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Rock Climbing Tips  

10 Rock Climbing Tips and Techniques

Rock Climbing Tips — Beginners and experts alike can use these tips to improve their climbing as well as impress the onlookers.
If these tips don’t improve your climbing as much as a least a letter grade, you can send me an angry email.

  • Picture yourself on a ladder when you climb, move from one hold to the next as relaxed as if you were ascending the rungs or steps of a ladder.

  • Avoid over gripping holds with your hands. You will quickly tire your arms out.

  • Use your feet like you would your hands.

  • Trust your feet. You can stand on your legs all day. You don’t hang with your arms all day. Too often people hang on their arms and then fall off, sailing right past a monster ledge they could have had their feet on.

  • Trust your belayer, and focus on climbing. If you are worried your belayer doesn’t have you, find a new belayer you can trust.

  • Concentrate on what is within reach. Sometimes you can use an intermediate hold (a smaller hold between secure holds) to get to a better hold.

  • Climb from the bottom up, not top down. Of course, if you can see the top of the route, look to see if there is a pattern working from the goal down to where you are, but when you start to climb, focus on the climbing at the bottom of the route as you climb up.

  • Climb in an X shape with your hips being the middle of the X. Hang with your arm straight. Your skeleton can take much more of a load than your muscles can. If the heel of your foot is hanging too far down you may notice your leg start to shake like a “sewing machine”. This is very common occurrence, simply apply more weight to your toes so your calf muscle spasm can stop.

  • Fear of heights is normal. Climbing is all about conquering those fears. Time will cure the fear of heights. A good trick is to look down no further than your feet to correctly place them on the best part of the hold.

  • Take your time. Climb like a cat does—quiet, deliberate, and precise. Picture the move, and then execute it. Use all of your limbs, not just two. The lower the angle of the climb, the more time you have, so use it. Make each move as fluid as possible



Rock Climbing Ratings – from 5.0 to 5.15

Climbing Ratings — In the 1950’s a group called the Sierra Club modified an old system which they used to rate climbs according to their difficulty. This system is now called The Yosemite Decimal Rating System.

The YDRS breaks climbing down into classes and grades. Nearly every climbing guide uses this system. Beginning climbers can use this system to find climbs that are challenging but not too difficult; preventing them from venturing out onto something too hard that might lead to injury.

All climbing, hiking, crawling, and so on can be broken down into these classes. A brief explanation of the classes will describe what type of climbing might be encountered.

Class 1: Walking, on an established trail.

Class 2: Hiking, up a steep incline, possibly using your hands for balance.

Class 3: Climbing up a steep hillside; a rope is not normally used.

Class 4: Exposed climbing, following a ledge system for example. A rope would be used to belay past places where a fall could be lethal.

Class 5: This is where technical rock climbing begins. A 3 point stance (Two hands and a foot or two feet and a hand) is needed. A rope and protection are needed to safeguard a fall by the person leading. Any unprotected fall from a class 5 climb would be harmful if not fatal. Class 5 climbs are subdivided into categories to give more detail.

5.0-5.4: Climbing up a ramp or a steep section with good holds.

5.5-5.7: Steeper, more vertical climbing, but still on good holds. These routes are also easily protected.

5.8 +/- Vertical climbing on small holds. A + means that the climbing is more sustained like a 5.9, but the route would still be considered a 5.8. If you see a – after the 5.8 rating it means that the climb only has one or two moves like a solid 5.8 would have, but more resembles a 5.7. The + and – are becoming outdated and most guide books have discontinued their use.

5.9 +/-This rating means that the climb might be slightly overhung or may have fairly sustained climbing on smaller holds. With practice the beginning climber can climb in the 5.9 range quickly and with confidence.

5.10 a, b, c, d Very sustained climbing. A weekend climber rarely feels comfortable in this range unless they do go EVERY weekend or has some natural talent. The difference between a 5.10 b and a 5.10 c is very noticeable. Most likely the climbs are overhung with small holds and are sustained or require sequential moves.

