For climbers, technique is the most important aspect to focus on. Regardless of strength, body weight and gear, a climber’s technique can make all the difference when on the rock or in the gym.
Obviously those other things still factor in, but not as much as technique. We all see those people at the gym who seem to climb routes with absolutely no effort. They make it look easy, then when you give it a try yourself, you can’t understand why it’s so incredibly hard!
This is because that other climber has their technique perfected. Sure, they may have more body strength than you and they may have better gear, but they rely on their technique to use those other things to their full potential and to bring them together into one neat package. And you can do the same!
We are going to list some of the core techniques below, try them out and see if they don’t improve your climbing even just a little!
Now obviously, there are specifics for traditional climbing techniques, sport climbing techniques, bouldering techniques, static climbing techniques, dynamic climbing techniques and alpine climbing techniques but we will go over those in more detail in other articles for each climbing style.
For now, we will focus on techniques that will help your overall climbing technique regardless of where you climb.
Please remember that these techniques are designed to help your climbing technique and it is assumed that you already know the basics of climbing safety. Do not attempt any of these techniques if you are unsure about proper climbing safety and seek professional guidance!
The biggest mistake that less experienced climbers make is that they don’t use their footwork properly. The feet and legs are the support system of the entire body and improving foot technique can be the key to improving your overall climbing ability.
Here are some mistakes that people often make when climbing and clues that they need to improve their footwork:
– If you climb indoors a lot, you may find that you will only use footholds that you consider to be ‘big enough’ as opposed to the smaller holds. This can be bad when you move outdoors as you could find yourself on a route with tiny footholds compared to those you would find in a gym.
– New climbers tend to not trust their feet or their shoes enough. They don’t think that the rubber on their shoes will hold them on the more sloped or smaller holds. This is obviously not true for the most part and this technique relies on body weight and centre of gravity.
– Less experienced climbers will tend to be a lot more noisy and are not precise with their feet and will often bang and scrape them on the wall to get them to the next foothold. This shows that they have bad foot technique and are not thinking properly about the route that they are climbing. It goes without saying that this is bad practice.
Tips to improve your foot technique
Because your legs are obviously a lot stronger than your arms, you should try and learn how to use your legs to the best of their ability as much as possible, here are some tips to improve your footwork:
– Before you climb the route, visualize where you are going to put your feet as well as your hands. Think about how you can place your feet to help you with your hand placement. – When you are on the wall look down at your feet reguarly, especially when you are about to make your next move. Think if there is a move you can make with your feet that can help make your next handhold move easier.
– Trust your shoes. Your climbing shoes are designed with sticky rubber, some shoes are stickier than others but every climbing shoe is designed to stick to the wall. Typically, people will be afraid to trust their shoes to begin with, but gradually learn to put more weight onto your feet and try to let the rubber hold you to the smaller or more sloped holds. This is a critical thing to get used to and learn as if you want to climb more advanced routes in the future, footholds will require a lot more trust.
– Wear the correct climbing shoes! Make sure that your shoes are right for your foot and for the climbing that you are doing. Your shoes don’t necessarily have to be mega tight, but if they are sloppy and baggy on your feet, then you aren’t going to get any purchase on the smaller holds and your overall technique will suffer big-time.
– Be as precise as possible with your foot placement. It is important to be deliberate with where you put your feet as this will allow you to maximize their effort and prevent your arms from tiring too quickly, which is essential for longer climbs.
Another area where a lot of climbers make critical mistakes is with grip.
The biggest mistake that people make with their grip is that they overestimate the stamina that they have in their forearms and they grip too tightly. This is especially true at points in a climb which are more difficult. What usually happens is that the climber will subconsciously grip the hold tighter to compensate for the difficulty of the climb.
Unfortunately, over-gripping is the fastest way to wear out your forearms and end your session of climbing early. Thankfully, there are a few ways to help this problem.
If you find that your forearms wear out fast, then look at the following tips:
– The key to good grip is simple – Relax! The more relaxed and loose you are with you arms, back and shoulders, the less your technique will suffer.
– Try and stay calm on the route. Trust your equipment and your footwork and don’t let your grip get too tight. Keep a mental note not to grip too tightly and keep checking with yourself to make sure you are staying relaxed. Once you get into the habit of not tensing up too much, you will find that your technique will flow much more smoothly.
– If you have to grip hard to stay on the holds, then you are probably doing something else wrong, look at the previous step and improve you footwork, or look at the next few steps below and adjust other parts of your technique.
– Improve your forearm endurance and strength by doing a few simple, regular exercises. These include static hangs and continuous low stress repeated gripping such as traversing a route backwards and forwards for 20mins straight without letting go or stopping for a rest.
