Rock Climbing Terms You'll Hear In A Climbing Gym
Indoor rock climbing has exploded in popularity over the past decade, with modern climbing gyms popping up in cities across the country. As a beginner stepping into one of these gyms for the first time, you'll likely hear climbers tossing around terms that sound like a foreign language if you've never set foot on a wall before. Here we'll cover 9 common climbing terms you're going to hear in the climbing gym.
If you hang around an indoor climbing gym long enough, you're guaranteed to hear shouts of "Belay on!" echoing off the walls. But what exactly does this jargon mean?
Belay refers to the climbing safety system in which one partner (the belayer) secures a roped climber from below by managing the rope and being prepared to catch them if they fall. The word comes from an old French term meaning "to fasten by rope."
There are two main belay techniques used in indoor climbing:
- Top rope belay - Where the rope runs from the belayer through an anchor at the top of the wall and down to the climber below. This offers a safer way for beginners to ascend routes without risking long falls.
- Lead belay - The climber clips the rope into temporary anchors they clip to bolts in the wall as they ascend. If they fall, the belayer uses the rope to catch them. More advanced and risky!
No matter the style, communication between climber and belayer is key. The belayer must pay close attention at all times, while the climber calls out warnings like "Falling!" if they lose control. Belaying properly is a big responsibility, but it keeps climbers safe. So belay on!
Check out this epic drone fly-through of On The Rocks Climbing Gym!
As a new climber, you'll inevitably find yourself staring up at a colorful route dotted with holds, utterly perplexed about the best path to the top. Have no fear - there are plenty of ways to get the inside scoop on how to climb specific routes. This intel is known in climbing circles as beta.
Beta refers to any information, advice, or tips that offer insight into how to successfully climb a route. In an indoor gym, there are a few prime ways you can score some quality beta:
- Ask other climbers - Chat up folks who have just finished the route you have your eye on. Most climbers are happy to describe hand and foot sequencing that worked for them.
- Read the route tags - The plastic tags that mark climbing routes often provide ratings, setter notes about tricky sequences, or encouragements to try a subtle sidepull.
- Watch others climb - Before hopping on a route, pay attention to how other climbers scale the wall. Make note of great resting stances or spots where flexibility is key.
Use beta as a tool, but don't let it rob you of those first-ascension triumphs.
As you start pushing into more challenging climbing territory, you're sure to encounter frustrating sequences that feel nearly impossible to pull off. This is known as the crux - the most physically and mentally demanding section of a climbing route.
The crux refers to the single hardest move or sequence of moves that often make or break sending a route. Crux sections test a climber's power, flexibility, problem-solving skills, and determination all at once. They require total focus and commitment to muscle through.
When you encounter a breathtakingly difficult crux on your project route, there are a couple techniques that can help you send:
- Identify the crux early - Study the route and watch others climb. Determine where the crux lies so you can mentally and physically prepare.
- Rest before attempting the crux - Take ample time to shake out pump, chalk up, and visualize your sequence before the hard moves.
- Commit totally - Hesitation or timidity will only waste strength. Once you start the crux, climb with controlled aggression!
The reward of finally conquering a route's savage crux is equivalent to topping out on Everest, kinda.
As a new climber, you'll likely rely heavily on crimping small holds and engaging your hands to ascend. But the footwork technique known as smearing is equally important to have in your toolbelt.
Smearing refers to using friction created by pressing the rubber soles of your climbing shoes against the wall to support your body weight. It may feel slick at first, but take a page from geckos - their toe pads use microscopic hairs and intermolecular forces for adhesion. Similarly, sticky climbing rubber allows you to stand on seemingly blank sections of wall.
Here are some key smearing tips:
- Point toes straight into the wall - This maximizes the surface area in contact with the hold for better traction.
- Keep weight centered over feet - Don't lean too far from the wall or weight will swing off your feet. Stay compact.
- Try on overhangs and small edges - Smearing is great for scaling angled walls with small foot chips too minor to stand on normally.
Smearing skill will give you a huge advantage, allowing you to transform the entire wall face into a sea of possible foot placements.
As climbers push into more advanced territory, they inevitably reach routes where essential handholds lie tantalizingly out of reach. When grasping the next hold requires a superhuman leap, it's time for a powerful weapon known as the dyno.