5.11 a, b, c, d This is the world of the dedicated climber. Expect steep and difficult routes that demand technical climbing and powerful moves.

5.12 a, b, c, d The routes in this range are usually overhanging climbs requiring delicate foot work on thin holds or long routes requiring great balance on little holds.

5.13 a, b, c, d If you can climb upside down on a glass window, these climbs are right up your alley.

5.14 a, b, c, d These climbs are among the hardest in the world.

5.15 a This is as hard as climbing gets, folks. Keep in mind that very few climbers can actually climb at this level, although Spiderman eats these climbs for breakfast.

Climbs are rated by the hardest move on the route. A person who is a solid 5.8 climber theoretically should be able to climb through the crux (the hardest part of the climb) on any route rated 5.8 regardless of the type of rock or area they climb at. That is the theory anyway. Unfortunately, climbs are not rated by a committee of climbers so a particular climb can be off as much as a letter grade or more. Having said that, the majority of climbs you will do will be right on the money.

Since the destiny of every mountain, cliff, boulder, or pebble is to become like the gravel you walk on to get to the climb, know that ALL RATINGS ARE SUBJECTIVE! Weathering of the rock, the sun, wind and extreme temperatures all contribute to making climbs harder or easier than the rating given to a climb the first time it is established.

While routes are given ratings so you don’t bite off more than you can chew, try climbing at your level and then a little bit more. You might surprise yourself and actually get up the route in relatively good form.

If you are having trouble with a particular climb, don’t blame the rating. Train a little harder, do a few extra pushups at night, and give it a go again. Climbing is about setting goals and working to achieve them.

The last rating class of the Yosemite Decimal Rating System is class 6, which is considered aid climbing. Aid climbing has its own rating system that does not use decimals like class 5. Instead it uses A to abbreviate Aid and then a number which indicates how challenging the moves are and the commitment level involved on the climb.



Buying Rock Climbing Shoes

Rock Climbing Shoes — Climbing shoes are the most important investment you can make as a climber. In order to reach your highest climbing potential, you need to get the right shoes for your feet.

Shoes are the most basic equipment for every climber from the bare-bones minimum boulderer to the gear laden big wall climber. You might want to consider making them your first gear purchase.

Today’s climbing shoes are scientific wonders compared to the antique shoes of a decade ago. Sophisticated sticky rubber, cushioned soles, synthetic leathers and anti-fungal treatments are just a few of the many options available for you to choose from.

To begin, you need to understand how a climbing shoe is made, and then you can find one that fits your foot. That’s right, not every shoe was made for your individual foot, so let’s turn away from all the glitter and smoke and look inside the shoe.

Climbing shoes are made around a “last.” A last is a piece of wood or plastic shaped like a foot, much like a mannequin’s foot that models sandals in a shoe store. Shoe manufacturers take that last and sew the inside of the shoe around it. That shell is covered with the outside leather of the shoe and then the sole is glued on, laced up and put on your foot.

Every manufacturer of climbing shoes has their own set of lasts. Some are shaped like your feet, others like your climbing partner’s feet. To find the right shoe to fit your foot, you have to try a bunch on. When you are just learning how to climb you will want a “board lasted” shoe. This is just what it sounds like, the soles on these types of shoes are quite stiff allowing the beginner to learn how to edge and smear.

Once you teach your feet how to move you can get a shoe with a more supple sole that will allow you to feel those miniscule holds under your pinky toes. However, you’ll want to keep those hard soled kickers around if you ever do a multi-pitch climb—your toes will thank you for the breathing room.

Make sure you go to a quality rock climbing store to try on climbing shoes. Be patient and take your time. Listen to the sales person, they will help you. Beware of stores that don’t have at least some small holds for you to practice edging on. You can’t get a feel for your shoes if you don’t try them on and practice edging in them. Try on at least three different brands before buying, because again, every manufacturer uses a different last.

