Film: Climbing steep rock

Posted by Jon Garside on 04/01/2008
Techniques for climbing steep rock (Photo: Alex Messenger)

Adopting a style that favours the body's stronger muscles is important when climbing. On steep rock, the most effective way to increase your performance may well be to change the way you climb.

When climbing slabs and vertical walls it is not uncommon to be face-on much of the time, but climbing steep rock this way results in the arms tiring very quickly. It is therefore best to change the orientation of your body as you climb steep rock, in order to use the body's stronger muscles to best effect.

First of all, lets think about how the arms and legs support the body when climbing face-on.

On a slab it is possible to stand upright most of the time, with the body's weight positioned over the feet and supported by the legs.  However, climbing face-on to an overhanging wall results in the body's weight being largely supported by the arms. The picture shows a climber face-on to the wall. If this position was maintained for the whole climb, the arms would tire very quickly, and the legs would not be used most effectively.

Climbing face-on has two major disadvantages: the arms tire quickly, as they will predominantly be used to pull the body up, and the legs cannot be used to best effect to push the body up.

This is not to say that the body should never be face-on, as this is the position often adopted when setting up for the next move. What's important is that when actually climbing upwards, getting the body close into the wall allows the legs to be used to best effect, and this can often be acheived by a side-on position.

Climbing side-on to steep rock allows the body to be brought much closer in to the wall, meaning that the legs can be used more effectively to push up a climb. And with the arms remaining fairly straight, the back and shoulder muscles can be employed to great effect.

The film demonstrates some principles for climbing steep rock, especially the following:

  • The body is side-on as the climber moves up
  • The body is face-on only when setting up for the next move
  • The arms are straight much of the time
  • The upper body twists as the climber reaches up

WATCH BMC TV: Climbing Steep Rock

Watch this and more on BMC TV

It would be wrong to view the film as being prescriptive with regard how to climb every steep climb. Rather, consider the fundamental principles of trying to use the legs to push up a climb, instead of the arms to pull up a climb. These principles are also outlined in the Climbing Movement film.



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