difference there and it causes them to deal with their, or interact with, fearful situations in a different way. But it can be trained also, but the whole approach we take in Warrior’s Way – I’ll just give you an example: we ask people that come to the trainings what their expectations are, like what do they want to gain from the clinic? Sometimes, or many times, we’ll students that will say, “Well, I want to overcome this fear.” Right there, their wording is totally wrong because you can’t get over a fear. You can only diminish it. It’s not like it ever goes away but the way that the students word that points toward their end result motivation of wanting to be free of a fear and get over it, get to some end result, where they don’t have to deal with that fear anymore.

Really, everything that we’re doing in the clinics and the trainings is to shift students’ motivation to a more processed way of understanding how to deal with fear and how to deal with situations that are scary and risky. That is really not getting over a fear but rather just a diminishing of a fear.


Neely Quinn: Okay, so tell us how you do that. What are the things that you do in the clinics?


Arno Ilgner: Basically, we start with falling practice. Incremental falling practice so students can learn how to fall correctly and how to focus their attention on the actual fall itself. We do that and then we do a series of movement drills where the students learn how to trust their bodies to climb without the mind interfering, then we go into a little of an intellectual part where we go into, ‘What do you need to think about when you’re supposed to think and how do you go about making appropriate risk decisions?’

Then finally we have them apply all of those processes and application to climb something that is a little bit more challenging.


Neely Quinn: Okay, so let’s back up for a second. You say you teach them how to fall. Is this for boulderers mostly or for sport climbers, too? Or mostly route climbers, too?


Arno Ilgner: Well, it’s actually primary now for sport climbers and route climbers. It might be trad or sport. We’re actually working on – I’ve taught this in the same instruction bouldering but I’ve not done that very much. The trainers and I are actually working on developing a bouldering syllabus because it’s different. There’s a – hang on just a second.

The bouldering situation is very different from a rope climbing situation. In bouldering you have a much more social situation and close proximity. Everyone is in close proximity to each other. The ego can get in there a lot more so we’re looking at different things that cause distractions of attention to the bouldering environment as opposed to roped environment. You’re primarily taught this in ropes so far.


Neely Quinn: When you say you teach people who are rope climbing how to fall, what kinds of things are you involving?


Arno Ilgner: Well, we get them up on a climb. Let’s just say a sport climb, clipping four or five bolts, have them lower down into a simulated top rope, and they begin incremental falling practice where they’ll take a short top rope fall and we have them get into a simulated climbing stance and then synchronize the transition from a climbing stance into falling very precisely. That’s really important because essentially you’re transitioning from two different things that happen in climbing. You have the actual climbing part and then falling. That transition, when you fall unexpectedly, is instantaneously. It happens instantaneously so we need to simulate that same kind of transition in our practice.

We get them into a climbing stance. They’re looking up, balanced over their feet, they take three breaths and at the top of their third breath they synchronize everything. They let go, go into the fall looking down, exhaling, and assuming the falling posture. We have to work on them doing that transition very intentionally, very deliberately, and synchronizing everything right at the top of a breath.


Neely Quinn: Does that help with people’s fear of falling? Or what’s the point of that?


Arno Ilgner: Well, we don’t deal with survival fears. There’s two different fears basically, the way I understand it. Two different types of fears are survival fears like fight and flight, that they move you to do something. They move you to either fight through or flee from a situation. We work with the illusory fears. The survival fears are great. They help us stay alive but the illusory fears, you might refer to them as ‘phantom fears,’ also, they freeze you in a situation and the way we understand those fears is it’s not a state in and of itself but rather a lack of attention in the moment.

When we work on falling practice, everything we do has to address getting attention in the moment. We use the breath, we use where we’re looking with our eyes, and what we’re doing with our bodies in order to accomplish that task.


Neely Quinn: Okay, so you’re trying to get people to be in a certain mindset and have certain attention being focused on certain places before they fall. I’m still not quite understanding how that affects them falling in a more natural state, like if they were to just be like, ‘Whoops. I’m falling now.’ How does that affect that?


Arno Ilgner: Well, when they, ‘Whoops,’ and they fall they’re going to tense up, hold their breath, and probably not look down. That’s not an effective way to respond to a fall. You’re going to get hurt, you’re going to get slammed into the wall, and maybe break an ankle. By having them exhale through the fall it helps them be relaxed. That’s important. By having them look down into the fall zone as they’re going into it, helps direct attention into the fall zone because where they look with their eyes determines where their attention is focused. Then, when they get into a simulated falling posture which is their arms and legs are about shoulder-width apart, they’re bent, so they’re in position for whatever that impact is going to be. That attention is in their breath, in where their eyes are looking, and in their body so that they can fully execute the task of the falling.


