Category Archives: Technical

Technical parts of climbing performance

Camming Devices

Camming devices are one of the more technical pieces of climbing equipment. They are so effective that very quickly after they were invented they revolutionise rock climbing. Originally design by an aerospace engineer Ray Jardine, who was also a keen climbers.

When he was testing his prototype he used to say he was going climbing with my ‘friends’. He licensed the design the wild country and the name ‘friends’ was kept and still is. The name friends is as synonymous as camping devices or cams as name for this devices.

Good and bad placements of camping devices. Over cammed, just right and under cammed.
Good and bad placements of camping devices. Over cammed, just right and under cammed.

Essentially there are several cams that are spring loaded and when placed in a crack they expand. As the device is loaded the cams push out on the crack with a great force than is trying to pull it out so it stays in place.

As such camming devices are active and can put a large forces pressing the crack apart. This means that if the crack is part of a superficial flake it can prize it off in the event of a fall. As such the cams need to be placed with consideration. However as they can be placed quickly in a variety of width cracks and even hold in parallel sided cracks means they are extremely popular.

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Hexes

Hexes were an extension of the machine nuts that climbing started using for protection. They eventually became ‘hex centric’ in that each side was of a different length. The reason behind this was that someone trying to make their own at home wasn’t very accurate as cutting and made it by accident as realised that the eccentric shape work even better.

How Hexes are places in cracks. Note how they torque into the cracks.
How Hexes are places in cracks. Note how they torque into the cracks.

Hexes are a semi-passive piece of equipment, as although they are just placed into a crack. When they are put under load however they torque into the crack. Also actively forcing themselves into a better placement. Often in order to retrieve them from a placement the climber will have to turn them in the opposite direction and you will hear and feel an audible click and the hex will become loose.

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Rock Shoes

There is a profusion of rock shoes to choose from. At first you are better off going for comfort, rather than performance, although a reasonably tight pair will pay dividends with your footwork. Generally one model of boots will fit better than the others, so don’t go on any recommendations, try on lots of different makes and models until you find the right shoe for you.

This is a cardinal sin in climbing having dirty rock shoes. Not only do you make the route dirty for the next climber, that high performance rubber you paid so much for won't work when covered in mud.
This is a cardinal sin in climbing having dirty rock shoes. Not only do you make the route dirty for the next climber, that high performance rubber you paid so much for won’t work when covered in mud.

Some boots are designed specifically for different types of climbing. A stiff midsole makes for good performance if you are going to climb on edges like slate or volcanic mountain rock. A soft midsole makes for a boot that is suited for smearing on rock like gritstone, sandstone or some type of granite. Many modern boots have a drop toe configuration these are great for steep or pocketed like limestone or bouldering. To start off with you are better getting an all round boot rather than a specialist boot.

A nice tight pair of edging boots
A nice tight pair of edging boots

Fitting a Rock Shoes

If it is your first pair of rock shoes then spending more than 15 minutes trying on different shoes. As a rule of thumb your big toe should be up against the front of the shoe. Not necessary bent right over but a degree of bending in the toe joint will mean the the toe is more claw like and active when standing on holds.

How tight you by them will depend on how much you climb, what you are trying to climb and how long you have been climbing. As it takes a degree of getting used to the tightness required in a rock shoe. Certainly gone are the days when you should be buying a pair one or two sizes too small.

Once you have found the one you think fits you, then walk round the shop in them for 10 minutes to ensure you can wear them for a short while.

Notes for young climber – having overly tight rock shoes has lead to permanent foot deformity in later life. Children need to be at least 16 before they start cramming there feet into overly tight shoes.

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Drill Boards: Drop Knee and Flagging

The use of these drills boards has help many climbers start to develop a better understanding of climbing on steep rock. Although you can develop one for the rock over it is the tricky techniques of the drop knee, inner flag and outer flag that this drill boards really helps.

For most climbers the first time they use a drill board they struggle with the pattern of movement. In that they can often get the beginning or the end position but it is the transition from one to the other that become the problem.

