Rock Gym Training for Rock Climbing

Following are several technique drills and positions that can be practiced indoors with the intent of developing these types of outdoor climbing skills.

The Rest Position This is a fundamental position for both indoor and outdoor climbing. It is important to incorporate this position into a part of any indoor climbing workout. With one hand holding onto a good handhold, hang from that, straight arm. Keep your legs straight and relaxed.

Ideally, your feet are on footholds at the same level as each other, so the body forms a stable tripod on the wall with three points of contact. The key to this position is keeping your hips pressed into the wall and your back slightly arched.

To relax, drop the hand that is not on the hold and shake it out or chalk up. Train yourself to instinctively sag into a rest position every time you can while climbing in the gym. Not only does it help rest the non-holding arm (which is critical!), but it creates a habit that will be crucial to the outdoor transition.

Remember that besides the need to rest and conserve strength, outdoor climbing demands many tasks, especially working with gear, to be performed with one hand. When you are climbing outdoors, assume the rest position when placing or removing protection. The rest position should become automatic whenever you reach a good handhold or jug.

Around the Clock This is an excellent drill to learn basic weight transfer and balance. Locate four good holds-two handholds and two footholds-in a square configuration about shoulder-width apart, with the handholds at about eye level. The handholds should be comfortable to reach. With both hands and both feet on their respective holds, move your body around in a circle.

Do not move your hands or feet, just your body. Move left, up, right, and down. Feel how shifting your weight to one side or the other changes your balance. Note that when you are in the upper position, your arm is “locked off,” and in the lower position, it is possible to assume a rest position off a straight arm.

This is a good way to warm up and stretch to begin a climbing session. Variations to this exercise include flagging. Try flagging out by reaching up and right with the right hand while lifting the left foot off its foothold. The left foot works as a counterweight so that you can lean and reach farther with the right hand. In this position, only the left hand and the right foot have contact with the wall.

Also, try flagging in. Shift all your weight to the left foot and cross the right leg behind the left leg as a counterweight. This will balance you so that you can reach with the right hand to a holdup and over the left hand. The only two points of contact at this point are the left hand and the left foot.

Five Moving Parts There are five parts that move when you climb: two hands, two feet, and one body. As you climb (preferably on an easy wall bristling with many good holds), concentrate on moving each part of your body separately and distinctly from the others.

When reaching for a handhold, move nothing but that hand. The same goes for moving a foot. Try to freeze the rest of your body as you move a foot up to a hold. The key to these moves is in shifting your body weight as a separate move in a manner that keeps you in balance. This can be tricky. Learn to tune in to the subtle balance changes that occur as you shift your weight to one side or the other.

An example of the Five Moving Parts exercise is the following. Step up to a high foothold with the right foot. To accomplish this move, all of your weight is on the left foot. With the right foot established on the hold, shift the body weight to the right foot, rocking onto that hold. Now all weight is on the right foot, freeing the left foot to be moved up to a higher hold. This is the “crunch” position.

Both legs are now under you and in a position to raise you, primarily with the leg muscles. Now raise your body up and hold it in place by locking off one arm. The other arm now reaches high for the next hold, placing you in the rest position, ready to relax and analyze the moves that lie ahead.

The weight-shifting skills learned in this drill directly apply to outdoor climbing. Climbing in a gym creates a tendency to climb in a style wherein you move almost dynamically to the next hold. This is natural because you can so easily see the hold and determine whether it is good or not. Climbing this way, the climber flows toward the holds and is committed to reaching and sticking to the hold. Real rock is generally not so easy to read.

You must be in balance as you feel about, searching for a potential hold. Remember that it is often prudent to test the quality of a real rock hold with a quick tap before committing to use it. Testing a hold is impossible unless you are in control of your movement.

Good balance is especially critical while a climber is placing or removing protection. This exercise also illustrates how the legs can be incorporated more effectively during upward progression. The body is kept low, hanging on straight arms in the rest position as the legs are set underneath to powerfully raise the body. Learning how to propel yourself upward by pushing with the legs instead of pulling with the arms is a fundamental building block of good technique.

Backstepping This exercise is especially useful for sport climbers. When the angle of the climbing surface begins to overhang, it becomes more efficient to climb on the outside edges of the feet with the hips almost perpendicular to the wall.

This is because it draws the center of gravity in closer to the wall, allowing more weight to be distributed to the feet, and encouraging a longer and more balanced reach. This is called “backstepping,” and the best way to learn it is by drilling the movement repetitively on an overhanging, juggy route. Backstepping refers both to a way of specifically using a foothold and a way of moving upward.

Beginning with both hands on a starting hold, backstep – that is, place the outside edge of the left foot on a foothold ideally straight below the starting handholds. Shift weight onto the left foot and allow the right foot to swing forward (or flag) as a counterweight. Lock off with the right arm and reach up with the left hand to a hold.

If this is done correctly, you will feel locked into place because of the balance generated by the backstep. To drill this move, continue climbing upward by rotating your body counterclockwise while hanging from the left arm until you can backstep with the right foot on an appropriate foothold. Do this rotation using as many intermediate footholds as necessary.

Now counterweight with the left leg and reach with the right arm to the next hold. Note that a good long reach should put you in a position to get a rest. Continue climbing in this manner, twisting back and forth, locking your hips into the wall, and making long, balanced reaches to the next hold.

This motion is a bit unnatural at first for many climbers, but repeated practice will make it second nature when you are at the crag.