Category Archives: Sport Climbing

Warming Up Overview

Warming up will get the heart, lungs, muscles, joints and tendons ready for action. Whilst some people will do a full aerobics style warm-up, some will opt for easy bouldering or climbing. Some climbers will choose to do none. Although this might feel like you will be able to get more climbing in because you have not ‘wasted’ energy on the warm-up, the opposite is true.

Warming up promotes blood flow through the muscles, dilating the capillaries and actually allowing you to climb harder for longer. It will also help switch your mind from normal life to to climbing mode. A good warm up will help make your muscle and tendons more flexible, a bit like warming up blue tack or silly putty. Once you have got them warm they are less likely to snap.

If you don’t warm up and jump on the hardest route straight away you will get what climbers refer to  ‘flash pump’ – your muscles instantly become exhausted because the blood cannot flow effectively through arteries, veins and capillaries restricting the muscles they supply. It is often difficult to recover from the flash pump as you need to go all the way back to the start of your warm up.

Warming Up

Starts heart and lungs working. Promotes good blood follow through cap- illaries. Helps tendons prepare for activity by making them more elastic. Helps promote uid in the joint to increase lubrications. Helps switch the mind to climbing mode.

A good warm-up should last about twenty minutes. It will help to set the scene for your whole session, get you in the right frame of mind and help you to concentrate on skilful climbing.

Video of Warming Up using Bouldering

Warming Up Key Elements

  1. Raise you heart rate by light jogging and extremely easy bouldering/climbing. Do this until you feel out of breathe and are starting to sweat. (5 – 10 minutes)
  2. Do some more very easy climbing, you should never feel pumped so maybe try slabs to start with. (5-10 minutes)
  3. Work up to one grade below you maximum (5 – 10 minutes)
  4. You should be ready to climb at your max now. If you find yourself getting pumped then drop a few grades to a very easy route, this will help you de-pimp.

The Pump

Bodybuilder’s coined the phrase ‘the pump’ for the swollen feeling and appearance of muscles after a workout. For climbers it is pertinent to climbing in our anaerobic zone, where the build up of lactic acid makes the muscle less and less effective. It starts with a dull ache and ends in a complete inability to contract the muscles effected, resulting in failure. If you carry on to failure the muscle will feel solid to touch, and you will need at least 15 minutes rest to recover.

Iy is essentially cause by you contracting the muscles so hard that you start to squeeze the capillaries shut and starve the muscles of oxygen and energy. In order to de-pump you need to rest the specific muscle but also use them lightly. As the blood pumping too the muscle will help so the accumulation of lactic acid, it is however the contraction of muscles that helps flush the lactic acid out of the muscles.



Warming Up

Whether you climb indoor or outdoors on routes or boulders you need to do some form of warming up. Failure to do so will often lead to poorer performance and/or injury.  We cover some of the basics of warming up for indoor and outdoor climbers.

Warming up for the Indoor Climber

At an indoor climbing wall a good warm-up will extend the length of a session, by allowing you climb harder for longer.

The majority of climbing walls will have some easy top roping for groups, these routes are ideal for warming up on as they will allow you to work your muscles without tiring. You need to operate below the level where you nd your arms becoming pumped because of the build up of lactic acid. You should be excercising in anaerobic way. If you do start to become pumped lower off and drop the grade and angle of the routes that you are warming up on. Very easy bouldering on slabs, traverses or juggy routes can offer an alternative.

Throughout the warmup, how does your body feel; are you finding it too intense? If so, make things a easier, the level you warm up at will rarely be too easy. You will be able to feel your body warming up, and the blood flowing more freely through the muscles, a raised heart and breathing rate and a glow of light perspiration. Keep going until that feeling is well established (for about twenty minutes).

The warm-up is a great time to introduce some climbing drills that help reinforce technique on this easy terrain. So as part of your warm-up visit some of the exercises we’ll in the Basic climbing techniques section. Exercises like climbing only facing left, then right, being sideways on (zigzagging up the wall), climbing silently, climbing slowly, Climbing one or no handed and climbing like a monkey. All these exercises develop good technique and used during the warm-up will help switch you mind to climbing mode. Doing them every time you go climbing will engrain them in your subconscious and help ensure that you think about effeciency whenever you climb.

Warming up at the wall

  • Remember climbing during the warm-up can never be too easy!
  • A warm-up should last for at least twenty minutes.
  • Consider doing some technique drills.

