Technical tips for using your body in climbing

“], “filter”: { “nextExceptions”: “img, blockquote, div”, “nextContainsExceptions”: “img, blockquote”} }”>

Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth fitness, nutrition and adventure lessons and over 2,000 instructional videos when you sign up for Outside+ >”,”name”:”in -content-cta”,”type”:”link”}}”>Join Outside+ today.

From beginners to elite climbers, we can all always find new ways to push our limits and improve. After climbing for 15 years, vet-turned-professional climber Heather Weidner, the instructor for Climbing Magazine’s Introduction to Sport Climbing of course, constantly strives to push its limits. Sign up for Heather’s course and start climbing at your best.

When I started climbing, the first place I climbed outdoors was in the “Fat Crack Country” of Vedauwoo, Wyoming. My boyfriend at the time loved the offsets, cracks too big to get your hands and fists caught, causing parts of your body to push into the crack in an awkward and uncomfortable way to progress upwards.

I tried “chicken” and “heel-toe” among other off-width techniques, but my bony arms didn’t fit well into the flared granite cracks. I would fall, sliding along the sharp crystals the full length of the rope as I was on the prope, scratched and defeated.

“How do you climb? I yelled, exasperated, up to my amateur off-width belayer.

“Climb it however you can to reach the top.”

At the time, this advice didn’t seem helpful, but its sentiment stuck with me and has since proven useful. When projecting difficult routes, I rarely used the “standard” beta version. It’s probably because when I first started planning difficult routes, a lot of my partners were men. They were generally taller than me and had different strengths, body sizes, and wingspans, which let me be creative and find my own way – however – to reach the top.

A “total body” technique that has helped me a lot, especially on steep and characterized routes, is the knee brace. Knee braces involve pressing the top of your knee or thigh against a piece of rock while simultaneously pressing your toe to create bracing/opposition, allowing the leg to take weight off your arms. Knee pads can take off a few pounds to help you hold a small crimp or sloper (in this case, those more tenuous knee placements are called kneescums), or they can be so bomber that you can pull both arms off the wall and hang upside down like a bat.

Like any specialized climbing technique, such as hand jamming or slab climbing, kneebarring must be learned over time. It takes a trained eye to spot flat surfaces of rock – and feet a shin’s length away from those surfaces – that you can push your knee against. It also takes strong calf muscles, some pain tolerance, and a strong core to master the knee bars. But the more you practice, the better you’ll become, and very soon you’ll be able to sniff out the possibilities of the knee brace on a route where a rest might be helpful or where you need to lose weight to use a terrible grip.

Sticky rubber knee pads are a useful tool for knee pads. Commercially made pads usually attach to your leg, or to make one yourself you can sew or have a resolver sewn onto a sticky rubber patch on a neoprene knee pad. The knee pads are best worn directly against your skin (vs. pants) and, if not a strap pad, taped across your upper thigh. The idea here is that the pad can’t slip – it’s like it’s part of your body, so you can trust even the smallest and least secure knee pads. For technical knee pads, the cushion should be almost so tight when you put them on that you walk like the Tin Man.

In addition to knee lifts, there are many other techniques such as drop knees and heel hooks that also help lighten your arms. The key word here is light, so remember to use all parts of your body and pin or drape them to the rock. Blocking hands, fists and fingers may seem specific to crack climbing, but they can sometimes be used elsewhere, even in sport climbs. There’s also the “alpine knee”: land your kneecap on a high foot to avoid stepping too high, allowing you to move your hips and/or hands up, then turn the knee into a foot. The possibilities are limitless.

The more techniques you have in your back pocket, the more likely you are to come up with an unconventional sequence when you’re stuck with the norm. Stay creative and open to learning, and you could find yourself at the top.

Want to test your limits on a rope? Learn to sport climb with professional climber Heather Weidner in Online introductory sport climbing course from Climbing Magazine.

Virginia F. Goins