Rock Climbing Techniques and Fundamentals for the Beginning Rock Climber

As with most other sports, there are a few rock climbing techniques that are considered vital to master before moving onto advanced technique. These fundamental practices are the building blocks of more difficult maneuvers and should be practiced extensively until they become habit. As the majority of advanced rock climbing techniques are built on the fundamentals, it's only logical that a climber should ingrain these rock climbing techniques in his or her habits from the get-go. Rock climbing is a sport demanding considerable strength, stamina, technique, as well as mental acuity and focus. Striking a balance between these variables is the best way to achieve one's climbing potential. 

Body Positioning While Climbing

Every wall, face, slab or boulder has it's own angle, and every route or problem poses its own challenges. Figuring out how you body needs to be pitched, angled, and adjusted at what time is at the heart of why rock climbing is both challenging and fun. It just so happens that figuring these things out is also necessary to successfully send a climb. In a situation involving a slab or rock wall that is less than 90° (or otherwise, leaning forward), it's like that your body will gravitate to a position quite naturally. A  < 90° angle is generally a great starting point, because gravity is working in your favor, keeping you more or less on the rock without necessarily exerting much effort. This allows a climber to focus on little more than maintaining balance and grip on holds. 


A wall or slab that happens to be straight up and down is a bit more of a challenge. A slight misjudgment in distance when moving to the next hold could mean a fall and end with you dangling from the rope and harness. The most vital thing to keep in mind when climbing a wall pitched at 90° is to simply remain as close to the wall as possible. Leaning away from it to catch a glimpse at the next series of maneuvers causes a shift in your center of gravity, taxing your forearms more than is really necessary. Figuring  out a course of action prior to the climb eliminates the need for this. Practicing this will feel a bit awkward at first, but with time, will become second nature. 


Problems on overhangs or routes containing overhangs tend to pose quite a challenge for the beginning climber, as they usually demand a tremendous amount of strength to complete. Although your grip is what is responsible for keeping you attached to the climbing wall climbing through an overhang, it's important to remember to remain as close to the wall as possible in order to minimize strain and preserve strength. A common tendency among beginning climbers is to keep their toes pointed straight ahead while climbing. As long as you are outfitted with a pair of decent climbing shoes, experiment with turning your feet so that the sides are making contact with the hold instead of just your toes. This is an incredibly effective way to increase the traction applied between your feet and the hold as well as increase the amount of control you have over the hold. 

Finger and Hand Technique While Rock Climbing

If you've ever been to a rock gym, you've seen that holds come in all colors, sizes, and shapes. Each one seems to require a different type of grip, as well as varying degrees of effectiveness during a climb. Unfortunately, some holds are more "positive" than others, meaning they're more easily gripped. Some techniques include:

-Crimping, in which the fingertips are the primary source of traction

-Palming, usually involving a hold with a "sloper". A climber must open his or her hand, applying the palm to the hold and rely on the tension of their fingers to maintain traction. 

-Hand jam, although considered a bit more advanced, a climber inserts an open hand usually into a crack, makes a fist to lock his or her hand into the crack and then proceeds to the next hold. 

-Mantel, where a climber uses both hands to pull him or herself up, and then push down, sometimes climbing to the top of the hold itself. You've done it before, when you were a kid and climbed on top of the kitchen counter. 


Almost as important as grip, your footwork while climbing is something that demands attention, too. There are a few that are intuitive enough, but others require practice and patience. 

-Edging. If you've ever looked at the bottom of climbing shoes, the soles are comprised of very hard rubber. This material is manufactured specifically for its high traction. Many shoes feature near 90° edges to be worked into the joint where the hold meets the wall. This can provide considerable support, and comes in handy when trying to remain close to the wall.

-Smear. Sometimes, there are just no footholds. If this is ever the case for you, simply place as much of your rubber sole to the wall as possible, and use it as a grip. 

-Toe: In other situations, a jib (tiny foothold) may be too small to practice edging. Many shoe manufacturers design their shoes to feature a somewhat sharpened toe pocket for your big toe. This part of the shoe can be incredibly stable, and incredibly powerful. Try it next time you're left with a small foothold. 

-Heel hook: Again, a bit of an advanced technique, the heel hook allows a climber, when his or her body is positioned horizontally, to leverage upward, or extend laterally. It looks as impressive as it sounds. 

Although there are many ways to describe basic climbing techniques in words, many can't be fully grasped until they are put into practiced. It's impossible even to watch them be performed in person without fully understanding until they're done. Nevertheless, having been given an idea where to start, put these rock climbing techniques to practice, and you're well on your way to moving toward advanced climbing techniques. 

Rock Climbing Techniques