Explaining the differences between static vs dynamic climbing technique and ropes. What are the pros and cons?
Imagine you are at a crux move, you look up, the next big hold is barely out of reach.
You have sweaty hands, slowly losing grip, no clear idea on what the sequence is.
Running out of strength. Not sure how to proceed.
A couple friends yell different betas at you, all as different as your friends’ physiques.
What to do?
Truth is, the absolute best sequence is (ironically) not set in stone. So, what is best, easiest, or the most efficient style or move for someone depends greatly on the climber’s physique, technique, strengths, and weaknesses.
Even mental state plays a huge role.
However, while there are many different betas for just as many different problems, there is one clear division in climbing styles: dynamic and static climbing.
Static vs Dynamic Climbing Rope
Alright, having described the differences of static and dynamic climbing styles, one should not mix it up with static and dynamic climbing ropes. Although these rope categories are unrelated to the climbing style, as climbers, it’s vital to know the difference between them and when each respective type should be used.
What is a Static Climbing Rope?
A static climbing rope is a rope designed to stretch very little, which makes it ideal for long abseils, hauling up loads, lowering an injured climber, ascending a rope, and many other situations where you don’t want the rope to be stretching. This makes maneuvering it and moving with it more efficient and controlled.
Static ropes are not meant for rock climbing.
What is a Dynamic Climbing Rope?
Dynamic ropes, on the other hand, are designed to stretch a lot to absorb the impact of a climbing fall.
A typical dynamic rope used in rock climbing can have an elongation of up to 10% to 40%. The more it stretches, the softer the catch, and the smaller impact on the climber. However, a very large dynamic elongation increases the risk of hitting the ground or a ledge.
Dynamic ropes were specifically designed for climbing. Without this elongation, catching a fall with a rope that does not stretch would put the same amount of force on the body as if the climber had hit the ground, injuring, or even potentially killing the climber.
Static vs Dynamic Climbing Technique
When talking about climbing styles or techniques, the terms static and dynamic refer to the amount of momentum and explosiveness the climbers carry on their movements.
Rock climbing is a sport where body movement efficiency is quintessential, and pretty much everything revolves around it. However, what is more efficient depends completely on the climber.
For example, if there is a jug 1 meter above your current hold, tall climbers with a big ape index might be able to simply reach it without using any intermediate holds, and that would probably be the most efficient approach for them.
But maybe shorter climbers are simply physiologically unable to reach that same hold from the same position, so they might have to choose between jumping for it even if they must lose their footing, or grabbing that nasty-looking mono that would allow them to reposition and reach the hold.
It’s clear that both of these last moves would probably be more inefficient and difficult from the eyes of the taller climber, but for the shorter one, both alternatives are better than being unable to stick the move.
What is Static Climbing?
Static climbing refers to a technical style where the climber tries to have full control of his or her body most of the time. When having to choose between letting go and jumping for a hold or doing more controlled moves on intermediate holds to reach the exact same one without the need to let go, a static climber will tend to opt for the latter.
Simply put, static climbing is a climbing style that uses slow, fluid, controlled movements.
Here, the video shows me climbing a problem statically.
While climbing statically gives a lot of control to the climber, it comes at a cost.
You see, when reaching the next hold statically, the climber can land the hand perfectly into the correct position. But to do so, he must perform a lock-off on the lower hand to allow controlled movement of the other until it loads the next hold.
It’s true that grabbing the next hold on the best position is beneficial, but this lock-off requires significantly more effort from the bicep and shoulder muscles.
On the other hand, another advantage of static climbing is where it allows the use of smaller or sketchier holds that could be significantly harder to grab if reaching them dynamically. Sometimes a hold is so small, or in such a position that immense precision is needed to stick it – that’s where the advantages of slow, controlled movements come into play.
So, reaching the hold statically gives the climber enough time to position the fingers properly, and even readjust if necessary, as opposed to attempting to grab it perfectly on the millisecond available to grab it if they jump for it.
Sometimes when on-sighting, the climber can’t see how the next hold is like. Reaching it statically allows the climber to test the hold and see how to best grab it and even climb back down if required, instead of simply jumping into the unknown and hoping for the best. Probably resulting in a fall if the hold you thought was a jug was actually a sloper. Yikes.
Because of this reduced chance of falling that comes from either lack of precision or blindly jumping without knowing the hold, static climbing is a style often seen in outdoors lead climbing, especially in on-sight attempts, where falling is much more punishing than in indoor bouldering.
In fact, because of the increased ease or possibility of using small holds that require grabbing it very precisely, static climbing is more often than not the preferred stylistic approach when climbing vertical or positive routes, such as slabs or thin cracks.
And, while it isn’t a rule, static climbing benefits climbers with more flexibility and a lighter weight, which is why female climbers tend to lean towards static climbing more than their male peers, simply because they’re more prone to having a higher flexibility due to the makeup of their connective tissues.
What Is Dynamic Climbing?
Dynamic climbing, on the other hand, is quite the opposite. It’s a climbing style where the climber performs powerful, more explosive movements to get to the next holds.
Here, we can see my friend Fequillo climbing the same problem as me, but dynamically.
Where static climbing brings control, dynamic climbing brings speed, reach, and often also efficiency.
Sometimes, the next hold is simply too far away for a static approach, but a dynamic movement can allow the climber to reach it. So, dynamic climbing effectively increases the climber’s reach.
But! Just as static climbing requires lock-offs and puts more strain on the biceps and shoulders, dynamic climbing movements drain the forearm and require a lot more force – with its acceleration build-up to initiate the jump, and quick deceleration when sticking the hold.