Video on the importance of warming up

Warming up at the wall

Warming Up Outside

At the crag it may be harder to do a thorough warm-up, although sometimes a long walk-in suffices. You may find that by the time you have rigged a top rope or racked up you have already cooled down, so consider doing an easy route as a warm-up. If you have warmed up on the approach wrapping up in an extra layer of clothing once you have arrived at the bottom of the cliff can make a big difference.

If climbing an easy route isn’t possible then bouldering up and down the first few moves of a climb several times is a good alternative. This process of going up and down the start of a route can be extended to actually placing gear and coming back down, not only getting warmed up but also getting to know the route and the gear.

Simply walking around the bottom of the crag, moving and flexing your arms and hands as well as jogging on the spot will all help to get the heart and lungs into gear. Whatever you do, any form of warm-up will help you climb better and fight off the pump.

Warming up at the crag

  • The walk-in can be part of the warm-up.
  • Start on an easy route or boulder up and down the start of the route.
  • Boulder around the base of the crag.
  • Use an easy route or small boulder to work on technique.
  • Doing an easy route can help you get to know the rock type.



Climbing Fundamentals

Whilst there are simply hundreds of thousands of individual climbing movements. There are a few climbing fundamentals both in terms of climbing and training that will help give you a strong foundation when it comes to developing your climbing skill.

This section covers the most basic of those climbing fundamentals that will be key to you starting out climbing on the right foot. If you have already been  climbing a while you might find that you want to revisit these climbing fundamentals once in a while at the very least. However many good climbers now use some of the exercise here as part of their warm up to engage brain.

To set you off on the right path then we are going to cover the importance of warming up, stretching and those essential climbing fundamentals. With these key climbing skills you will be able to apply them to any facet of climbing. Be that Bouldering, Sport, Trad or indoor climbing.

Here Wez Hunter shows he has mastered the climbing fundamentals as he tip toes along a sloping ledge on the classic slate route Poetry Pink, E4 6a, Rainbow Slab
Here Wez Hunter shows he has mastered the climbing fundamentals as he tip toes along a sloping ledge on the classic slate route Poetry Pink, E4 6a, Rainbow Slab


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Basic Climbing Safety: Lead Climbing

You would probably put placing gear and building belays high on your list of skills needed for safe lead climbing (these are skills you will have begun to develop from top-roping). There are some additional skills you need to consider:

  • Belaying a lead climber.
  • Belaying a second (belayer at top of pitch).
  • Judging route vs climbers ability.
  • Assessing the dangers of a route.
  • Understanding and following guidebook descriptions.
  • Moving ef ciently over the rock.
  • Abseiling and escaping from the climb.

How do these skills affect our safety, what are the risks and how can we control them?

The risks involved in lead climbing are far greater than in any other form of climbing. You need to carefully consider whether you are aware of and can manage them all. After all remember it is the risk you don't know you are take that are likely to kill you!
The risks involved in lead climbing are far greater than in any other form of climbing. You need to carefully consider whether you are aware of and can manage them all. After all remember it is the risk you don’t know you are take that are likely to kill you!

Climbing safety systems are most often aimed at stopping the consequences of a slip or a fall. In lead climbing, especially when starting out, consider what you can do to prevent a fall in the first place. This may go back to choosing the right route that suits your style, ability and which you have knowledge of. More often than not the actual psychological pressures put on you during lead climbing have a negative effect on your climbing ability. Being aware of these risks and the consequences of a fall are paramount. Taking a lead fall on an easy route often means that there are ledges and slabs to hit on the way down. The chances of injury are higher falling off an easier route than they are on a steeper route with equal protection. Of course the chances of falling off in the first place are lower. The best way to prevent injuries from falls is not to fall off.

“the leader never falls” old max- im from the days of tieing in by wrapping a hemp rope around your waist in a swami belt.

No matter how well chosen your route, there will come a point when you will overstretch yourself and be unable to go up or down. At this point you want to know that you gear placements are good and that the belayer is doing their job well. You can help yourself to reduce the fall by down climbing and also warning the belayer that you are about to fall. Often it is best to accept the fall and jump off rather than fall and slide down the rock.

Leading a route can take a considerable length of time and your belayer may become restless and innatentive. Both belayer and climber should be happy with how long they expect spend climbing a pitch. Even a momentarily loss of concentration by the belayer can result in the climber being dropped.

