Techniques to Become a Better Rock Climber

Techniques to Become a Better Rock Climber
  • Post category:Climbing
  • Reading time:13 mins read

Climbing is a sport that can be described as both an art and a science. Different moves hold, and maneuvers come together in different ways to create distinct styles of climbing. This article will detail some of the common techniques used by climbers to ascend rock faces and boulder problems.

1. Pockets:

The first step to effective rock climbing is to gain a footing. In order to accomplish this goal, you must use the holds available on the wall. When faced with a steep wall full of large, flat handholds, it may be necessary to do some training off the actual wall in order to prepare your fingers for the task at hand.

Hang from a bar or a tree branch with your arms straight and hands facing downward. Now curl your fingers as if you were making a fist, then stretch open again. Repeat this ten times. Do not rock your body to gain momentum; hang from a fixed point of support by contracting the muscles in your back and shoulders.

This will help improve the strength of the tendons and ligaments that support the joints in your fingers. This exercise specifically targets the flexor tendons, which are responsible for extending (straightening) your fingers. Once you feel comfortable hanging from a straight arm position, try turning over so that your palms face up.

Extend and flex your fingers as before, repeating ten times. These exercises strengthen the muscles in your forearms and prepare them for the specific movements required in rock climbing.

2. Edging:

While pockets are used predominantly on steep walls, edging is more useful on horizontal, overhanging surfaces such as roofs. Edging involves placing the toe of a foot against a small edge or protrusion and pulling up to take weight off your hands. Many overhanging walls have small, sharp holds called “incut holds,” which provide good edging opportunities. Edging is the foundation for advanced techniques like drop knees (see entry #3).

Pro Tip 1: Try to find edges that are less than an inch deep; anything deeper will be too difficult to hang from, and anything shallower will not support your weight.

Pro Tip 2: Edging requires the ability to keep your hips close to the wall and oriented horizontally. If you find yourself swaying out or kicking up with your feet, practice good body position to improve balance and reduce stress on your arms.

3. Drop Knees:

Drop knees are used to surmount roofs and other large overhangs. Begin by standing above the foothold you intend to use for your left foot. Place that foot on the hold, then transfer all of your weight onto it. Step up with your right leg so that both feet are on the same foothold, then turn away from the wall as you would for a mantel. Drop both knees toward the ground-your lower leg should remain parallel to the floor, and your body should be bent at the waist. The motion of drop knees is similar to that of a curtsy.

Pro Tip : As with edging, try to find footholds that are small and incut.

4. Mantels:

The most efficient way to surmount an overhang is by mantling, which requires good body position and the use of both hands to pull up along the wall with your arms fully extended. When you reach the top of the overhanging surface, lock off by straightening your arms.

Pro Tip : Keep in mind that it is often easier to reach for smaller holds with the tips of your fingers than it is with whole hand. This will help conserve energy and balance while mantling or drop kneeing/edging overhanging terrain.

5. Crack Climbing:

Climbing cracks or seams is essential to most types of rock climbing. A crack may be vertical, diagonal, or horizontal and can be as wide as three inches or as thin as a pencil. To climb a crack with your hands, place one hand above the other inside it so that you can use opposing forces against each other to push yourself up. Bring your feet up underneath you with your knees bent to either side of the crack, and use them as levers by straightening one leg while bending the other.

Pro Tip: When moving laterally along a horizontal crack, remember that opposing forces are key-pulling with one hand will cause you to push away from the wall with the other hand.

6. Jamming:

Another technique employed for ascending cracks and seams, jamming involves wedging a body part-usually a foot or hand-into the crack and pulling on it to gain height. It is important to place solid, well-angled footholds into the crack as you climb higher, as any limbs wedged inside a crack will be useless.

Pro Tip : When jamming, the body part that is being wedged should always be on the side of the crack which you are pulling from.

7. Underclings:

An undercling is a type of hold used to pull down and outward rather than up and over. To use an undercling, grab the hold as though you were palming a basketball and press your thumb into it with all four fingertips pointing away from the body. Bring your feet up underneath you with knees bent to either side of the undercling and your feet flat on whatever holds or nubbins might be available for purchase.

8. Sidepulls:

Sidepulls are the equivalent of underclings, but rather than pulling down and outward, they require that you pull horizontally toward your body.

Pro Tip : As with underclings, place your hand into a sidepull with your thumb facing away from you and apply pressure to the hold by pressing your thumb against it.

9. Laybacking:

The layback involves a combination of oppositional hand and foot pressure to pull up and along the wall while stemming with your feet between opposing surfaces on either side of the crack or seam you are ascending. To execute a layback, begin by facing out from the crack with one hand opposed to the other, push with your feet, and pull with your hands.

Pro Tip : When stemming on horizontal cracks laybacking becomes much more difficult due to the lack of surface area to gain purchase for both hands and feet. As such, it is often easier to face into the crack; however, this will require that you stem up it by bringing your hands and feet closer together.

10. Underclinging:

Much like an undercling, an undercling hold is used to pull down and outward rather than up and over. To execute an undercling, place one hand above the other on the hold with your thumbs pointing away from each other. Bring your feet up underneath you with your knees bent to either side of the undercling and press down with both hands and feet to gain height.

Pro Tip: It is often easier to maintain balance while executing an undercling if you face into the wall, rather than stemming outward-provided that there are adequate holds for use in doing so.

