The 4 Movement Principles of Climbing

Climbing Safely and Correctly


Movement across a traverse wall combines the physical components of balance, flexibility, strength, and endurance with the task of sequential problem solving.  Practice and mastery of a few basic climbing principles will enable your students to explore the wall and develop a personal style and repertoire of moves.

A few fundamental climbing techniques are learning to use your feet and hands properly.

Using Your Feet

Footwork is the most important aspect of climbing.  The two basic methods of standing on climbing holds are smearing and edging.  The hold will dictate which technique is best for a given situation.

Smearing is most commonly employed on lower-angled holds that lack definite edges or knobs.  The sole of the shoe at the base of the toes is 'smeared' onto the hold.  This maximizes the surface contact area between the shoe rubber and the hold.  Have your students practice smearing on a variety of different holds.  Remember, smearing works best when most of your weight is positioned over the foot.

Edging is most often done with the inside of the foot at the base of the big toe.  Some climbing problems may dictate that you edge with the outside of the foot, just back of the small toe.  As with smearing, positioning your body correctly and placing your weight over your feet are critical for effective edging.  Both smearing and edging rely on the friction created when you transfer your weight over the foot.  Practice both techniques on a variety of terrain to discover how small a rock feature you can stand on without slipping.


Using Your Hands

While it may seem like a viselike grip is essential in climbing, in most situations the fingers are simply configured to the hold's unique pattern and the body positioned to enable gravity to pull the hand onto the hold.  The larger muscles of the upper arms and shoulders, combined with the lifting action of the legs, are then used to pull the body through the move.

Two hand and arm techniques that are very useful are the undercling and the mantle

The undercling uses and upside-down hold by gripping with the palm upward.  Pulling up and out on the hold, usually by leaning the body out from the wall, provides counterpressure for the feet. 

The mantle is used to gain height or a 'ledge-like' feature.  It is much like how you would climb onto a countertop.  This move involves lifting and supporting oneself with the hands, palms-down on one hand hold.



The Four Movement Principles of Climbing

Here are some good teaching points for successful climbing for your students.


Maintain three points of contact with the wall whenever possible.  This will maximize your balance and stability, like a tripod steadies a camera.  On easier climbs this will be a simple matter of moving one foot or hand at a time.  However, on difficult routes, some handholds or footholds may be absent, and you will be forced to get by with less than three-point contact.

Balance over your feet.  Since the legs are normally stronger than the arms, you should position as much weight as possible over your feet.  This will minimize the forces on your arms.  Look around constantly for footholds, and concentrate on positioning your body to maximize your weight over your feet.

Learn to sense your weight transfer from contact point to contact point during movements.  Beginner climbers often speak of "fighting gravity"--a limiting misconception.  Learn to USE gravity.  It is the source of friction that keeps you on the wall.  As you move, your weight is transferred from hold to hold.  As you learn to feel this, you will be able to anticipate how gravity will pull you onto or into the next hold.  Thus, you can position your hand or foot accordingly.  This anticipation will enable you to plan a series of precise, efficient movements through the route's crux.

Learn to rest without coming down.  Fatigue causes climbers to become 'pumped,' and many falls result.  Learning to rest on the rock will help you resist fatigue and enable you to climb longer.  When holding a static position on the rock, see how much you can relax your grip without coming off.  Try different body positions and combinations of holds to find the best rest every few moves.  Avoid pulling on holds during rests.  Instead, hang from a straight arm while you lower and shake out the other.  Keep breathing.  Climbing should be as aerobic as you can make it.

Adapted from Rock Climbing, by Phil Watts.

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