Top 10 Technique Tips for Indoor Climbing
By Neil Gresham
1. Footwork drills
One of the best times to work on your footwork is during your first warm-up climbs. On easy ground you can focus on making each placement perfectly and this will set the standard for the rest of the session. It will also help to reduce the boredom of your warm-up by keeping you mentally challenged. Slow each foot placement down and pause over the hold for a split second while you decide on optimum positioning. Place the foot silently, and without scuffing the wall above the foothold. Try not to re-adjust your feet or to test the footholds excessively. Work on doing this more quickly and intuitively as the warm-up progresses.
2. Basic body position for steep walls
The movement pattern for overhangs is entirely different to the movement pattern for vertical walls. The way we learn to climb on slabs and vertical walls is with our hips parallel, as if climbing a ladder, but this causes all sorts of problems on the steep stuff. With your hips parallel, your arms will be forced to pull extra-hard and you will constantly feel out of balance. The answer is to twist into the wall with your hips and straighten your arms. The way to do this is by stepping over the ‘centre line’ and using footholds on the left with the outside edge of your right foot (or vice versa). You can then brace your spare foot against the wall to form a stable tripod. Each reach can then be assisted by the rotational motion of your body, rather than doing it all with the arms. It is a myth that you need strong arms for overhanging walls – if you get this movement sequence right, you may barely need to bend your arms at all.
If you are unable to position yourself using your outside edge on an overhanging wall and find yourself off-balance with your hips parallel, then you have two alternatives to correct yourself: first simply to swap feet and get onto the outside edge of your other foot; but swapping feet can feel precarious and you may find that you need to swap them back again as soon as you’ve made the reach. A much slicker option is simply to ‘flag’ your trailing leg into a balance position, to make the reach and then to come out of the flag. You can either do this by bringing the trailing leg behind the active leg (if the foothold is high) or by bringing it inside the active leg (if the foothold is low – see photo). Note that the ‘inside flag’ is a more efficient option as it enables you to twist in to the wall.
4. Slapping on steep walls
Speed and timing are the two most important variables for dynamic moves. The faster you pull-up, the more momentum you will be able to capture at the ‘deadpoint’ (this is the split-second weightless moment at the top end of a dyno). Thrust upwards with your legs and hips rather than just pulling with your arms. You must then co-ordinate the upward reach precisely with the dead-point – if you are too slow then all momentum will be lost. Another common mistake is to lose pressure on the footholds at the moment when you move your hand, especially when the footholds are poor. Keep thinking feet as you slap and keep your body taught to take the strain. On steep walls you must ‘pull’ with your feet rather than pushing. Curved ‘toe-down’ shoes help you to use your foot like a claw. If you are having difficulty sticking the target hold then try ‘cheating’ into position and hanging it, to gain confidence and learn the position. Your hips should finish vertically below the hold to minimize outward swing. If you really are a ‘static’ climber then try double-handed dynos on a gently overhanging wall with your feet on good footholds to teach yourself the timing sequence.
5. Cutting loose
It’s always best to avoid cutting loose on overhangs but sometimes you have no choice. The secret is to take one leg off before the other to reduce the severity of the swing. Arch your back as you swing, bend one of your legs up behind you and keep the other in front. Tense your back muscles as hard as you can to kill the swing. Try to use the momentum on the reverse side of the swing to help you lift your feet back up. Aim to re-locate them first time, because another attempt will seriously drain your energy.
6. Using volumes
Volumes are an important new addition to modern climbing walls, but many climbers find their first encounter to be a pretty intimidating affair. Volumes can make the wall feel so much steeper and they are often covered in nasty screw-ons or slopers. But they can be tamed with the following tips: Step well back first to look for hidden holds over the top, peer round the sides for side-pulls and underneath to check for under-cuts. Look for chalk-lines or ‘tick-marks’, but if these aren’t evident then take a reference point so that you can locate the hold from below when it is out of site. When planning your moves, think 3-dimensionally and consider palming and bridging. Only hang the flat sloping face of a volume as an absolute last resort, and instead consider cupping the side, pinching them or crimping a screw-on and pinching the bottom (see photo). Where two volumes appear close to each other it may also be possible to jam or knee-bar between them. Avoid getting stretched out as you move up onto a volume and use heel-hooks and toe-hooks to prevent you from swinging off. Where possible, try to get bunched on top and use the easier angled face to fashion a rest.
