Gaston Climbing: The Complete Climbers Guide

The gaston is something took me forever to figure out. But as I’ve progressed from gym climbing, to outdoor climbing, and professional guiding, this particular hold has become my secret weapon. The first time I tried to use one I was stumped. I had done plenty of layback climbs, where using the hold was intuitive. But now with the gaston, I had to retrain my mind and body to be able to trust it. Practice this hold. You don’t want to whip on the crux while sport climbing because you avoided training gastons!

Did you know that the rock climbing gaston move is the only climbing move named after a person! That’s right, out of all the other climbing holds there isn’t a Caroline Crimp (maybe somewhere out there Caroline Crimp is crimpin’), Frank Fist-Jam, and Doug Dyno to thank for their names. Scroll down to our gaston history lesson to learn more about the French alpinist and his history.

What is a gaston?

The rock climbing gaston move is like opening elevator doors from the middle. Our palms are facing the wall and our thumbs are pointed down. Our elbows will not be directly below our hands, but closer to being parallel with our hands.

The gaston is a very useful climbing technique, but it is one of the trickier ones to visualize. In my experience, getting the prior beta and knowledge of the moves on a problem or route will help a ton as you practice this. If you’re starting from square one, keep an eye out for people using or talking about a gaston so you can try and replicate their beta.

We can easily imagine how to hold a crimp. We see a small piece of rock that’s only gonna hold the pads of our fingers. A pinch, we know that we’ll be grasping the hold in between our thumb and fingers. But on a gaston, we need to grab the hold and position our arm to utilize it.

Even with a tricky hold like a sloper, it’s easy to visualize how our hand is going to grab the hold. Slopers are one of my most feared holds in all of rock climbing. So while I know how to grab it… doesn’t mean I CAN grab it.

Chris Sharma V15 Gaston Example

Check out Chris Sharma’s three-finger roof gaston on Witness The Fitness V15

Chris is using his three digits to push against the gaston hold to keep him on the roof. Even though he is horizontal, the same principles apply. He is using the hold like he is opening an elevator door to stay on the climb.

Sharma has been training for YEARS to pull this off on an overhanging rock. After I watch this video, I have to do a few planks and situps to build up my core strength!

When to Gaston?

Knowing when to pull out this climbing technique can be tricky. And some gastons could even be liebacked. Climbing is hard enough, why the heck are they trying to trick us some more with a move named after a French guy?

Here are a few ideas to help you out!

The Axes

Look for holds on a route where you’re not only pulling down on a hold (Y-Axis) but also out on the X-axis. Some gastons won’t have the exaggerated elevator door motion but they will still be pulling across your body.

Take a look at this problem from the Moonboard, Slightly Skewed V5. Which hold (circled in blue) will force us to pull across the X-axis on your body?.

Moonboard problem Slightly Skewed, V5

What do you think? Here’s some video beta.

The positive edge for the K11 hold is facing leftwards. Forcing our hand to grab it slightly rotated to the left.

In this video, the climber has to fall into the gaston and push into the hold to keep them on the climb. Keep an eye on the left foot as well. It’s pressing hard into the wall as they fall to keep body tension.

How to quickly identify a Gaston

Here are a few quick tricks to help you identify a rock climbing gaston while you’re mid send.

  • A positive edge of the hold is facing towards your body.
  • Positive edges that face away from us can be liebacked.
  • If the climb has a traverse at some point, there’s a good chance you’ll have to gaston. Many traversers will incorporate a gaston to give you something to push off of to start the traverse.
  • The climb has an offwidth crack.
  • You may be able to climb offwidths with fist jams or chicken wings, but a gaston may help you get into a better position at some point

You won’t need a gaston if you’re on friction slab. Those routes require a totally different technique.

A positive climbing hold will be easy to grab thanks to the large edge running across the hold.

How did the Gaston climbing move get its name?