Neely Quinn: Alright. Got it. So you’re just trying to make it as safe as possible for them. They look down, they see if they need to avoid anything, things like that.


Arno Ilgner: Well, basically, but this is kind of pointing toward the learning process itself. When we teach falling it’s not just to get rid of the fear. It’s to learn how to fall. When you’re learning a skill you have to do it in small increments and we understand the learning process as taking on a little bit of stress and converting that stress to comfort. For an example, if someone does an ,’Oops,’ fall and tenses up and contracts and holds their breath then they’re not becoming comfortable. They’re still tense and under stress.

By using the breath, the eyes, and the body the way I’ve described, we help them develop comfort in that amount of a fall. Then, if they’re doing that well, that’s an indication that they have learned that short top rope fall and then they can start incrementing to longer top rope falls so that they can develop comfort at those levels and then move into the lead falls.

It has to be a slow, incremental process where you focus on the quality of the engagement so that you’re actually learning how to do that skill. As a result of doing that, your attention is going to be more in the moment and that’s really the litmus test for everything we do. We absolutely have to get our attention in the moment, on the task, in order to be mentally focused.


Neely Quinn: Okay. So tell me what kinds of fears you’re working with people with and with other mental challenges. When you do these clinics, what kinds of things do you hear mostly from people?


Arno Ilgner: Well, fear of falling is a big one. Could be fear of injury. Sometimes there’s a fear of heights or a fear of failure. Those are probably the biggest ones that come to mind right now.


Neely Quinn: With the fear of falling, I’m assuming that – because for myself, that’s actually my fear. My fear is more like, ‘I’m afraid that my belayer isn’t going to catch me and then I’m going to fall and then get hurt or die.’


Arno Ilgner: So, that’s another one.


Neely Quinn: Is that something – I mean, how would you work with somebody who’s afraid of that?


Arno Ilgner: Fear of not knowing if they can trust their belayer?


Neely Quinn: Yeah.


Arno Ilgner: Well, I ask them, “How do you know if you can trust somebody?” Typically, what climbers do when they want to climb with someone else, whether it’s in the climbing gym or a climbing area, they go, “Hey! Do you know how to give a cushy catch?” The other climber will say, “Oh yeah, yeah. I know how to do that.” That’s not knowing that you can trust someone.

You know you can trust someone when you experience that they can do what they say that they can do, so it’s another really important point about the Warrior’s Way materials. Everything points toward experience. We know something when we’ve experienced it so if we’re facing a fall, for instance, and we’re looking down and we intellectually go through, ‘Oh, I’m just going to fall into air. I shouldn’t be afraid.” That’s only an intellectual understanding of the fall consequence. Until you do incremental falling practice, you’re not going to know that you can respond to your falls like that.

The same thing goes for a belayer. You don’t really know that you can trust a belayer to give you the proper catch unless you’ve experienced them doing it. When we do the falling practice, the belayer is also learning how to give that cushy catch so that the team can learn from each other and learn to trust each other.


Neely Quinn: So what about the – you’re going to find out a lot about my neuroses – I’m married to my climbing partner, my major climbing partner, and I have felt him catch me many, many times however I know that I’ve made mistakes. Like, I almost dropped him one time in the gym because I held down the GriGri on accident and I caught him just before he hit the ground. I know that if I can’t even trust myself completely, and now of course I’ve learned from that experience, but the point is that anything can happen, right? You can have the best belayer in the world and something weird can go wrong so what about that fear? How do you train that out of somebody?


Arno Ilgner: Well, you know, you don’t train it out of them. I think it’s healthy to have a little bit of skepticism going into anybody that you’re going to be teamed-up with. We can get into habits of just blindly trusting people that we’ve been climbing with for a long time but to answer your question a little more directly, it’s like: we don’t dwell on – well, this particular kind of situation might happen. It’s rare but I might accidentally hold a GriGri down. Like you said, you just learn from the experience that you had but then you find a way, maybe, to practice how that doesn’t happen in the future. You could find little ways to practice that, a little at a time, utilizing the GriGri better or having your partner fall in different situations so that you can get a broader experience using that particular belay device, where the consequences diminish for the climber.

An extreme example would be to have another, backup, belayer that has slack in the top rope or something where you’re working with learning a new belay device.


Neely Quinn: Yeah, I have a feeling you’ve had to do that with people. I mean, there are a lot of people who have fallen and who have taken ground falls and have been caught very poorly and have injured themselves so I’m assuming you have to work very incrementally with them, using double belayers and stuff.


Arno Ilgner: Well, in the trad camps we certainly do because they might rip their trad pieces when they’re falling on them so we have back-up top ropes for that but if we’re working on a sport climb, then we’ll maybe have locking carabiners on the high bolts that they’re falling from, but beyond that we just diminish the length of the fall that they’re actually taking so that they can actually experience that transition that I described earlier and see what it feels like.

