Rock climbing is much like any new skill; we want to be good at it NOW, or yesterday if possible.
This post is going to show you everything you need to know to go from a beginner rock climber, to a complete BADASS.
Your transformation from a novice to a certified climbing machine can be broken down into the following bite size chunks:
- Know Your Stuff – Some quick facts to get your bearings
- Getting Started
- Getting Technical
- Mastery = Badassness
- FOR MEN – Prof. Richard Wiseman’s study polled over 6,000 people and found that women are especially attracted to men who rock climb. The results revealed that 57% of women found climbing attractive, making it the sexiest sport from a female perspective.
- FOR WOMEN – Not only will you find men who rock climb attractive; you’ll likely be better than them. Many a strong man has been humbled by the feminine graciousness and apparent ease of a woman moving over rock. Climbing is all about balance, knowing your body and being able to reposition it in space – not just strength.
- FOR EVERYONE – Rock climbing is a whole-body exercise and much more than just another excuse to accumulate an entire closet worth of gear. It’s a way to form incredible bonds with others, a means of travelling to beautiful places, and a way to learn more than you ever thought possible about who you are and how you respond to challenges.
Not inspired yet? quickly check out this video of Chris Sharma before we start…
LETS GET STARTED…
1. Know Your Stuff
There are many different types of rock climbing and it can be easy to get confused. Here’s the 411:
- Bouldering: Close-to-the-ground climbing without a rope, going only as high as you can jump off without risking serious injury. This is perfect for beginners because you can traverse (move along the rock horizontally) without going high. Routes, called “problems,” are shorter, requiring more power and technique.
- Top Roping: Where the rope is already at the top of the climb. The rope is “taken-in” by the person on the ground (the “belayer”), to clear up the slack as the climber moves upwards. This means that if the climber falls they don’t really fall down, they just stay in place. This is the safest way to learn.
- Lead Climbing: Where the rope is not already placed at the top of the climb. The lead climber carries the rope up the route, attaching it to points of protection as they go. This is more dangerous than top roping because you fall to the last point of protection (which may be below you).There are two main forms of Lead Climbing:
- Sport Climbing: Bolted into the wall are pre-placed anchors and protection, this is where you attach your rope. Carabiners and Quickdraws clip into the anchors and connect your rope to the rock. This “clip-and-go” style of climbing allows the leader to progress upwards without the worry of placing their own protection or bolts.
- Traditional (“trad”) Climbing: Trad climbing is true adventure. A trad route is one that has few bolts or permanent anchors. The lead climber protects himself from a catastrophic fall by placing their own protection—nuts or camming devices—into cracks in the rock. The second climber removes the protection as they climb up, and it’s then placed again for further pitches.
SPORT CLIMBING TRADITIONAL CLIMBING
ROCK CLIMBING RATING SYSTEMS
Easier routes will be filled with easier holds for your hands, flat platforms for your feet, and shorter distances between holds. The harder routes will have holds that look like no human being could ever hang from.
Here is a quick breakdown of some of the most popular rating systems:
AUSTRALIAN EWBANKS SCALE
This system starts at 1 (being the easiest) and goes up to 39. If you are anywhere from 25+ you’re considered expert or elite.
5 POINT SCALE FOR TRADITIONAL/SPORT CLIMBING (‘YDS’)
Here the easiest climb is a 5.0 and the hardest being 5.15 and up. Letters are also used in this rating system. For example, a 5.10a is easier than a 5.10b.
V SCALE FOR BOULDERING
Bouldering (which uses no rope or other gear) has a scale starting at V0 (zero being the easiest) and going up to V16 and beyond for routes that only the top professionals can complete.
2. Getting Started
For your first time it’s important that you don’t die, otherwise you’ll never make it to badassery. That’s why the gym is the very best place to get started. The staff will show you how to climb safely using a figure 8 knot and the proper technique when belaying your partner.
Starting at the gym also allows you to try the sport with rented gear – before you go out splurging on your own. Unless your Scrooge McDuck swimming in a pile of money, that’s a good thing. The fact that gyms have routes suited to beginners means that you can get some quick wins on the board and start to feel good about climbing. This is important, and great for confidence. After motoring up those easy walls there’s plenty of opportunities for some harder climbs to make you come back for more.
Gyms are open all year round, so what are you waiting for? get out there and give it a go.
YOU’RE HOOKED & NEED YOUR OWN GEAR
You’ve been to the gym now a few times and realise that renting gear is expensive. Where to now? If this is the case it might be more economical to get your own gear, instead of renting from the gym.
The kind of gear you need depends on whether you plan to climb (indoors or outdoors) and what kind of climbing you’re doing (bouldering or sport/traditional climbing). Indoor bouldering requires the bare minimum, shoes and chalk.
