Rock Climbing Techniques

Rock climbing is a complex pursuit, but with the right information and practice, you can make rapid gains. These pages offer expert advice on movement skills, training, injury prevention, protection, anchors, and rope work for rock climbers.
  • HPOvergripping

    Learn This: The Over-Gripping Myth

    As you move ever higher above your last piece and further outside your comfort zone, you grip the rock for dear life, even though you know the route is well within your ability. Yet here you are, only halfway up and too pumped to continue—everything feels way harder than it should. Most climbers have experienced this unfortunate situation: When you get scared, you hold on too tight and waste precious energy. The perceived solution: Focus on relaxing your hands to stop over-gripping the rock, thus lasting longer. While this does seem to make logical sense, over-gripping is actually not a significant factor in this perceived fatigue. Studies in applied physiology, neuroscience, and sports medicine point to stress itself as the culprit for accelerated fatigue. Anxiety can trigger the release of a certain hormone that can make you feel more pumped and tired than you actually are. Here we’ve provided some tips and tricks to conquer your fears and prevent the dreaded pump.

  • HPAnchorShelfSm

    Learn This: Using the Anchor Shelf

    Efficiency is directly related to success on any multi-pitch climb, and being neat and tidy from the beginning is a key to efficiency. Keep your belay orderly with this effortless technique: using the “shelf.”

  • HPSqueeze

    Learn This: Conquer Chimneys (With Tips From Rob Pizem)

    Royal Arches, Yosemite. Kor-Ingalls Route, Castleton Tower. Durrance Route, Devil’s Tower. What do these super-classic moderates have in common? They each have a physically demanding chimney. This term refers to any fissure that your body fits inside, ranging from a squeeze chimney (one to two feet wide) to much wider, where you must stem the gap with a foot and hand on each side. Each width requires its own set of unique movements, so we talked with wide-crack wizard Rob Pizem (who points out that this was one of the earliest climbing techniques) to break it down into a step-by-step process.

  • HPPlat

    Training: Never Plateau Again

    Climbing is addictive. One reason is that you can see massive strength gains and technique improvement from day one of your climbing career. But after a few months—or for the extremely lucky, a few years—a plateau can sneak up on you, slow your progress, and frustrate you beyond belief. During my own personal three-year-long plateau, I heard every kind of advice from doing more pull-ups to climbing every day despite the pain to even going vegetarian (not gonna happen). On a quest to find the one true way, I started to interview top climbers to see how they handled these annoying performance flatlines—both mentally and physically—and the answers I found were as diverse and interesting as the climbers themselves.

  • HPPinchPoint

    Learn This: Pinch Points

    You’re cruising a broken and blocky ridgeline that leads to the summit when all of a sudden a 20-foot technical section stops you in your tracks. Your partner doesn’t skip a beat and starts to head up, but you’re intimidated by those six or seven moves because they’re surrounded by a 1,000-foot drop on either side. Though you’ve got gear and a harness in your pack, time is of the essence. Thankfully, there’s a fast and efficient way for the leader to use the broken nature of the rock to build a simple anchor and belay a follower—with minimal gear and no harness. Use a “pinch point,” the area of contact between two large rocks that provides 360° of access to thread or tie a sling, as an anchor to save time and keep everyone safe and happy.

  • HPStuckRapRopes

    Learn This: Free Stuck Rappel Ropes

    When I look back on my 30-year tenure as a climber, I realize that I’ve spent as much (or more) time descending than ascending. After all, knowing when to turn around is what keeps us climbers alive and climbing. All that “downtime” easily adds up to several thousand hours of dodgy anchors, scary raps, and uncertain ends. That stuff would make any grown man nervous, but by far the scariest experiences of all were the few times I’ve gotten the rappel rope hopelessly stuck. This scenario can cause even the hardest of climbers to break out in a cold sweat. When your rope is stuck, you ain’t going nowhere. Here are my hard-won tips for getting your rope unstuck and—even better—preventing it from happening in the first place.

  • HPSteeps

    Learn This: Conquer Steep Routes (With Tips From Sasha DiGiulian)

    As you're eying the next clip only a few feet away, your swollen forearms throb even harder at the thought of just one more move. You take a deep breath, dig your toe in a little deeper, drive your body up, and grab the next hold with a feeling of pure elation—only to experience a moment of stillness, a feeling of defeat, and the rush of air as the wall rapidly fades into the distance. Welcome to steep sport climbing. When the wall kicks back past vertical, the pump clock starts ticking and it’s all about getting to the chains before that alarm goes off. Steeps and overhangs require determination, focus, technique, and creative thinking. Below, we’ve dissected the most important skills to develop.

