Top 7 Rock Climbing Techniques

Best rock climbing tips

Here we go. Check out our 7 most useful rock climbing tips & techniques.


Rock Climbing Techniques – Heel Hook

heel hookUsually when scaling a wall, a climber uses his or her toes to step onto a hold or a crack. The heel hook is just the opposite and is performed pretty much how it sounds. The heel hook allows you to support more weight with your legs, taking the weight off of your arms which allows you to reach higher for the next hold. It also allows for a better balance when hanging off a wall. This rock climbing technique requires a certain degree of flexibility.

When employing the heel hook, use your heel to apply pressure to a hold, pulling your heel in by flexing your hamstring. The foot is usually placed waist-level or higher and you are going to be using the rubber on the back side of your shoe to literally hook on to a hold. We do this because there are some short technical moves that are so hard, that you literally can’t stay on with your hands – you really need your feet, and you can’t use your tippy toes because of the position of the holds. The heel hook technique is particularly useful on overhanging wall (bouldering, lead climbing, or top roping) as it provides the leverage needed to climb up the route. It also looks awesome! Try it out.


Rock Climbing Techniques – Drop Knee

drop knee

Now that you have good fundamentals, we can dive into the meat of rock climbing techniques. Good climbing technique involves very precise and deliberate footwork, so now we will discuss the drop knee technique.

The drop knee is useful for all climbers, short or tall, because it extends your reach while transferring weight to your feet and saving your arm strength. The drop knee can be used in almost any situation. If you find yourself grasping at a hold that seems just out of reach, employ the drop knee – you will see how much easier the route becomes.

Usually if you are reaching for the next hold with your right hand, you want to drop your right knee in, and vice versa.

Perform this rock climbing technique as follows:

Stand on facing the wall with your hands and feet on good, solid holds. As you reach with your right hand, begin twisting your hips to the left while twisting your right knee towards your midline and eventually pointing downwards. The contact point of your right foot should shift from the inside of your big toe to the outside of your pinkie toe. The outside of your right hip should now be in contact with the wall allowing you to extend your reach a little further than before. The reverse applies for dropping your left knee and reaching with your left hand.

Remember, in rock climbing it is imperative to have your hips as close to the wall as possible. The drop knee technique does just that with the outside hip. It balances your weight over your feet better, reduces the burden on your free hand, and extends your reach. It is a great move to add to your arsenal. It is particularly useful on overhangs, but can be employed almost anywhere. This will also limit the amount of “thrashing” up the wall.


Rock Climbing Techniques – Breathing

Next, we’ll dive into a more subtle rock climbing technique that is often overlooked but is key to your rock climbing success – Breathing. Sometimes you will find yourself stuck on a particular sequence of moves and red in the face. This problem has one simple solution: focus on your breathing. Naturally when physically exerting yourself, you tend to focus on the task at hand, and consequentially forget to breath. You end up falling off the wall with a lobster face. Follow these few simple tips on breathing and you will surprise yourself how much a difference it can make.

Before you step up to a route or boulder problem, take a few deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling deeply and loudly. This gets more oxygen to your muscles and prepares them for the strain they are about to experience. Building this habit before the climb will also help your body breathe rhythmically during it.breathing

As you scale the wall, consciously establish a rhythm of breathing in and out. Your muscles need as much oxygen as they can get to perform at an optimal level. It may feel awkward at first, but you will see how much a difference it makes by just implementing this small tactic. If you find a good resting spot, pause for a moment to replenish the oxygen stores in your blood. Your car doesn’t run as well when it’s low and gas and your muscles can’t run as well when they’re low on air.

You will often hear yells, shouts, and screams in the rock gym, and this isn’t because rock climbers are always pissed off at the wall. This is one method to force your body to breath. Screaming and shouting is often done during powerful moves as it also tightens the core muscles and adds an audible stimulus to get a climber going.

Practice this rock climbing technique until it becomes second nature. Build yourself a rhythm and you will notice quick improvements in your climbing abilities. You may feel self conscious at first, but the benefits are well worth it. Try it and see for yourself. I promise no one actually cares.


Rock Climbing Techniques – Grip

gripIn this rock climbing technique, we will be focused on your grip. It is often overlooked skill and it is merely an afterthought for many new and experienced climbers. Your forearms are often the first muscles to give in, so why not pay attention to your gripping technique? Also see the related section on arm positioning.

Over-gripping is unnecessary – it will wear out your forearms faster and more importantly, increases the likelihood of injury. The tendency is to over grip and climbers unconsciously squeeze a little tighter. The tighter you grip, the more jerky your motions will be. Keep your arms, back, and fingers relaxed. Slow down and double check your grip once in a while. All you really need to the least amount of energy to hold you in place or hold your balance.

All holds are different, but the principles to holding them remain the same. The key is to relax! Whether you’re holding onto a tiny crimp, a huge jug, or a rounded sloper, you should keep your gripped as relaxed as possible. I know you may be thinking, “But how can I hold on as relaxed as possible? I’ll just slip off!” What I mean is, grip on to the hold with only the minimum amount of strength you need to hold yourself. Each hold requires a different hand position and different amount of strength to hold on.

Crimpers – keep your fingers elongated as much as possible. Use the first few sections of your figners to try to “hang off” the hold as much as possible. Do not crunch up your fingers and wrap them around the hold. You increase the risk of injuring your tendons.

Jugs– Get as much of your hand inside the pocket as possible. Use your fingers only to balance your hand in there. The main point of contact should be in the palm of your hand where your palm and fingers meet. This distributes the weight to your back and shoulders, lightening the load for your fingers.

