As a new climber, you are likely to have realised that rock climbing is not as straightforward or as easy as it looks. You may also have noticed that seasoned climbers seem to float up routes without the need to power their way up. With good climbing technique you can also learn to use less energy and cruise up the wall with minimum effort.
Let’s start with some basic tips:
1. Use Your Feet
How do you climb a ladder? You use your arms and hands for balance then you step up. You don’t pull yourself up. It’s the same in rock climbing – but don’t be tempted to climb with your chest facing the wall with your arms and legs extended outward to the holds! (See no. 3).
It might seem surprising, but feet are the most overlooked and underestimated body part by new climbers when rock climbing. Most beginners will struggle to grab the nearest good handhold and then try to pull themselves up as they drag their feet behind them. Focusing on using your upper body muscles to pull yourself up the wall in this way will tire you out very quickly. Instead, remember that your legs are naturally stronger than your arms and use them to push as you ascend. They are after all already accustomed to supporting our body weight.
2. Keep Your Arms Straight
When they start climbing, most people keep their arms bent/flexed in an effort to power themselves up the wall with their bicep strength. What this does is to burn through energy, putting excess strain on the bicep muscles and wearing the climbers out quickly. Straightening your arm will allow your skeleton (not your muscles) to take most of the weight; leaving your muscles relaxed and saving you energy as you climb.
When you grab the next hold, resist the urge to immediately stand up straight to start looking for your next move. Instead, purposefully shift your body into a position that keeps your arms extended as you transition to your next move.
3. Keep Your Hips Close to the Wall
On the first few attempts, new climbers might be tempted to climb as if they are climbing a ladder with their knees pointing to the wall and with chest facing the wall and arms extended outward. This body position pushes your weight away from the wall and stresses your muscles by forcing your arms to bear more of your bodyweight.
Having your hips close to the wall helps you keep your weight over your feet and brings your shoulders close to the wall making it easier to reach holds and to move up without flexing your arms.
Rest is a largely ignored aspect of good climbing technique. Taking a rest while on the wall takes the weight off your forearms and onto your legs. Resting also allows you to steady your breathing. At a good rest spot, you will be able to comfortably take one arm off the wall, chalk-up and shake out the pump as you plan the next moves. It’s important to note that resting means that your body remains attached to the wall, rather than letting go or cutting off from the rock and dangling by your rope.
5. Warm Up Before Your Climb
Prior to climbing, take a half hour to get your muscles and joints warmed up, and your heart rate slightly elevated. Warming up will improve circulation and flexibility helping you to climb better and longer. It also helps to prevent injury.