It is this ability for a climber to repeat many different combinations and permutations of the movements need in order to get the underlying fundamental principles dialled in.

As such whilst know what a drop knee, inner and outer flag are is great this exercise really helps you get to grips with the body positions needs to make the transitions smooth and effective.

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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.

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Hands Off Rests

Learning to climb with efficiency is all about saving energy. So finding a hands off rests or a little respite is a key component of good climbing technique. A hands of rest is a place where we can recover from a tricky section and shake out the lactic acid from our arms and even legs, but also a place to plan the next section of climbing from.

In the video above we cover several different type of rest, the first thing to do is practice them in isolation so you can recall them. The next step is to see what shape the wall/rock needs to be for you to get the rest. This ability to identify rests from below will give you islands of safety and rest to aim for.

Once you get to the rest remember to take a deep sooth breathe, this can help calm you down if on lead. As the rest can help you regain a composed and relaxed manner, as well as giving a physical rest. You might also be able to add to this relaxing feeling by placing gear from these restful positions when trad climbing.

Finally use the rests to plan the next section of a climb. Whether be a plan to get to the  next runner or rest. The rest or respites become a tactical component of your climbing, but essentially they are all just simple techniques based on the ability to identify the rest and use it.

UKROckTour

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Coordination: Mind to Body Warm Up

As you are warming ups, doing some pulse raising exercise you can add in some co-ordination exercises. These will focus your concentration on kinesthesia (your sense of movement), proprio- ception (sense of space) and balance. We can effectively turn on the part of the brain that we use for learning and acquiring new skills.

In the long term, these types of coordination exercises can become second nature, it is in the context of the learning to learn that these exercises will benefit you for the first few sessions that you use this book.

Coordination exercises

  1. Balance on one foot and move upper body and other limb to counter balance each other.
  2. Rub tummy, pat head whilst balancing on one foot. Put the other foot forwards, left, right and back.
  3. Rotate arms in opposite directions whilst walking around then change your direction of travel.
  4. Basic Juggling, then move to see if you can do it on one leg?
  5. Rotate your right foot in a clockwise direction and then with your right hand write a number six in the air.
  6. Run on the spot with your legs going in slow motion and your arms as fast as possible and vice versa.
  7. If there are three of you tried the human plait or some gymnastic multi person balances. (see video below)
  8. Various Yoga poses 

Video of German Climbing team warm ups with coordination exercises

The video below show various routines that the german climbing team have used over the years to warm up. Many are fun and require a high level of coordination and look more like acrobatics than climbing.

Coaches Notes

This warming up people coordination is extremely important when we are teaching people new physical skills. As it helps them to access the right part of the brain for learning.

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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.

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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: Basic Belays

Top roping (or bottom roping) is how most people start out climbing and, in the context of this site, one of the most appropriate ways to repeat the exercises in safety. If done properly, it should be an very low risk activity. There are however several fundamental principles that you can learn whilst making basic belays for top roping, that are carried through to lead climbing.

Risks associated with Top Rope Climbing Outdoors
Risks associated with Top Rope Climbing Outdoors

The safe rigging of basic belays for a top or bottom rope requires you to consider some fundamental principles as well as ways to avoid problems. These principles apply right through to the more advanced belays you will come across on multi-pitch climbs.

The ABC of Basic Belays

The rst step when rigging top ropes is your ABC; Anchors, Belay and Climber. To keep the forces in-line with gravity all three should be in-line to prevent either the belay, belayer or the climber being pulled sideways across the cliff. If the belay is pulled across the cliff edge it may result in damage to the rope and/or unequal loads on the anchors, and if it occurs repeatedly or on a sharp edge it may well cut through the ropes (catastrophic failure!)

The ABC of Basic Belays. A- Anchor, B-Belayer and C-Climber. Ideally all three are in a row.
The ABC of Basic Belays. A- Anchor, B-Belayer and C-Climber. Ideally all three are in a row.

