Articles ยป How to Master Sidepull Climbing: Tips, Techniques, and Strategies for Conquering Your Next Climb

How to Master Sidepull Climbing: Tips, Techniques, and Strategies for Conquering Your Next Climb

Knowing how to properly use the side pull is going to elevate your rock climbing technique and allow you to use less energy and take better rests while you’re climbing.

This climbing hold is easy to identify, but it can be tricky to use optimally since it isn’t an intuitive climbing hold. Many holds are intuitive, since they resemble the rungs of a ladder. Your hands follow your feet as you climb. But the sidepull isn’t one of them.

What Is a Sidepull?

A side pull is a climbing hold that is oriented so that when you pull on it your pinky is parallel to the ground and the hold requires the climber to pull to the side to maintain their balance and position on the rock.

Here’s the thing about sidepulls, if they were rotated 90 degrees they could be a jug or an undercling.

What differentiates side pulls from other climbing hold is that the outside edge looks like a straight line going up and down the wall.

A side pull can be as small as a crimp or it could be a gigantic volume. What you need to look out for is the orientation of the hold. If you see a hold that has it’s edge heading up and down like an I, then there’s a good chance you’re looking at a sidepull.

The edge of the sidepull won’t always be a perfect straight line that forms a 180 degree angle towards the ground. Especially on overhanging routes, the sidepull will be at a bit of an angle when looking at it from the ground.

How to Warm Up for Side Pulls

Since the sidepull doesn’t put a lot of strain on your body, you don’t need to worry about following a specific warm up routine for sidepulls.

What I like to do for warm ups, is get my blood flowing by doing some light cardio. Walking on the treadmill, using the rowing machines, or doing jumping jacks are all a great way to get your blood flowing.

Next, I’ll take note of how my body is feeling by doing some yoga. I like to do some downward dogs and then bringing my knees to the opposing elbow.

While you do this, pay attention to how your arms and shoulders are feeling. If anything feels tweaky or painful, then ease into your climbing for that day. This is a great warmup to do before you practice any of the climbing techniques.

Finally, I climb routes below my limit and I’ll focus on a few things.

First, I like to get my arms straight and then twist my hips in and out from the wall. This gets my body feeling loose and helps my mind get into a climbing mentality.

I also like to practice my body positioning for the holds I’m about to work on. I’ll mimic the contraction and expansion of my bicep by grabbing a jug and just standing up and squatting while holding on.

How To Climb A Sidepull

The main thing to keep in mind on a side pull is that you want to be pulling laterally instead of downwards.

What we mean when we say this is that the force you create when pulling should be perpendicular to the ground and towards your chest, not pulling down towards the ground and your feet.

When pulling laterally, you’ll be putting a lot of force on your body that is taking you out and away from the wall. You’ve probably heard it stressed many times that you need to keep your hips and body close to the wall.

But now this move we are doing is introducing a lot of force away from the wall and could actually cause us to barn door off the climb. This is why it’s critical to keep your feet on good holds so you can maintain balance.

A great trick is to look for a heel hook on your opposite foot so you create counter pressure to keep your body attached to the wall.

When Should I Sidepull?

Anytime you see a hold with the edge running as a straight line to the ground is a great indicator that it is a side pull. But in my experience, I’ve found that sidepulls are very common in the following scenarios.


Sidepulls are also common on aretes. On the arete, you have two faces of the wall coming together and creating a shape that is very similar to a nose. This nose juts out and pushes you away from the wall.

Due to your body position on an arete, you often are pulling into the wall to stay on. You’ll most likely have your hips up close against the wall and you can use side pulls or heel hooks to help keep you on the wall. Having good climbing technique makes it easier to stay on the wall.

Heel Hooks

Another great opportunity to use and look for side pulls is when you are heel hooking.

When you heel hook, one foot will be creating a ton of force on one side of your body. Without counteracting that on the other side of your body, it’s going to be tough to reach up to the next hold.

A great way to balance this out is to look for side pulls with the opposite arm. This will create counter pressure so you can remain steady and balanced as you reach up to the next hold.

Best Body Position for Side Pulling

It all depends on the climb you’re on and what the next move you need to make is.

In general, most climbing techniques are designed to keep your hips close to the wall and to keep a steady and consistent center of gravity. This will help you use less energy and give you the endurance to send the route.

It’s no different with a side pull. I’m a bit taller so sometimes I have to bend my knees into a frog position to really make use of a side pull. These positions are a great opportunity to rest because a majority of my weight is on my legs and the side pull is helping me stay on the wall, but not supporting all of my bodyweight.

Types of Sidepulls

Many different types of holds can create sidepulls:

  • Large volumes
  • Crimps
  • Jugs
  • Pockets

Any of these types of holds can be positioned so that you must use them as a sidepull. It’s important to not get hung up on the type of hold. But how that hold is positioned and how you are forced to grab it.

Beginner Tips For Sidepulls

  • Utilize counter pressure if it feels like you’re about swing off the wall.
  • Pull straight across the hold. Do your best so that it feels like you’re pulling yourself into the wall rather than up or down.
  • Find good footholds. Rock climbing is always easier when there are good footholds to stand on. Keep most of your weight on your feet.

Sidepull vs. Gaston

The sidepull and the Gaston look very similar. Both of these holds force our hands to rotate 90 degrees.

The key difference between a Gaston and a side pull is the orientation of the hold in relation to our body. On a side pull, your thumb will be pointing up towards the sky while on a Gaston your thumb will be pointing down towards the ground.

How Do I Train for Sidepulls

  • Core exercises are great to help keep your body close to the wall
  • Flexibility stretches and yoga help you manipulate your hips and lower body to get in a better position
  • Rock climbing more and climbing on routes that are your anti style give you more experience and confidence when climbing.

How Do You Identify a Side Pull?

The easiest way to identify a side pull is to look at how your hand will have to grab the hold in order to use it.

Climbers will often refer to the part of the hold that we grab as the edge. Look at the edge of the hold and draw a straight line across it. If the imaginary line you drew is heading towards the ground, then it is a side pull.

In reality, it’s not always going to be a perfectly straight line running at 180 degrees. The line may be slanted one way or another. But use the imaginary line you draw to think about which way you need to lean or if you need to adjust your height by bending your knees to make the best ue of the hold.

What Do I Do After a Sidepull?

Making it to the next hold after a side pull is tricky. The center of gravity for your body weight is going to shift dramatically because you’re about to lose all the force you had pulling you in closer towards the wall.

The first thing to do after you side pull is to maintain a tight core as you start moving up and out. Try flexing your abs and glutes and pull your hips in close to the wall. You might be surprised how much flexing your muscles will help when trying to control an outward swing.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a sidepull in climbing?

A sidepull is a climbing hold that you use to pull your body in closer to the wall rather than pulling down on it to climb up the wall.

Is a sidepull the opposite of a Gaston?

Gastons and sidepulls are very similar, the main difference is that when you Gaston, your thumb will be closest to the ground and during a sidepull your pinky will be closest to the ground.

Where is it common to find sidepulls when rock climbing?

It’s common to find sidepulls on aretes when you need to keep your body close to the wall.

Photo of author
Rob developed ORB to help himself categorize and find all the outdoor gear he needed at great prices. He loves writing about the outdoors and climbing. Rob is a certified Single Pitch Instructor through the AMGA.

Leave a Comment