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8 Climbing Techniques Every Beginner Should Master

Updated: May 29

From the outside, mastering rock climbing appears to take hours of upper-body and core training, chiseling down those biceps, triceps, forearms, lats, and abs until you can crank out 100 sit-ups and 20+ pull-ups. While muscular strength will help you climb, it isn’t as make or break as it might seem. A more significant component of excelling in climbing is mastering movement. If you can learn how to maneuver and position your weight efficiently, you can use your technique to compensate where strength lacks.

Generally speaking, climbing frequently for beginners is enough to pick up on essential rock climbing techniques. However, if you’re a beginner looking for a list of specific techniques and movements to improve your climbing, then search no more. These are eight climbing techniques that every beginner climber should master to take their climbing to the next level.

8 Climbing Methods That All Novices Must Learn

beginner female climber with her climbing partner

1. Quiet Feet

Wasted energy is a significant factor limiting how hard you can climb. One of the easiest ways to waste energy is to move with clunky movements and little control. The inexperienced climber is often audible in a climbing gym by climbing shoes hitting the wall or landing on a climbing hold with a thud. Practicing moving and placing your feet with as little noise as possible will force you to slow down and build control, allowing you to move efficiently and conserve energy.

2. Minimal Adjustments

If you took a video of every climber in the gym and watched it back, you would likely notice 8 out of 10 climbers making micro-adjustments to their hand and foot positions every time they move a limb. As a rock climber, it’s not something you are likely to notice while climbing consciously, but it is another way you are wasting energy on the wall.

The more you practice leaving your hands and feet in the first position they land on hold, the more you can be precise with placing feet and grabbing hands. Precision equates to efficiency, which is crucial for improvement. The first few times you practice negating micro-movements, it's normal to feel a bit insecure as you still master how to grab different hold types in the best position. However, making moves while feeling insecure is a part of the learning process. It will help teach you confidence and increase your strength to execute more challenging moves.

3. Heel Hooking

Another crucial climbing technique is 'Heel Hooking '. If it’s unclear, what you do with your lower body is just as important as what you do with your upper body when climbing. When done correctly, heel-hooking helps keep body tension, reach far-away holds, and rest on the wall. An effective heel hook is one where the heel of your climbing shoe locks into a hold, and you feel the active engagement of your posterior leg muscles (calf, hamstrings, glutes). The sooner you can master heel hooks, the easier it will become to stay close to the wall and relieve your reliance on your upper body strength. 

4. Toe Hooking

Toe-hooking complements heel-hooks and utilizes ankle dorsiflexion and anterior leg muscles (tibialis anterior, quadriceps, hip flexors). They are crucial in allowing you to remain on the wall and keep body tension while providing you the freedom to release a hand and make the next move(s).

5. Three-finger Drag

This grip position is also known as the open-hand grip. It utilizes the pointer, middle, and ring fingers and is often one of three sub-classifications of crimping (the others are half and full-crimps). Training your three-finger drag by grabbing holds in that grip will increase your overall crimping power and contact strength. The other crimp positions utilize a thumb lock over the index finger to help generate extra force. However, the three-finger drag is the most efficient grip to engage your forearm flexors, and it is often the initial grip a climber assumes when catching a hold (because pinkies and thumbs are shorter and take deliberate effort to engage).

For kid climbers, this is often an intuitive hand position (small hands and higher strength-to-weight ratio). However, beginner adult climbers may have to remind themselves to keep using three-finger drag as moving into a half or full crimp can feel more natural. 

6. Drop-knee

This highly technical movement stabilizes, saves energy, and helps you rest in a helpful position. It can also help you extend your reach. It involves internally rotating your hip and knee so that you end up in a position where your dropped knee is noticeably bent (sometimes to extreme angles, depending on mobility) and your hip is close to the wall.

That is a great movement to practice on easier climbs at first. It can be tricky to move into a drop-knee. On an easy climb, you’ll have good hands and feet to move on, and you can try to incorporate a drop knee on every move, alternating sides.

7. Flagging

Flagging is the go-to technique for counterbalancing your weight without a foothold. There are different types of flags you can master, including outside, inside, and back flags. In rock climbing, keeping opposite hand and foot points of contact is advantageous. That keeps you from peeling off the wall in what is known as a barn door. If you find yourself in a position where the hands and feet are all stacked on one side, using a flag would help prevent a barn door and help reduce the upper body strength needed to hold on.

8. Smearing

Smearing is another option when you don’t have a foothold and involves pushing your foot against the wall to gain traction and progress up the climb. You must actively press the sole of your climbing shoe onto the wall or a volume to generate enough friction for the smear to help you keep traction. You’ll quickly learn that if you don’t smear hard enough, you’re inviting a foot pop and trip to the mats.

The purpose of these climbing techniques is to help increase efficiency by decreasing wasted energy. Practicing and implementing each will help you master your movement, which is the ultimate key to finding success. Remember that even as you learn each technique, you may spend your entire climbing career refining and perfecting them. But every step you take towards mastering these techniques is a step towards improvement. The sooner you start implementing them, the sooner you’ll see improvements. Look up videos and read through more in-depth articles on each technique to help you along the way. Happy climbing!

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