How to climb rocks

I’ve been getting more and more into rock climbing lately and I thought I would try jotting down all of the key aspects of that to share with you all. A huge shout out to the crew that help me learn this constantly, @toolmantim,ย @atnan and the rest of the crew; and @bmatt for introducing me to it.


The People

When you’re rock climbing, one of the first things you notice are the types of people who also take part in the exercise. They tend to be equally both male and female. Physically they are very fit looking and slim (there are not too many fat people hauling themselves up walls!). The biggest thing you notice is the types of people. They all have this desire to test themselves but not at the expense of others. There is a kind of camaraderie that takes hold – everyone is trying to beat the wall. Some are doing easier climbs than others, but everyone is battling their own demons and doubts when they get going. There are things your body can do, and things you would like your body to do. Rock climbing tends to highlight the gap between these two points very well.

The other thing, is the cool confidence of the people that work at places like this. They roam around, knowing every nook and cranny of the place, which is saying something when an establishment like that is essentially just made up of nooks and crannies!

Also, the music is weird. Imagine just a drum and a bass guitar going consistently. That’s the kind of music they play at these places; it surrounds your body, immediately consuming you, yet it’s not overpowering. It goes towards the zen and calmness you can feel rock climbing.

Here are some tips I’ve picked up so far.

1. Leverage

When you’re climbing, the key skill is learning to leverage your body in the space you are in. This, for me, is tougher than it sounds. I am not (and never have been) a great mover – I’m not particularly agile nor am I particularly subtle in my movements. So learning to understand the position of my body, the situation it is in and the location it wants to move to next is quite challenging for me.

Leverage, to me, also means assessing the feel and touch of the wall as you go about climbing it. Is there much of a gradient? What do the rocks feel like under your hands? Do they feel big and have plenty of space for my hands or are they smaller, smoother and something I might be able to stand on further up the wall? Leverage, in a rock climbing sense, is also about leveraging your mind when you’re on the ground to better prepare and think through how you will climb the wall. You often hear people talk about “thinking your way up the wall.” The most elegant climbers, seem to do this.

2. Use your skeleton

Once you’re on the wall, the next key is to use your skeleton to climb it. I didn’t fully understand this at first, but it goes towards the first point about leverage. You don’t want to be muscling your way up the wall, if you can help it.

The better idea is to base yourself and your movements on your skeleton. Swing from your arms and your legs to drive your momentum towards the rock or next handhold you want to grab. Move and pivot on the three pieces of your body that you have currently got on the wall, and then swing to the next point. Move in small increments and make sure you’re always moving – try not to stop too much, as this ruins your flow and exhausts your muscles when you need them most. It’s just like the old monkey bars at school – if you stop moving, it’s very hard to get going again and reach the next bar!

3. Use your legs

The final thing that I’ve learnt whilst climbing is to use your legs to do all the hard work, rather than your arms and hands. Right now, my forearms are quite tender from the climbing I did yesterday – which is it a great sign because it means I was probably mostly using my arms to drive my movements. Ideally, you would want to be using your legs to drive your movement and momentum up the wall, swinging and using your skeleton to move all the while staying focused on your route up the wall and the leverage you will use to get there.

What new sporting activities have you recently taken up? What would you share with people about the basics of that activity?

17 thoughts on “How to climb rocks

  1. I’m learning to kiteboard at the moment – by that I mean positioning a kite in wind to put the appropriate force on the lines, aligning a board with the water (above the currents) so that I move along nicely, and basically doing all that at once. I certainly haven’t found it the coordination easy!

    The learning lesson is that if you are using strength to do anything then you are probably doing it wrong. Adjust things until they naturally do what you want them to do whether that be the leading edge of the kite to move in the wind, the board to move in the water or your body to move balance.

    1. Yeah, great story! Kiteboarding sounds challenging but liberating.

      I’m doing a bit of barefoot running at the moment too, and love the
      approach that encourages;

      First go easy, then light, then smooth then fast.

