How do you climb up a chimney, or rather flat-faced rocks forming a dihedral? Sheer thinking will only let you imagine heights. Combine that dream with the right technique and you find yourself on the top of the mountain.
What is stemming climbing?
In the stemming technique of climbing, you put pressure with your hands or feet on the opposite wall surfaces and use the counterforce to stay in balance. Push your right foot into one wall and your left foot into another.
This lets you stand straight while bridging the gap in the chimney. This approach can get you past expressionless sections of rock in the most natural way possible. You need to use your hands for finger-locking cracks or palming the surfaces for going up the wall while riding on friction.
The thrust for stemming comes from the big muscles of your legs. Using your hands for a similar move is known as palming. You can use your fingers or the palm of your hand to force yourself into a corner. Stemming can also let you rest in jugless spots on the climb.
How to perform stemming?
You are literally standing on the face of the wall with your feet pressed to it’s opposing cheeks. Stemming is totally about counterforce.
The first part of the move is the thrust
Both your hands and legs press against the opposing walls. The ‘three-point suspension’ rule states that a climber’s ‘two feet and one hand’, or ‘one hand and two feet’ should rest at the rock surface during the climb.
Your hands should hold your weight in balance as you move your feet up and shift the weight towards either hand while going upward.
Always keep three of your limbs in contact with the walls while applying pressure and shift the fourth limb upward.
Remember, you are literally standing on the wall faces, so this straight walk up mountain will occur predominantly at your feet as your hands palm the wall surfaces to hold your weight and keep you balanced.
The second move is: not sticking to the theory
The rocks are not a math problem. You need to think at the moment and find the best possible way to ascend rocks with opposing faces. Stemming is ideally the best option to cross a chimney or dihedral but a narrower chimney will be better crossed by chimneying.
So pitch your back against one wall and your feet against another, then use your feet to balance and shift upward by using your back’s friction against the wall.
In a wider chimney or situation, you might better put both your hands against one rock and both your feet against another and ascend as a horizontal bridge.
Your hands do not have to stick to palming the rock front. Hold cracks, stick to seams, use everything that works best to guide you up.
Don’t budge. Climbing rocks requires abundant will power.
This climb requires excellent core strength and the ability to tense all the muscles of the arms, hands, legs, and feet. Other techniques do not employ glutes, calves, and triceps as much as stemming.
Don’t forget to rest
Whenever you get an opportunity, shake out a free leg or an arm. Stemming for a few leaps will not expense much energy. But stemming upward for a long time can drain your stamina and fatigue your muscles working hard to stay tense and put.
Not lifting your heels will decrease the pressure on your calves. Remember, you need to get that blood flowing. Don’t tax your muscles. As soon as you find a ledge, or a position to stand on with one foot, or by pressing against with a shoulder, shake that leg and get it pumped before working it out again.
Workout to outperform your previous self
Stemming requires more hip flexibility and balance than just muscle strength. Stretching exercises and even yoga would help you perform best in these situations because most often in a chimney, your foot balances you best when it is higher and at more wide a distance than is comfortable. You need to train your hands to hold firm minute imperfections in the rock and learn to follow your instincts, for which, you need fitness to do what your instincts say.
Strength refers to the amount of weight you can carry in any given situation and is the measure of a smooth rock climber. When you train for rock climbing, you increase your strength and flexibility which in turn increases your power and endurance.
We have listed a set of exercises to build up your lower body, upper body, and core strength and make you capable of ascending.
The Squat lift
This is an essential lower body exercise for rock climbers. The bar is held and supported on a straight back, head and chest is faced forward and the hips are turned out. The weight is lifted in a squatting motion.
Like squat lift, deadlift uses your calves, glutes, and strengthens your core. The bar is held close to the shins with straight arms and the weight is lifted in a squatting motion.
The squat lift and the deadlift can also be done without weights and enhance strength by increasing reps or time.
These exercises will increase the strength of your toes and calves so that you can support your weight on the smallest expressions of the rock. This will also improve your balance to stabilize your performance on tough terrains.
Catcher calf raises
Assume a baseball catcher’s position and with knees pointed outward. Then raise your heels up and down in a smooth motion.
Continuous calf jumps
On your toes, jump up and down, bending your knees only slightly
This set of exercises is extremely helpful for climbers. These improve balance, strength, and flexibility.
Place a bench behind you. Extend one leg backward and place the toe portion of the top of the foot on the flat surface of the bench.
