Climbing techniques

Learning the correct climbing techniques, especially the proper use of your feet, can significantly conserve energy and enhance your ability to conquer a route. Instead of dedicating extensive hours solely to pull-ups on a fingerboard, I suggest mastering fundamental climbing techniques first. Subsequently, focus on body and strength training

Sport climbing is suitable for individuals of all levels, offering both physical and mental benefits. On a physical level, it enhances coordination, builds strength, and tones muscles. Additionally, it contributes to increased flexibility, joint lubrication, and overall mobility. Continue reading to discover how rock climbing training can sculpt the ideal physique for climbing.

We can say without a doubt that climbing in the gym or in your own home climbing gym

can be as effective, if not more so, than traditional fitness activities. With its enjoyable aspect, rock climbing adds a sense of playfulness to your workout routine.
Moreover, climbing encompasses a vital psychological and mental training element. Regular practice enhances concentration, problem-solving skills, and, importantly, self-esteem. The holistic benefits of rock climbing extend beyond the physical, making it a fulfilling and comprehensive activity.


Footholds and basic climbing techniques

A foothold is a rock ledge able to bear your weight on its vertical axis and large enough for your foot to push on it in a mainly downward direction. While most small ledges that serve as handholds can also be utilized as footholds, it takes trained skill to exploit even the tiniest ones.

For beginners, the initial challenge lies in resisting the urge to place their feet multiple times on the same ledge, either to assess its weight-bearing capacity or to enhance foot positioning. This caution should similarly extend to hand movements. Holds are ledges strong enough to both bear our weight when hung onto, and to allow a foot to push down on them to move the body upward.

The choice of climbing shoes significantly influences how your feet can be utilized creatively during climbing. Factors such as high-grip soles and the shoe’s shape play pivotal roles in shaping the climber’s technique. When the applied pressure on the shoe sole and the angle between the shoe and the rock are optimal, even footholds as small as a matchstick head can provide sufficient support.

On small and fleeting footholds the most effective part of the sole is the inner edge of the big toe. Often the rock shape prevents this foot position so you must “point into” the face with your toes, which requires greater strength in toes and calf muscles as the force is applied from a disadvantageous angle. The technique of front-on footholds is used mainly on limestone routes in shallow pockets. As the foot is much larger than the fingers, the scope for ‘wedging’ is restricted, so feet can only exploit twisting-in and lever techniques.

Sloping footholds (used with the smearing technique) are exploited more effectively when you try to bring as much of the high-friction sole surface as possible into contact with the rock. climbing techniques

In traditional climbing techniques, the legs were used only for supporting and pushing the body upwards, an approach that today’s “extreme” climbers have fairly and squarely abandoned. With the high difficulty levels achieved, the legs have come into their own with a very broad scope of active performance moves with Heel pushing and pulling (heel-hook) and the Upper part of the foot pulling (toe hook).
The specific use of these techniques comes well within a more evolved period of climbing.


From horizontal to vertical

In today’s climbing, movement is seen as a flowing extension and evolution of walking. We must focus on both the shifting of our weight (i.e. our “center of gravity” conceived as an imaginary point inside the pelvis) and on the thrust of our legs. We also have to learn how to separate the movement of the pelvis from that of our feet – an essential step towards succeeding in retaining our balance when moving from one hold to the next, refining our climbing skills.

Putting weight properly on a foot-hold is about seeking and finding balance on the hold and exerting the right thrust on it with our foot. This will let us move our pelvis (center of gravity) upwards by pushing with our leg. If we don’t yet need to raise our pelvis, putting weight on the foot-hold entails shifting some weight onto the leg while still keeping balance.

All of the notes above apply equally to when we are using the “smearing” technique. “Isolating” the pelvis is about moving the pelvis independently of our torso. This is usually performed when we use four holds (hand- and foot) but it also applies to when we use only one foot-hold and the opposite hand-hold.

The pelvis movement allows us to optimally adjust the weight we put on our foot-holds, especially when using the front part of the foot. The pelvis movement lets us move our body’s weight precisely over the vertical footholds to help take the strain off our arms. Learning and training are facilitated by repetition and performing these movements slowly, with exercises and repeated upward moves, on an easy climbing route.

