5 Climbing Tips and Techniques for Beginners
Rock climbing is a beautiful sport. You’ve probably seen videos of professional rock climbers or observed seasoned climbers at your local gym or crag make climbing look smooth and efficient, but found harder routes not so breezy yourself.
Whether you just started climbing at the gym, are already hooked and looking to train or get outdoors more, or are aiming to send your first 5.12, there is always room for improvement. Although climbing skill comes with time and muscle memory, there are some simple tips and training techniques that can better your climbing no matter what level you’re at.
Focus on Footwork
It’s much easier to step up to the next hold than to pull yourself up to it. You may have noticed that good climbers are strong but not necessarily ripped. This is because climbing is about total body movement and agility, and finding balance on your feet and on the wall is key. A good pair of climbing shoes well-suited for your skill level goes a long way.
To start trusting your feet more, take some time to focus on climbing vertical or slabby walls. You’ll be surprised to see what you can stand on – climbing shoe rubber is stickier than you think! If you have good footholds that you trust, try to step up high while keeping your hips close to the wall to save yourself energy. If your footholds are bad, plan out your next sequence focusing on where your feet need to be and what hand holds you’ll use to stay in balance.
You can also try a climbing exercise called Silent Feet: practice making as little noise as possible when placing your feet on footholds. It’s a simple exercise that forces you to control your feet, engage your core, and pay attention to your footwork. If you feel you’ve mastered this, try Precision Feet for balance training: pick your next footholds in advance and weight your feet on them as precisely as possible, maximizing the friction between the rubber on your shoes and the hold.
Climb More Frequently and Consistently
The most straightforward advice, but also the most important. When you first start climbing, you should listen to your body and take rests as frequently as you need to in order to prevent injury. Once your body becomes more accustomed to the movement, however, the best way to improve your climbing is to climb more frequently and consistently. Whether it be outdoors or indoors, rock or plastic, bouldering or sport climbing, find a climbing schedule you can stick to that works for you.
It’s also important to change up your climbing. If you’re mostly climbing in a climbing gym, climb different styles of routes and routes put up by a variety of routesetters. Beginner climbers shouldn’t shy away from climbing (and repeating) as many easy routes as possible; this helps improve movement, balance, and endurance while reducing the chance of early injury or getting “pumped” out. More advanced climbers should consider setting aside 1 day a week to do endurance pyramids. An endurance pyramid starts with many easy climbs, progresses to doing fewer climbs the harder it gets, before peaking at your onsight grade (can usually climb that grade without falling) and working your way back down adding more climbs at easier grades. A pyramid for a climber onsighting 5.10 might look like this: 4×5.7, 3×5.8, 2×5.9, 1×5.10, 2×5.9, 3×5.8, and finishing with 4 more 5.7s. Training pyramids may seem like a waste of time at first, but even elite climbers benefit from using them.
Exposure to different climbing styles, different kinds of rock, and different movements can improve your overall climbing ability drastically and potentially introduce you to a new climbing obsession. New rock types and styles can be jarring at first. The first time you transition from bouldering to a climbing wall, or from top-roping to sport climbing, you may find yourself scared and out of your element. Even within climbing disciplines, the difference between rock types such as the overhung sandstone of the Red River Gorge versus the granite of Yosemite can be stark. Continuing to challenge yourself is important to becoming a well-rounded climber; just make sure to do so safely and within your limits. Most climbers eventually find their niche, but even then it’s important to still branch out and practice other styles of climbing. Even professional climbers benefit from stepping out of their comfort zone.
Observe Other Climbers
Rock climbing has a reputation as an individual sport, but all it takes is a few visits to the gym or crag to see that that’s not the case. Climbing is often a very social activity, and beginner climbers stand to benefit the most from this. It can be especially helpful to watch more experienced climbers on a route you’re familiar with that’s difficult for you. You know what the holds feel like and what sequences they’re about to encounter. Observing their beta for the crux or how they conserve energy on the wall can help you understand the route better and inform your own movement and technique.
