Rock Climbing Techniques and Skills
If you’ve read anything about rock climbing already than this point may already have been beaten to death: climbing isn’t all about strength. Climbing is just as much, if not more, about problem solving, technique, mental control, balance, and flexibility. Your strength, as well as your other skills, will improve as you climb more often and tackle more difficult routes.
Below is a list of tips for beginners and some techniques for more advanced climbers. Try taking on one or two of these skills each time you go to the gym, instead of trying to implement all of them at once. It will become ingrained in your muscle memory very quickly—it will become intuitive.
Rock Climbing Tips for Beginners
If you’re just beginning to climb, there are a few important things to remember:
Your muscles are working hard. They need oxygen!
2. Don’t over-grip the holds.
You’ll wear yourself out very quickly by hanging on for dear life. Relax.
3. Step high.
Moving your feet higher will make you taller, making you able to reach higher, and thus access previously out of reach holds.
4. Use your legs.
Your arms need some help! Keep your core engaged and push from your feet.
5. Read the route.
Look at the route before you climb: does it veer off to the left or right? Are there any holds hiding on the other side of an arête? Make sure you are prepared to make the moves that the climb demands.
Rock Climbing Techniques
1. Stretch before working out.
Establish a routine that gets you to the gym early enough to stretch before you climb. A regular stretching routine can protect your tendons and ligaments, extend your reach and height, and improve your flexibility. Stretching your hips will make your high steps higher, and allow you to do all kinds of other crazy contortions on the wall in order to get to the next hold.
It’s particularly important to stretch out your hands and forearms before climbing. One of the most common injuries is a strain or tear to one of your pulley's (the ligaments in your fingers), and that takes surgery and months of recovery time. Leave a few minutes to stretch out after climbing too. It will help to prevent tight, sore muscles the next day.
Many climbers, myself included, swear by yoga classes. It improves strength, flexibility, and focus significantly. Most climbers notice a profound difference in their climbing.
2. Keep your arms straight when possible.
Keeping your arms straight instead of bent will preserve tremendous amounts of energy. Imagine that you are a monkey swinging from limb to limb. If you can, use the hold as a pivot point as you reach up towards your next hold.
3. Flag your feet.
To flag is to extend one leg out as a counterbalance. For a reverse flag, extend the free leg between the working leg and the wall. Learning to flag and adjust your center of gravity is absolutely essential to climbing.
4. Keep one hip towards the wall.
Keeping one hip towards the wall improves the height of your reach and keeps your center of gravity close to the wall. Your knees and toes are a good indication of where your hips are pointing-- they should point to one side or the other. If you are reaching to the next hold with you right hand, your right hip should be against the wall.
5. Plan ahead and take rests.
You should already be reading the route, but now it’s time to really read the route. Envision yourself pulling each move and figure out any tricky sequences before you even get on the wall. Notice any bomb jugs that might provide a rest. Once you get to 5.10 and beyond, you should take rests where you can get them. Some climbs are more sustained than others, and may have few rests or none at all.
6. Shake out.
While you are resting, shake out your arms. This will encourage fresh, oxygenated blood to rejuvenate your forearms and hands.
7. Use underclings.
Every new climber does it-- we avoid underclings. At first we may not understand what they are, and then it just becomes habit to skip to the next hold. One day you’ll find that you can’t avoid them any longer. The trick to underclings is to get up almost on top of them. It won’t work if you are below the undercling (unless you are able to use it like a pinch), but only once you feet are high and the hold is right in front of you. Now the undercling allows you to reach with a full arm span to the next hold.
8. Don’t be afraid to smear.
This may come as a revelation to some: you don’t always have to have a foot hold to reach the next hold! Sometimes, you can get enough friction from the wall to get to your next hold. Smearing works even better outside on real rock, because the rubber molds grips the irregularities of the rock.
9. Heel hook.
To pull a successful heel hook, you must have properly fitting shoes so that your heel doesn’t slide in the shoe when you put weight on it. Make sure that you are actively pulling your body close to the wall with your heel as you reach for the next hold and you’ll be extremely solid. This method can take a lot of weight off of your arms and help you reach to higher holds when there aren’t many options for feet.
10. Train hand and forearm strength, but don't simply lift weights.
There are a number of exercises that are helpful to climbers, but simply going to the gym to pump some iron is not very effective. Check out this easy to follow, detailed book about stretches and exercises specifically for climbers.