  • Laybacks

    Learn This: Master Laybacks (With Tips From Cheyne Lempe)

  • HPBelay

    25+ Ways To Be A Better Belayer

  • HPAutoBlock

    Essential Skills: Auto-Blocking Belay Devices

    This setup, which is also called “guide mode,” automatically stops the rope from moving through the device—or “catches” the follower—if he falls. It’s a must-have tool and technique for anyone who wants to tackle multi-pitch climbs.

  • HPRope

    Learn This: Alpine Rope Management

    Managing the rope at belays and rappels on multi-pitch routes can be a smooth operation that leads to quick transitions and more climbing. Or it can be a headache-inducing rats’ nest of chaos that means wrestling with yourself every time you try to feed out slack. Instead of spending your summer alpine season untangling a rope, learn a few simple methods that will help you spend more time sending. Try out these tricks on shorter routes so that when you’re faced with 15 pitches or 10 long rappels, you’ll have these techniques dialed in and ready to put to use.

  • HPNuts

    Learn This: Nuts 102

    Recognizing subtle constrictions in natural rock takes a trained eye, and maximizing surface contact is an art learned through experience. Nevertheless, here are a few more tricks and tips that will help you up your nut game.

  • HPSlab

    Instant Expert: Friction Slabs (With Tips From Hazel Findlay)

    In an odd way, friction slabs are like wide cracks: Hate ’em all you want, but you can’t climb some of the most classic trad routes without working through them. It’s common to find slab sections leading into and out of perfect cracks in places like Yosemite and Lumpy Ridge, Colorado. They’re characterized by a low angle (between roughly 65° and 80°) and a dearth of holds (think: micro-divots, bumps, edges, dishes, and nubbins ). There’s nothing to pull down on, so you must employ a set of techniques unique to these features (or lack thereof).

  • The Comeback: Recovering From Climbing Injuries

    Life would be great if we bounced back quickly to 100 percent after recovery. But the reality is that once you get back on the vertical horse, you are still in recovery. Comeback climbing takes patience and acceptance of your vulnerability. It takes stepping back to the grades you began at and working your way back up.

  • Photo courtesy Boulder Rock Club

    Create-A-Crux: Strengthen Mind and Body at the Gym

    During winter, rock climbers experience a patience-testing stretch of inclement weather, making it difficult to climb outside consistently. Consequently, more climbers flock to the gym and recommit to a training regime to prepare for spring sending. Forget the treadwall, auto-belays, tedious lines for the lead wall, and campus and hangboards.

  • Rotator1at660

    Solo Toproping: Basic Self-Belay Techniques

    When Tommy Caldwell or Mayan Smith-Gobat work a free climb high on El Capitan, the crux may be finding a belayer willing to put in days of duty in an isolated and exposed location. Often, the solution is to go alone, rehearsing the key pitches by solo toproping. Whether you’re an active first ascensionist or just want to do some laps after work without a partner, solo toproping is a handy technique to add to your repertoire.

  • Figure-1-Single-Hitch-Escape-660

    Single-Hitch Belay Escape

    Keeping it straightforward is a good credo for rescue and almost anything climbing-related, and this particular skill is a good example of how to streamline the act of escaping a belay. It uses minimal steps, equipment, and hitches or knots, especially when compared to more complicated methods that require lesser-used hitches and additional know-how.

  • One-Legged-Pigeon-Pose-158

    Stretch and Strengthen

    Stretching is an often-overlooked aspect of the pre-climbing routine. The following stretches pull double duty; not only do they lengthen your muscles, tendons, and ligaments for the approach—therefore preventing injury—but they also provide more mobility and flexibility on the wall so you can climb smarter and stronger.

  • Big-Wall-Kit

    Big Wall Kit

    Depending on the type of pulling down you’re doing, climbing can vary from minimalist to “everything but the kitchen sink,” and big wall climbing is very much the latter. We asked Colorado climber Paul Gagner—who has done more than 50 wall routes around the world, including first ascents on Baffin Island and in Utah’s Fisher Towers—to detail his packing list and the experience-driven tricks that go along with it.

  • Feeding-Slack-Quickly-Grigri-158

    Learn Proper Techniques for Grigri Use

    Petzl has made an effort to educate users, but the bad habits of devotees are difficult to break, and with the release of the Grigri 2 in 2011, it's more important than ever to learn (and teach) proper techniques for this ubiquitous device.