When you lace up your shoes for the first time, leave room to lace them tighter. As you break in your new shoes the material will stretch and you’ll need some room to tighten the laces. Slippers (shoes without laces) are not a recommended starting pair of shoes, though most boulderers and gym climbers prefer them for the ease of a quick on and off. Shoes with laces allow you to tighten them in different places to dial in a perfect fit. Don’t let your friend talk you into a certain brand of shoes unless your feet are identical twins of his feet, though you might find a different model from the same company that will fit your foot.

Finally, take care of your new shoes and they’ll last you a long time. Leaving them in the back of your car on a hot summer day or by a camp fire can make the soles come unglued. Dirt and mud will make your feet skid on holds, so take a tarp or crash pad to launch off of onto the rock. It is best to fit and climb in your shoes without socks to get the sensitivity your toes need on the rock. The rewards of properly fitted shoes are happy feet for years to come.



Falling with Style

Climbing Falls — What goes up… that’s right — must come down. Whether you are just starting out or you are a pro, you are going to fall off of a route somewhere, sometime (I’m so optimistic).

Psychologists tell us that we are born with two fears: the fear of loud noises and the fear of falling. It is a very natural thing to not want to fall off a rock climb, but if you climb, you will fall. Falling shows you where you need to improve. It is a great motivator to train harder so you don’t have to take the drop.

Basically, if you climb rocks, you will take a fall sometime and somewhere. Alright, with that out of the way, we can now learn how to fall in a way that you will not likely get injured. First of all, wear a helmet. Second, anticipate when on the route you will most likely fall. As you look up at the route, you can usually tell where the crux will be; a prominent overhang, a spot without many features (climbing holds), etc.

Keep in mind that as you fall you won’t always be traveling straight down. Traversing (moving horizontal to the last place you clipped in the rope) will create a pendulum effect with the fall. Falling on an overhang will send you down and back into the rock. And falling onto a ledge, a bulge in the route or the ground, will be damaging to the feet and legs. So make sure you communicate with your belayer ahead of time so you both understand how much slack to have in the rope at that critical part of the climb.

If you are on a sport climb, most of the time the route developer has engineered the route so a bolt or two will be right at the crux protecting the fall. As long as you don’t have too much slack in the rope, you should be fine. But remember, the more rope you have out the softer the catch will be. Any falls near the first couple of bolts are hard on a rope. So if at all possible, switch ends of the rope after a substantial fall or give the rope a few minutes to recover from the stretch.

Finally, as you fall, stay calm (Yeah right!). Keep your body loose and be ready to absorb the impact. Put your arms in front of you, your palms to the rock and as you connect make sure you don’t hit your head. Your feet should hit the rock first. Keep your knees bent and toes pointed up, move into the fall, and use your legs as a shock absorber. The more you successfully fall the more natural it will get. What a rush!



Finger Training to improve your climbing

With the popularity and increased access to climbing, fingerboards are becoming a second line method of training. However, we feel that there are some great advantages to the convenience and specificity of training boards. Having a board mounted in a doorway to a spare room or your garage makes it easy to schedule a quick workout if a little time is all you have. The specific nature of fingerboard training enables you to gauge your progress much more effectively than bouldering at the rock gym or your home wall. It is easier to control if and when you fail doing a set exercise on a particular hold on a board, than if you are desperately thrutching for the last hold on your latest plastic bouldering test-piece. This factor will hopefully permit you to work to your limits while minimizing the chance of injury to your fingers.

Finger training programs can be difficult to figure out. Keep in mind that what you are strengthening is essentially connective tissue, tendons and ligaments. It takes a long time to notice gains in strength in this tissue and a very long time to heal once it has been injured. If you are using fingerboard training in addition to indoor climbing on plastic, be aware of how much stress you are putting on your fingers and arms, and be careful to not over-do your training. If you start having problems, allow yourself time to heal. If problems continue, specifically long-term pain and swelling in your fingers, consult a sports-oriented physician.

