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Habit Climbing

Climbing Actions


Belaying is the act of using a rope to keep a climber safe. Belayers almost always use a friction-based or self-breaking belay device (see Climbing Gear) to assist them in taking the climber’s weight in a controlled fashion. Top-rope belaying is a relatively simple task in which the belayer must only “take in” (or eliminate) slack as the climber ascends; lead belaying is a much more complicated and artful task involving the taking in and paying out of rope as appropriate, as well as well-timed jumping to soften a lead climber’s fall. “Can I get a belay?”

Top Rope Belaying at Missingmr, Norway; Christine Sjöquist Photo


Catching is what the belayer does when the climber falls. Giving a falling (lead) climber a soft catch is the ultimate goal of a belayer—a soft catch is comfortable, and doesn’t smash the climber into the wall. In order to give a soft catch, a belayer must step (or jump) slightly when the climber’s weight begins to pull the rope taut. “Nice catch, bro.” Note: catch is also slang for belay, as in, “Can I get a catch?”


When a climber yells, “take!” the belayer takes the climber’s weight by locking the belay device and sitting back on the rope quite hard. A good take allows the climber to sit on the rope without sagging more than a few inches.


Spotting is what boulderers (see Styles of Rock Climbing) do to help their fellow climbers enjoy more controlled falls. Because a falling climber has a huge amount of momentum, a spotter cannot catch a falling climber. However, a good spotter will help steady the falling climber’s hips and torso so that the climber lands squarely with their feet on the crash pads. A spotter’s primary job is to “steer” the falling climber onto the pad, prevent them from spinning as they land, and keep them from landing on their head, neck or any less-than-ideal body part.

Spotting a Climber on Evilution in Bishop, California; David Sjöquist Photo


Dynoing is essentially jumping from one hold to another. The term “dyno” comes from the fact that a dyno is a highly dynamic move. A dyno is usually a means for a climber to get between holds too far apart to reach statically. To be a proper dyno, at least one hand (and both feet) usually cut free; the climber flies through the air, and “catches” the destination hold(s).

Dynoing in Ceuse, France; Arjan De Kock Photo


A lunge is a very similar move to a dyno. Like a dyno, a lunge is a dynamic move. The difference between a lunge and a dyno is not always clear, but a lunge typically involves less “flying.” When executing a lunge, at least one of the climber’s feet usually stays on the wall. Climbers usually lunge between holds when a particular move is too strenuous to execute in a static fashion, or the balance of the move does not allow it to be executed statically.

Lunging on Is Rail, Moe’s Valley, Utah; David Sjöquist Photo


A deadpoint is a very specific type of lunge—a climber does a deadpoint when lunging up to catch a hold with one hand and, at the precise time the climber’s upward momentum stops and begins to turn to downward momentum, the climber’s hand is in the exact position to grab the hold. A well-executed deadpoint allows a climber to move dynamically to a very small hold and “stick” it. A poorly executed deadpoint causes the climber to miss or fall off of the hold.

Back Step

A back step happens when a climber takes the foot of one leg and turns it “in,” causing the toe of that foot to point toward the midline of the body. There is no prescription for when a back step will work better than a normal “toe-out” position—but sometimes it just feels right.

Backstepping in the Top Out in Karlstad, Sweden; Christine Sjöquist Photo

Drop Knee

A drop knee is a really similar move to a back step; is a technique used by climbers to twist their body in closer to the wall. When drop kneeing, a climber plants a foot on a climbing hold and twists the knee of the same leg toward (and sometimes past) their midline, drawing the hip of the twisted leg closer to the wall. This is a useful technique on all climbing wall angles, allowing the body to reach farther with less muscular effort.


Stemming is what climbers often do when in a dihedral. When stemming, a climber has one foot on one wall, and another foot on another. Because of the open-book nature of the rock, the climber can often stand on their feet with very little required of the hands. Have you ever seen photos of people climbing Devil’s Tower in Wyoming? That place is filled with textbook stemming opportunities.

Stemming in The Sads, Bishop, California; Christine Sjöquist Photo


A kneebar is a wonderful thing! Used often in sport climbing (and sometimes even bouldering and trad climbing—see Styles of Rock Climbing), a kneebar happens when a climber puts their foot on a hold, and then slots (or wedges) the knee of the same leg beneath or beside some kind of rock outcrop or feature. A really good kneebar “locks,” allowing the climber to take most (or all) of their weight off of their hands. Almost all kneebars take some finagling—but they’re worth it. Because they’re so useful for taking weight off the hands, many sport climbers look for these to use as rests. If you ever travel to Rifle, Colorado, you’ll see dozens upon dozens of dorks with neoprene kneepads, spray-on adhesive and duct tape.