The IDEAS Principle of  Basic Belays

The second acronym, which will help to guide you whilst building a safe and basic belay is IDEAS:

  • Independent
  • Directional
  • Equalised
  • Angles
  • Solid
Ticking all the boxes and ful lling the fundamental principles. This bottom rop setup has the anchors,belay and climber all in line and pulling the anchors in the right direction. The anchors are solid and linked to make them equalised and independent, on top of all this the angles between the anchors is acute.
Ticking all the boxes and ful lling the fundamental principles. This bottom rop setup has the anchors,belay and climber all inline and pulling the anchors in the right direction. The anchors are solid and linked to make them equalised and independent,on top of all this the angles between the anchors is acute.

Independent – each of the anchors should connect separately to the belay so if one anchor fails the other(s) won’t be shock loaded. This is an important principle to follow throughout the system when linking of anchors with either slings or rope to make basic belays.

 

The Sling on the left is a free hanging V, whilst it will self equalise it will extend and shock load the belay should one of the anchors fail. Much better is the example on the right by adding the knot the anchor is equalised but will not longer extend.
The Sling on the left is a free hanging V, whilst it will self equalise it will extend and shock load the belay should one of the anchors fail. Much better is the example on the right by adding the knot the anchor is equalised but will not longer extend.
The Sling on the left is a free hanging V, whilst it will self equalise it will extend and shock load the belay should one of the anchors fail. Much better is the example on the right by adding the knot the anchor is equalised but will not longer extend.
The rope on the left is a free hanging V, whilst it will self equalise it will extend and shock load the belay should one of the anchors fail. Much better is the example on the right by adding the knot the anchor is equalised but will not longer extend.

Directional – the anchors, belay and rope should be placed ready to take a load in the direction that any force on the belay will occur. In a top rope this will typically be towards the cliff edge and directly down. If the anchors are pulled in the wrong direction, they may not withstand the load.

Anchors are very often directional in nature. In that they will be stronger with the right direction of all and maybe even fail if the pull comes from the wrong direction.
Anchors are very often directional in nature. In that they will be stronger with the right direction of all and maybe even fail if the pull comes from the wrong direction.

Equalised – any link between your anchors should be under equal tension when loaded in the direction that will result from a fall. Done well, this will share the load equally between the anchors and reduce the chance of anchor failure, and also help to prevent a shock load should one of your anchors fail.

Left: Poorly equalised sling. Only one anchor is bearing weight and if it fails the other will be shock loaded (inset left: this arrangement might be equalised with a different angle of pull) 3. Well equalised slings.
Left: Poorly equalised sling. Only one anchor is bearing weight andif it fails the other will be shock loaded (inset left: this arrangement might be equalised with a different angle of pull). Right. Well equalised slings.

Angles – the angle between the two outside anchors should be kept to a minimum. The smaller the angle the better the force is shared. An acute (narrow) angle is good, a right-angle is alright and an obtuse (wide) angle is bad. Under 60° the load is shared roughly 50% onto each anchor, by 90° the load is shared at 70% of the overall load, whilst over 120° the load exerted on each anchor is 100% or more of the overall load (so there is little point having two anchors over 120° apart). So in practice our anchors are linked with rope or slings the greatest angle between anchors should not exceed 90°.

Diagram of angles in belays.
Diagram of angles in belays.

Solid – reliable anchors are the key to any basic belay. Check the rock surrounding your placements to ensure that the rock is not hollow or loose. Tap the rock with a karabiner and if it sounds hollow look elsewhere. The placements you choose should be as good as possible.

Although it looks good the placement is compromised as the rock is cracked.
Although it looks good the placement is compromised as the rock is cracked.

Another Alternative that americans use is EARNEST.

  • E – Equalized – Anchors should be constructed so that each component of the anchor carries an equal amount of the load.
  • R – Redundant – Anchors should consist of multiple components in case one or more components were to fail.
  • NE – No Extension – Anchors should be built so that if one or more of the components fail the remaining components won’t be shock loaded.
  • S – Strong (or Solid) – The stronger the better.
  • T – Timely – Anchors should be as simple and timely as possible without giving up any of the other ERNEST qualities.

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