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Learn How to Climb: Climbing Up

It's Time to Climb

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Learn How to Climb: Climbing Up

As you learn to climb in the gym, you'll learn how to effectively use your hands and feet to reach the top. Here Mia Axon shows perfect form high over Boulder, Colorado.

Photo © Stewart M. Green

You're geared up and you’re tied into the end of the rope. Your partner has you on belay. You’re ready to climb. You use the basic climbing commands.

You look at your partner. He says, “On belay.” He’s ready for you to climb, with the rope threaded through his belay device.

You check your Figure-8 Follow-Through knot and reply, “Ready to climb.”

He orders, “Climb on.” You start climbing.

Gym walls are usually vertical to overhanging. Since you’re just starting out, it’s best to stay on the vertical walls. Ask one of the gym instructors about their best routes for beginners. They’re usually the ones with lots of big handholds and footholds. Indoor climbing walls are designed to accommodate manmade holds of innumerable shapes and sizes, which are attached to the wall with long bolts.

Different Handholds

You free climb upward, using your hands and feet to make upward progress. The holds, marked with tape of the same color, offer good purchase for your hands and fingers. Try different ways to grip different handholds. Some holds will be crimps with just your fingertips crunching down on the top of the small hold. Others are jugs that your can comfortably wrap your whole hand around; holds that you can pinch; or pockets which you can cram a few fingers into. No matter what the holds though, your forearms are burning and your upper arms are getting pumped.

Use Your Feet Effectively

The problem is that you’re trying to power up the wall with your arms, and you’ve inadvertently discovered one of the keys to successful climbing, either indoors or outside—use your feet effectively. Legs are not only stronger than arms, but they’re also better for bearing your body weight than your arms. Moving from your feet and legs on footholds helps keep the weight off your arms. You’re able to move with economy and balance rather than with sheer strength since with vertical posture your weight stays over your feet and you maintain a natural balance. Remember too that you will use your climbing shoe-clad foot with many specialized techniques, including edging, smearing, heel-hooking, back-stepping, and stemming, that will help you reach the top of the wall.

Yippee! You're at the Top

You power with your arms and keep in balance with your legs and now you make the final reach up and grab an iron bar at the top of the 35-foot wall. You shout down, "Wow! I'm here! I made it! Yippee!"

You look down. Your belayer seems so far down there at the base. You're ready to go down, but how will you do that? Your belayer will lower you back, that's what you'll do. Go to the next part to learn how to lower back down.

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