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WEA offers tips for proper climbing technique

This is an excerpt from Rock Climbing by Wilderness Education Association,Timothy Kidd & Jennifer Hazelrigs.

Prolific American climber Chuck Pratt states it best: "Technique is our protection." Fluid and confident movement and good technique are at the foundation of rock climbing. Although rope work, hardware, and anchor systems all prove critical in our ability to climb and explore, the deciding factor ultimately boils down to whether or not we have the skill and strength to execute the moves. Strength may sometimes substitute for lack of skill and vice versa; however, climbers should strive for a healthy combination of strength and skill in order to work toward ever-improving performance. This chapter provides basic information on proper technique for climbing on varying terrain, as well as tips and ideas that will help you in your overall progression.

General Tips and Techniques

Though specific types of climbing often call for certain techniques, several basic principles should be applied to any terrain you climb. How do you climb a ladder? This question might seem silly, but the answer provides the first step toward gaining proper technique for rock climbing. Obviously, to get up the ladder, you hold the rungs with your hands, move your feet up a rung, and stand up. Your upward progress is primarily gained through your legs.

This bit of information is extremely important. The more you use your legs, the more energy you conserve in your arms. When first getting out on the rock, most people tend to concentrate on the wrong appendages. It is very easy to depend too much on your upper body, especially your hands. Although your hands are important for maintaining balance, you will find that proper footwork will increase your confidence and performance quickly, making climbing more enjoyable.

Even before touching the rock, you should have a plan put into place. This plan, however rough, might entail visualizing your intended route, evaluating potential troublesome sections, and committing to memory good rest stances and possible hazards that exist. Once en route, you need to be constantly aware of your surroundings. People often get tunnel vision when climbing. By constantly reminding yourself to look around, you will undoubtedly find better solutions that will save you both time and strength. Look ahead for potential sequences, and look below to find good footholds.

Balance is the key to efficient and safe climbing. Observing a talented climber move gracefully and effortlessly over difficult terrain is often both a humbling and inspiring experience. It is particularly humbling if you just spent an hour working yourself up the same route, and it is inspiring because it shows you what is possible. Though obviously strong from many days of climbing, talented climbers appear as if they exert little energy. Why is that? The easy answer is that they are good. The more involved answer is that they have the confidence within themselves and the knowledge of how to use and position their body in ways that allow for smooth, efficient movement. The first step in gaining confidence in your movements is learning how to maintain control and balance. Balance is directly influenced by the weight distribution of the climber's body.

Keeping your weight centered over your feet is the first step in maintaining balance. The second step requires you to keep control while in motion. Big dynamic moves are always exciting, but in reality, the majority of the movements are made statically. This is done by looking ahead and deciding what particular movements might do to your body positioning and how they will affect your balance. If you determine that the move will throw you off balance, you then need to determine what can be done to compensate and keep you under control.

While climbing, if you never feel stable and balanced, you are burning the valuable resources needed to get you to the top. The moment your balance becomes off center, you must compensate by using additional strength in order to keep yourself on the rock and off the rope. This extra effort may tire you out and cause you to fall.


Flagging is a technique used by climbers to maintain balance. By extending a foot for counterbalance, a climber may be able to maintain positive pressure on a sideways hold that is off to the side.

Flagging can help avert a fall. When you release one point of contact, if your body opens up (i.e., "barn doors"), your weight will not be properly lined up and distributed. Work on repositioning yourself in order to prevent this imbalance.

The Match

In climbing, the term match essentially means to swap or change. Whenever you change your hands or feet on a particular hold, you are matching. Matching hands, feet, or hands and feet are all very common while climbing. The most obvious time a climber matches is during a traverse, which involves moving horizontally. While moving horizontally, you are using the same holds for both your right and left sides (both hands and feet). However, the match is a common practice when moving up as well. While making upward progress, the hand-to-foot match occurs when using a low hold with your hand and then high-stepping and making the switch with your foot.

When matching, you need to think ahead and then check to see exactly how much room there is to work with.

When matching feet, the climber will often have to hop off one foot while planting the other in its place. Other times, a climber may need to place one foot on top of the other. Once one foot is on top of the other, the lower foot slides out, allowing the upper foot to replace it seamlessly.

Static Versus Dynamic

The majority of moves performed while climbing lie within reach of one another. Though possibly requiring a stretch, holds can typically be reached statically from a fixed stance or position. Occasionally, however, a climber is faced with the challenge of obtaining a feature that lies out of reach but is needed to make progress. The one option in this situation is to perform a dynamic move-a move that requires a jump or lunge. Typically more committing than static moves, dynamic moves range from short lunges to gain as little as an extra inch to all-out throws for multiple feet. The term dyno is used to describe dynamic moves that require all points of contact with the stone to be lost because of the distance between holds.

The combination of balance, situational awareness of the rock around you, and an awareness of your body's position on the rock will help you execute the specific moves outlined in more detail in the following sections.

Technique Tip

Learn more about Rock Climbing.

More Excerpts From Rock Climbing