I’ve had students that would be in the top rope situation like that and without any extra slack in the rope, couldn’t even let go of the wall. These are people that climb and are then lowered down off of climbs. It can be an extreme fear for some people but you just have to find out where that edge is for the student and then find a way to engage them from that edge.


Neely Quinn: Can you give me an example of somebody who was just completely afraid of letting go and how you changed that with them?


Arno Ilgner: Sure. First of all, I’d lower them down to about 10 feet above the ground instead of being higher so they’re closer to the ground and a little more familiarity with that, so just hanging there. I’ll have them get into a climbing stance on the wall and I’ll have the belayer pull all the slack out and I’ll have the climber look down and see that there’s no extra rope in the system. They can even tug on it so they can get a sense of feeling the rope is snug. Then, I’ll have them just take one breath and a strong exhale as they let go. I can be right next to them, also, if they’re just 10 feet off the ground. I can actually do that same process with them. I can breath with them and I can take the breath and exhale with them as they go into the fall.

Then, just after they do that a few times we’ll add maybe six inches of slack in the system and have them do that kind of a fall until we can get them up higher and do it on their own.


Neely Quinn: Yeah. That sounds similar to something that I do. I’m wondering if you do the same thing. Some days I’m just more scared than others and I’ll be above my bolt – and I’m sure this is common, people being afraid to make moves above their bolt – and it’s just really hard for me to go for the whole move. My husband will say, “Okay, don’t go for the move, just fall from where you are,” and then I would do that. Then I would move my arm six inches and then fall, then I would sort of go for the move, and then I would fall. It was very incremental for that, too. Is that a common fear you see as well?


Arno Ilgner: Oh yes. You get into lead and you’re facing lead falls and that’s just bringing up the whole ‘fear of falling’ issue so it sounds like you’re doing a great job of engaging that. You’ve just got to find ways to engage things like that a little at a time because when we start looking at wanting to overcome the fear all at once, we’ll end up taking inappropriate risks and we’re really just climbing or doing the particular skill to get it over with.

I’ve seen climbers that do falling practice because they feel like you have to do it in order to improve but they approach it in a manner to get it over with instead of to actually be present for it. That stems from the motivation. If you want to talk about motivation, a big problem with being able to be focused in the moment is how climbers are motivated.


Neely Quinn: Can you expand on that a little bit?


Arno Ilgner: Yeah, basically I like to look at it in two different ways. The first way is that our brain develops very slowly. It requires stress and it’s a slow learning process. In other words, when we learn a skill like, say, falling. Let’s stick with that one. In order to fall anything, you start drilling, drilling, drilling. Before you can ever get it to mastery level you have to do it 10,000 times or something. You have to develop this neural network in the brain that will be strong and supportive and fire the signal in a very precise way to the muscles to do whatever the skill is. That just takes a long time, and it’s slow, and it requires stress. In other words, if I’m sitting in my comfort zone, those neural networks don’t develop. I have to be in stressful climbing or be in a little bit of a stressful falling situation, focusing on how I engage that fall, in order for those neural networks to be created and created in a quality manner.

That’s a slow, ongoing, stressful learning process but the way the mind tends to be motivated is exactly the opposite of that. We tend to want to be comfortable and we tend to want to achieve results quickly. Mental training really has to shift the person’s motivation from fast end results and comfort toward slow, stressful, ongoing learning process.


Neely Quinn: Okay, so the incremental training of falling is one of the ways to do that, where you’re actually present for it but you’re doing it incrementally so your body can handle it and not just want to get it over with.


Arno Ilgner: Yeah, well first of all, you can see that if you’re doing it in these small increments it’s slow, and we’re adding just enough stress so that the person can engage it but engage it with quality. Quality, what I mean by that, is how you’re using your breath, where you’re looking with your eyes, what you’re doing with your body. If someone is falling and they’re grabbing the rope and tensing up and just looking straight ahead at the wall, then that’s not a quality way of falling. If they do that a number of times they’re going to create that kind of a neural network in their brain. Whereas we focus on very exactly how you need to fall so that you’re going to create a quality way of responding and create the supporting neural network that’s going to fire the muscles so that at some point, with a lot of practice, you can shift this towards a more intuitive, automatic way of responding and you’ll respond in the way that you’ve practiced.


Neely Quinn: Okay, so one of the other things I’ve done with falling is on certain days in the gym, every week I would make sure that I would take a certain number of falls. Sometimes I would climb a route and I would get to the top and I wouldn’t clip the anchors and I would just let go, just to experience the sensation of falling, so what other kinds of things should I have been doing up there with my breath, my eyes, and anything else? What are the other tools that you have people use?