Despite this though for many people, leading a route is the essence of climbing. There are no quick ways to prepare for the techniques and head games of lead climbing. Learning to lead is mainly about staying as safe as possible by route selection and being coached by others through placing gear; the rest of the game is efficiency, tactics and judgement. The tactics of how to approach a route and break it down into manageable chunks is covered in the tactics section. The head games that are involved in lead climbing are looked at in the mental skills and techniques.

Consider an inefficient leader. They take wires off one gear loop on their harness and clip them back on another, after a while it can take a minute or two for them to find the size of wire they are looking for. They have chosen to place gear mid-move or from a poor hold, if they made another half move they would be stood in balance and more able to clip easily. Having placed their wire it takes a few attempts for them to clip the rope into the quickdraw. Throughout they are understandibly showing signs of stress. Stress makes them a defensive climber rather than a relaxed and lazy climber.



Basic Climbing Safety: Indoor Rock Climbing

Indoor rock climbing if done right and in a considered fashion should be extremely safe. However there are only a few things that you can learn off this webpage and the internet in general. This should be one of the times that you look for some professional instruction and guidance. Even if it just a several being taught how to put a harness on, tying in, belay and lower off correctly.

A good figure of 8 and the quickdraw is clipped properly.
A good figure of 8 and the quickdraw is clipped properly.

In fact most climbing wall insist that you can do the those four things before they let you loose in their facility. Some especially in major cities will check that you can do this with a mini test as well.


Harnesses need to be fitted probably and the buckles securely double based or locked off.  The waist belt needs to be tight enough so it won’t pull down over your hip bone, a good rule of thumb is a fact hand can slide down the front but not a clenched fist.

Tying In with a figure of 8

The Figure of eight is the most common knot to tie in with whether we are indoor rock climbing or outdoor, because it is simple and reliable. Done well it is potentially the only knot you’ll ever need to tie in with.

Belaying and Lowering Off

In order to belay and lower someone off indoor rock climbing, you will need to be able to put a harness on and tie into the harness with a suitable knot like the figure of 8. As well as be able to thread the rope onto the belay device and karabiner properly. Finally you then need to be able to belay properly.

Safe and effective belaying is as important as the anchors and system at the top of the crag. Every year numerous people are injured both inside and out when they are dropped by their belayer. As a fundamental skill of climbing, belaying correctly should be of utmost importance, and requires concentration and communication by both belayer and climber.

Trying to multi-task when climbing should be avoided, eating your sandwiches, drinking a ask of coffee and even having a conversation can take your mind off the job in hand. Belaying properly requires both hands.

Belaying a bottom rope
The Live and Dead ropes in climbing belaying. If you let go of the dead rope the climber can die!!!
The Live and Dead ropes in climbing belaying. If you let go of the dead rope the climber can die!!!

In order to belay properly you will need some coaching from an experienced climber. For the first few times climbing have someone tail the rope until you are ready to do it alone. Many climbers introducing friends to climbing have been dropped at both indoor walls and crags, whilst the novice remains safe it is when the novice belays the experience climber that accidents have more frequently happened.

The correct belaying sequence.
The correct belaying sequence.

The most important thing is to never let go of the ‘dead rope’, whilst still keeping the rope snug as the climber ascends. This is achieve by the pattern in the photo sequence above.

  1. Prepare to take in the rope.
  2. Take in the rope.
  3. Lock the rope off.
  4.  Move both hands to the dead rope.
  5. Swap the bottom hand to starting position below the belay plate.
  6. Prepare to take in the rope. Repeat the process until climber is ready to come down.

Eventually you will shorten this to:

  1. Take in
  2. Lock off
  3. Hand swap
  4. Back to the beginning

In the US they use the acronym, as they do the hand swap slightly differently to the UK.

  1. Pull
  2. Lock
  3. Under
  4. Slide

Caution – Always back up novice belayers and serious consider getting professional tuition to ensure your safety when learning this skill.

At times the climber may climb faster than a belayer can take the rope in, resulting in a lot of slack, if the climber falls there will be a considerable drop before the rope and gear is shock loaded. If you are climbing, slow down when you notice too much slack, if you belaying, ask the climber to pause whilst you catch up.

When the climber reaches the top you need a simple proceedure, talking to each other, making the rope tight before lowering the climber down. Repeating the same proceedure time and again reinforces the trust be- tween climber and belayer and reduces the likelyhood of an accidental drop as the climber weighs the rope.