The Training
There are two general categories of exercises that you can do on your Metolius training board. In simple terms, they are exercises that build power or exercises that build stamina /endurance. Endurance-oriented exercises are a set of tasks that put your muscles in a more or less aerobic state; that is, training your muscles to function for extended periods.

They generally are a longer duration and a lower load exercises and you are maintaining a lower level "burn" in the muscles than the pump you get at the limit of your strength. Power-oriented exercises focus on short duration, higher load tasks that your muscles can't maintain for very long. With these exercises, you are building strength (muscle fiber size ) and the capacity to recruit more muscle fibers for short, quick bursts of movement.

Any of the training that follows assumes a good base strength level. Most of the work or exercises that follow are power-oriented for a couple of reasons:

  • We feel that you can develop some endurance from a power workout, but you cannot develop good power from an endurance-oriented workout and in fact, it is best if they are trained independently.

  • It is hard both physically and mentally, to hang on a board for the extended periods required to totally target endurance.

The amount of load you use for each exercise is up to you to determine. We feel the most gains happen if you use a safe maximum load for the cycle that you are in. Try to pick a load that allows you to barely hold on for the time indicated in the exercise. Load is determined relative to your body weight. If you need to add weight, use a weight belt. If you need to reduce weight, use a chair or step stool set back from and under the board that allows you push with one leg. Make sure your other leg stays below you, so that if you fall, you land on your feet. You can use a bathroom scale on a chair to give you a more accurate idea of how much weight you are taking off (see illustration). If you don't feel safe using this method, have a partner lift you instead.

Use Partners
Partners can check your time and remove or add weight as well as give you assistance and cheer you on when you're trying to get that last bit of effort out. Having a partner spot you when training to absolute failure is highly recommended.

Setup A Workout Schedule & Stick To It
Make a chart and use it to keep track of your training. If you keep a detailed record showing amounts of weight and/or assistance for each segment of an exercise, it will be much easier to slowly increase your workload. These records will help you get the most benefit from your training time.

Use Any of the Holds For Any Exercise
You will probably find that certain holds are better suited to certain exercises than others. For example, you would probably do pull-ups on different holds than short duration hangs. It is also important to look at your weakest points and train those first. For example, if you have a hard time holding onto sloping holds, focus your training there early in your workouts. It is also a good idea to change the holds you use for a given exercise every few weeks, to maximize the effectiveness of your training.

Dos & Don'ts
Avoid doing an excessive number of pull-ups on your board. A lot of pull-ups on a static bar can lead to elbow joint injuries. If you wish to do more pull-ups than our exercises indicate, we recommend that you use Metolius Rock Rings.

Avoid range of motion exercises for your fingers on any training board. Once you place weight on a hold do not attempt to move your fingers (don't do mini pull-ups with your fingers) as this can lead to injury.

Avoid using crimp or cling grips. A very important aspect concerning any hold is how you hold on to it. It is extremely important that you do not use any kind of cling technique regularly. Because of the increased angle of your fingers while clinging, the load on your finger joint is far too high to be safe for training purposes. We have found that if you keep your hand more open, you will be safer and still can strengthen your fingers for both open-handed and cling holds. The illustration pictured shows both types of holds. Use chalk when training and occasionally clean your board with a nylon brush to maintain a consistent surface.

The Tasks
Following are the basic elements of exercises that can be done on your training board:

  • Hangs - either straight arm or bent arm, one arm or both. When hanging straight, there should still be a slight bend to the elbows.

  • Pull-ups - can be done with the hands parallel or offset ( one of your hands on a higher or smaller hold than the other). Offset pulls put more training stress on the higher or smaller hold arm and can more effectively simulate certain climbing situations.

  • Knee Lifts - Hang on good holds and bring your knees to your chest, bending at the waist and knees. This task works the often overlooked abdominals for that solid mid-body connection.