However, while individual moves require more strength when performed dynamically, this style is also quicker and often allows the climber to skip holds, effectively reducing the number of moves and the time on the wall. This reduced number of moves and decreased time fighting gravity means that dynamic climbing can be more energy efficient over time.
But to be clear, although this style may allow the climber to climb more efficiently, it usually also requires bigger or better holds for it to be possible, like:
- Holds that let the climber build the strength required to accelerate and decelerate
- Holds that do not require a lot of precision to be sticked and used effectively
This is probably why you’ll often see climbers climb more dynamically when projecting steep overhanging routes full of long moves between big holds, and on an indoor bouldering setting where if you fall, you can simply get back on in a matter of seconds for another go.
And you might have already guessed, but since dynamic climbing is a style that benefits from raw explosive power, male climbers will incline towards this style more often than female climbers, also due to the higher biological predisposition to have more muscle tissue.
Which is Better, Static or Dynamic Climbing?
While the general consensus of more experienced climbers tend to favor a dynamic style due to it being more energy efficient, both styles have their own advantages and disadvantages.
Besides the intrinsic differences between the 2 styles, each route, problem, or even individual move will be more suited for one style or the other. For this reason, it would be very detrimental to try to choose a single style, excel at it, and then try to enforce it on every single obstacle you climb.
However, Mani the Monkey made the following comparison of the two styles from a mechanical point of view, for those interested in a video visualization of each.
Adapting your climbing to benefit from both styles
The best way to climb is to try to master both styles and use whichever style better suits your needs as the climb goes on. Climbers will naturally tend to prefer one style over the other, but the ideal approach is to try to benefit from the style that suits you best, yet still work on improving your weak style to be able to use it properly when necessary.
So, there is no real answer to the question of which is better, but there are clear advantages and disadvantages of each style, and you can use either accordingly, when needed.
“The good, the bad and the ugly” of each style
Let’s have a quick recap of the pros and cons that come with static and dynamic climbing.
Pros of static climbing:
- Slow, controlled movements allow the climber to grab holds in the best position
- Ideal for small holds and for vertical or positive terrain
- Controlled movement allows the climber to focus and benefit from technique. For example, you will often see static climbers doing flags, high steps and other technical footwork that make the climb more efficient and fluid
- Lets the climber develop a stronger grip strength and improve their lock-off capabilities.
- Higher success chance on landing moves that depend on precision
- Lets you move up to explore an unknown hold and downclimb if needed instead of moving blindly
Pros of dynamic climbing:
- Allows the climb to be completed in less time and moves, effectively making it more energy efficient
- Lets you reach holds that would otherwise be unreachable with a static style
- Practicing it makes you build more muscle and explosive power
- Ideal for climbs with big holds
- Strength is more easily developed than technique, so dynamic climbers will make faster progress earlier
- It often looks cooler
What? It’s true.
Cons of static climbing:
- Requires a lot more lock-off power, which drains a lot of strength and energy
- More moves and more time on the wall
- Some moves are simply impossible to reach statically
Cons of dynamic climbing:
- More probability of falling due to decreased precision. This can lead to less success when on-sighting, as well as an increased chance of injury
- It’s much more intense on the skin
- A climber that relies too much on dynamic movement and strength will have more trouble developing technique, since it’s harder to pay attention to foot placement, positioning and weight distribution when moving quickly between holds
How to Improve Both Techniques
When going for the send, simply go for whatever style you feel more comfortable with, given the particular problems at hand. Efficiency and best performance is the name of the game on send attempts.
However, it is also beneficial to specifically train both styles, especially the one you feel is your weakness.
Besides general technique and footwork that every beginner climber should practice, there are some easy drills you could add to your routine to focus on whichever style you need to compensate more on.
But, to be clear, both are very inefficient ways of climbing. They are only meant for developing strength and technique, and not for performance.
A simple and fun drill to practice static climbing is to climb deliberately slow and straight.
- Pick an overhanging climb
- Climb the route at a slow and consistent speed
- Focus on not speeding up or slowing down. Aim for consistency
- You may even add a 1-3 second pause before grabbing the hand holds
- Climb facing forward and with a squared body.
- No dropped knees
- No twisting the hips in
- Shoes pointing forward
- If you start finding it too easy, you can simply climb at a slower pace, choose a steeper climb, or a harder climb with worse holds
A simple and fun drill to practice dynamic climbing is to clap while climbing.
- Pick a climb that you find easy
- Clap your hands every time you move for a new hold
- Clap in front of your chest for the easy version of the drill
- Clap over your head for the intermediate version of the drill
- Clap behind your back, or clap twice, for the harder version of the drill
- Every time you clap, only move one of your hands to a new hold and return the other to where it was
- If you start finding it too easy, go for a steeper or harder route
Besides these drills – which are great to develop muscle memory and the general fitness and body strength required for each of the styles – it is also great to perform campus board exercises to develop the respective finger strength.
To train static finger strength, move up the campus board fluidly and with lock-offs. If you move up the campus board in a dynamic manner, with big moves or jumping the two hands at once, it’ll develop dynamic finger strength.
Alex is a computer scientist from Mexico currently studying a PhD on cancer genomics. He is a full-time researcher, a regular weekend warrior, and someone who enjoys sharing his thoughts through writing. He first started climbing at uni, where he fell in love with the beautiful places it took him. So, he promised himself he would someday experience the beauty of climbing and nature in every continent. Nowadays, after several years with this motivation in mind, school and work have taken Alex to 4 different continents already. This has given him the opportunity to make friends all over the world, experience different cultures and their communities, as well as the chance to listen all the stories these people have to share. Alex hopes these adventures will continue for many years, and is eager to share his experiences as a wandering climber.