Dyno refers to a dynamic movement where the climber hurls themselves dramatically through the air to latch onto a distant hold. Executing a dyno requires perfect timing, strong core tension, and courage to fully commit.
Climbers employ dynos in situations where:
- The next hold is too far away to reach statically
- Taller climbers were able to span between holds
- Bad handholds must be skipped altogether
Dynos often look completely impossible to onlookers. But with some back-and-forth swinging to gain momentum, laser-focused eyes on the target, and total faith in your abilities, the leap can be made! Stick it and the crowd will go wild.
While dynos intensely test your athletic abilities, they also offer some of the most exciting victories in climbing.
As you move into more technically challenging climbing territory, you'll inevitably encounter routes full of tiny, shallow holds that seem utterly impossible to grip. Welcome to the finger-straining realm of the crimp.
Crimp refers to grabbing very small holds with only your fingertips, curling them over the edge of the hold. It's an extremely strenuous grip that recruits forearm muscles and finger tendons to maintain tension.
Because crimping applies so much pressure on small tendons, climbers risk damaging their pulleys or other finger structures. Be cautious of:
- Over-crimping - Hyperextending fingers too far back stresses tendons. Keep wrists fairly straight.
- Death gripping - Grabbing too tight taxes muscles quicker. Use least effort needed to hold on.
When possible, try opening up your grip to relieve tension or rotating between crimped fingers.
As you gain more experience in the climbing world, they realize that pulling with their arms on every single move is an inefficient and tiring tactic. Enter the mantle - a graceful move that lets you use your body weight to lift upwards.
Mantling refers to pressing down forcefully with your palms on a solid hold, using leverage and friction to hoist your mass higher. It converts a hold you'd normally only grasp with bent arms into one that can support your full weight.
Mantling comes in handy in situations where:
- huge, protruding holds exist above the climbers' heads
- a brief rest is needed before the next crux sequence
- other climbing techniques like dynos won't work
However, be cautious not to:
- Straighten arms too much and hyperextend elbows
- Push directly down instead of at an angle into the wall
- Linger too long in a mantle resting position
With practice, mantling becomes an extremely useful skill both for making moves easier and shaking out during grueling routes.
As you start feeling more comfortable climbing beginner routes, you may set your sights on an intimidating overhanging wall full of slopers. You take a deep breath, tie in, and flawlessly float your way to the top, feeling like a rock warrior. Congrats - you just flashed your first route!
Flashing refers to climbing a route perfectly on the first try without falling or needing to rest on the rope. It indicates both solid climbing ability to figure out betas on the fly, and high fitness to avoid getting pumped out.
Flashing differs from an onsight ascent where the climber has never seen the route before, or watched someone else climb it either. With flashing, you may have some beta, but ultimately problem solve as you go.
Scoring your first flashed route is an awesome climbing achievement. All that mental preparation, physical training, and skill development has coalesced to help you dance up the wall.
As you push your endurance limits on long climbing routes, you'll eventually feel an achy, swollen sensation creep into your forearms and fingers. This burning fatigue is affectionately known as pump - the climber's nemesis.
Pump refers to the buildup of lactic acid and fatigue in the forearm tendons and muscles caused by prolonged gripping. Essentially, your lower arms are slowly failing, making it harder to support body weight on ever-smaller holds.
You can employ a few strategies to prevent or reduce pump:
- Take regular shakeout breaks - Briefly semi-rest by weakly gripping holds and shaking out slightly bent arms.
- Improve climbing efficiency - Use feet more, avoid over-gripping, twist rather than reach.
- Focus your breathing - Deep belly breaths help move oxygen to muscles more efficiently.
When pump sets in fully, pushing through it is largely mental. Turn your focus inward, breathe consciously, and tell your arms they aren't allowed to fail yet!
Like learning any new skill, wrapping your head around these common climbing terms just takes a bit of exposure and experience.
Hopefully this guide has unravelled any lingo mysteries you might encounter as a newbie walking into the gym for your first day of climbing. Start putting these words into practice by:
- Finding a trusted belayer
- Trying routes well within your limit
- Making friends and asking for beta
Climbing is both physically and mentally demanding, but also incredibly rewarding. As you discover new challenges and capabilities within yourself, remember the primary rule of the sport - to have fun! Now get out there, crush some routes, and show off that shiny new vocab!