  • Shoulder Shrugs - Hang as above and raise and lower your body without bending your elbows. This exercise works several different muscle groups in the shoulder girdle. As with pull-ups, we would recommend keeping repetitions low.

Cyclic Periodization
As an overall strategy, cyclic periodization allows you to be at your peak when you want to be. Whether this corresponds to a big road trip or pushing your limits when the weather is the best is up to you. If properly done chances of injury and mental burnout are minimized and gains in strength and power are optimized.

The concept is simple; build a base of endurance then work toward maximum power. By pushing your body in these cycles you strike a balance between letting yourself be fresh and strong within the cycles and not letting yourself totally adapt to the stresses of the workouts. This keeps you from stalling at different plateaus and makes the gains possible much greater than doing the same sets of workouts month after month. Immediately following the peak cycle you should be ready to climb strongly.



Glossary of Climbing Lingo

Aid Climbing by pulling or resting on gear that is either placed or fixed into the rock. This is in contrast to free climbing. Aid routes are also called "nail ups." A route which requires aid climbing is rated grade 6 (free climbing is rated grade 5, as in 5.10).

Anchor The point where a climber's rope is securely attached to the rock.

Backstep This foot technique uses the outside of the shoe on an edge.

Barndoor A poor example of balance.When the climber loses grip with the hand and foot on one side and they fall sideways as if on a hinge of the opposite hand and foot.

Belay Use of a rope to protect a climber against a fall. A climber can be belayed by another person, or be climbing alone, using an advanced technique called a self-belay.

Belay Device A device used by the belayer which acts as the brake on the rope. Some examples are figure 8's, ATC's and GriGri's.

Bivouac A camp, or the act of camping. On a big wall, camp can be made on a natural ledge or an artificial one, generally an aluminum and nylon cotlike device called a portaledge that hangs from one or more anchors on the wall. Also called "bivy".

Bolt Literally a bolt drilled into the rock face.

Boulder A style of climbing which involves climbing only at a height the climber feels comfortable jumping to the ground.

Bucket A large hand hold. Feels as secure as a rung on a ladder.

Carabiner An oval or D-shaped link of lightweight aluminum or alloy that serves as the climber's all-purpose connector.

Chimney A wide crack that accommodates (most of) the body of the climber.

Clean The act of removing any non-fixed protection from the rock.

Crag A climbing area, usually a cliff.

Crank To pull on a hold as hard as you possibly can.

Crater To fall and hit the ground pretty hard.

Crimper A very small hold which allows only finger tips, if that.

Crux The hardest move, or series of moves, on a climb. The rating of a climb is generally that of the most difficult move.

Deadpoint A dynamic move which involves precision movement in order to catch the hold at the peak of the move before momentum waivers and gravity starts taking over.

Edging Climbing technique when climber places edge of shoe precisely on top of a hold or unconformity on the rock.The opposite of smearing.

Figure Eight A device shaped like an 8 used for belaying and rappelling.

Free Climbing using only hands and feet to move upwards. Unlike Aid Climbing, free climbing uses the rope and gear only as protection against a fall, not as a ladder for upward movement. This method also stresses the use of gear that is temporarily placed in the rock for protection by the leader, and then removed by the second climber.

Gripped Frozen from fear.

Haul Bag Large and robust bag used to haul food, water, climbing gear, sleeping bag, and more up a big wall. Also known as "the Pig" since it is comparable in size and possibly in weight.

Indoor Public climbing gyms and homegrown climbing walls have been around for about a dozen years now. These artifical environments substitute the bumps, cracks and other irregularities found in natural rock with a vast assortment of cast fiberglass holds. The holds, some as small as silver dollars and others as large as a gallon milk jugs, are bolted to plywood walls in random patterns. The walls themselves can be sloped in or out and arranged to form inside and outside corners, overhangs, cracks and other common climbing situations.

Jumar is the method of climbing a rope using ascending devices that can be quickly attached and then loosened from the rope. Jumar is the name of the device (sliding a knot of rope or webbing up a rope is called Prusiking, after Dr. Karl Prusik); Jumaring is the act of ascending the rope.