ESSENTIAL GEAR GUIDE
CLIMBING SHOES ($60 – $120) – Don’t try to climb in a rock climbing gym wearing just your tennis shoes because you’ll get funny looks, be asked to rent climbing shoes, and most importantly, won’t be able climb very well. Finding the perfect rock climbing shoe for your specific foot type and size is extremely important. So don’t just grab one off the net straight away, go into a store and try some on.
Rock climbing shoes are supposed to be a snug fit. They should fit well enough that you don’t have much space between your toes and the tip of the shoe, but enough room to move your foot in all possible directions. This is because sometimes you will literally be balancing your entire bodyweight on a single toe as you reach for the next hold.
So what kind of shoes should I be looking for ?
Beginners should start with a versatile pair of all-around climbing shoes for comfort. As your climbing goals and style develop, add shoes that address different demands of the sport.
Shoes come in 3 differnt ‘profiles’. This is essentially how curved the shoe is. The greater the curve, the more high performance a shoe is.
When starting out it’s best to get Flat Lasted shoes. They are usually the most comfortable and don’t need to fit too tight. This makes them best for all day use on slabs, low- angle cracks, and face terrain.
FYI, the hook-like design in the other two allows you to generate more power from your foot by forcing it into an arched position. It also helps your feet to reach the rock when you’re climbing overhangs.
There is no rock-shoe sizing standard, and everybody’s feet are different.
- Rock shoes come in U.S., European and United Kingdom sizes. Check shoe charts for size translations.
- Sizes aren’t the same accross all brands.
- When you try on a lace-up shoe, undo the laces completely and then tighten them accordingly from toe to ankle.
VELCRO, LACE-UP, or SLIP-ON’S ?
Velcro are simple to put on and take off, this is great as rock climbing shoes are not made to be comfortable. They allow you to adjust the fit, just not quite as much as the lace-up system.
Lace allows you the most customization with how tight the shoe fits. For long days out, when your feet begin to get hot and swell a bit, you have the option to loosen those laces. On the more technical and demanding climbs, you have the option to really tighten these bad-boys up for a snug fit, increasing performance. The only downside to a lace-up climbing shoe is the time required to sit down and actually tie them.
Slip-ons – easy peez, just slip them on then slip them off. There is no way to adjust the fit, so what you see is what you get.
CHALK & CHALK BAG ($25) – The only other piece of gear you need to get started as a rock climber is some chalk for your hands. As you climb, your hands will start to perspire and you’ll easily lose your grip. To combat this, rock climbers carry chalk around their waist. This chalk is similar to the chalk used by gymnasts and it is stored in a chalk bag.
HARNESS ($50) – Unless you’re bouldering, you’re going to want a harness. You wear this over your pants/shorts and thread the rope through it. Make sure it’s a comfortable, but snug fit like your shoes. I use the Black Diamond Momentum SA. The pre-threaded SpeedAdjust buckle on the waistbelt means that you will never forget to double the strap back over itself.
OUTDOOR BOULDERING GEAR
CRASH PAD (~$150) – I won’t get too technical here, it’s simply just a big piece foam that cushions your fall and keeps you from getting seriously injured. You wear it on your back when walking to a climbing spot. Here’s a crash pad that I have used in the past.
A Friend (Free) – When you boulder outside it’s best to go with a friend. They will be able to spot you and help you to see the holds you can’t see yourself. Let’s face it, climbing alone is not a very smart thing to do (unless you want to end up like James Franko in 127 hours).
3. Getting Technical
I get it; you want know how to get STRONG. Don’t worry I’ll get to it further down. But first, it’s much more important to get good, and more accurately – get good technique. Technique is going to improve your climbing and will take you much further than a strong back and a vice grip.
Basic Rock Climbing Techniques
- Use your legs! Climb with your legs and not your arms.
- Those sexy pins of yours are much stronger than your arms. Use them to push you up the wall, rather than your arms to pull. Just think how much easier it is to stand up than to do a pull-up.
- Keep your arms straight.
- It’s REALLY hard to hang with your arms bent at an angle. This is because you need to use your biceps, triceps and shoulder muscles to hold your arm bent.
- Keep your hips close to the wall. This will make climbing easier by keeping your centre of gravity closer to the wall.
- If your hips are square to the wall, and your bum is pointing out, gravity is essentially sucking you from the wall making it harder to hold on.
- Place your feet with precision. Try to look at the foothold before you use it.
- Don’t scrape around trying to find it without looking. Examine it, look for the sweet spot and then deliberately place your foot there.
Basic Rock Climbing Holds
1. EDGES – these are the most common. A big edge is sometimes called a ‘bucket‘ or a’ jug‘. There are two basic ways to use your hands on an edge—crimp grip and open hand grip. Crimping is grabbing the edge with your fingertips flat on it and your fingers arched above the tips. This hand position is usually solid but there is the danger of possible damage to your finger tendons if you crimp too hard. The open hand grip, while not a power hand move like the crimp, works best on sloping edges where you get lots of skin-to-rock friction. The open grip is often used on sloping holds.
