What Is a Gaston in Climbing? A Game-Changing Move

By: Derek Vitiello | Last Updated on December 22, 2023

In the dynamic world of rock climbing, the language we use can sometimes sound as tricky as the routes themselves. Take the term “Gaston,” for instance. While it may conjure images of a robust Frenchman, in climbing jargon, it refers to a distinct hand grip.

Named after the French climbing legend Gaston Rébuffat, a Gaston is a particular type of hand grip that involves pushing outwards against holds, rather than pulling down. It’s like trying to force two walls apart using your palms, creating a sort of outward pinch. It’s incredibly useful when you’re dealing with flaring cracks, side pulls, or any situation where you can’t grip the hold in the usual pulling manner.

Stick around if you’re interested in diving deeper into this valuable tool in every climber’s skill set.

What is a Gaston in Climbing?

A Gaston climbing move is a specific type of hand grip used in rock climbing that involves pushing outward against holds (counter pressure), as opposed to pulling downward. The hands are generally oriented so that the palms facing outward and the fingers point towards each other. This creates a unique pinching action, engaging your deltoids and triceps to apply lateral force. Think of trying to open an elevator door. The objective? To maintain or gain position on the wall by using this opposing pressure.

This climbing technique is particularly useful when facing flaring cracks, side pulls, or any setup where a pull straight on the hold isn’t feasible. Gaston climbing allows you to exploit the geometry of the rock or the climbing wall to your advantage. It’s not just a grip; it’s a strategic move that can make the difference between topping out a problem and taking a fall. This gripping style is versatile and commonly used in various climbing disciplines, from bouldering to traditional climbing.

Related Post: Mastering Climbing Moves, Holds, & Techniques

How to Identify a Gaston in Climbing

Spotting a Gaston climbing opportunity while on the wall is a skill that comes with experience and a keen eye for detail. Often, the situation calls for a Gaston when the holds are laterally placed, and pulling up on them would result in a poor or insecure grip. The holds may be spread apart, making it difficult to grab them with a straightforward pull. Alternatively, they may be oriented in such a way that the most efficient way to hold them is by exerting force outward, essentially trying to push the holds away from each other.

Look for situations where the wall geometry is working against you—like flaring cracks or outward-facing holds. If you see two holds that are roughly at the same height but spaced wider than your shoulders, that’s a classic Gaston setup. Similarly, in crack climbing, if the fissure in the rock flares outward, you’ll likely need to employ a Gaston to make upward progress. Gastons can even exist on overhanging rock and can present a unique challenge on steeper terrain.

The Gaston often presents itself as the “aha” solution to a sequence that doesn’t seem to work with more conventional grips. It’s like solving a puzzle: when the pieces fit, you’ll know a Gaston is the key to unlocking the next sequence.

Why Is It a Called Gaston in Climbing? A Brief History

The term “Gaston” pays homage to French climber Gaston Rébuffat, a legendary climber and mountain guide. Rébuffat was an influential figure in the mid-20th century, known for his alpine ascents and contributions to climbing techniques. He started climbing in 1935 and was particularly adept at utilizing the rock’s features in innovative ways to make his way up difficult routes, and this specific grip is said to have been either named in his honor or directly attributed to him.

While the origin story isn’t 100% clear, what we do know is that the term has been embraced wholeheartedly by the climbing community to describe this outward-pushing grip. Rébuffat himself was a man of climbing technique, stressing the importance of skill over brute force, and the Gaston is a perfect example of that philosophy. It’s a grip that requires finesse, strategic muscle engagement, and a deep understanding of climbing mechanics, echoing Rébuffat’s influence on the sport.

When to Use a Gaston in Climbing

Knowing when to deploy a Gaston is a bit like knowing when to play a trump card in a game—it can be a game-changer when used correctly. This climbing technique shines in specific scenarios where traditional grips fall short. For example, if you’re dealing with flaring cracks or side pulls that don’t offer a comfortable upward pull, a Gaston can provide the security and leverage needed to progress. In bouldering problems or sport climbing routes where you encounter laterally arranged holds, especially those wider than shoulder-width apart, Gastoning becomes a highly efficient maneuver.

The Gaston also makes frequent appearances in more complex climbing sequences. In some cases, you might start with a Gaston grip and then transition to a crimp or pinch as you navigate a series of holds. Afterwards, most gastons will make for a great heel hook later in the climb. This fluidity and adaptability make it a versatile climbing technique that can be integrated into a variety of movements.

What Muscles are Used in a Gaston?

Performing a Gaston efficiently requires engagement from a unique set of muscle groups that might not be as heavily utilized in more conventional climbing grips. Primarily, you’re tapping into the strength of your deltoids, the muscles that cap your shoulders, and your triceps, which run along the back of your upper arm. These muscles work in concert to provide the lateral, outward-pushing force that defines the Gaston. The grip also engages your brachialis and brachioradialis, which are muscles of the upper forearm, to help stabilize the body movement.

But it’s not just an upper-body affair. A well-executed Gaston also involves solid footwork and core engagement. Your core muscles, including the obliques and transverse abdominis, play a critical role in maintaining body movement, body tension, and balance, which is particularly important when you’re pushing laterally rather than pulling vertically.

Effective use of your legs can also lighten the load on your arms, making the move more sustainable. Understanding the muscular demands of a Gaston can help you train more effectively, targeting these specific muscle groups to improve your technique and, ultimately, your climbing performance.