On easy, inclined climbing pitches, employing several small steps is typically the optimal approach. In contrast, on overhanging routes, it is more effective to elongate the steps—thus reducing their number—aiming to expedite movements and minimize the strain on the arms during challenging sections. Vertical pitches fall into either category, depending on the specific characteristics of the route.climbing techniques


Climbing techniques: feeling the center of gravity

Correct exercises allow us to “feel” the center of gravity and find balance through independent movements between the pelvis and the rest of the body. Before lifting a foot, we must move the pelvis to seek an ideal balance on the other foot that remains on its hold.

We must then remain balanced on one leg while moving the other to its new foot-hold.

If the center of gravity of the climber is directly above the foot-holds, the body is in balance: an efficient style of climbing, allowing strength to be saved, aims always at having the body in a stable, balanced position. Except for the case of overhanging sections, where we cannot “hover” our center of gravity over footholds due to the overhang when we have our feet on footholds, we must try to keep our pelvis as vertically over them as possible.

Climbing techniques: center of gravity.

Beginners must acquire familiarity with this principle on the easy, inclined walls because these routes tend to make one instinctively “lie down” on the wall. In doing so, the error is to move our center of gravity away from its ideal position, which is instead directly above the foot-holds, highlighting the importance of refining our climbing skills.

The larger the foot-holds, the more beginners tend to put as much of their shoes onto them. Instead, when the foot-hold offers more space, we must still use only the forefoot and avoid using the foot arch and heel.

When the ledge is narrower, we must try to use the instep point of the shoe and the joint connecting the big toe with the metatarsal. In a more advanced stage of learning, we can also use the external part of the foot, close to the little toe.

For holes and small foot-holds, we will use the shoe point (first phalanx of the big toe). In general, we must learn to keep our heels low and not above the ledge level. Therefore, it is essential to train our toes to prevent lifting the heel when positioning the tips of our shoes. This training becomes particularly crucial at advanced levels, especially when dealing with very small footholds. The proficiency in using our toes and mastering specific climbing techniques is directly proportional to the ability to keep our heels raised, making dedicated training imperative for optimal performance.

And the higher our heel, the lower our stability and the more our calf muscles have to work, with sometimes uncontrollable tremors. This position also reduces the ability to shift the pelvis, which will overwork our hand grip and forearms.

To sum up, the correct position of the foot allows our weight to be properly borne by the rock.
This is one of the most important aspects of climbing and is the one that demonstrates expertise more than all the others.


Friction climbing

Friction (aka slab) climbing is done on less-than-vertical faces, generally 45-80 degrees, with with no holds to grab or stand on and no cracks to jam into. You ascend using careful placement of your feet and by slowly shifting your body weight to balance your way to the top.

Regarding footwork during smearing, the absence of a horizontal ledge necessitates placing our feet on a steep “wave” or a smooth vertical rock surface to maximize the grip of our shoes. The key to successful friction climbing lies in the controlled movement of the center of gravity. In this context, the hands serve primarily as support, ensuring secure progress is achievable only when the body’s center of gravity remains directly above the footholds.

In contrast to using horizontal holds, where the optimal position is vertical on the hold, the smearing technique requires moving the pelvis away from the wall to enhance the potential grip of our feet.

Rock climbing. Friction technique.

Here, the pressure that allows our soles to grip the rock is the force exerted perpendicular to the contact surface. This is of course only possible if we can pull hard on our hand-holds. When employing the smearing technique with our hands, achieving balance involves shifting the pelvis above the contact surface of our feet. However, in instances where the sole grip is insufficient to support us, it becomes necessary to distribute our weight among all the holds we are utilizing. To learn to feel our shoe-grip limit, it is good practice to climb low walls or boulders.

It is especially important to learn the correct position of the body when foot-smearing and using hand-holds. You should therefore practice feeling the “limit grip point” of your shoes when using them for smearing to acquire the right sensitivity.

This is precisely what allows us to take some strain off our forearms, whatever the position of our hands on the rock.

Mastering the smearing technique is undeniably a challenging training goal. While it is relatively simple to learn how to place and accurately distribute weight on foot-holds, some of the most intricate skills in climbing involve enhancing sensitivity to feel the limit of our shoe grip when smearing and learning to pinpoint the exact position of our pelvis in these situations.


Rock climbing grades

In rock climbing, mountaineering, and various climbing disciplines, climbers assign a grade to a climbing route or boulder problem to succinctly convey its difficulty and level of danger. Different types of climbing, such as sport climbing, bouldering, and ice climbing, have their own unique grading systems. Additionally, different nationalities have developed distinctive grading systems. For more information on difficulties, you can refer to the dedicated page on rock climbing grades.


climbing techniques