Lower-off proceedure

1. The climber gets to the top and calls to belayer, “TAKE IN” the climber should look down to see if the belayer is taking in and if possible make eye contact to con rm the belayer has heard.

2. The belayer takes in rope and looks to see if it is tight on the climber. As the belayer feels the rope go tight they shout, “IS THAT YOU?”

3. The climber feels the rope go tight and looks to ensure the belayer has locked off, then keeping a hand on the rope going down to the belayer as a back up, lowers their weight onto the rope slowly, when you have commit- ted your weight to the rope and are happy that you are being held, shout “THAT’S ME”.

4. The belayer pauses, shouts “OK” and then starts to lower the climber in a slow and controlled fashion.


Indoor boulder also has some risk attached to it, in particular you are much more likely to fall. As such whilst the floor is well padded the risk is that you fall onto something or more likely, someone.

Being aware of who is around you when you are climbing is one side of the risk management coin. The other side is when you are not climbing you need to be aware of who is above you. Also not just walking round a corner but giving it a wide birth as someone can be high off the ground on of sight when you go round the corner.

Catching the bum of someone falling off an overhang backwards, you can help turn them slightly in the air so they land facing forwards and onto the mat.
Catching the bum of someone falling off an overhang backwards, you can help turn them slightly in the air so they land facing forwards and onto the mat.

Managing yourself and your children is key, as landing on and being landed upon are extreme painful and have resulted in some horrible injuries. Remember the bouldering wall isn’t a play ground. As an 80kg adult falling from 8ft is not something you want on your or your child’s head.

See the section of bouldering safety for tips on spotting climbers. Indoors the spotter is as much trying to keep the landing zone clear of other wall users as a spotter.



Basic Equipment Maintenance

There are various standards that each and every piece of protective equipment must pass for it to be fit for purpose and saleable, often involving randomized destruction testing during manufacture. As we use and abuse the kit we need to be able to make informed decisions as to when to retire and replace our equipment. This section contain information that will help you with basic climbing equipment maintenance.

General rule of thumb on equipment maintenance and life
  • Metal Equipment – 10 year life span.
  • Webbing – 5 years Storage (On shop shelf) and then ve years use.
  • Ropes – 5 years from the date of manufacture.

It is important to realise that heavy use might reduce these lifespans.

There is anecdotal evidence that metal work in particular can withstand the test of time. DMM tested a featherlite carabiner from the 1960’s which still broke at 20kN, similarly they have run ‘Break what you Brung’ workshops as various events and have found twenty year old carabiners regularly breaking at there cited strength. This is possible because Aluminium hardens with age, which also means that a new wire is slightly plastic and may mould itself into a crack slightly when you fall on it, but and older wire may not. Whilst this shouldn’t compromise the placement it is an interesting consequence of metal ageing.


Checking the wire rope on some nuts for damage. Top, a brass nut showing corrosion. Bottom three wires rejected for showing damaged wires.
Checking the wire rope on some nuts for damage. Top, a brass nut showing corrosion. Bottom three wires rejected for showing damaged wires.

Check your wires regularly, by examining the swaged wire rope for damage, if any of the strands are broken then it is time to replace it (the strength will be effected and the sharp wire may abrade your webbing or rope). Slide the metal wedge down the wire to see what is going on underneath it too.


It is a myth that if you drop a carabiner on the floor from the slightest height it may magically hit a sweet spot, causing micro-fractures and compromising the integrity of the carabiner. Aluminium carabiners are forged at over 400 degrees Centigrade so the metal forms strong molecular bonds that are elastic. However if you drop a piece of gear down and entire pitch and it lands on solid rock then you would be advised to retire it.

All metal work is liable to corrosion especially if you climb at or near the coast. Salt in the air will stick to the metal and stay there slowly corroding the metal whilst it languishes in your rucsac until the salt is washed away. Rinse all hardware in fresh water after climbing at sea cliffs, to limit corrosion. Gear is often anodised, which creates a barrier to corrosion, however, any scratch to the anodised surface exposed the metal underneath to the corrosive environment, so even anodised equipment needs a rinse.


Cams (with all their moving parts) need to be regularly oiled with specific oils like the Metolius cam oil, they can also be cleaned using Metolius Cam Cleaner. Maintaining the cams will prevent them from seizing up and consequently needing to be replaced. Oil the axle which the cams rotate around and make sure all the cams move independently of the axle and each other. Sometimes a long fall onto a cam or dirt will stop the cams moving independently, making the cam less stable when placed. Also the trigger wires can break but can often be replaced by returning the unit to the manufacturer for a small charge. If the unit is over ten years old they will not replace the trigger.