Slopers– find the point where you have maximum contact with your hands and use friction to keep yourself from slipping off. Keep your body as low as possible when hanging on the sloper until you’re ready to advance. Think of is as “pushing yourself up past the sloper” using your back and shoulders rather than “pulling yourself up” as you would on a pullup bar.


Rock Climbing Techniques – Smearing

smearingSmearing is a rock climbing technique which is employed when there are no suitable footholds to step onto. The goal is to get as much surface area from the sole of your foot pressed against the flat rock surface. This is to maximize the amount of friction between you and the wall to prevent you from slipping off.

Smearing is particularly useful on slab walls, but can be used in a variety of ways. It is also frequently used on sloping footholds or on routes with few footholds themselves. Sometimes smearing is the only option to go up. The key to employing this technique is to press your foot against the wall as much as possible. It requires a combination of foot positioning, leg strength/tension, a bit of balance, and flexibility.

It is best to start practice smearing on a slab wall, then gradually moving onto a vertical wall. Traversing also works well for good practice sessions. Overhangs and roofs are nearly impossible to smear. To practice, you want to bring your foot ideally above the knee level of your other foot. Any lower and you run the risk of just slipping out. Press your foot firmly into the wall and stick your hips out away from the wall. Yes, we’ve preached to keep your hips as close as possible to the wall, but for this technique it is imperative to stick your hips out. This allows the angle of your legs to put more pressure on your feet, which is optimal for smearing. Only the front half of the foot should be on the wall, not the heel.

Smearing is a fairly easy technique to conceptualize, but beginner climbers are usually least confident – fearing they will merely slip off. It is important to develop this skill as it will lead to more technical style of climbing later. Just keep practicing until you feel comfortable with this rock climbing technique.


Rock Climbing Techniques – Feet Positioning & Balance

positioning feet

One of the most fundamental rock climbing techniques is to USE YOUR FEET! Imagine yourself climbing a ladder… do you step up the rungs, or pull yourself up one by one? Obviously it is easier to step up using your legs. Yes, we already know that. So lets dive a little deeper into foot positioning and balance.

Rock climbing shoes are specifically designed to support your body weight in the toe area, so use that to your advantage! Take a look at the bottom of your climbing shoe. You will see that the toe areas are reinforced with an extra layer of rubber. When stepping on footholds, you want to place your toes on the rock – not your midfoot or your heel (we’ll get into heel hooking later). This way, you’ll be able to put more weight on your feet to keep your balance on the wall.

When placing your foot on a hold, remember to step on the rock using the inside (or outside) part of your foot. The advantages of this are two-fold. First, if you’re stepping on straight ahead facing the wall, this forces your knees to face the wall too. This increases the likelihood of scraping your knees or even kneeing the wall or other holds. OUCH! Secondly, by stepping on the inside of your foot, this allows you to bring your body closer to the wall…which brings us to the next part of this rock climbing technique- Balance!

Keep your body and your hips as close to the wall as possible. The farther you are away from the wall, the more gravity is pulling you away from it. You need to keep your hips as close to wall as possible. Imagine that the wall is one sexy mama (or papa) and you want to grind it all day long. The goal is to minimize the amount of weight pulling you away from the wall.

Another point to keep in mind is your center of gravity. Be conscious to keep your body weight over your feet as much as possible. This may seem commonsense, but its very easy to lose focus of this. Whether your feet are spread eagle or close together right under you, be mindful to keep your center of gravity over your feet. You may see climbers jerking and thrashing their way up the wall while others seem to smoothly glide up routes. The key is the center of gravity.

A good exercise to practice this rock climbing technique is to climb a slanted slab wall using only your feet. This will force you to focus on your balance and keep your weight over your feet. This will help you develop a sense of balance and muscle memory.


Rock Climbing Techniques – Arms

If you are a beginner rock climber, you may have noticed that your forearms become incredibly tired within the first couple routes (not to mention the soreness you feel the next day!) We have all been there, but this problem can be solved by keeping in mind one of the major simple rock climbing techniques- keep your arms straight!

When you’re climbing upwards, its natural to try and pull yourself up with your arms the whole way. This is not only the incorrect way of climbing, but it will tire you out insanely fast. The wall will beat you! Grab a big jug and just hang there with your arms extended. Then pull yourself in close to the wall, and try to hang there. You will notice the difference immediately! For many beginner climbers, they will instinctively grasp a hold and try to hold themselves as close to the wall as possible by pulling their body close using their arms. Your arms are bent and you are using all muscle strength in your arms to just stay on the wall. We like to call this T-rexing or raptor-arming because your arms are scrunched up like a dinosaur. Have you ever seen a dinosaur climb a wall?

climber arms

You may have even experienced your muscles shaking, even though you haven’t moved anywhere. This is because you are tiring out your muscles by just holding all your weight close the wall.

When you’re just hanging there remember to keep your arms straight and as relaxed as possible. By hanging with straight arms, your body weight is being supported by your skeletal strength rather than your muscle strength (which tires out quickly). Check out this little boy to see what I mean. He’s hanging back, with his arms straight, and the weight of his body is being supported by his skeleton, saving his muscles for when he needs it.

Your muscles should only be utilized when advancing from one move to another, when you really need them. This may seem counter-intuitive, but rock climbing is almost the exact opposite of lifting weights – you want to use your muscles as little as possible! Practice these rock climbing techniques on simple routes to get the hang of it (no pun intended).

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