Most people, including beginner climbers, tend to think that overhang climbing is a little crazy. Scaling walls that are 45-80 degrees vertical is hard enough, but walls that are 95-180 degrees just seems silly.
Yet, if a rock is sitting on this earth chances are someone wants to climb on it, and overhangs are no different! Because of the grade of these slopes, they present a whole host of issues that vertical walls don’t.
Overhang climbing doesn’t have to be scary, or even dangerous. With the right techniques, it can be a fun and challenging endeavor!
What is Overhang Climbing?
The name overhang is a little misleading. Most climbers consider anything where the slope of the wall is angled more than 90 degrees to be an overhang. This is a weird sensation for most people who climb.
Climbers are used to leaning into a wall, overhang climbing makes you feel as if you’re falling away from the rock and holding on for dear life! This is one of the first things that climbers have to overcome to challenge overhangs.
Many challenging bouldering problems have overhang sections on them as well. While you may think climbing overhangs is rare, it’s more common than you’d expect!
6 Technique Tips for Overhang Climbs
The first thing I’ll say is to start small. In climbing in general the more intense and difficult the route or problem the more you should build-up to it. When you are first doing overhangs starting with 3-5 moves at a time and focusing on the technique and tips below might be enough!
1. Keep Your Arms Straight
With your weight and gravity already exerting force on you, the quickest way to wear your biceps, forearms, and triceps is trying to keep bent arms while on an overhang. If your arms are straight and your shoulders are engaged, you’ll have much better stamina.
Another tip here is when you have a really good grip with one hand and your feet are stable to you often let your other hand hang behind you to rest your arm a bit.
2. Brace Your Core
Your core is vital in overhang climbing. Without it, you will really struggle to keep your feet on the wall, regardless of how good your holds are. Your core can be trained while climbing, but often to make big gains in your climbing you’ll want to train it out of the climbing gym or off the wall.
Situps, crunches, Romanian twists, and other common core work are great, but I really like stability core training. Planks are a great example of this, and probably the most simple. You can start by holding a plank for 30 seconds and work up for as long as you want!
As for weight training, deadlifts and squats are the best exercises for the core. That is all I will say about that topic though!
You use a lot of muscles while rock climbing, but few are more important than your core, especially when doing overhang climbing!
3. Stick To The Basics!
By focusing on your footwork and hand placement, you’ll be able to climb longer on an overhang than if you are trying a difficult move that you may even struggle with on a normal wall. The added gravity pulling you off your holds makes everything harder when overhang climbing, so keep things as simple and efficient as possible!
This isn’t actually specific to overhang climbing, it’s just a good tip for all climbers. It’s really easy to hold your breath while climbing, but that will only last a short time and then you’ll be breathing too hard that you won’t be able to relax and try the moves that need to be done.
Take in little sips of air as much as possible when overhang climbing. This will keep you relaxed and keep your lungs from getting tired too quickly! If you can get into a position where you have two good footholds and a really solid hand, let your other hand hang back and take a few deep breaths rather than rushing to your next move!
5. Use Your Legs
There are several techniques that are only used sparingly in sport and trad climbing that are vital to a good overhang climber’s repertoire. Heel and toe hooks, if done right can almost act as a third hand since they are both usually very solid. Not only that, but they are a great way to shift your center of gravity to maintain balance.
The Bicycle combines pushing down on hold with one foot while pulling with your toes on the other. This is almost like a combination of the heel and toe hooks but doesn’t have to be done with hooks necessarily.
Lastly, the knee bar can be a great way to wedge a leg in between two rocks to create a great hold and good resting spot.
6. Move With Purpose
Unlike vertical climbing, there are generally very few resting spots in overhang climbing. You will be under tension for the majority of your climbing time, so try to execute moves quickly and efficiently.
If you have to choose between a slowly executed move that is slightly more difficult or a quick move that is less difficult, choose the quick move every time! The bigger the move, or the more power or technique it takes, the more likely you’ll slip. Even if you do make it, you’ve expended valuable energy you may need later!
The Final Pitch
Overhang climbing can be fun and challenging if you have the technique to manage it! Most climbers find overhangs significantly more difficult than free climbing so you’ll have to be patient and work through your feelings of falling away from the rock. If you can keep your arms straight and your core tight you’ll have a great time on overhangs!
Growing up in Fresno, CA, Yosemite has always called to Robert. From camping trips as a kid, he quickly became a regular to the parks granite walls.
His favorite, and most difficult climb to date is Serenity Crack at the Royal Arches in Yosemite, rated a 5.10d. Robby spends most of his time bouldering these days, and loves the Camp 4 Boulder area.