It is commonly believed that you just need brute strength to get to the top of a rock climb but nothing could be further from the truth. Climbing is a fascinating sport because it requires a near-equal balance of mental, technical and physical skills. Unravelling the puzzle of linking one move to the next has been compared, by famous climber Jonny Dawes, to a game of chess. It is very important to think carefully about your movement while climbing so that you can move as efficiently and as smoothly as possible and not to struggle all the way to the top. Below are the four main skills to practise to become a more efficient climber and enjoy your next ascent.
1. Precise feet
A lot of people who are new to rock climbing assume you need strong arms to pull up on the holds when in fact your focus should be on your feet and using your legs to push up and your hands just holding on for balance. I often say to people that if they cannot find the next hand hold they need to look down and work out if they can get their feet any higher. Committing to your foot holds and standing up not sure if the next hand hold is in reach or unsure how good it will be is part of the challenge of rock climbing and one that increases as you work your way through the grades.
Climb like a ninja! Place your feet accurately and silently onto the foot hold. Top tip: you need to be looking at the foot hold in order to be able to do this. This also has the benefit of reducing wear on your rock shoes. A tell tale sign of poor foot work is holes worn in the rand of the rock shoe where it has been scrapped or banged against the rock.
2. Straight arms
By keeping your arms straight you are hanging primarily by your bones and not your muscles. This is much less tiring and will enable you to hang on for longer as you work out the next move or stop to place some gear when leading. Obviously you cannot keep your arms straight all the time and will have to bend them at some point when making a move but by keeping them straight when pausing it is also much easier to lean out so you can see where to place your feet (see point one). Next time you are climbing see how many times you can find a position in which you can pause, keeping your arms straight and most of your weight over your feet.
3. Relaxed grip
Over gripping is easily done, particularly if you are nervous and quickly leads to forearms getting extremely tired. Experiment by seeing just how little grip you need to hang on to a hold and place more trust in the friction of the rock. Watch good rock climbers and see how effortlessly they can make an ascent look.
Whilst remembering all of the above, don’t forget to breathe too. Take a couple of deep breaths before a hard section of climbing to help you relax and then remember to keep breathing slowly and steadily as you keep going. Yoga or mindfulness exercises can help you to learn how to concentrate on the breath and focus on the route ahead.
These four essential movement skills can be practised any time you are bouldering or roped climbing and should form a core part of your training. They can be repeated as a mantra as you climb, hopefully helping you relax, climb well and get to the top; “precise feet, straight arms, relaxed grip, breathe.”