Climbing Technique: Handholds & Footwork


The weight on your arms increases as the rock gets steeper and the footholds get smaller. Beginners often ‘over grip’ the rock and burn out their forearms too soon, making it impossible to then hold onto anything.

The challenge, therefore, is to use the lightest possible grip to make each move.

There are endless ways of using handholds, but four basic types are described below.

Climbing Handholds: The Crimp

Crimping works best when the thumb is held over the index finger. This ‘closes’ the crimp and makes the position stronger. This is because your thumb is much stronger than your fingers in this position.

If the hold is too small to fit all your fingers, give priority to the middle finger (the strongest), followed by the ring finger, the index and finally the pinky.

Be careful when crimping sharp edges. If you slip off suddenly, you’ll probably slice your fingertips.

rock climbing crimping technique

Climbing Handholds: The Open Grip

The open grip is mainly used to hold onto large or rounded features. Search for the best position on the hold and then pull.

If the hold isn’t incut, you will rely on friction between your hands and the rock to hold on. For this reason, having more surface contact gives you more grip.

An open grip on sloping holds works in a similar way to your shoe when smearing.

In the long term, the open grip puts less strain on the joints and tendons than crimping.

rock climbing open grip technique

Climbing Handholds: The Pinch

You pinch a hold in the same way as a crab pinches it’s claws. An effective use of the technique is to pinch a hold between your thumb and the side of your index finger.

rock climbing pinching grip technique

Climbing Handholds: Pockets

To hold onto a pocket, you essentially use an open hand or crimp but with less fingers.

If you can fit two fingers in the pocket, it’s often better to use the middle and ring fingers, rather than a middle and index finger combo. This balances the load on your fingers much better.

If the pocket is only big enough for one finger, your middle finger will be strongest.

Be careful - the edges of pockets are often sharp. When you pull hard on a pocket, you are effectively grinding your finger tendons over that sharp edge. A common injury is to strain or break the delicate ligaments in the fingers due to excessive crimping and pocket pulling.



Beginner climbers often concentrate on looking upwards for something to grab with their hands, forgetting about their footwork.

Having good footwork takes an enormous strain off your arms, making the climb much easier. There are basically three ways of using footholds; smearing, edging and hooking.

Climbing Technique: Smearing

Smearing is a technique used to stand on poorly-defined, sloping features. The aim is to have as much surface contact between the sole of your shoe and the rock as possible, therefore maximising friction.

Focus on pushing your foot against the rock with your weight concentrated over your big toe.

Over time you will develop the ability to find tiny irregularities in the rock. Smearing on a dimple which is just a couple of degrees lower in angle can make a big difference.

rock climbing footwork technique smearing

Keep a high heel if smearing on small scoops. This keeps the pressure on the front of your foot.

Keep a low heel if smearing on a uniform slope. This gives more shoe-to-rock surface contact and therefore more friction. It also puts your calf muscles in a more relaxed position.

rock climbing smearing technique

Climbing Technique: Edging

Edging means placing the very edge of your shoe on a pronounced edge of rock. Although any part of the shoe can be used to edge, you normally do so with the inside front part of the shoe, beneath the big toe.

With a good edge on vertical or overhanging terrain, you can pull in with your toe as well as push down. This moves your lower body closer to the wall and reduces the strain on your arms by keeping more weight on your feet.

rock climbing footwork technique edging

For tiny pockets and edges, you can edge on the front point of the shoe. This positions you neutrally so you can turn your body in either direction for the next move. It also gives you a little extra reach if you stand up on your tiptoe.

rock climbing edging technique

For techniques such as back-stepping, it is necessary to use the outside of the shoe (normally beneath the base of your little toe) to edge.

rock climbing footwork edging


Climbing Technique: Heel and Toe Hooking

Heel hooking is the technique of using the foot as a ‘third hand’.

By hooking your heel over a flake or edge, you are able to pull with your leg. This allows you to move more fluidly and controlled through what would otherwise require a ‘dyno’.

On overhanging terrain, a crafty heel hook often helps to pull you into the rock, stops you from swinging out and provides extra reach.

rock climbing heel hook technique

You can also employ a toe hook in a similar way to a heel hook.

rock climbing footwork toe hook

A ‘foot cam’ can work in the same way too. Be aware that you may break your ankle if you fall with your foot in a really good heel-toe lock.

rock climbing footwork heel toe hook

Climbing Technique: Footwork Tips

* When you step from the ground to the rock, make sure to wipe the dirt and gravel from the soles of your shoes.

* With marginal smears or edges, it is important to keep your foot in the exact same position while your body moves up. Use your ankle as a hinge to absorb your movements. Any disruption to your foot position will probably cause you to slip off.

* To minimize strain on your upper body, use foot holds which are directly beneath your hands.

* When you’ve found the best hold, visualize how your foot will be positioned on it. Don’t move your foot until you know exactly where it’s going.

* Push your feet in opposite directions (stemming) to keep the weight off your arms.

* If you’re not sure whether to edge or smear, remember that you can smear an edge, but you can’t edge a smear.


By - vdiffclimbing


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