A guide to climbing terminology and techniques

November 25, 2021
Chimera Climbing a guide to climbing terminology and techniques

Whether you are new to climbing and getting confused by the language, or you have a kid in one of our clubs who comes home raving about their perfect ‘smear’ and you have no idea what on earth is going on – this guide is for you.

Prepare to take a deep dive into the world of climbing…

The basics

The idea is to climb using just one colour of holds all the way to the top. This means you have ‘sent’ a route or bloc. You finish by tapping the top hold with both hands, or on some walls you finish by climbing all the way over the top, namely ‘topping out’. 

It’s easy to see where to start as there is a tag near the starting holds. If it is right next to one hold, it is both hands there, if the tag is in the middle of two holds you start one hand on each. 

The walls

The walls are all different heights and angles. Anything that slopes gently away from you (imagine climbing a hill on your hands and knees, then multiply that by 100) is a slab, if it comes back steeply at you, it is an overhang. Climbing fully horizontal means you are likely on a roof. 

We have a variety of walls here, including our comp wall which is a mixture of all angles and styles. Our cave, wine glass, mini slab and boulder are all top out walls. 


With good technique, you can climb pretty much anything and it has the added bonus of negating the need for ridiculous Popeye style biceps. Good technique allied with some strength is all you need to become a Jedi on the wall. In fact, more often than not, huge muscles will actually weigh you down and make climbing that bit harder. 

  • Footwork

Footwork gets taught again and again in our classes – because it is one of the most important things you need to be good at. Poor footwork will cost you on every single wall. 

From smearing – putting your foot directly on the wall rather than using a hold, to foot swaps, inside and outside edges and the most important thing of all, trusting your feet, learning these techniques, and being given the confidence to try them until you are comfortable is absolutely key to becoming a good climber.

Then there are toe hooks and heel hooks, not to mention bicycles (having one foot on top of a hold and the other below it). With footwork, there is always more to learn.

Climbing Footwork

  • Flagging

Flagging is pretty much sticking a leg out to counter balance when reaching for a hold. When you first start it seems counter-intuitive, why would only having one foot on a hold help?! But trust us, it does and it makes a huge difference, especially on overhangs. 

  • Twisting

The cousin of flagging, twisting is all about getting one hip into the wall, extending your reach through the side of your body and maintaining close contact, preventing your centre of gravity dragging you back into the void. When combined with flagging, routes that seemed totally impossible suddenly become completely achievable. 

Climbing twisting

  • Rock Overs

If you reach for a hold without your body in balance, you’ll fall off. But if you rock your weight across first and have your centre of gravity in the right place, you’ll be in a much more stable position to move forward on the wall. As our coaches always says, “belly button over your toe”. 

Heel Hook Climbing

  • Dynamic climbing

This is the fun one, the one you’ve seen in comps and all over social media. Dynos are essentially, jumping for a hold that’s out of reach. But it isn’t all scary, huge leaps of faith. Some dynamic movement is simply using momentum to swing for a hold that’s only a few inches out of reach. They require co-ordination, a good awareness of body position, and certainly at the start, a dollop of bravery. 

  • Drop knees

This one is all about getting your hips into the wall in perfect balance in order to statically reach for a hold. When done right, you sort of look like you are executing a strange dance move, but it is incredibly effective when used correctly. Much will depend on the beta for a particular bloc…

Climbing drop knee

  • Beta

This is how someone has climbed a route. The beta won’t be the same for everyone, as it will depend on skill set, height and preferred techniques. But if someone is willing to give you their beta, it is usually a good place to start if you have no idea which foot goes where, whether a move can be done statically or dynamically or even which part of a hold is the best bit to try and grab.

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