Arno Ilgner: Well, you might be disappointed. There aren’t really any other tools. This process is quite simple but there’s a lot of depth to it. One thing that’s important to do and kind of points towards another really important part of the Warrior’s Way material is there’s a time to think with the mind and then there’s a time to do or take action with the body.

For instance, if you want to take a practice fall at the top of the route then you can climb to the top of the route, take a moment to think and remind yourself about what you’re going to do in a moment, meaning you can remind yourself, ‘Okay, Neely. You’re going to exhale through the fall. You’re going to look down and get into your falling posture, just like you’ve practiced before.’ Now, no more thinking. You get into your climbing stance, you take your breath, and then transition into the fall. That’s the doing of it, not a thinking about it.

Essentially, attention has to shift out of the mind – no more thinking – into the body doing the particular skill.


Neely Quinn: So it’s just about doing, which is sometimes so hard for people. Like you said, some people can’t let go and I’ve been there, for sure. I just couldn’t let go. Sometimes it’s helped, and maybe you guys do this too, somebody will count with me or I’ll count myself and be like, ‘Okay. I’m going to count to three and then I have to let go, in one, two, three,’ and then it’s more of a motivator for some reason. Then sometimes, if people are even yelling at me – it sounds weird – like, they’re like, ‘Just do it! Just do it You can do it!’ and things like that, that would help me, too.


Arno Ilgner: I would discourage that.


Neely Quinn: Oh really?


Arno Ilgner: Yeah, because you’re practicing, ‘Get it over with.’ Right?


Neely Quinn: Well, yes. Do you think there’s an element of getting it over with for the first times until you realize that it is safe? Or is it always that you should be present with it.


Arno Ilgner: I don’t want to get into always or never. There’s always exceptions but we need to be attentive to our motivation in everything we do. What’s wrong with, instead of falling – if there’s too much resistance to letting go at the top and other people are encouraging you to just do it, what’s wrong with taking a step down or two steps down and taking a shorter fall? Then maybe going up and taking a longer fall after that?

Think about it. How long is a fall? It’s, like, a split second or something but that split second is a split second of your life and do you want to just get your life over with or do you want to be present for it and maybe even enjoy it?

There’s another thing that happens that’s really curious when we do the falling practice. That is that our perception of time tends to expand. In other words, if you take a fall and you have little experience with falling, you tend to contract and your attention also contracts and it seems like the fall is over with in just an instant. But as we practice falling in slow, incremental process, the students feel/perceive the fall to actually last longer than it had before. It’s not over in just a moment. Just think about how valuable that is. It actually gives us more time, in a sense, to actually be present for the fall and to respond to it but also to maybe enjoy it.

One of the feedback comments that we get from students is they actually start having fun with the whole process of falling. How we’re motivated hides in all kind of subtleties of what we’re doing or how other people are motivating us. I think it’s really important to look at the details and subtleties of everything that we’re doing to really analyze our motivations.


Neely Quinn: Okay, I have a question. We recently put something up on TrainingBeta about the myth of over-gripping. Somebody did some research that said that when we feel tired on a climb we think that we get fatigued because we’re over-gripping but we actually are perceiving fatigue because of stress. So like, when we get scared on a climb we think that we’re over-gripping and that’s causing the fatigue but it’s actually the fear and the stress itself that’s causing a perceived fatigue. Do you know anything about that and do you have any advice for people who – like, what kinds of, I don’t know if you use mantras or if you use breathing techniques or what kinds of things we can do to stop the fear and stress?


Arno Ilgner: Well, I mean both of those are going to contribute. When we get closer and closer to the edge of our comfort zone and push into the stress, we’re in unfamiliar terrain. We’re in the unknown and our mind tends to rebel against that so there are a lot of perceived perceptions of how hard it is that is influencing our body/mind but the actual physiological over-gripping is also contributing to that.

I guess the only thing I can say about that is we don’t focus on getting rid of the fear. We focus on keeping attention in the moment because we believe that what you focus on is going to expand. We don’t focus on what you want to get rid of. We focus on what you want actually to occur.

Breathing certainly helps and loosening your grip certainly helps but we don’t really use any kind of mantras, although they could help. I think in Rock Warrior’s Way I actually talk about being able to do self-coaching. You could be in the middle of stressful climbing and kind of talk to yourself about what you need to do now or what you need to do next. I think that could be something that could be helpful but ultimately, what we strive for is that we do our thinking at the stopping points and then in between those stopping points we focus attention in the body to do the actual climbing. That’s where they would be focusing on their breath, how they’re moving their body, staying as relaxed as possible which would point toward the need to loosen their grip.