  • How-to-Rappel-Clinics-660

    Rappelling: Learn the Basics of This Essential Technique

    The process of rappelling is simple in concept, but it can seem complicated in practice, especially at first. Mistakes are easy to make; accidents happen all the time—and they’re often fatal. Here’s the step-by-step process of rappelling plus some tips to prevent mistakes.

  • Climber's-Toe-Graphic-660

    Prevent Chronic Climber's Toe Pain

    Climbers are used to having sore little piggies, whether it’s from jamming them into cracks or cramming them into tight, high-performance shoes. But toe pain is more serious when it doesn’t disappear after a few hours, and it happens to a lot of climbers because of the way we use and abuse our feet. Chronic stiffness and swelling in the big toe joint is an early sign of osteoarthritis that could permanently cramp your climbing style.

  • Incorrect-Quickdraw-Setup-1

    Prevent Quickdraw Failure

    The death of 12-year-old Tito Traversa, an Italian who climbed multiple 5.14s, shocked the community in early July—not just because of the tragic loss of a young life, but also because of the almost unbelievable way it happened. While warming up at a crag in France, Traversa borrowed a set of quickdraws from another member of his group. Unbeknown to the young climber, the draws had been assembled incorrectly: On eight separate quickdraws, the biners had not been threaded through the sewn strength-rated loop in the end of the dogbone, but only through the rubber “string” used to keep clipping biners from flipping out of position. When Traversa weighted the rope, these draws failed, sending him into a ground fall that led to his death.

  • How-to-Tyrol-Traverse-600

    How to Do the Tyrolean Traverse

    The Tyrol, short for Tyrolean traverse, involves using a fixed line to cross from one point to another, often over water. While wearing a harness, you clip onto the rope or cable to pull yourself across. Developed in the Dolomites of the former Tyrol region, this method was used to approach and descend from spires. Nowadays, it’s commonly used to negotiate rivers or reach a detached pillar. If the ropes or cables are already safely set up, these basic guidelines will make traversing a breeze.

  • pizem-660

    Strong Circuits: Quick and Focused Workouts for Peak Performance

    As a full-time high school teacher, husband, pro climber, and father to two young boys, I don’t have a ton of time to devote to training for climbing. What matters most in a workout is getting the most bang for my buck—this means short but intense workouts that keep me strong.

  • Rock! Prevent Rockfall and Calmly Handle Emergencies

    Yosemite’s El Capitan claimed two climbers’ lives in a two-week span in late May and early June. Both incidents involved falling rock, but causes and effects in each scenario were quite different. Even if you’re the safest and smartest climber in the world, climbing is a dangerous sport, and it exposes you to a number of things out of your control, including rockfall. We talked to Yosemite climbing ranger Ben Doyle and Yosemite Valley District Ranger Jack Hoeflich about what we can do to mitigate rockfall and what to do in an emergency.

  • tricams-101-660

    Tricams 101: A Guide to Using This Tool

    The Tricam is a puzzling piece: It’s delightfully simple, with no active—or moving—parts, yet it has more potential uses than either a spring-loaded camming device (SLCD) or a standard nut. They can be placed passively (like a nut) or actively (like a cam), depending on the orientation and features in the rock. While the original unit had two placements (one passive, one active), the newest generation has three: a cam, a nut, and a nut in broadside-out mode. The biggest benefit? The Tricam often fits where nothing else will.

  • Meditation-in-Brain

    Breathe Easier: Mental Tacks to Get Through Tough Climbs

    Notoriously sandbagged routes are intimidating. They can cause anxiety and lead to disappointment if you don’t redpoint the grade you’re used to completing easily. Arno Ilgner, author of The Rock Warrior’s Way, says the first step to combatting anxiety when faced with a sandbag is to forget the grade. “Move your perspective to where the grade of the climb isn’t an issue,” he says. “When you do that, no problem or anxiety will exist.” Instead, focus on the route’s movement, protection and rest opportunities, and the consequence of the fall zones.

  • Rappel-Without-Belay-Device

    Rappel Without a Belay Device

    You’re lying if you say you’ve never dropped your belay device and watched it go “tink, tink, tink” all the way down to the base of a route. It can happen to anyone. But have no fear: If you have four carabiners of any shape or gate type, plus a locking belay biner, you can make it to the ground. The double carabiner brake rappel is the best way to descend without a traditional rappel device.

  • How to Simul-Rappel

    Simultaneously rappelling, or simul-rapping, is an advanced skill where two climbers descend one rope at the same time (or two ropes tied together: climbing.com/skill/rappel-knots), and one climber’s weight counterbalances the other. The margin for error is small, but it’s a good trick to know. It’s useful for bailing during a sudden, dangerous storm, or for rapping off opposite sides of a fin or spire where there are no anchor points, which is common in places like the Needles of South Dakota’s Black Hills.