Hold a double in both hands. Forward lunge to bring your front knee at an angle of 90°.
To base up the challenge, increase the distance of the front foot from the bench.
Weighted box steps
Find a box of the height of your shin. Step on it with your left leg, followed by the right leg. Always place your whole foot on the box. Now you are standing on both feet, step down in the same sequence and then repeat the initial step with your right leg.
Hanging knee lifts
This exercise increases flexibility and strengthens the core. Hold a bar with your hands and hang from it. Then raise both knees toward your chest, as high as possible.
Stemming requires flexibility, endurance, and a lot of strength in the calves and hip muscles.
The following exercises work like the approach to prepare you for your next climb
Stand straight with a tight core and step forward in a lunge, followed by coming back to the start. With the same leg, step out in a lunge at an angle of 45° and again come back to the start. Now extend the same leg to one side at 90° and then again come back to the start. Repeat the same with the other leg.
Pitch your straight back against a wall and sit with your legs at a 90° angle.
Core-to-toe side lunges
Stand straight and lunge with your right leg while keeping the left leg completely straight. Bend as deep as you can and then on returning to the straight position, don’t keep your right leg on the ground. Lift it up on the right side, as high and straight as possible.
We suggest some additional exercises to build your overall fitness for a rock climbing session.
This is a resistance exercise to strengthen the core by holding your body up on your forearms or hands while keeping yourself as straight as possible.
A one-minute standard plank is a good core strengthening exercise.
In a mountain climber plank, you hold your body in a plank stance on your hands and then turn by turn lift your knees up to your chest.
Dead hangs and Pull-ups
Start with assisted pull-ups with your feet elevated on some support. This will increase the strength of your fingers, shoulders, and forearms which you need to put to work on your way up a mountain.
Use a hangboard for dead hangs are pull-ups and do sets of five at minimum. If you don’t have a hangboard, use a door frame.
Build your chest muscles, for they’ll come in handy like all others on the heights.
This exercise builds your triceps, shoulders, chest, and core.
The warrior pose, downward dog, eagle, and the bridge pose are an excellent way to enhance flexibility while also comforting the muscles that have been tensed all day climbing on the slopes.
How to stay safe during stemming climbing
Rock and mountain climbing are an extreme sport and the ones who head out have determination as tall as the cliffs they aim at.
Checking on your safety before starting a climb could save you for your next great challenge. Always keep in mind the following:
Check the safety knot
Your safety knot must pass through the loop points on the harness, the leg loops, and the waist loop. You should be properly tied to the rope before you begin climbing. Check for instructions on your harness and ties and secure yourself adequately.
Check the harness and the belay device
See that your harness holds you in a correct position and that your carabiner is locked. Your belay device should be threading the rope.
Check your rope
Check the rope sheath for signs of damage. Flake the rope before starting the climb to ensure it is not tangled. Check if you have brought the right rope with you.
Check for quickdraws
Your lead climber should have enough number of quickdraws and wires for safety.
Nature is unpredictable. Always wear a helmet, even if you tread on an easy climb. It would be foolish to not wear a helmet and sustain a head injury which could have been easily avoided.
Avoid the line of fire
A belayer can easily get hit by a loose rock the lead climber lands on and dismantles. Keep out of the line of fire.
Don’t attend phone calls, text, chat, while you climb or belay. You could invite an accident for yourself and for others by not paying attention to the task at hand.
Learn to communicate
Poor communication can lead to accidents. Know the calls and follow them timely.
‘Slack’ means the lead climber needs more rope slack. The belayer should forward more slack.
‘Secure’ means the climber has a firm footing on the wall and has anchorage so the belayer can take off.
If the route is windy, tugs on the rope are used as signs to communicate.
Know how to descend
Walk on the edge and find the appropriate route. Do not miscommunicate while descending. Be careful to not fall by communicating the instructions properly to each other.
No one type of climbing approach leads you through a slope on its own. Rock climbing requires an experimental mind and a combination of different techniques to elevate you to the focal pointed top.
We suggest you visualize your climb before you begin to tread on it. Make a mental map of the route and mimic your moves while you are still on the ground so that you are prepared for the pattern of the slope. Stay focussed during the warm-up and know how to practice the muscles you know will be dealt with the most.
The stemming technique will often be combined with chimneying, bridging, and palming approaches. Be attentive and exhilarated on your next steep slope.
One important lesson rock and mountain climbing offer us is that the way to go up is by planting our feet firmly in the ground.