The key to climbing better while relying less on muscle strength comes from applying techniques. Techniques are something that many often overlook or don’t spend enough time contemplating. Imagine if you’re given a bouldering problem and all you had to do was get past jugs in order to get to the top; chances are you’d somehow manage to pull it off even if this was your first time on it. Let’s at least assume that you would. This would happen because
a) You have the strength and mental capacity to get yourself going.
b) Climbing is intuitive.
Now, if we were to alter the course of the boulder problem while maintaining the same grade what would happen then? By altering, I mean if we were to introduce some necessary techniques to this route. Let’s say, you were required to smear without which you wouldn’t get past the first hold. You’d probably get stuck and wouldn’t know what to do or how to approach it. And before you know it, you have one more unfinished problem in your bucket while you look for something easy and approachable. That said, intuition may help but you can only do so much if you haven’t opened your mind to techniques yet.
Let’s take another example. We’ve all climbed up ladders in our lives. But do we use our arms to pull ourselves up the ladder or do we use our legs to step up and our arms to balance? It’s the latter but beginners often tire out as they use arms to pull themselves up while climbing. The foundation to climbing up a ladder or boulder problems remains the same. And this is where techniques come into play.
One of the mistakes I remember repeating when I first started climbing was not keeping my arms straight. As a result, I would always end up exhausting myself much faster than those who kept it straight. The adage of “the more you climb the better you get” is mostly true. Repeating movements copious amounts of times makes them instinctual. But developing good technique early on ensures good movement pathways that become instinctual. And we can all agree that a good climber is one with good technique.
Let’s look at some of the techniques and see if we can use them at our local climbing gyms.
Stemming is an efficient way of climbing once you have figured it out. While stemming, you create a counter-force by pushing outwards using your hands and legs. This is extremely useful because it utilizes pushing muscles and in turn saves energy for overused pulling muscles in climbing.
Imagine getting out of a swimming pool without having to use a ladder. Topping out on a ledge while applying pressure downwards is called mantling. For example a move wherein your feet matches your hands and then you end up standing on your feet.
Smearing is a technique where you use the soles of your shoes on a wall or a hold without a definite outline and you rely on the force generated by the soles of your shoes for friction against the surface. Since the surface is devoid of any specific structures it’s important to keep both your mind and eyes open to little protrusions. Slabs are where you’d find yourself applying this technique most often. Also, you’d want your heels to be lower relative to your toes in order to get the maximum surface area from your shoe.
When footholds are extremely small it is not possible to place your entire toes on the hold. This is where edging comes in. The idea is to apply force on the edges around the tip of your toes so you can transfer as much weight as possible on to the foothold. This is also one of the reasons why it’s recommended to get shoes that are tight.
When you’re able to have only one foot on the wall, you need to let go and hang your other leg in a certain way. The idea is to counterbalance. You use the hanging leg to shift your weight and maneuver your body accordingly. Flagging helps you try to break your swing as much as possible in order to gain more stability. Sometimes flagging is more efficient rather than using both your feet on the wall because it may result in a better body position.
You place the tip of your shoes on a hold and twist your knee in an angle where the knee faces downwards and the heel of the shoes turns upwards. Applying this technique can bring relief momentarily. Once applied, it is a good position to rest at and go for reachy holds.
Gastoning is a hold gripping technique where you grip a hold with your thumb lower relative to your fingers and pull away from your body with this hand. For example: Imagine opening the door of an elevator with both your hands, that would be a double gaston.
As the name suggests, it refers to pulling on a hold sideways towards your body. You could either shift your body weight away from that hold in order to lean on the positive side of the hold and/or apply counter force with your foot in order to gain stability.
Palming is like the smearing of the hand. In case there’s no hold to grab, only small depressions or protrusions on a blank face, then one can apply pressure with the palm of their hand onto the wall to create friction against its surface to move up (or really in whatever direction they’d like!). This technique is used a lot as part of stemming mentioned earlier and also in corner climbing.
Undercling can appear counter-intuitive at first. Instead of pulling down on a hold, underclings require you to pull up. A good approach to working with underclings requires you to have your body above the hold. Going for a higher foot ensures that and allows for good body tension and secures you a stable position.