  • How-to-Clean-Cams

    How to Clean Cams

    Getting humbled in the art of cam-cleaning is a rite of passage for aspiring tradsters. You know the story: The second, a trad-climbing newbie, fiddles with a cam for what seems like eternity before declaring it totally stuck. Welded. Fixed. Beyond saving. The more experienced leader isn’t buying it (and doesn’t want to buy a new cam, either), so he raps down to investigate—and cleans it in three seconds flat. Here’s how to retrieve those stuck cams easily and quickly.

  • Forearm-stretch-massage

    How to Rest for Redpoint Attempts

    You've just fallen off your project for the fifth time, and now you’re back on the ground wondering what to do next. You’re still psyched and ready to give it another go, and that forearm burn isn’t too bad. But should you rest? If so, how long? Should you keep moving or conserve energy? Hard bouldering and sport climbing don’t fatigue a body as much as running a marathon, which can take even an elite runner several days to bounce back from. But how quickly you recover and how well your body is fueled greatly affect your climbing performance.

  • Hand-Hand-Stack-Offwidth

    Don't Just Wing It: 6 Crucial Wide-Crack Techniques

    The intimidating world of wide cracks is often regarded as more work than fun. Although they do require elbow grease, the challenge also provides a satisfying reward. No matter your skill level, learning and honing the following skills will improve your chances of reaching the chains (without puking). Tape up and pull on a pair of canvas pants, a long-sleeve shirt, and some comfortable hightop shoes, and tackle that crack.

  • Climbing Rope Backpack-Coil

    The Perfect Backpack Coil

    There are times when carrying a full pack to the base of a route is cumbersome and inefficient; plus, you might have a packless, walk-off descent to think about. You need a convenient way to carry the rope, and the backpack coil is the ideal method. This system prevents your cord from catching on branches, coming uncoiled, and tripping you up. The key is starting your coil from the middle, keeping the coils short, and adding more wraps at the end.

  • Bulgarian-Split-Squat-Offwidth-Training

    Prepare for Battle: Training for Offwidths

    Shimmying up offwidths is grueling, physical punishment that can tax your entire body, and like the routes themselves, training is a completely different beast from running laps in the gym. Brad Jackson, a prominent Vedauwoo, Wyoming, offwidth climber, says, “All athletic movement starts at the hips and core; strong hips equal a strong athlete. Plus, shoulders are the most sophisticated joints in the body; they have a crazy-wide range of motion and need to be strong at any and all weird angles for the extreme movements required in offwidths.”

  • How-to-Jug-Rock-to-Alpine

    Transition from Rock to Alpine

    Progressing from weekend cragging to long alpine routes can be intimidating for anyone, even strong and competent traditional climbers. While the most valuable knowledge is gleaned from experience, there’s plenty of real-world advice to learn beforehand. Alpinist Scott Bennett has six years of experience in the mountains and on rock. Here, he shares his hard-won tips for climbers moving from rock to the mountains.

  • How to haul a pack

    Haul Your Pack to Climb Faster and Harder

    Simple truth: Attempting to go "light and fast" often means heavy and lame. To avoid the stigma of hauling a bag, many climbers feel the need to have everything clipped right on their harnesses. Water bottles, approach shoes, bullet packs--you name it--jangling o gear loops, wrapped around waists, getting in the way. If this sounds like you, strip down and haul! Here are a few reasons to haul, tips on how to do it, and some cautions gleaned from years of experience.

  • How-to-Hip-Belay

    How to Hip Belay

    Long before the invention of belay devices, the hip belay provided security for the second and saved time in the mountains. When used correctly, a bomber stance can replace a traditional anchor, or you can back up a marginal anchor with a solid stance. It’s best in lower-angled and broken terrain, where a fall by the second is easily recovered, and there is little danger of a pendulum swing.

  • Opposed-Nuts-Placement

    Nuts 101

    When many people start trad climbing, cams become their new best friend. They’re easy to use and contract to fit a variety of crack sizes. But don’t underestimate the benefits of their counterpart: the nut. With no moving parts (hence, “passive protection”), nuts are inexpensive, lightweight, sturdy, and it’s easy to judge a placement by eyeballing— many will fit a variety of spots because they can be positioned in four different orientations.