Setting a Knee Bar in Moe's Valley, Utah; David Sjöquist Photo

Heel Hook

A heel hook is exactly what it sounds like: when a climber heel hooks, they place the heel of one foot on a hold, turn their toes out, and draw themselves toward the hold. Heel hooks work great for taking weight off the hands on steep problems—virtually turning that leg into another arm. A word of caution, though: heel hooks, with their weight-bearing nature and toe-out position, have a high risk for knee injuries. Proceed with caution!

Heelhooking in Joe's Valley, Utah; David Sjöquist Photo


Smearing is standing on a rather non-existent hold. Climbers often smear when there is no foothold in the area of the wall they would like to stand, or when they’re climbing very slabby and slopey problems (like those of Fontainebleau). However creepy and insecure smearing might feel at first, it’s a valuable technique. Though it might seem counterintuitive, the best way to smear is to drop your heel and put weight on your foot! If you (freak out and) try to toe down on a smeary wall, your shoe will ping off much more easily than if you drop your heels. Likewise, if you don’t put weight on it, your foot will also ping off much more quickly than if you trust it and apply a lot of weight.


Flagging is what a climber does when they stand on just one foothold, and place the other leg—either to the side, or crossed behind the other leg—in space for balance. The foot can either touch the wall or not. Doesn’t matter! This is a super useful technique, and you’ll find yourself doing it often.

Flagging with the Left Foot in El Chorro, Spain; Rick Bost Photo


To “gaston” is to grab a handhold in a certain way. A climber gastons when they grab a hold (usually a crimp or an edge), whose gripping surface has vertical (rather than horizontal) aspect. With their thumb down, the climber applies outward pressure, as if they’re trying to push the hold away from themselves and to the side. This climbing action got its name from French climber Gaston Rébuffat—a climber, mountain guide and first ascentionist of prominence in the 1950s and ‘60s who was known to utilize this rather distinct technique.  

Gastoning in Joe's Valley, Utah; Christine Sjöquist Photo

Lock Off

Locking off is the act of pulling a hold (or pull-up bar, for that matter) into your chest. In climbing, you lock off when you keep (or “lock”) that hold to your chest with one hand while you move the other. When training lock offs on a pull-up bar, you do a pull up, then lower yourself until your arms are the angle of your choice, and hold yourself there. People sometimes train one-arm lock offs on pull-up bars to help them prepare for one-arm pull ups.

Locking Off with the Left Arm in American Fork Canyon, Utah; Christine Sjöquist Photo


To “send” a route or boulder problem is to climb the entire thing, from bottom to top, in one go with no rests, dabs, takes or anything of that nature. “Nice send, bro!” or “I’m hope I send my project today!” (See “Project,” below.)


To onsight a route or boulder problem is to send the thing, first try, with no prior knowledge of the route or problem. If you friend tells you, “Oh yeah, it’s pumpy, but there’s a great rest by the third bolt,” you can no longer onsight the route! You already know information about the route that invalidates an onsight—no worries, it doesn’t really matter anyway. Likewise, overly descriptive guidebooks ruin onsights. No matter—you can still flash it. (See “Flash,” below.)


To flash a route or problem is to send it, first try, with some type of knowledge about it—it’s just like onsighting, but easier. This knowledge can come from belaying and watching a friend on a route before you try it, seeing a picture of the route in a guidebook, or anything. If you really care about the difference between onsighting and flashing, you’d better keep your eyes closed and tape your ears shut!


Redpointing a route is the act of sending a route on the second try or later.

Top Out

Top out is what you do when you finish a boulder problem, and you pull and press yourself to the top of it, eventually standing on top of it with your feet.

Topping out in Moe's Valley, Utah; Christine Sjöquist Photo


To project a route or a boulder problem is to work on it with the intention of eventually sending it—usually over the course of several days, weeks, or even longer… Projecting allows climbers to send routes much harder than they can onsight or flash because, when projecting a route, climbers learn the fine intricacies of that route and how to climb it as efficiently as possible. Climbers also gain some route-specific fitness for their project, but the real gains a climber makes when projecting are mental and neurological—when they really “dial in” their project and gain muscle memory. In fact, physically speaking, projecting is one of the worst things a climber can do to gain fitness; climbing a variety of problems and routes is the best way to gain fitness and technique. Still, the process of projecting is fun and rewarding… and so we all do it.



Let us know if we’re missing any terms!




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