Rock Climbing Technique: The Practical Guide To Movement Mastery


I started working with John Kettle several years ago, and more recently I have benefitted from some coaching sessions with him. He has totally changed the way that I think about climbing movement. Decades of bad climbing habits have been corrected, proving that you can teach an old dog new tricks. I now move better and climb smarter. John’s book is deceptively simple, and very easy to understand, and I am proof that following his advice can transform your climbing.

In this post we chat to John about the book (buy it here), and find out the thinking behind it.

book image.jpg

Why did you decide to write this book?

To reach a wider audience, and help more people that I can just by coaching in person. My coaching is only really accessible to those who can reach me both geographically and financially. The book represents a much cheaper way of accessing some of my knowledge for those that can't afford coaching in person, and access to it for climbers all over the globe, rather than just Brits who can get to Northern England.

What are the main themes of the book?

The main themes are ones of curiosity about movement, and using self-reflection combined with experiential learning to better understand and improve your climbing movement. It contains lots of open questions without clearly defined answers - designed to encourage an inquisitive approach to improving technique, rather than a 'do this, not this' approach.

What is the format of the book?

It's divided into six main chapters, each focused on a specific area of technique. Each chapter begins with some exploratory awareness exercises to tune the mind in to the appropriate area, and finishes with a 'Geeks Corner' section, signposting further learning and some of the theory underpinning the advice given. Within each chapter are lots of practical exercises, each one is illustrated and many also have a video demonstration. The videos are hosted on Youtube and can be accessed directly from the ebook/kindle version of the book, and via QR codes in the paperback version. At the end is a 'Quick Wins' chapter that points climbers of different abilities and disciplines to the most common areas of weakness, for those really short on time. 

Developing a new bouldering area in the Lake District

Developing a new bouldering area in the Lake District

Why did you use that particular format?

Format and layout were hugely important to me as, after clarity of writing, I think poor layout often becomes the greatest barrier to accessibility of information in books. I chose this format to make the information as accessible as possible. It all comes back to reaching the widest possible audience.

One of the puzzling things I often encounter as a coach is people who have read the same climbing books as me, but seem not to have learnt (or be applying) the information from them to their climbing. Often I suspect it's because the author of the book has taken the traditional textbook layout, of giving many chapters of theory before one chapter of 'how to apply the theory', which for most non-academics is the relevant and helpful bit. So I deliberately kept it very concise (it’s over 4000 words shorter than the first manuscript!), and put minimal theory or jargon in, placing it at the end of each chapter (the Geeks Corner) where it can be skipped by those not academically inclined. The result is a much smaller book than the 'coaches textbook' I could have written, but hopefully this means there are less barriers to accessing the practical information within it, and it will therefore help more people. It's definitely a 'what to do' book, not a 'how things work' book!

The idea behind the illustrations and videos is to make the practical exercises as easy to understand as possible, and it's available as an ebook so you could take it to the wall and use the videos between trying the exercises. It's also laid out in such a way that you can dip in and out, navigate it easily and includes space for your own hand written notes at the end of each chapter to help you keep track of your learning and progress.

Sport climbing in Spain

Sport climbing in Spain

What advice would you give someone thinking about writing a climbing or mountaineering book?

  • Know what your primary motivation is - and check it's not financial!

  • Then check out the competition both to see what else is out there and to avoid re-writing another author’s book.

  • Have a really clear idea of your target market, and make sure the information and language is appropriate to their needs.

  • Don't underestimate just how much work is involved, and if you want full control of the final product, consider self-publishing.

  • If it contains practical advice, make the most of modern multi-media technology and combine videos or audio with it where appropriate.

  • One of the best things I did was to test my book thoroughly before publishing. For four months I trialled it on people with English as a second language, overseas coaches in different climbing cultures, and a diverse range of climbers. This process lad to over twenty-seven text and image changes before publication!

Any other books in the pipeline?

Too soon! There's nothing I have in mind at the moment other than enjoying my first winter since 2015 of not working on it in my spare time. It was a great project, and now I'm moving towards other projects, not of a book-writing nature.

At work Wallowbarrow in the Duddon valley

At work Wallowbarrow in the Duddon valley