11. Chicken Wings:

Chicken wings are one of the most useful techniques to know when climbing cracks. To perform a chicken wing, place both hands on opposing sides of the crack with your palms facing in toward each other and your elbows wrapped around the inside surface of the crack. While doing so, press outward with your feet by straightening one leg while bending the other.

Pro Tip : Chicken wings are extremely useful for stemming up horizontal cracks.

12. Toe-Cams:

Toe-cams are often employed by climbers who need to place their feet above their hands on steep terrain, but are also used to move upwards through vertical sections of a crack without having to use one’s hands. To execute a toe-cam, hook one foot into the crack and lie onto your side with that leg bent upward and knee pointing toward the sky. Then, bend your other knee inward to pull yourself upwards, keeping it pressed against the opposing wall to maintain balance.

Pro Tip: Be sure to keep both legs straight when executing a toe-cam.

13. Fist Stack:

A fist stack is where you maintain a grip with both hands on opposite sides of the crack and use your shoulder to press one hand into the opposing wall while using it as a pivot point for applying pressure to the opposite side. To execute a fist stack, place yourself in a similar position to the chicken wing, but with both hands facing in toward each other. Press outward at your feet by straightening one leg and bending the other, while keeping your knees pressed together. Use this motion to twist yourself into a position where both hands can be stacked on top of one another and then push yourself upwards with both legs.

Pro Tip: Be sure to keep your legs straight when executing a fist stack.

14. Chocks:

When you are climbing in an area where bolts have not been drilled, it is necessary to place protection devices called “chocks” into cracks before attempting to climb them. There are many types of chocks available with the most common being hexes, cams, and stoppers. Chocks are placed into a constriction by sticking them from the side where they will wedge themselves as you pull back on them. The wire or webbing that helps to secure them is then clipped into bolt anchors above you for protection as you climb.             Tip: When placing chocks, be sure to place them with the widest end down. This will provide you with the maximum surface area for support.

15. Chalk:

I’m sure that every climber has experienced their hands slipping on a holds at least once in their lifetime-and it’s never pleasant. To avoid this, many climbers use chalk on the hand surfaces to help provide a better gripping surface. Chalk also helps to absorb sweat from your hands, keeping them dryer and therefore less likely to slip off holds. There are essentially two forms of chalk: powdered chalk which comes in a bag for use on the rock, and liquid chalk which is available in a spray can.

Pro Tip: Most climbers use liquid chalk which is aloe and last longer.

16. Footholds:

On steep terrain, it can be difficult to maintain balance while executing techniques such as toe cams. To aid in maintaining such positions, utilize footholes where you place your feet in order to pull yourself upwards or rest between moves. From these positions, you can place your hands above your head to execute techniques such as full-body locks or chicken wings.

Pro Tip: Make sure that footholes are not slippery, loose, or unstable when executing a climb through them. If they appear to be any of these things, find another foothold.

17. Protection:

Protection for climbing is what provides the belayer with the confidence to let the climber take big falls without getting injured. If there is not enough protection in place, it can put both parties in harms way since the belayer will have no security when lowering their partner back down to safety after a fall. The most common form of protection is using bolts attached via a cord and carabiner to the harness of the belayer which is clipped to the anchor above.

Pro Tip: When clipping protection devices, always do so with a locking carabiner for security.

18. Camming Position:

A camming position is where you place yourself above a constriction in order to wedge it between your body and the rock. The most basic form of this position is where you place yourself above an edge or crack, with your feet on either side for support. From here, you will press outward with both legs while placing more weight on one than the other to push out on the constriction and create a camming effect.

Pro Tip: Be sure to place your feet on stable surfaces, not on small ledges or overhanging surfaces which could cause you to lose balance.

19. Chicken Wings:

A chicken wing is a positioning technique where you grab the limb of your body closest to the rock by bending at the waist and locking it behind you. Once this position has been taken, you twist your hips so that the other limb is placed in front of you in order to pull yourself up. This technique will allow you to place protection behind you when there are no holds on which to clip your protection devices.

Pro Tip : Make sure that your chicken wing is tightly secured by pressing your hips downward.

20. Fist Jam:

A fist jam is another positioning technique where you place your arm into a crack with your hand in a fist around one side, and then wedge it between the rock and your body to use as leverage for upward movement.

Pro Tip: This technique only works on vertical cracks wide enough for you to fit your fist into.

21. Offset Cam:

When using a camming protection device to climb, an offset cam allows you to maximize the distance that it can cover. To do this, orientate your device so that the stem of the cams is away from the direction which you are climbing, thus allowing it to cover more surface area and fit into a wider range of constrictions.

Pro Tip: This technique is most effective when using a single camming protection device and in vertical cracks where the cams can be placed side by side to cover more surface area.

22. Full-Body Lock:

A full-body lock is a positioning technique where you are in a crimp position with your feet pressed together, and then twist your hips so that the outside leg pushes down onto the rock while the inside arm reaches around behind you for more leverage.

Pro Tip: Be sure to maintain tension in your upper arm by keeping your elbow close to your head when executing this technique.

I hope these tips will help you to become a good climber. I would like to thank my mentor for showing me all these techniques over the years. As I said before, you don’t have to use all of them but some are pretty helpful. If you have any questions just comment below or if you want to recommend a topic that I should write about next please leave it in the comments as well!

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