The first time I ever tried climbing over ten years ago I was immediately hooked. At first it was so great to improve by just climbing a lot, but like most people I hit a plateau. The best way to improve at that point, is to learn the basic climbing techniques.
Have fun climbing and improve fast with these climbing techniques and tactics!
Climbing technique: Tactics for beginners
Warm Up. Not only will warming up improve your climbing, but it will also reduce the risk of injury a lot! Any injury usually slows down improvement a lot as you will have to take some time off. Taking at least 10 to 30 minutes to warm up is enough to get you ready to climb! Also it’s a good idea to warm up by climbing easier routes first. During these warm up climbs on easier routes it’s good to focus on the techniques you are using.
Read the routes. Before starting a route it is always smart to take a look at what is ahead. Even for short boulder problems you should think of the sequences that your arms and legs will be making. Visualize how your body is positioned when you move through the route. Often the visualizations are quite different from what actually ends up happening on the wall. These instances will teach a lot about reading the routes. After a try on a route it’s good to take another look as this way you get better at reading the routes. Even if you top the route you should look at and try the moves that others are doing on the route.
Resting on the route. When planning the climb you should also plan some rests. When you reach that good resting spot it can be good to take a little break, even if you are feeling fresh. Consider taking a few seconds and shaking off some of the pump whenever there is a good spot for it. Resting spots are usually big jug holds or handles on steeper routes. You can also get a nice rest on a steep route if you find a nice kneelock. On corner and chimney routes you can often get a no-hands rest when you can stand all your weight on your feet.
Learn and train efficiency. Being efficient in climbing is climbing in the optimal way for each section. It’s a combination of going fast on the hard parts and taking the optimal time on the easier parts. Keeping your arms straight will save your energy. Also use your legs to support you as much as you can. Learning an efficient pace for different kinds of sectors takes time. Making the effort can improve your results, especially on longer routes.
Resting between routes. It is also important to take enough time to recover between routes and when taking a bunch of tries on a hard route. You can use these breaks to read the route to spot something you missed before. While resting your muscles you can also visualize how you are going to top that route!
Learn from others. When you are resting you can watch others try the same routes and see how they are doing it. When you have the right Beta you can try it that way too. You can also learn from watching the pros on climbing films and in competitions. I really enjoy inviting some friends over to watch a great climbing clip. There is also a chance to learn new techniques when watching the pros. It is also an easy way to get motivated to train and improve your climbing.
Take time to recover. Especially in the beginning it is very important to take some days off from climbing. Even if you are feeling keen on climbing all the time your body and your tendons need time to recover! Like warming up, enough rest is key in avoiding injuries!
Mental training. If you are afraid of heights or falling you can start gripping and spending your energy way too much. With a little mental training you can improve your climbing really fast. Your climbing can become more efficient with mental training. You can also focus on more important aspects of the climb and route. Start visualizing successful sends instead of what could go wrong.
Don’t compare. Focus on your own climbing and what you are doing. Don’t worry about what others are going to think or if they are better climbers than you. Climbing is an individual sport with a very nice society. Climbing culture is quite open and climbers are usually really supportive of each other. Climb with different kinds of climbers and have fun. Climbing with people who are better than you will make your improvement faster!
Learning to fall. Especially for beginners it’s very important to learn how to take a fall when climbing. This applies to all climbing types. You should learn to take the impact of the fall in top rope and bouldering. In lead-, trad- and ice climbing there are a lot more issues to consider. Knowing how to fall will make climbing more enjoyable. Training falling will get you used to it safely. This will make your climbing safer and more relaxed even in tougher cruxes. A good belayer knows how to take a fall. So the belayer also gets practice when his climber takes a fall. It’s also important to learn when falling can be dangerous and when it’s not an option at all!
Getting in balance. Balance in climbing is a mix of having your weight on less strenuous holds and avoiding swinging. Balancing in climbing is mostly achieved by using opposing forces to counter balance. Being balanced is easy on some routes where the holds line up. On some routes finding the balance can be the key ingredient in sending that hard section!
Keep breathing. I know that climbing can really take your breath away. To optimize your climbing it is important to keep a steady breathing rhythm. Especially on harder sections many climbers start more rapid and shallow breathing. Supplying your muscles with enough oxygen will make those sections easier.
Train finger strength. In the beginning your fingers and forearms will get stronger from the climbing. At some point you can start to train your finger strength. You can use hangboards, campus boards and other methods to strengthen your fingers. Use the open hand crimp when training on a hangboard to avoid injuries.
