Climbing Tips for Beginners

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There is a misconception amongst beginners that in climbing one has to develop strength solely in his/her arms and fingers. This couldn't be further from the truth.

As a beginner climber I remember that I was obsessed with finding the biggest hand holds when in fact I managed to climb even with smaller holds. It basically comes down to technique, footwork, energy conservation and emotion control.

Without further ado let's see what are the aspects you should work on if you've just started your climbing career.

Footwork - Since you won't attack hard routes at first - you will probably climb easy routes in the gym or slabby rock faces outdoor - try to concentrate on using your feet to the highest extent.

To have an idea about how much you need to use footwork in your climbing try a little exercise: climb on a ladder without holding the rods, that is only by stepping and pushing down - use your hands just to keep your balance (you can lean on the ladder but you aren't allowed to grab or pull the rods). If you can do that then you're one step closer to improving your climbing capabilities.

When climbing on a slab you won't have too much choice and you'll inherently use your feet more than your hands, taking advantage of the friction between the rock and your climbing shoes' sole - a technique that is called smearing (read more here).

The thing with footwork is that you have to be aware of it while you're doing it. You should also know that it works best if you step on the footholds properly - you literally have to apply your climbing shoe on the hold, load the hold (transfer some weight on your foot) and push on it as to raise your body higher (from flexed knee to stretched leg).

General fitness of your body is highly essential for climbing and in this case you should be able to do one leg squats. This can be attained trough alternative exercise like uphill running, uphill cycling or simply by doing squats until you can do them with just one leg.

 Foot and opposite hand - This is the most common technique you will use in modern sport climbing and since it imitates the ladder climbing it should feel natural. What you have to do is to be constantly looking to get your body ready for the next move by grabbing a hold and using the opposite foot for pairing. Example: If you have your left hand on a jug slightly above your hand, you must look for a good hold on which to step with your right foot - if you want to ascend more in one single move you must raise your foot as high as possible. Pull with your hand and push with your leg - your move is completed when you are standing on your foot (leg fully stretched) and your hand is somewhere at your shoulder level (or below). The free leg is supposed to be dragged on the rock as to maintain your balance while the free arm is reaching for the next hold. You will encounter situations when the only way to pass the crux is to use - say - the right hand and the right foot. You must avoid the opening door effect and either move dynamically to the next hold or offset the hinge effect by placing your left leg laterally below your right foot (which is placed higher).   Climbing Technique Hand and Opposed Foot
Rest with your arms stretched - Many times as a beginner I used to rest by keeping my biceps contracted (body close to the rock) and wondering why I was loosing strength instead of recovering.'s not hard to tell why. If you are on a slab then you might wanna rest and shake your feet and calves which is pretty awkward. But if you are on a vertical face try, if possible, to rest standing on your feet and taking off as much weight as possible from your arms. When climbing overhangs, the best way to rest is by hanging with your arms stretched - shaking and chalking each one alternatively. This will help you conserve energy - vital for your next push upward when you will need all the power you can get from your biceps and back muscles. Use the resting time to solve the puzzle of moves that lies in front of you. In other words you must relax your body and un-pump your forearms while figuring out the next sequence of moves. Thinking in advance your next two to four moves will keep you focused and unsurprised. Should you enter wrong in the crux, down climb a move or two and reconsider the sequence. Shake your arms holding them up and down. Rising your arms above your head will prevent the blood rushing into your forearm which is another cause for getting pumped - you want to avoid that at all times.
Rest Position in Climbing OverhangRest position in overhang - image taken from here
Conclusion Concluding, the top three pieces of advice for beginner climbers are as follows:
  • Use your feet more than your hands
  • Apply the rule of hand and opposite leg for an efficient ascent
  • When hanging, rest with your arms stretched
I'll leave you with the initiation videos below that will hopefully answer other questions you may have about red point rock climbing. Rest Positions and Heel Hooks Basic Rock Climbing Skills Smearing and Twist Locks More clips here.

Enjoy outdoors through climbing!

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  1. Great tips. I remember my first climbing class the instructor showed us how to climb no handed on the beginner routes. It takes quite a bit of balance to do that!

  2. Footwork is essential in climbing just like footwork is essential in walking! :-)

  3. What an incredible series of videos. This is certainly enough to get someone interested in rock climbing and to get off on the right foot!

  4. Good advice! I remember when someone first told me to rest with my arms straight - what a difference that made!


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