Climb with Others
On a similar note, having a supportive and reliable climbing partner is invaluable. If you’re just getting into climbing, use it as an opportunity to socialize and get to know new people. Finding someone to go to the gym or get outdoors with consistently is often the only motivation you’ll need to climb more.
There is value in having partners of any skill level. If your partner is less skilled than you, you may find you have more confidence in your ability and feel more comfortable teaching them about movement or gear. You can learn a lot about climbing technique from a partner more skilled than you just by watching them climb, but it’s also a good time to ask for any feedback or climbing tips they may have for you.
A partner at your skill level is probably most beneficial, though. Whether they fulfill the role of providing encouragement, motivation, friendly competition, or all of the above, growing and learning with another climber can be very rewarding.
Climbing is as mental as it is physical. Even the bravest and boldest of climbers have mental barriers that can hinder their performance. Learning what your mental barriers are and figuring out how to overcome them can improve your climbing immensely, but is much easier said than done.
The most commonly brought up mental barrier is fear of heights. It’s human nature to be afraid of heights, and it affects some more than others. The trick is learning to trust your protection and recognizing that falling on well-protected routes is safe. Fall practice (taking safe falls to learn to trust your protection) can help people overcome some of this fear. If you’re new to sport climbing, a fall from high up (so you don’t hit the ground) on an overhung route (so you don’t hit the wall) with a trusted belayer can help you gain confidence falling.
Another (often overlooked) training technique to gain confidence on the wall is downclimbing. Not only does it help you work on balance and muscle movement, it also helps you feel more comfortable looking down and helps you feel better about being able to back down in a situation when you feel scared. For more advanced climbers hoping to preserve their onsights, downclimbing to a rest can give you the time you might need to figure out the next sequence of moves.
Fear of heights aside, there are plenty of other mental setbacks. Psyching yourself out into thinking you can’t do a route or certain moves, being self-conscious of failure in front of others, and feeling frustration for not meeting your own expectations or goals are struggles that almost all climbers face. Learn what you need to get in the right headspace for climbing and practice it before getting on the wall as you would any physical warm-up, whether it be a mantra, song, meditation or phrase. And especially when you’re just starting out, don’t feel embarrassed or self-conscious about your climbing. It can be nerve-wracking to hop on a boulder problem if there are a lot of other climbers watching. Remember: every climber started out where you are at some point, and every person’s warm-up could be someone else’s project.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do beginners improve their climbing?
Climb more frequently and consistently
Use your feet and work on good footwork such as standing on your toes instead of angling your foot sideways
Keep your arms long and relaxed; don’t overexert your upper body
Don’t be afraid to climb a lot of “easy” routes and even repeat routes to try and improve your movement and performance
Keep your hips close to the wall
How can I practice climbing at home?
Get creative! Look around your home for a stable surface that could be climbed on (countertop, staircase, brick wall, baseboard, etc.) and try to establish a boulder problem or traverse
Train: core and upper body workouts can go a long way, and if you’re an intermediate or advanced climber you may want to consider getting a hangboard
Watch climbing videos
Think about beta and movement
Can you climb every day?
You could climb every day, and a few people do. However, as with anything, it’s good to find a balance, and climbing is a physically and mentally taxing sport. If you’re new to climbing, the movement is probably new as well and you’ll be at risk of injury if you push too hard too fast. Certain muscles used in climbing (such as finger and flexor tendons) are prone to overuse injuries and recovery can mean taking months off of climbing. Between the wear on your muscles, fingers, and brain, it’s good to take a break and allow your body time to recuperate. Every person is different, but for most climbers a rest day actually helps improve performance!
What is good climbing technique?
- Use holds efficiently to avoid expending too much energy
- Use your feet and focus on good footwork always
- Keep your arms long and relaxed
- Find good rests on routes (and use them!)
- Before you start a route, look it over and try to determine what moves may be difficult for you and what your beta should be
- Make your movements fluid, only pausing to rest or think about your next moves