Category Archives: Climbing Aretes

Features on techniques for climbing aretes

Laybacking and Arete’s

Cracks, corners or arêtes, many can be con- quered by a series of layback moves. Get it right and you can move quickly and ef ciently, get it wrong and you’ll have a strenuous off-balance nightmare. The basic principle is the rule of opposites, trying to use left hand against right foot and vice versa.

Lay backing exercises

Step onto a vertical wall with your left hand and left foot directly in line with one another and lean right, laying away from the holds. Now push off the wall with your right hand. What happens?

Layback and barn dooring off!
Layback and barn dooring off!

Step back on to the same holds using the rule of opposites. Face in the direction of the hand (so if using right hand and left foot face right) and lean away from your hand. Push yourself away from the wall with your left hand. What happens this time? Is it more or less stable than the using limbs from the same side of the body?

Get back onto the wall, using the rule of opposites. With your foot ‘accelerate’ and ‘decelerate’ like you would in a car. Is there a point you can ‘decelerate’ to where you start to feel the ‘barn door effect’? Try to hold this position. Then ‘accelerate’ as hard as you can. Which felt easier to maintain balance?

Try the exercise again. This time the ‘accelerator’ is a button under your big toe. See whether you can get the same effect just by pressing the button lightly.

Find a corner, arête or flake and link some laybacking movements together, concentrating on keeping your arms straight. Then add the rule of opposites, does this help you stay in balance?

Lay backing a delicate groove in fontainebleau
Lay backing a delicate groove in fontainebleau

Then ascend without crossing your hands over. Always lead with the same hand, keeping the outside shoulder lower than the inside one.

Try again, this time crossing hand over hand, as you layback up the feature. Is this easier or harder than leading with the same hand? Which feels more in balance? As you acquire skill and shoulder strength, it will become easier to cross hand over hand.

Think about your feet. Layback up a feature three times, on the rst go keep your feet really low, the second go bring them really high, and the third go somewhere in between. Which feels easier?

To layback ef ciently the trick is to know when to transfer the weight from one set of limbs to the next.

Laybacking tips

  • Concentrate on keeping your arms straight, pivoting around the hands and shoulders, using your feet to drive you up.
  • Between movements try and develop opposite limbs taking the strain.
  • If it is a short section of laybacking try and climb it as quickly as possible to a rest.


Many arêtes will succumb to a series of laybacks. To climb them well requires kinaesthetic aware- ness of the various positions of rest open to you. The change of angle around an arête can be ad- vantageous, if our feet are on one side laying away from the arête even a small hand hold on the other side can become a jug.

Arête exercises

Layback up an arête, using the rule of opposites. You may need to move from one side of the arête to the other as hand and footholds dictate. Try moving around the arête from one side to the other.

Recall the hands-off rests video. Climb an arête and with as many hands-off rests as possible.

Lay backing up an arete can be delicate and strenuous all at the same time.
Lay backing up an arete can be delicate and strenuous all at the same time.

Arête tips

  • Find as many rests as you can.
  • Pivot around your hands by driving from the feet.
  • Practise moving around arêtes from left to right.
  • Most of time you will climb facing towards the arête.

Corkscrew Rock Over / Rule of Opposites

Although similar to the rock-over as it essentially involves the transfer of weight from one foot to the other. Its difference comes from pivoting during the movement phase so that you arrive at the next point of balance on your outside edge, which as we have learnt from earlier exercises is more efficient. This keeps your hips and centre of gravity as close to the rock as possible, reducing the leverage onto you hands as you lean back.

A break down of the corkscrew rock-ver with the twist towards the end of the movement.
A break down of the corkscrew rock-ver with the twist towards the end of the movement.

Stand on the oor and raise your foot onto a hold using the inside edge of your boot. Use handholds for balance and rock-over. As you reach the point of balance pivot around on your foot to end up on the outside edge of your boot to nish.

Then try the pivot during the rock-over rather than at the end of the move-ment. Pivot round on the higher foot as you move up to arrive at the new point of balance on the outside edge of your boot.

Link a series of movements from foot to foot, concentrating on putting the twist in as you rock-over and arriving at the point of balance on the outside edge of your boot.

Compare this corkscrew rock-over to a standard rock-over, which feels easier? How do they compare on short distances and at the limit of your stretch? Short step or high step? Which type is easier on slabs, vertical walls or overhangs?

Pick a foothold directly above the lower hold and then a hold way out to the side. Try moving the pivot to before, during and after the rock-over. Does one need a stronger grip with your hands?

A corkscrew rock over onto a high ledge.
A corkscrew rock over onto a high ledge.

The rule of opposites

A standard rock-over tends to make us move left and right as we step up, whereas a corkscrew rock-over or a step through can help us to go directly up. Stepping across the centre line of your body and trying to stay sideways uses opposing left and right limbs.

So the rule is: The upper body uses the opposite limb to the lower body (left hand, right foot – right hand, left foot). Combined this with facing towards the hand you are using at the time.

Using the rule of opposites: Stepping up onto the outside edge of the left rock boot, and using mainly the right hand to layaway, and left hand to press down.

Rule of opposites exercises

Use only opposite limbs left hand – right foot and vice versa..

Emphasise the direction that you are facing, if you are pulling on your right hand then face to the right.

Now try making the pivot before you rock over so that you are always rock- ing over onto the outside edge of your foot. This will help keep your centre of gravity closer to the wall, reducing the leverage on your hands.

You may find that if the step is too high you will have to do the twist during the rock-over.

Experiment with higher and higher steps, reaching them using sidepulls.

How does the rule of opposite feel? Easier or harder when stepping through? Is there a height of step when stepping through that it is easier to twist before, during or after the rock-over?

Cork screw rockover/rule of opposites tips

  • Move fluidly, carried by momentum, between one foot and the other.
  • The pivot can happen before, during or after the movement. Experiment with what feels better when doing short or long steps, stepping out to the side or into the centre.
  • When you pivot before the movement you will back step onto the hold.
  • Use opposite limbs.
  • Face the right direction.

Basic Climbing Techniques Overview

Imagine two identical twin climbers with equal strength, one uses good basic climbing techniques whilst the other doesn’t. The twin who uses their feet and body more effectively will be a far better climber. Rather than stumbling upon basic climbing techniques there are some essential building blocks which you can drill into yourself. In the following section there are some exercises that you can repeat and test on different climbing surfaces.

So that they can be repeated until they become second nature, many of the exercises need to be practiced on easy terrain. And by keeping the climbing simple we can gauge which techniques feel easier. For footwork excercises, small boulders can be very useful as hands are super uous. Otherwise start them on easy top-roped routes.

If you are already a climber, then you may have develop some poor technique, as such you effectively need to unlearn those techniques and learn the newer more efficient ones. This in itself presents all sorts of problems for the learner, as unlearning something is possibly harder then learning right the first time.

How Often Do I need to Train Basic Climbing Techniques?

You will need to regularly carry out these training drills to develop good fundamental technique over and over again. Until your default technique becomes the more efficient one. As you will find yourself if you haven’t spent the time relearning technique returning to the older less effective technique when you become stress.

As a rule of thumb, it is often worth spending the initial warm up of any climbing session focusing on technique. As first off the terrain should be easy and secondly focusing on this process rather than an outcome will help you to drive home these basic climbing techniques.