How to Avoid Using a Gaston

While the Gaston movement is a valuable tool in a climber’s skillset, there are times when you might want to avoid it. This could be due to physical limitations, fatigue, or simply because there’s a more efficient way to navigate the route. Sometimes, holds that initially seem like Gaston candidates can also be tackled using other grips, like crimps or pinches, that might be easier on the shoulders and elbows. Switching the hand orientation or rearranging your body position can often open up alternative options for handholds.

Another strategy for avoiding a Gaston involves leveraging advanced footwork techniques. Precise foot placement can reduce the load on your arms and make it easier to reach or engage holds in a different manner. Techniques like drop knees, flagging, or high-stepping can change your body’s center of gravity and orientation, allowing for a more straightforward grip or pull.

If you’re looking to bypass a Gaston, route reading from the ground before you start climbing can be invaluable. Visualizing sequences and identifying key holds can help you spot alternative pathways and save you from a grip that, while effective, can be physically taxing over the course of a long climb. So while the Gaston is a great tool to have, it’s by no means the only one. A well-rounded climber is versatile, adaptable, and always open to exploring different techniques.

How to Train for Gastons

Training for Gastons involves a focused approach that targets the specific muscle groups and skills needed for this unique grip. One of the most effective ways to build the lateral pushing strength required is through targeted weight training exercises like lateral deltoid raises and tricep pushdowns. Incorporating these exercises into your regular training regimen can help you build the necessary shoulder and arm strength. Isometric exercises, where you hold a contraction for a set period, can also replicate the sustained muscle engagement you’d experience while Gastoning on a wall.

Beyond the weight room, training on the climbing wall itself is indispensable. Try setting up or identifying routes that incorporate Gaston holds, and work on them to improve your technique and comfort level. Pay attention to body positioning, body weight balance, and footwork, as a Gaston isn’t just about arm strength—it’s a whole-body affair. Boulder problems can be particularly useful for Gaston training, allowing you to isolate the move and practice it repeatedly in a controlled setting.

Related Post: Bouldering Training

Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

One of the most common mistakes climbers make when attempting a Gaston is relying solely on arm strength and neglecting footwork and core engagement. Remember, a Gaston is a full-body movement, and proper foot placement can provide the leverage needed to make the grip more effective and less strenuous. Poor body position, such as having your hips too far away from the wall, can also make the Gaston technique more challenging than it needs to be. Keep your hips close to reduce the load on your arms and improve your overall stability.

Another frequent error is over-gripping, which can lead to rapid forearm fatigue. The Gaston movement, with its outward push, already puts considerable stress on your forearms. Clenching too hard can drain your reserves quickly, leaving you pumped and compromising your grip on subsequent holds. To mitigate this, focus on using just enough grip strength to maintain your position, and not a bit more.

As with other rock climbing moves, make sure you’re keeping your arms straight when possible. Keeping your arms bent unnecessarily can tire your arm muscles quickly, making your climbing less efficient.

Finally, don’t overlook the importance of sequencing. In the heat of the climb, it’s easy to rush into a Gaston movement without setting up properly. Take a moment to plan your move, ensuring your feet are well-placed and your body weight is balanced. Being deliberate and mindful about how and when you engage in a Gaston can make the difference between a successful move and an unnecessary fall. Remember, climbing is as much about strategy as it is about strength and skill.

Final Thoughts

Mastering the Gaston grip is like adding a Swiss Army knife to your rock climbing toolkit. It’s a specialized tool that may not be used every day, but when you do need it, it can be a climb-saver. From understanding the muscle groups involved to recognizing when and how to deploy it, getting a firm grasp on the Gaston technique can elevate your climbing game in a big way. Just as importantly, knowing when to avoid using a Gaston and opting for other techniques can also prove invaluable. After all, climbing is a sport of nuance, strategy, and adaptability, where every grip, every move counts.

Whether you’re a beginner looking to broaden your climbing vocabulary or a seasoned climber keen on refining your skills, the Gaston is a technique worth exploring. As with any skill, practice makes perfect. So the next time you’re at the gym or out on the crag, don’t shy away from those awkward side pulls or flaring cracks. Embrace the challenge, engage that Gaston, and ascend with confidence

FAQ’s

What is the opposite of a Gaston in climbing?

The opposite of a Gaston in climbing is generally considered to be a side pull. In a Gaston, you’re pushing your hands away from your body to engage the hold, whereas in a side pull, you’re pulling your hands towards your body.

What is a Gaston in climbing?

A Gaston is a climbing technique that involves using the thumb and shoulder muscles to pull and hold onto a hold with the palms facing inward and the thumbs pointed outward. It is known as the Gaston because it was popularized by French alpinist Gaston Rébuffat.

Why is it called a Gaston in climbing?

The term “Gaston” is named after the French climber Gaston Rébuffat. The move mimics the motion of opening a set of double doors, much like the dramatic style often attributed to Rébuffat, who was known for his charismatic and theatrical climbing techniques.

Can beginners practice the Gaston move?

Yes, beginners can practice the Gaston move. It is a commonly used climbing technique that can be learned and honed in the gym or on climbing routes. Starting with easier Gaston moves and gradually increasing difficulty is the best way for beginners to strengthen the muscles needed for this technique.

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About The Author

Derek, Co-Founder at Know Nothing Nomads

My goal with my writing and Know Nothing Nomads as a whole is to share my passions of hiking, camping, and a love of the outdoors with our readers.

Making the difficult and uncertain feel more approachable to people that might not know enough to feel comfortable taking their first steps into the wilderness is a driving factor for me.

When I'm not writing you can find me on a trail, in a forest, or next to a river with hiking shoes on my feet and a fly rod somewhere close by.

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