The gaston technique is named after the French climber Gaston Rébuffat. In the book On Snow and Rock, Gaston shows a climbing technique to climb offwidths “by pulling them apart” (just like pulling apart elevator doors!). This offwidth climbing technique is where the gaston move got its name.

Do I push or pull on a gaston?

We can use gastons by either pushing off them or pulling on them. In the moonboard video above, the climber is pulling on the gaston with his right hand. Since the route forces the body into a compact position, the climber has to pull on the K11 climbing hold to generate force to G13.

Indoor boulderer falling into a gaston.

This gaston hold is set in the middle of a traverse. The climber must fall into the gaston grip and push off of it to stay on the wall.

In the YouTube video above, V8 Gaston Madness, the route is going up and then traversing to the right. The placement of the gaston requires the climber to fall into the gaston with his arms straight and push off to keep himself on the wall. He continues to push off of the gaston, palms facing the wall and thumb pointed down, as he adjusts his feet and continues the problem.

Take a look at his feet. One foot is standing on a good foothold. But the other foot, his left, is pointed and pressing off the wall. Applying opposing pressure like this is the best way to stay on the wall when the climbing gets technical.

What about my feet?

The best thing to remember while climbing is “what should I be doing with my feet?” Placing your feet properly is the first step to having a proper position on a climb. I have had many onsights saved when I took a second to think about repositioning my feet mid climb.

  • Visualize the route before attempting. If you’re going straight up, you will most likely be pulling on the gaston. If you see a traverse, mime the problems on the ground and see if you’ll need to push off the hold to stay on the wall.

What do I do after a gaston?

Heel hook!

You nailed the gaston and are about to successfully complete the route. But chances are you can still use the climbing hold to your advantage!

No, I’m not suggesting downclimbing to touch it again. Use your feet! Most gastons will make for a great heel hook later on in the climb.

Why Heel Hook?

Using a heel hook will create tension and prevent you from swinging off the climb like a barn door. Even though the hold may not look like a good foothold, you can always use it to keep you ON the wall.

How to train for gastons?

A climbing gaston is intense on our shoulders. Let’s focus on two approaches for training:

  • On the wall training. Seek out routes that feature a gaston move.
  • Specific climbing strength training targeting our shoulders.

Use your gaston knowledge to seek out routes that include gastons. Work these problems over and over. Focus on your footwork, technique, and body position as your climbing gastons.

If you still feel weak on gastons and need to train your shoulders, try out these exercises that will work on your scapular protractors/retractors, deltoids, and your rotator cuffs.

The shoulder is delicate. Start off with low weight and gradually increase.

YTWL

If you don’t have weights, improvise with two cans of soup.

Face Pulls

https://youtu.be/CruifQcSALU

Face pulls can also be done with resistance bands.

Rotator Cuff Rotations

Bands can also be used as an alternative if you do not have access to a pulley machine. Start off with lightweight!

Gaston Climbing

The best way to improve on areas of our climbing technique is to keep practicing. If the gaston climbing feels uncomfortable at first, find a start hold that’s at ground level that you can use to practice the gaston. You can keep your feet firmly on the ground and get familiar with the position. Just playing around with different body positions while holding the gaston will yield you huge gains in your climbing!

Go forth and send! Find gastons on your next boulder problems. Or test out your gaston technique on the next pair of elevator doors you see (not recommended!!) Always rest your body when you need it.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is it called a Gaston in climbing?

The gaston move got its name from French climber Gaston Rébuffat. He was describing a new type of offwidth climbing technique where you were pulling apart the rock. Over time, this move became commonly known as the Gaston!

Will I find a Gaston while outdoor climbing?

Yes, a Gaston can be found indoor and outdoor climbing. It’s common to find one while bouldering, sport climbing, and trad climbing

What muscles are used in a Gaston?

Your shoulder deltoids will most of the strain while when you’re in a gaston. Don’t overdo it because a shoulder injury can be a long time nagging injury.

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