Neely Quinn: Okay, so when you’re feeling fear and feeling yourself tense up and you feel fatigue, you could just maybe say to yourself – or not necessarily say to yourself but focus on one move at a time. Focus on relaxing your body as much as possible. Focus on making sure you’re breathing and things like that?


Arno Ilgner: Yeah, but it would need to be something tangible like you would need to make sure you’re not just thinking, ‘Okay, I need to relax.’ You need to loosen your grip, lower your heels, breathe more deeply, maybe look around – we get tunnel vision and we can actually move our head around so we can actually see more things with our eyes to kind of expand our focus. When we get in a stressful situation like that we’re going to contract, physiologically and mentally, so we just simply need to do the opposite of that to keep our attention expanded in the situation.


Neely Quinn: Sorry. Somebody just started sawing outside my door so I apologize for that.

One of the other things I wanted to talk to you about is failure. I know that a lot of times when I’m trying to redpoint something, if I’ve tried it many times or sometimes if I’ve only even tried it once, I’ll go up to the route and immediately feel nervous. Sometimes I’ll get nauseous. Sometimes you start sweating more because, for me, it’s like I really want to do this right now and I don’t want to fail. Then, I get nervous about it. Do you have advice for people on that?


Arno Ilgner: Well yes, I do, as a matter of fact. First of all, Warrior’s Way doesn’t consider anything a failure. How does that – see, if you have a concern about failure you can actually address the failure issue or you can move to a position where failure doesn’t exist, you know? Warrior’s Way doesn’t see any outcome that we can create as a failure. We see it as a learning opportunity. In other words, we come up against something that we need to learn. Something is lacking. Is there a physical ability or a mental ability or our breathing? Our technique? Something is missing that we need to learn from so how could any outcome be a failure?

Again, that points toward motivation. Why do you want to do that climb? Why do you want to achieve that end result? For many climbers it’s going to point toward their ego wanting to validate itself for having accomplished a certain climb or a certain grade. Even if it’s not the ego, if you want to climb that route then you need to realize that that desire to want to climb the route is not going to help you climb it. Focusing your attention in the moment as you’re climbing up the climb is what’s going to help you the most for being able to accomplish that end result.


Neely Quinn: Okay. That brings up a good question about the ego stuff. One time my dad asked me why I rock climb. I was like, ‘Well, it’s because I like to succeed on things.’ He is a Buddhist and he was like, ‘You’re doing this all for your ego?’


Arno Ilgner: The ego – I go into it a lot in the material – is not something that we can get rid of. We’re individual entities, you might say individuals, and we have an ego but we can definitely diminish its negative influence. The way Warrior’s Way understands the ego is it sits on kind of a throne that’s very fragile. The throne is self -importance, like how valuable we are compared to other people, and an over-identification, which has their personal history.

In other words, we feel validated if we’re more important than others based on what we’ve accomplished. Sometimes it’s the other way around, too, where we feel less important than others because we haven’t accomplished a lot of things and then we’ll make a lot of – or our ego will make a lot of – excuses about why we don’t measure up.

The ego tends to, because it’s motivated that way, want to achieve results so it can validate itself. That’s just end result, making fast progress toward comfort kind of motivation. Just the opposite of what I described earlier about how we need to be motivated similar to how the brain develops.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to achieve end results. Don’t think that Warrior’s Way devalues being able to set goals like that, but once you’ve set goals like that that give you a vision for the kind of actions that you want to take, you need to focus on the processes that are going to lead you there. A simple example for why is those end result goals are in the future. We cannot control anything that’s in the future. We can only control the present moment and processes are what’s in the present moment. Whether we’re practicing falling or practicing climbing or practicing technique, we need to make sure our attention is in the moment on whatever that task is. That’s the only thing we can control.


Neely Quinn: So we can only do the best that we can do in the moment?


Arno Ilgner: Yes, and be observant to that so you know what you’re doing well and what you need to improve on so you can, in the next moment, practice with even more quality.


Neely Quinn: Yeah. This is all such a fine balance because sometimes what’s helped me, when I feel that way, when I’m all amped up about whether or not I’m going to succeed is to just say, “It doesn’t matter. This doesn’t matter. This route has no bearing on my life,” then for some reason my body lets go and I feel calmer. But at the same time, in the back of my head I’m like, ‘It actually does matter to me. This thing does matter,’ so I guess it’s just sort of a battle with my own ego.


Arno Ilgner: Well, it’s not a fine balance in my eyes. It does matter. Saying that it doesn’t matter is a lie. It’s not true. Sure, climbing isn’t as important as, let’s say, feeding people that are starving but that’s not the point. We aren’t going to stop climbing until everybody isn’t hungry anymore. We still want to go climbing so it is important. It’s an integral part of our lives and it does matter. We don’t want to – see, that’s like a mind trick or a mind game to sort of deal with the whole issue of: well, I want to do this but I guess I should let go of the end result so I can trick myself into being able to stay focused and actually accomplish what I want to accomplish. It’s kind of like a delayed gratification.