– For the more advanced climbers, you can improve your forearm endurance by ‘avoiding the pump’ which is the flooding of lactic acid into the muscles. This can be improved through diet amongst other repetitive exercises. For more in-depth information.
Remember that grip technique and forearm endurance is the number one thing that affects climbers and getting it right is crucial to good overall climbing technique. If you can’t hold on to the wall for long periods of time, you can’t climb those tough, long routes. Simple.
A lot of new climbers will definitely underestimate the importance of using the body when climbing. The body or torso is the largest single part of your body and can make all the difference when climbing.
Using your body weight effectively in climbing consists of a few different factors:
Balance is key to good climbing technique as your center of gravity is pretty much the center of your body. Keeping a good sense of balance will help you to make smooth, flowing movements.
A good way to improve your balance is to find a traverse between 60-70 degrees incline (Not overhanging!!) and to try and climb backwards and forwards using only your feet. You can use your hands to stabilize your body, but not to hold onto any holds. Doing this will help you to become more in tune with how your body will respond to movement on the holds and you will learn how to stabilize yourself with your feet which will help when it comes to
Anticipating how your balance will be affected by certain climbing moves will allow you to predict how your weight will be distributed to each of your limbs. This can then tell you how may need to adjust your body position to make moves possible, especially with certain footwork styles such as smearing or edging which require a lot of weight to be distributed over the foot to make the rubber on the shoe stick to the wall/hold.
As well as determining how you should keep your body positioned on the wall, you should also try to improve your body distance from the wall. As a general rule, keeping your body as close to the wall as possible is the best practice. Obviously, you will need to hang away from the wall on certain routes, but keeping close to the wall will be better for the most part.
A good way to remember good position is to make sure that your knees don’t point towards the wall so that your body can stay as close to the wall as possible.
The way in which you move when climbing is crucial to your technique. Smooth, precise movement is the sign of an experienced climber. Improve the smoothness and fluidity of your movement by making a concious effort to reduce unnecessary movement. Try and evaluate every move before you make it. Moving around on a hold provides an opportunity for you to lose your grip and slip off. Try and stay relaxed and focussed and do the movement exactly as you imagine it.
The two types of movement in climbing are static and dynamic:
– Static – Static climbing is movement that is controlled by muscle rather than momentum.
– Dynamic – Dynamic climbing uses momentum to reach holds that are out of reach of the climber.
An important part of climbing, especially for longer climbs, is learning when to rest and where on the route is best to rest. A lot of newer climbers believe that they can muscle their way up a route without resting and this is the reason that a lot of climbers tend to peel off on routes that are within their difficulty range.
It is best to find a rest spot every 3 metres or so on a route and it usually best to find the rest spots before you start to climb so that you can determine how you are going to climb the route as a whole.
Rest spots can consist of any portion of the route where you see fit to let one or both of your arms hang so that you can shake them out and take a rest from gripping onto the rock.
Rest spots may be something as simple as a ledge to lean against or an overhang to jam your knee into.
You can also save energy on routes by taking an easier pathway around a particular point in the route, which is not technically a rest spot but is a less strenuous way up the route.
***Please always bear in mind proper climbing safety.***
Falling is yet another important component of climbing although not a favorable one. However, every climber will fall at one point in their climbing journey so it is important to learn how to take a good fall. If you are climbing, but you aren’t falling every now and again, then it could be that you aren’t pushing yourself to your physical limits. Ask at your local gym about fall practice and most will be happy to help.
The basic human fear of falling is something that we are all born with and this is part of what makes climbing such an exciting sport. Obviously, to newcomers to the sport, this is a big factor into why their technique may not be so good.
Learning to get used to falling is a skill by itself and is as important as any of the other techniques listed above. This is not so much of a physical skill to learn though as much as it is a mental skill to learn but there are some basic techniques to help you fall safely whilst you are learning to get used to the fall (and thereafter):
– Always be aware of what is below you as you climb. Be aware of boulders, rock or gear sticking out of the rock face below you. You would not want to fall onto one of these.
– Always be aware of the threat of falling and always be ready to push yourself away from the wall if you slip. Try to always fall feet first and keep your feet out in front of you as you swing back towards the wall to catch yourself.
– Make sure that your rope does not get tangled around anything whilst you are climbing. This is VERY important as you could compromise safety equipment and rock protection/gear.
Once you have learnt to take a fall, you will find that you will generally lose your fear of falling over time and you will get used to falling. These tips also apply to traversing or bouldering routes, but without the rope to think about.
Once you are used to falling, you will find that you will be more confident in pushing yourself to your limit, which, together with the other steps listed in this article will help you improve your overall climbing technique!