Both cams and hexes have a webbing sling, which will have a lifespan less than the metal parts. These can be replace by the manufacturer at a price. Webbing is more susceptible to damage from UV ligh and also abrades quickly. Abrasion causes more damage than you might imagine.

Destruction tests show a new dynema sling cut completely through 1/3 of the width of the sling, and then abraded across its whole width, will snap first where it is abraded before it tears at the cut. This is why the five year rule of thumb is best understood as a maximum lifespan, as heavy use will result in abrasion all over the sling.


Harnesses may also suffer abrasion, general wear and tear as well as specfic wear points (where the buckles are tightened and loosened every time we put a harness on and take it off and also where the rope is threaded through the strong point of the harness).

A worn harness was the cause of the death of Todd Skinner, a famous and experienced climber, who had order a new harness that hadn’t arrived prior to his climbing trip.


Your rope too needs to be inspected and maintained, the rope’s lifespan of ve years would also be best seen as a maximum life. Heavy use or dam- aged from being weighted over an edge may damage the sheath of the rope or the core, if the damage is severe then retire the rope. You should check your rope every time you use it (you probably do this without realising), as you ake the rope out, feel it run through you hands, feeling for uffy sec- tions or irregularities in the rope, then check these section more thoroughly, if it feels like the core is damaged then it is better to replace the rope than risk your life.

A rope damaged when lowering a climber over and egde.
A rope damaged when lowering a climber over and egde.

Don’t treat your rope badly – don’t step on it, dry it after use if it gets wet, wash it from time to time in fresh water and don’t add your own half way marks with marker pens (which may damage the sheath).

Whilst UV will damage rope just like webbing and slings, it is less of an issue with rope as the sheath with represents about 10% of the overall strength of the carabiner, the remain 90% strength provided by the core is protected, recent tests of insitu abseil tat exposed to an alpine environment, has shown whilst reduced in strength compared to slings the reduction is not as dangerous as slings exposed to UV.  Store your rope away from direct sunlight.



Basic Climbing Equipment

In order to climb safely there are many pieces of climbing equipment that you will need. This is just a short overview of each of those pieces of equipment and some advice on the pro’s and con’s associated with each piece of equipment. Helping to turn you into an informed climber.

In the modern era there are many equipment manufacturers, all of which have to build the equipment to stringent regulations laid down by the UIAA, European Commission or similar body. As such all equipment is safe and fit for the purpose it was designed. Much of the choice comes down to personal preference and dare I say it brand loyalty.

Climbing Equipment

To find out more information on each of the follow pieces  of rock climbing equipment follow the links to individual pages.

  • Harness
  • Helmet
  • Rock Shoes
  • Belay System
  • Rope
  • Karabiners
  • Slings
  • Nuts
  • Hexes
  • Cams

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Basic Safety in Rock Climbing

This may seem like teaching your grandmother to suck eggs, but taking time to increase our awareness of risk and safety is often overlooked. It’s common sense, when you look at a hazard (like being high off the ground) and the risk (of falling) you will consider ways to reduce the risk.

Many of the dangers at the crag can affect the climber, the belayer and even bystanders. So it is important to keep an eye on the situation around you as it develops and adapt your plans to suit. The key to climbing safely at the beginning of your climbing career is to choose the right crag, grade and route.

Choosing the right climb may seem difficult. Guidebooks are a starting point but local knowledge can be invaluable, so talk to people you meet at the crag or wall, the sales assistant in an outdoor shop and instructors or outdoor centres, most will happily give advice on venues. Eventually you need to assess a crag or a route’s suitability for yourself. Often, just by being aware of a hazard will greatly reduce the risk of an accident.

Its the risks you don’t know you are taking that are likely to kill you.

We’ll consider a simple break-down of top roping, lead climbing and bouldering. The hazards, the likelihood of an accident, any measures we can take to reduce the risk and the residual risk after we’ve taken action. Many of these things are common sense.

You may find the technical side of climbing daunting, but by becoming more aware of risk, ropework and sound judgement you’ll become a safer climber. With regular practice, these skills will become second nature and your safety will increase. Spend time learning ropework and safety skills from a professional instructor or centre. This is one area of your climbing for which there is no substitute for informed instruction.

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