One common misconception about climbing itʼs done by simply powering up walls, but this couldn't be further from the truth. Instead, experienced climbers tackle specific problems by employing certain techniques to reach the top. These techniques involve three main principles: footwork, balance, and efficiency. Learning and honing proper climbing technique is essential to your success on the wall.
Contrary to what you might think, footwork is the most useful tool in a climberʼs arsenal. Regardless of what youʼre doing on the wall, you want your weight pressed onto your feet. Itʼs important to remember that your legs are much more powerful than your arms, so use them to your advantage. Get accustomed to pushing up with your lower body by practicing your footwork.
Getting your foot in precisely the right spot is essential. Simply jamming your foot onto a hold will only end with you slipping and sliding and ultimately wasting energy. Starting with easier routes, try to maintain exact and coordinated foot movements. Specific foot technique can be split into three different positions: hooking, edges, and smearing.
There are two main types of hooking: the heel hook, and the toe hook. These positions make it so that you pull with your leg which takes the weight off of your arms. To heel hook, simply place your heel on a hold that is level or above your upper body and then pull with that foot. This simple technique is easy to refine as you practice using it on a variety of problems.
The toe hook is not used nearly as often but is still useful, especially on overhangs. To perform a toe hook, wrap your foot around a corner, on an undercling, or above a lip to maintain balance. This is especially useful when you canʼt quite reach an edge for a heel hook. You can simply put your toes or instep onto an edge to keep your body in place.
In a gym or on the wall, flat or semi flat ridge-like holds are known as edges. Learn to step on these holds with the ball-to-toe portion of your foot on the inside edge. You can also use the same portion of your foot but on the outside of your foot. This sometimes offers a rest or is better for balance. Direct your foot into pushing into the wall and find that balance sweet spot.
Smearing is all about friction between your shoes and the wall. Almost any hold or even a blank wall can be smeared depending on your body position. To smear, use the upper ball of your foot and toes to press hard on any indentations, bulges, or any other angle changes. A good way to practice smearing is to find a low angle boulder or simple gym route and climb up it without using any handholds.
As mentioned previously, using handholds on the wall isnʼt for hauling yourself up but, rather for stability and balance. Sometimes pure arm strength is necessary or unavoidable, but that is rarely the case. Using only hands and no feet is called campusing and is primarily used for exercising or practice. Letʼs go over some of the handhold techniques which youʼll need to familiarize yourself with.
These are small, finger-tip sized holds that youʼll grab in a crimp or open hand position. Crimping requires placing your fingers on the edge and bending the joints so that theyʼre facing upwards. Then, wrap your thumb over your index finger. For the open hand position, place your fingers on the hold and leave your thumb out and against the wall. It's important that you not do a full crimp to prevent injuries. Although it can be trained when you're doing it the right way.
These are the nice, big, easy holds that most beginner routes are covered with. Hold onto jugs (and all other holds) with as little energy as possible, learning not to over-grip. Many beginners have a tendency to pull themselves closer to the wall, but this wastes energy. Instead, stay in a restful hanging position and scout out your next move.
Learning to use pockets is essential for climbing on limestone. Itʼs all about getting as many fingers into the pocket as possible, then grip and pull. Search inside the pocket for the sweet spot which can be the sides, back, or even the top. Experiment with these holds but donʼt place too much stress on your fingers.
Pinches are holds where you utilize your thumb to squeeze the entire hold. These holds can be in any direction so try pinching in different ways. Often times a crimper can be turned into a pinch if thereʼs an indentation nearby.
These are big and rounded holds that are difficult to hold onto. For these holds, you need to rely on friction so using chalk is essential. They usually require much more technique and good weight distribution than others. Keep your fingers together for added strength, your body under the hold, and your arms straight and forearms close to the rock.
Good body position is key to maintaining balance and efficiency on your way up a route. Climbing is all about balance and the efficiency of your movements. Every route involves different problems which each require a different technique. The one to use is not always obvious, so itʼs always good to experiment.
1. Three points of contact (Static climbing)
The three points of contact rule will help keep you upright on the wall and in control of your foot placements. The rule is to keep three limbs on the wall at all times and use your free limb to move up. So if two hands are in place as well as one foot, use the other foot to move up. This frees up the other foot for further movement. Alternatively, if both feet are in place and one hand is firmly on a handhold, use your free hand to reach up.
Moving this way makes use of all of your limbs. This will keep you from wasting energy and give your climbing some rhythm. It also helps you to trust your footholds. As a new climber, you will need to learn to trust the rubber on your climbing shoes so your legs can take a rest. Sometimes itʼs not possible to keep three limbs on the wall, but this technique will help you conserve much-needed energy.
Manteling involves pressing down on a hold using your arm and shoulder muscles to drive your body upward. Think of it like climbing out of a swimming pool, you press your body up to about waist level. This is typically used when you need to move further up but there is no handhold within reach. This technique requires strong triceps and shoulder muscles, as well as good balance.
Slabs are walls that are less than vertical and usually require some smearing. Many holds on slabs are incredibly small with limited or no handholds. Good footwork and balance on strong legs and feet will be your greatest assets for these climbs. Use your arms to push against the wall to keep all your weight centered on your feet – but, donʼt get too stretched out.
Stemming is when you press your feet against opposite planes (usually walls) to bridge the gap. This frees the weight off of your arms, giving you precious time to relax. Stemming is usually done by walking your foot up against the wall while your arms and one foot are held firmly in place. This technique is not limited to two opposing walls and can be used on holds or dihedrals.
5. Dyno and Deadpoint
These two moves rely on momentum to get you to the next hold. Dynos may be the most dramatic dynamic move, requiring you to jump for a hold, sometimes completely leaving the rock. To perform a dyno, drive with all the strength in your legs and spring up (and sometimes off) to grab a ledge or hold.
A deadpoint is a quicker move which is more of a hop than a complete jump. Push with your feet and pull with your hands up towards the hold you want to grab next. At the apex of this hop (the “deadpoint”) quickly reach up and grab the next hold.
Flagging is when you need to stick one of your legs out on either side of yourself as a counterbalance. This is usually done to prevent yourself from swinging out away from the rock. Use flagging when you need to reach far for a handhold and need weight on the opposite side. To flag, find a climb with big handholds and practice balancing on large reaches by flagging with the opposite leg.
Wrapping it up
As you begin to climb, youʼll notice that arms tire quickly and being off balance wastes a lot of energy. Learning and practicing these techniques will help diminish these problems. Although keeping them in mind helps, nothing will substitute for real practice. Remember not to focus on the “correct” way to solve a problem, just attempt various techniques until you reach the top. After all, figuring out a problem on a route is one of the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of climbing.
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