      The whole aim to take the pressure off the act of ‘running’ and get
      into flow by focusing on doing it gracefully.

  2. Hey Steve – thanks for the invitation at the bottom of your post.
    I’ve been enjoying swimming lately and have found myself noticing the basic rocking feeling on the top of my body as I do freestyle.
    I got such a great feeling when I mastered tumble turning at the end of the lane. My tip: stop earlier than the end of the lane and play around with doing a somersault and as you’re part way through it, twist your body to come out the right way. It doesn’t take as much time as I expected to master it. Here’s more advice via video:
    I have been experiencing a beautiful sense of ease with swimming – I don’t feel like I have to do a certain number of laps or go fast. With this perspective, I sometimes duckdive and have fun in the water and sometimes go fast… it’s all good. all fun. it all leaves me with a smile on my face and a happiness in my heart from doing something I enjoy.
    Steve – love your post. As I said on Twitter, you ROCK (don’t excuse the pun)! ๐Ÿ™‚

    1. Hey Sam!

      Thanks for your comment – I loved this especially.

      “…I sometimes duckdive and have fun in the water and sometimes go
      fast… it’s all good. all fun. it all leaves me with a smile on my

      I think you’ve nailed it – having fun is the real key. It’s amazing
      what’s possible when this is the aim.

  3. Hey Steve.

    Nice post. I’ve climbed a bit in my time too. Mainly late secondary school. The highlight was a trip to Mt Arapiles. Actual rock and a serene campsite base. Put it on your bucket list to do a climbing trip there.

    And give me a heads up if you do. I’m keen to climb again but hauling 110 kg up the wall is HARD. ๐Ÿ™‚

    Glenn H

  4. Hi Steve, nice post. My neighbour is teaching me to ride on her horses.

    Some key principles:

    – focus. look where i’m going (not at the horses head) so i know where i’m headed, and the horse can follow/take me there.

    – subtlety. tune in and use the lightest of “cues” to tell the horse what to do. on a well-trained horse, it will follow subtle cues. If it doesn’t i can follow through with stronger ones. But if i start with strong cues and it doesn’t respond, i won’t have anywhere to go with it.

    – firmness. i’m in charge. be the boss and stay in control. if the horse plays up, pull it in line straight away.

    – check yourself. if a well-trained horse isn’t behaving, it’s probably my fault. my weight ain’t right, I’m giving mixed messages, or something. Don’t blame the horse if it ain’t it’s fault.

    – ask for help. learning to ride a horse properly is fairly complex. my teacher is there to help so keep asking!

    Thanks for the opportunity to reflect ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Hey mate – Good read! Am on a 4 day trek to Machu Picchu tomorrow. Gonna have to use me some of that momentum and leverage if I want to come back in one piece!!

  6. I love rock climbing. There’s nothing like nailing a climb for the first time.

    But my favorite bit of advice is from dirt biking.

    – look where you want to go, not where you you don’t.

    I don’t know why, but if you’re riding along and and the guy in front of you crashes and you think “just don’t run over him” guess where you’re heading? He wont like it.

    Same applies for trees, rocks and cliffs. As soon as you don’t want to hit it/ fall off it you will.

    You need to stay focused on the track.

    My dad actually fell off a smallish cliff while dirt biking (he was alright, but he did nearly poo his pants). When he told me, I didn’t know where he was talking about, because I didn’t notice the drop off on the one side of the track – because I was looking at the track, not the cliff.

    It works a charm and doesn’t require much creativity to apply to other areas of your life.

    1. I love this! My mum did a defensive driving course once, and was told the same thing. If you’re sliding off the road, and you DON’T want to hit the tree…then you’re more likely to correct yourself into the tree.

      Thanks for sharing Alex! ๐Ÿ™‚

  7. Just started rock climbing and have been shouting amongst ourselves (all 3 of us are noobs) to “Use Your Skeleton!” It was something a more experienced climber suggested I do as I started struggling on the wall. Thanks for the further insight. Have also started surfing. Have yet to catch a wave and stand up. I should probably use my skeleton here too!

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