2. PINCH – A pinch is a handhold that is gripped by pinching it with your fingers on one side and your thumb opposed on the other. Wide pinches that are the width of your hand are usually the easiest to grip and hold onto. On these big pinches, oppose your thumb with all your fingers.
3. SLOPERS – these are simply sloping or rolling handholds with no real ‘edges’. Slopers require the friction of your skin against the rock surface to get grip. It takes practice to effectively use sloper handholds.
4. MATCHING – when you put two hands next to eachother on the same hold. Matching allows you to change hands on a particular hold so that you can reach up to the next one more easily. This is easy on big holds, but for smaller ones try to keep your first hand to the side of the hold. this will make room for the other hand.
- The Undercling: a hold that is gripped on its underside with your fingers clinging to the outside edge of it.
- Palming: pushing into the rock with the heel of your palm to keep your hand in place.
Advanced Rock Climbing Techniques
Learn to fly the flag – flagging helps you to avoid swinging out from the rock (i.e. barn dooring). If you have a bad hand/foot combo on one side, you’ll notice that your body wants to swiiiiiing out towards the side that has good golds, it’s like a big hinge. This is known as the “barn door” effect. When flagging you take the foot that doesn’t have a good hold and use it to chamge your centre of gravity. By pointing it towards the side of your body that is solid, while maintaining body and leg tension, your barn door will be easier to keep shut.
Heel & Toe Hooks
A heel hook involves you placing the heel of your foot on a hold that is usually waist level or higher. The move is most useful in situations where there is an overhang. The heel hook helps you keep your balance and can also provide important leverage for moving your hands and body higher up the route. Also, the heel hook looks awesome – so use it!
Toe hooks are great for keeping your center of gravity pulled in towards the rock and they give you balance and leverage for moving up. You can use a toe hook on an arete, side pulls, or on underclings. To place a toe hook, you use the top part of your toe (that’s why they put rubber there!) to pull sideways against an arete or side pull or you can pull inward on an undercling to help keep your body from swinging out
To see some perfect examples of heel hooks check out Lynn Hill below. She is silky smooth!
Stemming is what you imagine old St. Nick to be doing – it’s like climbing inside of a chimney. You press against the walls on eather side, with each force cancelling out the other one. Alternating between pressing out your hands and feet can help you to scale up the wall.Stemming is not useful only in chimneys or in situations where two walls meet at an angle. You will find it useful, especially when climbing a route with many slopers, to push off a lower hold to be able to reach for a higher hold. Stemming requires some balance, technique and flexibility, but once you get it, it feels awesome (and looks good too!).
Back stepping is a valuable technique, especially in overhanging, reachy situations coupled with flagging. If you step on a hold in such a way that the outside of your hip faces into the rock, you are backstepping. Compare this to a more common step, where your leg would be rotated so that the inside of your hip faces the rock (not back stepping). Back stepping elongates and opens up your torso for a longer reach in the same direction as the foot that you back stepped. Flag your other foot and your reach will increase even more!
The drop knee, or the Egyptian, allow s the climber to get dreater reach. It’s done by bending the knee on the same side that you intend to reach up with your hands. Footwork is extremely important and the foot needs to twist.
No this isn’t some cooking technique, Mmmmm smearing. It’s when you apply pressure onto an essentially blank face (one with no ledges) with the bottom of your toes. The goal is to make as much contact as possible with the rock by smearing the climbing rubber on your shoes to the wall in order to create the friction. The rock face needs to be slightly less than vertical for smearing to really work.
4. Mastery = Badassness
Finally! so by now you should understand the terms, have the gear, mastered the basics, and learnt a few advanced techniques. Time to become a badass!!
What’s a bad ass you say? “Someone who is awesome to an extreme level”. To become a badass you’re going to need to get strong, really strong.
To do that you have to be diciplined, and have a plan of attack. Don’t worry, I’m here to help (and so is Lee Kennedy). Lee took an article from climbing.com‘s Alli Rainey and turned it into a killer training schedule, perfect for the future badass. With a few formatting changes from your’s truly this thing is ready to whip you into shape and improve your climbing.
It will have you up to a level 3 on the RAMBO BADASS RATING SCALE in no-time!
CHECK IT OUT! CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD THE TRAINING SCHEDULE
HOW IT WORKS
- First, write in the:
- Starting Month
- Starting Climbing Grade, and
- Goal Climbing Grade in the first sheet (Start Here!) – in cells B8, B9, and B10, respectively.
- The corresponding “Finishing Month” and V-scale grades for bouldering will be outputted, as well as an error message in case anything is wrong.