Layback A climbing technique where hands and feet work in opposition as one scales a crack or flake.

Mantel A climbing move which looks like a small child climbing up to the kitchen counter. Hand(s) are on ledge, one foot comes up, as you rock over one hand with your elbow locked.

Mountaineering At one end of the spectrum, mountaineering can include peak bagging, where little or no technical skills or equipment are needed to reach the summit of a mountain. It can also include full-blown expeditions to the highest peaks and the worst weather conditions on Earth. Generally, though, mountaineering adds specialized ice climbing skills and gear to those of rock climbing. Mountaineering also tends to be destination oriented.

On-Sight Similar to flash which means climbing without any falls. The difference being it is the first time the climber has ever seen the route.

Pig Also known as Haul Bag. Large and robust bag used to haul food, water, climbing gear, sleeping bag, and more up a big wall.

Pitch The section of rock between belays. Generally, pitches are no longer than the length of the rope (165 feet). Many sport climbs are set up so that their anchors are only half the length of a standard 165-foot rope from the ground, so that climbers need only a single rope in order to be lowered or to rappel off the climb.

Quickdraw A pair of carabiners connected with a short piece of webbing. A quickdraw is used to quickly connect a climber to a piece of pro or a permanent anchor.

Rack The full set of gear needed to climb a route.

Rappel Using a rope to descend from a climb. Modern rappels are generally done with a rappel device, which creates friction on the rope to help control the descent. Also called abseiling.

Redpoint When a climber has led a climb from top to bottom with out weighting the rope or gear. Also called a clean ascent. In the 1980s, German climber Kurt Albert marked climbs which he had done with no falls with a redpoint at their base.

Sidepull Vertical slot hand hold which is pulled on from the side instead of downwards like most holds.

Simul-climb When both the leader and partner are both climbing at the same time, connected by a rope. This is done on easy terrain, or if the rope is too short to reach a belay. Many times simul-climbing is done using a running belay (the leader places protection, which is removed by the second) rather than fixed anchors at the end of each pitch or rope length.

Smearing Climbing technique in which the climber attempts to stand on the rock by getting as much friction as possible between his shoe and the rock. Generally this involves placing the sole or toe of the shoe directly on top of the hold or rock surface, then pushing and twisting the foot. The opposite of edging.

Soloing When a climber ascends without a partner, rope, or equipment to protect him from a fall. A "rope solo" is when a solo climber uses a rope to self-belay. Simul-soloing is when two climbers solo together without the benefit of a rope.

Sport climbing is different from traditional in that the climber depends on fixed bolts rather than removable protection. Sport climbing routes often follow seemingly impossible paths, sometimes straight up huge, smooth rock walls, sometimes far out on horizontal overhangs. The emphasis in sport climbing is usually more on technique than topping out. Falls are frequent, though seldom serious, as climbers constantly push the limits of gravity and ability.

Top Roping Pre-protecting a climb from above. The belay for a top roped climb can either be from the top of the pitch or the bottom. Climbs can be led, then top roped or protected by hiking to the top and fixing the anchor.

Trad or traditional climbing requires a leader to place his own protection, rather than merely clipping into bolts. The term gained popularity in the late 1980s with the development of sport climbing routes (climbs that were pre-protected with bolts).

Traditional rock climbing involves the use of ropes and temporary anchors to add a degree of safety to the sport. As the lead climber ascends the rock, he or she inserts an assortment of metal anchoring devices, known collectively as protection, into the cracks and crevasses at points that may be anywhere from a few feet to several yards apart depending on the difficulty of the route. With the protection securely in place, the climber then uses a carabiner to attach the rope. Once the rope is clipped to a piece of "pro," the belayer below is responsible for tending the rope and stopping the climber in the event of a fall.

Undercling A hand hold which is upside down and is used by pulling up against it instead of pulling down.

Whipper A fall, usually a very long one..



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