Warriors don’t follow delayed gratification. They follow instant gratification because what they value is what they can learn in every instant, in every moment of a climbing experience including the outcome when they fall off a route. If they’re curious about that and want to be in that position so that they can learn, then they can be instantly gratified.

It’s not a little subtlety. It’s a whole different way of being motivated.


Neely Quinn: Right. So being motivated to learn from whatever experience you have on the route.


Arno Ilgner: Yeah. It’s like, you have to want to be up in that climbing situation, under the stress, exerting yourself, and if you fall to be present for the stress of that fall and then, if you are more present, you’re going to be more aware and then you can learn more from what caused that outcome. Do you understand what I’m saying? You have to want to be in that situation more than you want to be at the end result.


Neely Quinn: Yeah. It’s just hard to, like, what do you say to yourself at the bottom of the route? Whereas I was saying, “It doesn’t matter,” what’s the/how do you word that?


Arno Ilgner: I word it like this: okay, I need to do my thinking preparation for the whole climb. Where is the pro? What are the fall consequences? What is my plan? In other words, I go through a very specific thinking process to make sure I prepare for the risk that I’m getting ready to take. I’m going to say, “Okay. Thinking is over,” so then I’ll do an exhale to transition and then I’ll focus on breathing, moving, maintaining eye contact when I’m climbing.

If I need to stop to place gear or rest and think, then I stop and think. In other words, I’m just cycling between the different processes that I need to focus on and be present for those. I don’t have to think and psych myself up for achieving the end result or letting go of a fear. I know that all I need to focus on is the actual processes that are going to help me keep my attention in the moment.


Neely Quinn: Okay. So you don’t ever put yourself in the position where you’re saying, “I’m afraid of not getting to the top without falling.”


Arno Ilgner: No.


Neely Quinn: You’re just going through processes. You’re thinking about your beta. You’re thinking about your gear. You’re thinking about breathing and then you’re thinking about moving.


Arno Ilgner: Well, not thinking. Focusing.


Neely Quinn: Right. Focusing.


Arno Ilgner: Focusing attention on the thinking process or the decision-making process or the resting process or a climbing process or our falling process. That’s it. Five of them. Like I said, simple, not easy.


Neely Quinn: Have you noticed in your own climbing that you have gotten even better – well not better, I guess – or that your mental game has gotten better since you’ve been studying all of this and teaching it?


Arno Ilgner: Yes. I’ve become much more aware of distraction of attention, especially distractions from my ego wanting to succeed on a climb or achieve the end result. Obviously, when you get older you don’t climb as regularly as you do when you’re younger but a few years ago I climbed the same grade that I did 20 years ago, when I had a stronger body. Working with the material for the last 20 years I’ve learned a lot more and become much more aware of my tendencies, my mental tendencies, and then what to do about them.


Neely Quinn: Have you – I’m assuming you’ve worked with a lot of climbers and it seems like you have a lot of really good climbers on your team. Have you noticed that any certain pro climbers exhibit a lot of the things that you try to teach?


Arno Ilgner: Well, I haven’t studied or looked at a lot of their videos or talked with them to really do an accurate assessment. I guess maybe the only thing I have been aware of over the years is I really like to look at motivation, like, why people are motivated to climb.

One thing that has inspired me, or really that I found interesting, is Chris Sharma’s very organic kind of motivation for his climbing. In other words, how he’s motivated to climb really points toward this intrinsic way of being motivated. Wanting to be in the stress, in the learning process, setting goals but then letting go of that and really focusing on the stress and engagement, and also shifting from maybe one particular discipline in climbing like sport climbing, to bouldering, to competition climbing based on how you’re intrinsically and internally feeling motivated toward doing those disciplines.


Neely Quinn: Sort of following your motivation.


Arno Ilgner: Yeah, but an internal kind of motivation like: how are you being directed and which direction are you being pushed or pulled? Instead of having it being artificially imposed from the mind, from the thinking process.


Neely Quinn: Like, ‘What should I be doing?’


Arno Ilgner: Yeah, like, ‘What should I be doing?’ Setting a bunch of end result goals, making a list of 10 goals that you want to accomplish, and if you really look at it you realize if you ask yourself why you’re making a list of 10 things you want to achieve, then it’s going to be to bolster the ego. To help it validate itself, that it’s important, and has a right to still remain alive.


Neely Quinn: Whereas you’ve noticed that Chris Sharma is more like, ‘I want to do this because I want to have this experience.’


Arno Ilgner: Yes. I mean, he’s obviously been talented from the beginning but his motivation seems to be more like, ‘ I want to do this.’ It’s not only for end result or primarily driven by the end result.

