Category Archives: Technique

Features on developing effective and efficient technique for climbing

Foot matching and swapping

You may find yourself in a position where you appear to have your feet in the wrong position for the next move. Rather than making the next move an awkward one it is often possible to shift your feet around in one of three ways, the foot dance, foot match or foot swap – changing the foot that is stood on a crucial hold.

The foot dance requires three footholds to choose from and making a series of moves until you manage to get the other foot on the foothold you want.

There may not be enough holds to simply move you feet around and a more tenuous foot match is needed. Think ahead to place
your foot to allow the other room to share the
foothold and you may be able to get both feet onto the single hold.

The foot swap or hop is needed where the foothold is too small to match on, and there are no options for a foot dance. Place your second foot directly above the foot you want to replace, get the big toe right above the other, and hop. During the hope remove the lower foot and the top foot should drop right onto the hold.

Foot swapping exercises

On a traverses and routes when warming up make foot swaps on every move, remember to try the foot dance, foot match and foot swapping.

As you get more confidence start making more and more tenuous foot swaps, eventually you will have an idea of how small a foot hold you can do this on.




Moving around roofs can be strenuous on the arms, the trick is to move past the obstacle as quickly as possible, to a rest above.

Place gear as close up under the roof as possible, and even above the lip of the roof if you can reach. Going up and down a few times may give you a clear picture of where hand and footholds lie. Having placed gear or taken a peek over the lip descend to a rest below the roof to prepare yourself. When you decide to go, do so with determination and don’t stop until you’re above the roof where it will be far less strenuous to stop and place gear.

Moving through a roof
Moving through a roof

Roof exercises

Below the roof nd a good and look at the moves above. When you have an idea of how to proceed, move up until you are faced with the need to step your feet over the roof.

With strength you will be able to step your foot over the lip of the roof, but to start with and on harder routes you will nd it easier to place your knee over the roof to rock-over and step up with your other foot. Don’t stop until you are stood above the roof.

Roof tips

  • Try and remember that standing sideways on before and after the roof to save energy and helps us develop the least strenuous position or even a hands off rest.
  • Move as swiftly as possible through the roof.
  • Rest after you have stepped over the roof.

Overhanging Walls

By there very nature an overhanging wall is going to be strenuous. At lower grades the chances are that any steep rock will be reasonably short lived and you will be able to rest at either the top or bottom of the section.

Just like a roof find a good rest below a steep section and place gear as high as possible. Whilst stood below try and work out the sequence of moves for your hands and feet. You may be able to mark footholds with a dab of chalk to help you spot them when you are committed to the hard climbing.

After assessing the moves you face a decision. If the section is short, commit to climbing quickly and confidently through it. If on the other hand you are unsure then you can climb up a few moves and place some higher gear before reversing back to the rest. By repeatedly going up and down you can place progressively higher runners and also start to work out the complete sequence to overcome the obstacle.

Contemplating commting to the overhang having built a bomb shelter and worked out the moves.
Contemplating commting to the overhang having built a bomb shelter and worked out the moves.

If you choose to yo-yo up and down like this, keep in mind whether the moves you are making are reversible and just how long can you hang on in that position before you fail? You’ll need to balance working out the sequence versus the need to blast on through the crux before you become too pumped.

At times climbers choose to construct a ‘bomb shelter’ or a cluster of runners just before the crux or steep section in order to build confidence.

Overhang Tips

  • Arms straight and driving from the feet, minimise the strain on your arms.
  • From a good rest below a steep section, work out your probable sequence of moves and where possible, mark any useful footholds as far as you can reach with chalk. Then give it a go. If you find extra holds that would make the sequence easier, reverse back down to the rest and try again. Repeat this until you are ready to move through the whole section. Then take a few deep breaths and tackle the section with determination.
  • To keep your arms straight, imagine there is an iron bar down them, or get some large cardboard tubes that will keep them straight!
  • The principles of climbing sideways and using opposite limbs are key.
  • By getting your feet high and keeping your arms straight you can drive yourself upwards with your legs.
  • Moving swiftly through a steep section of rock is going to use far less energy than hanging around on every hold.
  • Sometimes it is possible to reduce the angle at which you are climbing by nding grooves and corners to bridge out on.

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.

Corners and Chimneys

Bridgeable features often provide ways to rest the pulling muscles in our arms and make upward progress.

Climbing using only the flat wall for hands and any hold for feet. A good exercise to work on bridging
Climbing a corner trying to only push down on holds. Thos will help you realise that you don’t have to pull all the time. When climbing this might allow your forearms to recover.


Pushing off a hold and walking your feet up the opposite wall and then getting back into a bridge/rest position. This might help if there is a long wy to the next hand hold.

Another trick for ascending corners and grooves is ‘back and footing’, see Chimney Rest.

Climb a corner with as many hands off rest as possible, by bridging and back and footing.

Climb aagin but your hands can only grip as if you were holding a cup of tea.