Of course it helps to have a vice-like grip to use slopers but technique also plays a huge part. If possible, test the surface of the hold first to feel for the best part. Aim for maximum contact and ‘smear’ your hand into position. The thumb is crucial - try pinching the side or underneath or put three fingers on top and pinch with your little finger on one side. Use the crimp or half-crimp grip if the depth of the sloper is less than your second finger joint, or if it has a slightly in-cut or indented section. Try to keep your wrist as stiff as possible. Keep your centre-of-gravity vertically below the hold in both planes. If you reach for a sloper out to the side then steer your hips towards it before you try to weight it. Always stay as low as possible to the hold. It is usually a bad idea to use two footholds at a similar height, as this will force you too high and out of balance. Instead, take one foot off and flag the spare leg to counterbalance. Keep your body taut and be smooth and stealthy with your movements. And above all else – keep trying. You’ll never master slopers unless you get involved. Happy slapping!
Many climbers find sit-starts to be cramped and strenuous, especially those who are tall or inflexible. Always try to use the outside edge of your foot on the active foothold and start with your hips at 90 degrees to the wall as opposed to sitting in a ‘frog’ position with both knees turned out and your hips parallel. Get your bum in as close to the wall as possible and try to get into a lay-back position to help you gain height if the starting handholds allow it. Rock back and try to generate momentum to assist the upward thrust. A particularly cunning technique is to roll one knee over onto the floor and to push with this. It’s generally accepted that you’re not allowed to push off the floor with one hand but nobody said anything about knees!
9. Route reading
The ability to plan a route from the ground is an essential sport climbing skill. Time invested on the floor is time and energy saved on the climb, and yet so many climbers waste the opportunity. Your ability to route-read will improve massively with practice. The best approach is to break route reading down into stages which can be regarded as specific to the grade of route you wish to try. For example, an easy route may only require a quick Level 1 route read, whereas your hardest onsight deserves a full Level 3 analysis.
Level 1: Identify all holds.
• View the route from a variety of angles and from far back.
• Look for widely placed footholds.
Level 2: Hand sequence.
• Move around and view from different angles to see the good parts of each hold.
• Pay particular attention to the top.
• Look for chalk prints to tell hold orientation (but beware false prints!).
• Rubbered holds with no chalk are almost certainly footholds.
• Register different options for confusing sequences and decide when you get there.
• Look out for rests such as bridge positions, heel-hooks, kneebars, etc.
• Plan which holds you’re likely to clip from.
• Go through it once slowly and then (crucial) go through it again.
Level 3: Hand + foot sequence.
• As above, but go over the route a third time to plan a foot sequence. This should only be attempted by more experienced climbers.
Always try to go back over the route again after you’ve climbed it, to see which moves you guessed right or wrong.
10. Common technique faults in indoor leading
Beginner to intermediate
• Scuffing and banging feet.
• Over-reaching or making excessively high steps (not ‘building’ feet).
• Over-gripping and excessive physical tension.
• Too much time spent looking for hands instead of feet.
• Arms bent and hips parallel on steep walls.
• Out-of-balance lunges on steep walls.
• Obvious hand sequence mistakes.
• Inability to make dynamic moves.
• Over-stretching for and fumbling clips.
• Not shaking out when pumped.
• Too slow.
• Backing off or hesitating above bolts.
Intermediate to advanced
• Excessive re-adjustment or over-testing of feet.
• Foot sequence mistakes.
• Double foot-swaps in order to use outside edge (instead of flagging).
• Counterbalancing foot not positioned correctly.
• Zig-zagging of hips instead of snapping straight into position.
• Swaying of hips after dynamic moves due to poor body tension.
• Poor use of momentum to make fluid transitions between positions.
• Lack of commitment to dynamic moves when pumped.
• Cutting loose gratuitously (strong climbers).
• Cutting loose through lack of body tension (weak climbers).
• Excessive re-adjustment of grip.
• Not shaking specific arm for a move or clip.
• Forgetting aspects of pre-planned sequence.
• Slow to position feet mid-crux.
• Inability to use different hand grips or ‘switch’ grips to reduce fatigue.
• General deterioration of form on upper part of route.