  • Training for the Fifty Classic Climbs

    Training for the Fifty Classic Climbs

    Routes like the North Ridge on the Grand Teton require covering a lot of ground with a heavy pack. These—and many other Classics—are not casual outings. We’ve devised a six-week training program—approach, mountaineering, mixed, aid, and free climbing— that will help add a new level of strength and endurance to your fitness. Tackle all workouts over the six weeks, or focus on your weakest category. Bonus: You can bust these out anywhere in the country—even at sea level—and see results on any terrain.

  • Offwidth Training Maintenance

    During the climbing season, it’s beneficial to follow a training program that keeps you at a high level of strength without burning you out mentally or making you overly fatigued. Perform the same exercises you did for offwidth training after the 13 weeks is over, but follow the intensity guidelines outlined below.

  • Climbing Hard Offwidths

    Long, vertical offwidths are physically grueling—even with impeccable technique. We’ve all heard the stories about making it mid-pitch only to hyperventilate and vomit on the belayer from being pushed to your physical limit. All climbing styles require a high level of fitness, but the full-body workout of climbing wide cracks is closer to alpinism than sport climbing. It’s not unusual to take more than an hour to climb a single pitch of 5.11 offwidth in Indian Creek, and with 10 to 20 pounds of gear, it feels even more strenuous.

  • Belaying While Mid-Pitch

    If you are simul-climbing part of a route because it is technically easy (e.g., 5.4 or 5.5), you still might come across an isolated crux section that is two or three body-lengths and more difficult (e.g., 5.8 or 5.9). That portion might warrant a belay for the leader and the follower. Communication between the two climbers is key, and the leader should alert the follower when there’s a tricky section.

  • Offwidth Training by Pamela Pack: Plyos

    In Climbing's May issue, we ran Part 1 of an offwidth training program devised by Pamela Pack. Here are plyo exercises to complement the program. In Phases 1 and 2, aim for 30-minute plyo sessions, then work up to an hour in Phases 3 and 4. Plyos are the most intense of the workout components and present the highest risk for over-training and injury, so start slowly and focus on proper form. The emphasis should always be quality over quantity for all exercises.

  • Offwidth Training by Pamela Pack: Stabilization Exercises

    In Climbing's May issue, we ran Part 1 of an offwidth training program devised by Pamela Pack. Here are stabilization exercises to practice throughout the program. There are multiple options for stabilization/core training. Choose at least two to three core workouts per week throughout each cycle. Ideas for core sessions include Pilates, CoreAlign, and core group fitness classes.

  • Offwidth Training by Pamela Pack: Stretching

    In Climbing's May issue, we ran Part 1 of an offwidth training program devised by Pamela Pack. Here are stretches to complement the program. Statically stretch major muscle groups (legs, arms, back, chest, etc.). Also, try dynamic stretching while hiking, so go down deep into lunges as you move up. Stretch out calves on rocks and other terrain. Do shoulder circles forward and backward. Twist right and left with your torso. Keep all your body parts moving in various directions.

  • Climb Fast and Efficient with Tips by Alex Honnold

    Pick up a copy of Climbing's May issue for an article on Alex Honnold's best tips and tricks for how to pack more pitches into the day. Here, additional techniques. Approach: While hiking to the crag, you might have to shed a layer or two. Most people stop, take off their layers, pack them away, then continue. I prefer not to stop, so I pop one arm out of the pack’s shoulder strap, slide the layer off this arm, then repeat on the other side. Then I wrap the layer around one shoulder strap of my pack, effectively hanging it near my waist. Voilà, no extra stops on the hike.

  • Chimney-Rest-Stem

    Rest for Success

    The best way to maximize your staying power for enduro-packed routes is by resting more often and more efficiently during the climb. You may do endless training laps for stamina, but learning to cop strategic rests mid-route is more likely to win you the onsight on any terrain.

  • Alex-Biale-Frenchies-Workout

    A Dogged Attitude

    By the very nature of our sport, there are two kinds of rock climbers: those who use a rope and those who don’t. And many climbers fall into two further categories: power or endurance climbers. Unless you’re Adam Ondra, you likely don’t have an equal balance between the two. Because most climbers don’t simultaneously focus on both sport climbing and bouldering training, their endurance-to-power ratio (and vice versa) is usually pretty skewed.

  • Lowering-on-Multi-Pitches

    Lower Away!

    Outside of single-pitch sport climbing, lowering isn’t a common practice, and most climbers will choose to rappel anything longer than one pitch. However, descending at maximum efficiency on long routes should include lowering techniques as well as rappelling. Lowering the first climber with the second rappelling can speed up descents on multi-pitch routes—and alleviate common rope problems.