Corner tips

  • Use your hand to pivot around your feet and feet to pivot around hands.
  • Palming off the wall uses different muscles to pulling down on holds.
  • Rest whenever you can, both bridging and ‘back and footing’.
  • Sometimes corners and grooves are like pantomimes, the holds are “behind you!”


Climbing chimneys ef ciently is often dif cult, as much of the time actually moving up requires an energy sapping ‘thrutching’ that tires the whole body. The only respite you get is when resting in between the struggling up. The best psychological approach for many chimneys is one of rugged determina- tion and that given a good ght you will succeed.

Chimneys cover a vast range of width of cracks; essentially anywhere you can t a body, it is possible to chimney. Generally the way we move is by locking or wedging one part of our body which then allows us to move another part. By continuously repeating this wedge-move-wedge-move it is possible to edge our way upwards.

Chinmey exercise

Find a chimney, doorway or corner and place your back against one wall and feet against the other and try and sit down in a wedged position.

Push off one foot and your back and move the other foot up and then wedge yourself of the higher foot and your back.

Using your hands against the wall you back is on, thrutch your back upwards and attain another sitting position. By repeating this movement it is possible to edge your way upwards.

Back and fitting up a chimney
Back and fitting up a chimney
The tight confines of a narrow off-width chimney
The tight confines of a narrow off-width chimney

Chimney tips

  • Although it is possible to climb a totally smooth chimney, placing your feet on footholds or edges makes the whole process a lot easier.
  • You will have a fight on your hands.
  • You can often rest by simply sitting down, it is the thrutching upwards that is exhausting.
  • Decide which way round you are going to face before you start. Try the first move facing one way and then reverse down and try it the other, decide which is easier before committing yourself. It will often be impossible to turn around half-way up.
  • Thin chimneys are even harder to climb, unforgiving on the body, totally claustrophobic and requiring a lot of energy to move up. Improvisation is the answer, but the principle is the same, wedge-shuffle-shuffle-wedge.
  • It will often be impossible to see your feet, or arms for that matter; so take note of prominent foot holds as they pass you face and struggle relentlessly until you can feel your feet on them (perhaps your only chance of a rest).



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.


One of the more basic climbing movements (which you will have worked out for yourself no doubt) – how to transfer your weight from one foot to the next. Be awarene of your centre of gravity (usually around your belly button). The key is to rock your weight from one foot to the other fairly quickly and hit the next point of balance before moving on.


An everyday action like getting out of a seat requires rocking our weight from one point of balance to the next – a ‘rock-over’.

Rock-over exercises

Standing on the floor, raise your foot onto a bench and bounce up onto this foot. You have just performed a rock-over. This can be done with your hands at rst, but eventually you should be able to manage it without by gauging the amount of force needed to just arrive in balance. Too much and you fall over the foot you are rocking onto, too little and you end up back on the foot you started from.

Move onto a higher bench or a table, remembering to use both feet.


Rocking over onto a bench.
Rocking over onto a bench.

Try the move on a slabby wall, rocking up onto a foothold. Emphasise a dynamic and speedy movement to a point of balance. Visualise the next point of balance as your belly button or head moving to directly over the foot you are about to rock-over onto.

Rock over onto a slab
Rock over onto a slab

Now link a series of moves from foot to foot, each time concentrating on that point of balance.

Rocking over from standing on the floor,
a quick movement to re-establish yourself on a balanced position stood on the next hold, with the climbers belly button directly
in line with the foot.

You can demonstrate the shift of you centre of gravity from one foot to the other with a water bottle or weight hung from a belt in the small of your back (roughly where your centre of gravity normally is). The plumbline will hang directly over the foot you are balanced on.

Using a Plumbline to visual the point of balance.
Using a Plumbline to visual the point of balance.

The plumbline helps you visualise when you have reach a point of balance, when the weight is directly over the foot.

Try all this blindfolded (or just close your eyes) .You will need to rely on your sense of balance, rather than vision.

Advanced rock-over exercises

With well developed exibility you can attempt to place your foot beside your hand into a rock-over. This high stepping rock-over is particularly useful for the short, as well as on hard slabs. This will place strain on your groin, so build up slowly.

A high stepping rock over, where you match hand and foot before rocking over.

Stand side on when making the move and you will be able to step through onto the outside edge of your foot. Alternate stepping though with both your left and right foot to zig-zag upward.

Stepping through whilst rocking over
Stepping through whilst rocking over

Rock over tips

  • Move uidly, carried by momentum, between one foot and the other.
  • Hands can help you initiate and stop movement.
  • Concentrate on coming to rest on on one foot in balance.
  • Stand side on.
  • Pivot from facing one way to the other as you alternate the in which direction you headed.

Advance Climbing Technique

It’s time to combine and develop your techniques – to work your way up between places of rest and conserve as much energy as possible on the way. This section includes further exercises on technique, with the idea to hone your skills and increase efficiency.

There are also sections of the Tactic and Mental Approach to rock climbing. These are there to further develop your resilience to climbing harder.

Links to Subjects in the Section


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.



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.