I think there are a lot of climbers out there that are similar, it’s just that he comes to mind for me.


Neely Quinn: Yeah, no he comes to mind for me, too. I think that’s why people look up to him so much. It’s just because he doing it because he loves it, seemingly. So yeah, he’s a good example.

How can people work with you?


Arno Ilgner: Like, in what different ways?


Neely Quinn: Yeah, like how – you do clinics. Do you do one-on-one stuff? How can people get in touch with you and how can they work with you?


Arno Ilgner: Well, we have eight trainers right now across the US and one in Spain. There’s ways to work with the Warrior’s Way material and then there’s ways to work with me. Obviously, you can take clinics from the trainers and myself. Having trainers just makes it available in more places more frequently. That was one of my motivations for the material, is to not let it just be restricted to where I can be and how often I can be in different places.

There are clinics that people can sign up for and they and myself can also do one-to-one training. It’s something that I haven’t done a lot of. Maybe it’s because when I travel around to different countries or different parts of the US I go there for a two week period, do a series of clinics, and then I come back to Tennessee so it makes it more difficult to have one-to-one training although I am looking into Skype options. There’s something about the importance of being face-to-face with a student that seems to be indispensable. The Warrior’s Way values the experiential component of this training so much that it’s hard to get that across over the internet or over the phone.


Neely Quinn: Yeah. So people can do your clinics or they can do clinics with your people. And your website is


Arno Ilgner: Yeah, and we send out a newsletter, well, not a newsletter but a lesson every other week for people that want to sign up, too, on our eList on the website. We just write something about the motivation or something about the mental training aspect and the Warrior’s Way approach to it. A lot of the lessons are structured more generally, not just targeted at climbing, because I’m actually working on bridging this material to the non-climbing public, writing a book, so these lessons are broader in applicability than just climbing. I write them that way intentionally.


Neely Quinn: I’m looking here on your products page. What is the book Espresso Lessons?


Arno Ilgner: That’s the second book and it’s a very practical treatment of the material that’s in The Rock Warrior’s Way. All of the exercises that we do in the clinics and the camps are taken directly out of Espresso Lessons. In Rock Warrior’s Way, it’s a very philosophical book. I reference, like I said, different authors like Dan Millman or Castaneda that write about attention and developing awareness, but in Espresso Lessons there’s no references to that. There’s no philosophy in it. It’s very targeted at: just tell me what I need to do on a climb to apply this material.


Neely Quinn: Yeah, that’s great. And then the first book is called The Rock Warrior’s Way?


Arno Ilgner: The Rock Warrior’s Way, yes.


Neely Quinn: And it’s more philosophy and some practical applications?


Arno Ilgner: Yeah, definitely. Both books have exercises in the back but The Rock Warrior’s Way reads more like a philosophical book where you’re tying different ideas together. Both of them help you dig into the material in different ways so you can understand it better.


Neely Quinn: Can people only buy these on your website or can I get them on Amazon?


Arno Ilgner: They’re available on Amazon, on The Warrior’s Way website, and other locations, also. Climbing gyms or climbing shops like REI will have them. Not all stores have it, you know, but a lot of them do.


Neely Quinn: And I’m noticing here, for anybody who runs a gym or works at a gym, on this products page you have a sign-up, or a product page for gym clinics and outdoor clinics so that’s how you guys would find him if you’re interested in doing one of those.


Arno Ilgner: Well, not really. That’s – whenever I’m teaching an outdoor camp when I’m doing the registration through The Warrior’s Way website, I’ll use those links but there’s an events page on the website that points toward all of the trainings that we have scheduled.


Neely Quinn: Okay. Events page – oh, on the ‘training’ tab. Got it. Okay, so these are the ones that you planned. You’re not planning any new ones for a while?


Arno Ilgner: Well, not planning any new ones? We’re kind of always planning for what’s coming up next. The trainers, when they plan tours, they’ll send me the information and I’ll post it on the website so that’s kind of an ongoing process but we’ve got quite a bit of training going on right now. Like, I’m going to be going to Brazil in a couple of weeks and Jeff Lodas is doing a tour in California. We’ve got another trainer, Elena Arenz, who’s going to be teaching in the New River Gorge next month and then I’m going to be doing a trip to Maryland next month also, so we’ve got quite a bit of training scheduled right now.


Neely Quinn: That’s great.


Arno Ilgner: We always have more that’s going to be scheduled.


Neely Quinn: Awesome. Well, definitely check this out at, everybody. Is there anything else that you want to add? Anything else that’s going on that you have to offer people or any last words?


Arno Ilgner: Well, I had some t-shirts made years ago that on the back said, “Enjoy the journey.” There’s a lot of truth to that. I think that we can get so lost in striving after end results and number chasing that we actually start hating the journey.

