Rock Climbing Tips for Beginners by Gif Zafred

Rock Climbing Tips for Beginners by Guest Contributor Gif Zafred

Are you interested in trying rock climbing?  Have you already been to the climbing gym once or twice and were amazed at how hard it felt the first time while the more experienced climbers seemed to float up the wall?  Here are three tips aimed at beginner rock climbers that will help you build confidence, have more fun, be able to climb longer due to reduced fatigue, and help you succeed with your first few climbs.

1.  Use your legs! Pictured on the left

RockClimberLife Rock Climbing Tips for Beginners Use Your Legs

Rock climbing isn’t a pull up contest.  It’s about conserving energy and using the least amount of power needed to climb the wall.  The best and most efficient way to do that is to use your legs as much as possible.  Too many beginner climbers only focus on their arms and the next hand hold, but the real power comes from the strongest muscles in your body, your leg muscles!  Don’t neglect your feet and press with your legs during every move.  This will remove much of the strain on your arms and you will be able to climb higher and for a longer amount of time without getting the dreaded pump.  Remember, your rock climbing shoes should be relatively tight and your toes should touch the front of the shoes.  Squeeze and curl your toes like you are trying to grip the holds with your toes (similar to your hands).  Keep your calves tight and press up with your quads and glutes.  Using the power of your legs is a very important tip for beginners during your first few rock climbing sessions.

2.  Shift your weight! Pictured on the right

Remember to shift your weight to one side when attempting to move your hand to the next hold or lifting your foot to place it on to the next hold.  When you walk, climb stairs, or climb a ladder, you temporarily shift your weight to one side, lift the leg on the unweighted side, then place that foot in the next spot forward and repeat.  Rock climbing is no different!  Remember to shift your weight with your hips over the desired foot.  When you move the unweighted foot up to the next hold, then you can shift your weight back to that side.  Repeat this weight shift all the way to the top.  This will enable you to climb with balance and precision.  Rock climbing is about moving gracefully and efficiently up the wall.  You don’t want to be falling away or to the side every time you move your hands and feet.  So remember, shift your weight!

3.  Keep your arms straight! Pictured on the left

This tip may be the most important one for beginner climbers.  Every time I watch a new climber, their arms are bent and they are holding on for dear life.  When you are not moving, you should be resting with your arms straight on the wall.  Even when you are climbing, you should be able to keep your arms pretty straight by shifting your weight and twisting your hips to move from one hold to the other.  The more your arms are bent, the more tired your biceps and shoulders will become.  You will also get pumped much faster!  Keeping your arms bent also has a psychological effect in that you will not climb relaxed and you will breath frantically.  When your arms are straight, you will feel much more relaxed and take deep, controlled breaths.  Hanging with your arms straight will take the tension off your muscles and place the load on your bone structure, which is much more efficient.  Remember, climbing is about moving with control and balance, so keep those arms straight!  

Pictured to the right, Gif not following the tips and doing it all wrong


When trying rock climbing for the first few times, remember these tips and you will have a much greater chance at success.  You will be able to climb much longer because you won’t become exhausted so quickly.  Remember to relax, breathe, and have fun while rock climbing.  Use those powerful leg muscles, shift your weight from side to side, and keep your arms straight whenever possible and you will be well on your way to achieving the next level in rock climbing!

Profile picture of Gif Rockclimberlife

Gif Zafred is a rock climber based out of Pittsburgh, PA.  He runs the website,, which publishes trip reports, gear reviews, training, and technical tips for climbers.  When not climbing at his “home” crag, the New River Gorge, he can be found on Facebook and Twitter.

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1 comment

Thanks for the comment, Josh. Very true about the breathing. I constantly am working on that, making loud, audible breaths so that I can make sure I breath! Like you say, if you breath, you will slow everything down mentally and physically enabling recovery on the rock!

Gif Zafred

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