Basic Climbing Techniques: Moves
Dyno. Although we are mentioning dynos first it’s really not a basic move. Dynoing means lunging for an out-of-reach hold while letting go of the previous holds. We mention it right in the beginning because it looks impressive. Dynoing is also something that people often want to learn first. Dynoing can be a lot of fun, but they can be harmful on your tendons. Its good to start with smaller dynos, especially when first learning climbing. Dynos can also be a key to send a route, but often other techniques like deadpointing are more successful.
Deadpoint. Deadpointing is taking the weight off to perform a move. Deadpointing is making a controlled pumping movement to switch to the next hold. Perfectly done deadpoint is efficient and controlled.
Mantle. Mantling is switching from a pulling motion into a pushing motion. Mantling is often done when finishing a route or when climbing onto a larger ledge. You can vision the move by thinking of pulling and pushing yourself out of a pool or on top of a small wall.
Matching. Using the same hold with two limbs at the same time is matching. Learn to spot holds that you will be using to match. This way you can place your limbs on the hold so that there is room for another hand or foot. Matching is especially useful when mantling.
Laybacking or Liebacking. Laybacking is a crack climbing technique. This is when you walk your legs up a cornering wall or larger holds and lay to the opposing direction. At the same time you are moving your hands up the crack or holds.
Stemming. Stemming is pushing against two opposing walls or forms. Think of how you would climb up a large chimney, by pushing on the opposing sides with your legs and your arms.
Sidepulls and gastons. Side pulls and gaston moves are usually done on holds that are vertical. The key to success with these is balancing with opposing forces. With sidepulls you should rotate the opposing hip to the wall. With gastons you should use the inside edge of the opposing leg for balance.
Basic Climbing techniques: Footwork
Improving your footwork is crucial for climbing as most of your weight should always be on your feet. Often people are spending a lot of time on the wall looking for the perfect hold for their hands. It is usually better to focus on the footholds as more weight will be on them.
Smearing and edging. Different types of wall profiles and holds need different techniques. Using a specific part of your climbing shoe works for specific surfaces. Try smearing and edging on different routes to learn what sticks best. Do this on a top rope to get a lot of different holds and volumes.
Dropknee. Dropknee is turning one of your hips to the wall and dropping the knee of that leg down. The legs will then stem between two holds. Dropknee helps reach holds that are further away. Do it by locking the opposing hand to reach further with the other hand.
Backstepping. Backstepping means turning your hip to the wall and stepping with the outside edge of the foot. This is especially useful for saving energy on steeper and overhanging routes.
Flagging. Flagging is using your limbs to balance yourself. This is usually the case when most holds are on one side and you need to counter that. Flagging is a great way to stop yourself from opening from the wall like a barn door.
Kneelock. Knee Lock is a great move to get a nice rest on a steep route. Knee Locking is stepping the toe on a hold and locking your knee against another hold. This will allow you to shake out your arms and sometimes even hang with both hands free to rest.
Toehook. This technique is using the top part of the foot to hook to a hold or a surface. Toe hooks on a corner are great at stopping you from barndooring. Also on overhanging routes toe hooks help with keeping weight on the feet and not letting you stay on the wall.
Heel hook. Heel hook is hooking your heel on to a hold or a surface. They are a great way to start a mantle or to top out a route. Like toe hooks you can often use your heel to stop from opening up like a barn door. Heel hook opportunities for beginners are more available when bouldering.
Quiet steps. Start to take note of your footwork and especially on the sounds your shoes make. You might notice that you are slamming your shoes on to the holds. More controlled footwork is more quiet.
Precise footwork. Look where you are landing your shoes. Try to optimize the footwork by placing feet on the best spot on the hold. This will make your climbing more efficient and smooth. You will not have to shift your feet around on the hold. Also think ahead to the next move and if you will be able to pivot the shoe on the hold.
Summary of the basic climbing techniques:
- Always take some time to warm-up.
- Practice technique every time you go climbing.
- Learn to balance your moves with opposing forces.
- Learn to use your limbs in new ways. Test different techniques in different spots to find out what works the best.
- Learn by watching and copying what works for others.
- Take time off for recovery. You will come back stronger!
- Use mental training for visualizing successful climbs.
- Use mental training and drills to get more focused and efficient.
- Train with different kinds of climbers. Especially better climbers will teach you a lot!
- Make new friends and have fun at the climbing gym and crag!