One of the things that people tell me that either read the book or go through the training is they say that they actually start enjoying climbing more, again. They say ‘again’ because they got into it because they enjoy climbing but then, as you get better in climbing you progress through the grades and the ego starts exerting itself and wants to measure up to other people. Maybe friends or other people that are at a climbing area and, before you know it, you’re not feeling so great about your climbing if you’re not measuring up. You’ve lost contact with the love of it. It’s important to remind yourself to enjoy the journey but then also to do things, very tangibly, to facilitate that process.


Neely Quinn: Yeah. I’m really glad that you’re here, doing the work that you’re doing, to help us be reminded of that. It’s really easy to lose sight of that so thank you for your work.


Arno Ilgner: Yep. You’re welcome.


Neely Quinn: Alright. Well thank you so much for being on the show and yeah – I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day.


Arno Ilgner: I will. Thank you, Neely, you too.


Neely Quinn: Alright, thanks.

Thank you for listening to episode 23. That was Arno Ilgner. Once again, you can find him at He has a blog, he has an audio blog so you don’t have to read, you can listen to it, he has clinics, he has books, he has tons of information for climbers. If you want to sign up for one of his clinics or something like that,

I hope you liked the interview. I really liked it. I found myself really enjoying philosophizing a bit about climbing and fear and ego and stuff like that, so thank you for that, Arno.

Next week we have Hazel Findlay. I know I promised you last week that I would be having Hazel on this week and I apologize for lying to you but I had this Arno interview sort of in my back pocket for a while and I wanted to get it out there. I hope you don’t mind too much but Hazel will be on next week. We have the interview done, I just need to put it out there.

I wanted to tell you one thing about nutrition stuff. I have sort of threatened to do webinars and classes or whatever for climbers on TrainingBeta, on nutrition. I haven’t done anything like that but I want to. I just don’t know what the interest really is and so if you are interested in that kind of stuff, I do do nutrition on my other website which is at Like, I just did an emotional eating event for bingers and stress eaters and I have a weight loss program over there. If you do want me to do a climber-specific nutrition program, I would love to hear from you and sort of what format you, as a climber, would prefer. If it’s webinar, or an in-person class in Boulder, or something else so let me know. You can email me at and I love your emails.

Lastly, I want to talk to route climbers in particular because we have a lot of resources for you on the site. I’m a route climber. That’s why we have so many resources on there for you. We should probably have more for boulderers but right now, if you want to train and get stronger at route climbing, we have our route climbing training program, which is a subscription program.

So, when you sign up for that you get two weeks free so you can check it out. You get three workouts every week. They’re about two hours long. It’s not a huge time commitment. There are climbing drills, weight room things, core training, you’re going to be doing injury prevention with weights and bands and things like that. You’re going to be doing finger strength, campusing if it’s appropriate for you, and it can be tailored for pretty much any level of climber. All of the workouts that you get have videos and those videos show you how to make the workouts easier or harder, depending on your level. We let you know, ‘If you’re not up to this level you probably shouldn’t be doing this fingerboard workout or this campus workout.’

We try to make it as easy to follow as possible because that’s what I would want. That’s what I do want and use in climbing training programs so that’s what we have. If you’re not into the whole commitment-type thing I understand. We have a power endurance program, which is good for boulderers as well, but it’s in eBook format and it’s only for six weeks. It’s four days a week, one of which is optional, and those workouts are a bit longer. This is for a person who’s a bit gung ho and has a lot of time. You’re going to be wasted after the first couple weeks but then after that what we’ve seen is people start to hold on for longer, they start to be able to climb more routes or more boulder problems in a day, and so that’s what the six week power endurance program is.

Lastly, but not leastly, we have Kris Hampton’s eight week endurance program. That’s for climbers who are up to about 5.11 climbers and they want to sort of break into the next level. Kris Hampton put together two, four-week segments where you’re doing really specific climbing drills to help your forearms and your whole body be able to hold on for longer, because that’s a huge issue when you’re trying to climb stronger. That’s our eight week endurance program.

Those are our main resources for route climbers. I’m just focusing on you today and you can find those on under the ‘climbing training programs.’ I hope you like it.

That’s it. I’m going to let you go back to whatever you were doing and I really appreciate you listening. I will talk to you next week. Until then, have a great week.



Thanks for listening!

TrainingBeta is a site dedicated to training for rock climbing. We provide resources and information about training for routes, bouldering, finger strength, mental training, nutrition for climbers, and everything in between. We offer climbing training programs, climbing training classes, nutrition classes, regular blog posts, interviews on The TrainingBeta Podcast, personal coaching for climbing, and nutrition for climbers.

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