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Training Tips for Rock Climbing

10 valuable tips and reminders for beginning rock climbers

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Updated September 05, 2011

Rock Climbing Tips

Rock Climbing Tips

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Rock climbing continues to grow in popularity, thanks to the number of climbing gyms and rock walls in health clubs across the country. Whether you climb indoors, or outside on natural rock, there are some basic skills and techniques that every rock climber should practice, and master, in order to have a fun and safe outing.

Before You Leave Home - Safety Precautions

Many climbs will take you to the mountains. If you are unaccustomed to altitude and mountain weather, there are a few things to know before you go.
  • Altitude Illness
    This could ruin your whole day, so learn prevention strategies and warning signs.

  • Lightning Safety
    In the mountains, lightning is common, so know what to do if thunder roars.

  • Basic First Aid
    Hopefully, you won't need it, but it's good to have a basic first aid kit and know how to use it.

Here are my top ten rock climbing tips.

  1. Use Your Feet
    Too many new climbers rely on strong handholds and then hang on for dear life. But a much more efficient strategy is to rely on good foot placement first, good handholds second. Face it -- your legs and feet are much stronger than your fingers and hands, so use them to support your body weight. Some of the more common footholds include edging, smearing, and matching.

  2. Stay in Balance
    A balanced climber is not wasting energy and can move more efficiently and faster than an off-balance climber. Keep your weight over your feet, and maintain three points of contact with the rock as you climb.

  3. Avoid Over-Gripping
    If you are holding onto every handhold with a death grip, you will quickly fatigue, and your forearms and fingers will begin to burn. As awkward as it may feel at first, try to use handholds wisely, hold on with a firm, but relaxed grip, and keep most of your body weight on your feet.

  4. Trust the Rope and Your Belayer
    If you are new to climbing, you'll want to practice hanging on the rope, or even taking some short falls to get a sense of what it feels like to trust in both your belayer and rope. You will feel more comfortable and confident climbing if you know you can fall safely. If you don't trust your belayer, you should not be climbing together.

  5. Rest Mostly on Your Feet
    During many climbs, you'll want to take a short rest. When you rest, you should avoid hanging from your hands if possible. Look for solid footholds and decent handholds in order to take a short rest. It takes practice to find the best position for you to feel safe and relaxed, but most new climbers will want to rest on their feet, not while hanging from their hands.

  6. Hang with Your Arms Extended
    If you do find that you need to rest and you don't have a great foothold, make sure your arms are fully extended, rather then trying to hold yourself in a semi-biceps curl position. While not ideal, hanging straight-armed is far less fatiguing then hanging from bent elbows.

  7. Don't Rush the Climb
    Climb slowly and deliberately, rather than in a hurried panic. The best climbers don't pause much between moves, but they aren't rushing up the wall either. Use a steady pace, and be sure you have a solid hold before moving, but take your time and enjoy the climb. Once you have a good hold, transfer your weight to it and don't move it. I've seen many new climbers move their weight over a great foothold and then start wiggling it around in hopes of getting it more solid, only to come sliding right off the rock. Once you commit to a hold, don't move it.

  8. Don't Over-Reach
    Trying to reach a hold that is even a bit out of reach is a sure way to lose your balance, and pop off the rock. Look for holds within reach even if it means finding an intermediate hold between two better holds.

  9. Learn How to Fall Safely
    Even the best climbers will fall. And although the first fall on a high rock wall can be terrifying, if you practice "letting go" and allowing the rope (and your belayer) to do their job, you will slowly become accustomed to the sensation and know what do when it happens. Because a fall is going to come as a surprise, it's important to make sure that as you climb, the rope is clear of all tangles and obstacles, including your feet and arms.

  10. Use the Right Safety Gear
    Climbing shoes, helmets, and harnesses are essential personal safety gear for climbing, so make sure your gear fits you properly. Your ropes, belay devices and hardwear should all be checked for excessive wear or safety issues before each climb. New climbers should only climb with experienced climbers and, if possible, take (and pass) basic safety training before getting on the rope.
    Also See: 10 Things You Must "Always" Do for Safe Climbing

  11. Bonus Tip
    It helps to trim your fingernails and toenails prior to getting out on the rock!

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