- If all goes well, the schedule should automatically be filled in.
Here’s a screenshot of the spreadsheet:
There’s one Sheet for each month in the schedule, and they are designed to be printed out and taken with you each month. It’s set up for someone climbing 3 days a week, but you can adapt it if need be.
Each “Month” or Sheet starts off with a basic description of what you’re doing that month, followed by a couple items to remember every week. After that are the three sections. The first section in each sheet is called “Climb“, and it explains the kinds of climbing you will be doing each month. The second section is called “Technique“, explaining the technical focus of each month. The third and final section is called “Strength“, and will include a list of weight-lifting exercises to supplement your climbing.
The Climb and Strength sections have “mini-schedules” in each, so you can plan out what you’re going to climb each day, as well as what you’re going to lift when you lift.
Here’s a screen shot of one of the Climb sections:
Here’s a description of all the climbing options:
- B/R: Bouldering + Routes, no specific technique needed.
- 4×4/R: 4x4s + Routes. 4x4s are when you climb 4 (12 to 20) move boulder problems 4 times each with 1 to 5 minutes of rest between each climb.Your 4x4s will probably take a lot out of you, so supplement them with a couple routes after you’re done.
- HIE/B: High Intensity Endurance + Bouldering. HIE is 3 to 7 routes with 20 to 25 pumpy moves to a resting hold. Shake out and recover, then climb for another 15 to 20 moves.The HIE will take a lot out of you, so boulder some easier stuff at the end of the session.
- BO: Bouldering only, for the whole night, but with no specific technique. Just climb some problems and have fun!
- RO: Routes only, for the whole night. Once again, get worked but don’t forget to enjoy yourself!
- HIE: Just HIE. This will be for when you’re getting close to sending your project.
The Strength section has a similar mini-schedule, except you’ll be filling in your Weight/Reps for each workout. The types of workouts themselves have already been chosen.
Here’s a screenshot of one of the Strength sections:
In general, the schedule starts you out with 3 months of building a base of strength/power, jumps into 3 months of power exclusively, and ties them together with a final 3 months of power-endurance. This schedule, coupled with the technique “lessons” and weight training should enable you to break through that plateau and send your goal.
Download the 9 Month Rock Climbing Training Schedule if you haven’t already!
FOR BONUS POINTS TRY THESE…
A training board, also known as a hanging board or hangboard, is used much a like a pull up bar. Rather than just training your arms and upper body, the training board also strengthens your fingers. The pockets on a training board range from deep to shallow and wide to one finger.
Metolius Simulator 3D Training Board
Pretty simple, just boards of wood on a wall. Climbers ascend and descend the campus board using only their hands. Be careful though! The campus board can cause injury. Wait until you’ve been climbing for some time before adding this to your training routine.
Here’s a good video showing how to use a campus board:
Rock Rings are a like a training board you can place almost anywhere. This piece of rock climbing training equipment looks like two miniature training boards with a couple of pockets in each. You suspend these with the included ropes from a joist or pull up bar. Check out Metolius’ training plan to see what you can do with them.
If you’re having trouble with hand strength you can use a hand strengthener to target your hands directly. The Gripmaster comes in three advanced levels (medium, heavy and extra heavy) just be carefull not to over do it, you don’t want to cause injury from overuse.
CONGRADULATIONS – YOU’RE NOW A BADASS – CHECK OUT SOME OTHERS LIKE YOU:
Chris Sharma – Considered the Michael Jordan of rock climbing, he has continually pushed the sport to the next level. He won the bouldering nationals at age 14 and climbs more difficult routes every year that force the rating scale to continually rise and rise. He travels the world full-time to climb on rocks. Your inner 6-year-old self should be jealous. This video is of him climbing a 5.14a a few years back.
Alex Honnold – This guy free-solos (remember, that is without a rope) to heights that are ridiculously un-safe. One example is the six-hour climb to 2,900 meters off the ground on the Nose of El Capitan, a route that usually takes multiple days to finish. He has guts. Check out some video of him free climbing on National Geographic or on Nerve Rush.
FURTHER READING, LEARNING, & INSPIRATION
RockClimbing.com – An ultimate resource includes a ton information on routes, gear, and has lively forums.
Dead Point Magazine – A free print magazine and website devoted to rock climbing and bouldering. (Thank you to Nick Tort in the comments for this suggestion.)
Urban Climber Magazine – A good print magazine about all things climbing.
Dosage I – V – Dosage is a a series of five documentary type films showing the world’s best climbers climbing the hardest existing routes.
Reel Rock Film Tours – Each year this tour goes around the country showing the latest films made about all kinds of climbing. I’ve gone before and it was great. You can meet other local climbers there too.
Top 15 Rock Climbs – To see what only the pros can even attempt, check out some of the most beautiful rock climbing locations around the world.