An Introduction to Rock ClimbingBy Adam Sinicki
Climbing and elevating yourself using your own bodyweight through one means or another has recently become highly popular – through parkour, through free running (yes they're different), through buildering and other urban sports.
However climbing is a sport that has been around since the dawn of time and one that is just as awesome and extreme as parkour when done right. It's also a highly useful ability to have and a great skill to develop – it will build your strength in your lats, your forearms and your legs, it will teach you to spot 'routes' to climb things in the wilderness or in the urban jungle, and it will teach you a range of techniques to do so.
What is Rock Climbing?
The first question is 'what is rock climbing'? Rock climbing is essentially what it sounds like – the process of climbing rocks. This normally means climbing vertical routes up cliff faces, boulders, or inside on climbing walls.
What is rock climbing though is a complicated question as there are various different types of rock climbing. They are:
Top Roping: When you set up a top rope, that means that you can climb the rope and not worry about anything else. You're strapped in all the way and it's relatively easy and safe as a result (you can also lean on the rope and let your belayer take some of your weight to rest). Normally as you go you will
Leading: Leading a climb means that you go up the route before anyone else – and as you do you set up the rope for them so that they can climb it. When you lead a climb you need to clip into the wall on the way up by using a range of rock climbing equipment. This creates two further categories of rock climbing:
Sport Rock Climbing: Here you climb pre-determined routes and there are loops already available for you to clip your rope into making it easier and safer.
Trad Rock Climbing: In trad rock climbing you clip the loops into the wall yourself. This means that you can climb any route you can see, but it also means there's a risk some of your attachments might come loose if you fall.
Seconding: When you 'second' a route, this means climbing up a route after someone has already set up a rope for you. Normally as you go you will take out their clips, meaning it's slightly more difficult than top roping but essentially relatively easy.
Bouldering: In bouldering you are solving 'bouldering problems' on boulders or crags which means coming up with a short route on something low enough that it doesn't matter if you fall. Thus all you need for protection is a small crash mat underneath you which can catch you should you fall and someone to spot you – to direct you onto the crash mat should you drop. Bouldering problems are a great way to get started with rock climbing and this is something you can do on your own with minimal rock climbing equipment.
Traversing: Traversing is another great way for rock climbing beginners to get started and a great way to build up muscle in your forearms, lats and legs. Essentially here you climb from left to right (or right to left) rather than climbing upwards – so if you fall you won't drop far.
Free Soloing: Free climbing or free soloing is on the other hand only for lunatics – here you climb a proper cliff face with no safety equipment whatsoever and just hope you won't fall. Think Mission Impossible 2. Alternatively some guys will climb over deep water so that if they fall they should at least fall in that – though it's still far from safe.
Why Rock Climbing?
So why start rock climbing? And why is it such a popular pass-time for so many people? There are plenty of reasons. First of all, rock climbing will help you to build muscle, and it is a great way to build particularly the forearms, the lats, the legs and the biceps. At the same time it's also a great way to build grip strength – and that's something that not everyone gets an opportunity to train at all. Further to this though, by rock climbing you are also burning a large amount of fat and calories and unlike many other forms of exercise it's just really fun.
For those who love parkour and other forms of agility training, rock climbing can develop some great skills. Like parkour you will learn to spot routes up things and you will develop all the muscles and technique you need to take them. In fact you can even take rock climbing into an urban setting by using 'buildering' which is just free soloing on buildings (type it into YouTube and be amazed). Or of course you can combine the buildering and the parkour for some true awesomeness.
But then why would you want to use rock climbing in an urban setting? Why, when you could be hanging from the face of a cliff hundreds of metres up with the sea and the mountains spanning behind you? Hmm?
To get started in rock climbing then you can use something like bouldering or traversing to do so without much equipment and relatively safely. A crash mat would be useful here, as would rock climbing shoes (these fit onto your feet very tightly so that they can fit more easily into small cracks and jugs, and so that you can balance on any part of your feet – don't underestimate the power of climbing shoe).
If you want to climb properly then you will need someone to belay you, you'll need more rock climbing equipment and you'll need to learn how to belay for other people. To do this you can visit a rock climbing centre, join a rock climbing club, or go on a rock climbing course. To begin with you'll need to buy at least a harness, a carabiner, a belay device and your climbing shoes.
Rock Climbing Techniques
Once you get started you will begin to develop a lot of muscle, but at the same time you will start to learn how much technique comes into your performance and how much more important that is than strength really. The skill is to be able to move your centre of gravity around and to transfer the weight among limbs. This will allow you to relax your limbs and thus improve endurance (a big deal when you've been climbing a while and often the difference between success and failure). Other moves are about reaching particular 'jugs' and 'crimps'. Following are just a couple of different moves you can use to give you an idea.
Some Rock Climbing Techniques
The Egyptian: The Egyptian or 'drop knee' are climbing techniques that involve pushing your feet against two holds or two opposite walls with your feet in an 'Egyptian' position (climbing techniques are cleverly named as a rule) and one leg bent.
Chimneying: Chemineying is another one of the more dramatic looking climbing techniques which involves forcing yourself between two walls and pushing your legs or arms on one side and your back on the other in order to keep yourself up.
Crimping: Holding onto a tiny crimp with just your finger strength.
Dyno: Dyno is short for 'dynamic movement' and actually refers to a range of climbing techniques. These are the coolest and most exciting climbing moves that involve hanging back on your arms and then launching yourself upwards in order to catch a jug or overhang. Requires a lot of dynamic strength.
Flagging: Here you put a foot or a hand into a hold not in order to take any weight off of your other limbs, but rather to simply help hold yourself in place and to prevent 'barn dooring' (where you swing out in one direction as thought you were hinged).
Gaston: Gaston, like the Beauty and the Beast character, involves pulling outwards on a vertical crack as though trying to pull open sliding doors.
Heel Hook: These involve hooking your heel onto a crack in order to apply leverage. Often you use it to get over a ledge while leaning back.
Jamming: Jamming is again an umbrella term for several climbing techniques that involve forcing a fist or an arm into a small gap so that it wedges in. You can then hang from this. You can even head jam. But that hurts. Oh and if you slip then you'll pull all the skin off of the jammed bodypart.
Lay Back: A lay back involves holding a vertical crack and leaning sideways so that the friction holds you up.
Lean back: You lean back in order to take your weight off of your legs when you've been climbing a long time – achieved by completely straightening your arms. One of the most commonly used climbing techniques.
Mantling: Mantling is one of the simplest but most oft-moved climbing techniques which involves simply pushing yourself onto ledges with just your arms. Like getting out of a swimming pool.
Smearing: Here you push yourself up a wall using just your feet (usually) relying on the friction alone to stick you to the wall. Not glamorous, but efficient.
Toe Hook: For when you can't get your heel on something.