I hope you’ve all enjoyed the break from my inexpert ‘teaching’, because I’ve now returned to finish the second half of the last article I started (Types of holds and how to use them), where I promised to go through moves and body positions when climbing. However, this topic is something that really needs some form of demonstration (I seem to say that every time, don’t I?), so even though I’ll do my best, check other sources and/or bother someone with enough experience at the wall.
To the overly confusing descriptions!
I’ll start by trying to explain the difference between a ‘body position’ and a ‘move’: basically, one’s static, and one’s dynamic. A body position is simply the position your body is in while on the wall. Sounds obvious, but I’m not trying to patronise you, it just needs to be said. Besides, it’s more complicated than you think; a given set/sequence/positioning of holds can produce different body positions depending on your height, strength, experience, pump level, etc. Generally, you will want to be in the most stable position, as that tends to require the least effort to hold. However, finding that position can be difficult, or it might not be the best position to proceed from, so that’s where experience comes in; it allows you to recognise if there’s a rest on the holds, and work out how you’ll reach the next hold, among other things. A move, on the other hand, is more dynamic, and lets you move (ha) between body positions. When you start out, moves, as such, are scary and seem inefficient, because we’ve been emphasizing trying to find good foot positions, an inherently static exercise. But, when you see someone climbing well, they appear to just flow up the route. This is because they are just moving between body positions, only pausing to adjust, clip or rest slightly. Moving like this is quicker, and often saves a lot of energy once it is second nature. (You should be thinking that this is eerily similar to the article I wrote on ‘Moving when climbing’, by now…) Anyway, this was all just procrastination from having to try and explain these things, but here we go:
Face on or side on?
When most people start climbing, they have a tendency to stare at the wall face on. There’s nothing wrong with this, in it’s place, but often it’s more efficient to be side on. What do I mean by side on? At the most basic, I mean having your body facing either left or right, rather than just facing the wall head on. However, as with all aspects of climbing, there are other, more subtle variations and uses, stemming from a slightly different view of ‘side on’. This time, rather than just considering the direction our body faces, let’s consider the positioning of our weight. We can simplify this by assuming that your weight acts in a straight line down from your navel (physicists will recognise this, while simultaneously cursing me for being lax with ‘weight’ and ‘mass…). So, you will be thinking, if it’s acting through my navel, sure I want to be face on, cos that way it’s closer to the wall? Partially correct, but not full marks. Say a C+/B-. If you look again at your feet, see how they stick out in front of you (otherwise we wouldn’t be able to stand up, never mind walk or climb…)? This means that you centre of mass is still further from the wall. You can fix this by bending your hips into the wall, but then your feet have to work a bit harder to direct the force through the holds. But we’ve taken an important step, as now we can see that what we need to be concerned with is the positioning of our hips. So, we can even have torso facing the wall, but if our hips are side on, we can have our weight over our feet, have our hip actually contacting the wall, and be facing the wall, but still be ‘side on’. The easiest way of doing this is by using the outside edge of one foot, usually actually standing on the toes (excluding the big toe). Another benefit of this positioning is that moving to the side is much easier, and you have a much greater reach, at least in some directions. None of this makes face on climbing bad, but just situational, same as side on. Deciding which one to use is the key part. Just remember that it’s actually your hips that largely control you centre of mass, and you’ll notice loads of tiny improvements (and a much stronger core).
This term makes sense intuitively, but it’s often hard to actually convey how you do it. Most useful in corners (or dihedrals, if you subscribe to American terminology. But then you’d call it stemming, and we’d call you weird), but also on some slabs, and even faces, you essentially form a arch with your legs, your feet opposing two footholds. Depending on the situation, you can often take your hands off the wall, so they make good rests. The main thing is to think about how your feet are directing the force; outwards as well as downwards. This feels strange at first, but it makes you very stable. So stable, in fact, that they can be difficult to get out of, as you need to replace the opposition of one foot with a similarly directed force with a hand/shoulder/head.
Basically just bridging, but with your feet against one wall, and your hands/back against the other, fun and hard to fall out of, but feels super insecure.
You know how I was just extolling the virtues of side on climbing? Well often on super delicate faces, you don’t have the room to maneuver enough to do that, so in order to keep your hips close to the wall, you turn your legs right the way out, like frog legs, hence the name. Women tend to favour this style, as they are normally more flexible.
You remember those Egyptian drawings, where they walk sideways, limbs all at funny angles? That’s what you look like during a drop knee. This is going to be really hard to explain, so bear with me. Say you have two footholds that are slightly angled so they are facing in. Now imagine standing on them face on, ie. feet pointing directly at the wall. The footholds will feel slippery, and not much use. So what you do is ‘drop’ one knee, so that it’s facing in the direction of the other. Your feet will now be facing the same direction, opposing outwards against the holds, and sitting on them much more securely. The hip on the side of the knee you turned in should be very close to the wall, and you should be facing in that direction. I said it’s hard to explain. The best way to understand it is to try it out. The key thing to remember is that it’s essentially a side on bridge, making it very versatile; you can even drop knee above your hips, in the extreme.
That’s about all the positions I can think of right now, but I’ll add more if anyone else has one, or an inspiration particle strikes (for Pterry fans).
This is the big one. The most commonly used move. You have a foot at about thigh to face height, but how can you possibly use it? The answer is to get you foot on it by your favourite method (sorry, magic textbook joke), and then lean back, pull on your hand holds and rock your weight up and over that foot. If you’re practicing this, and trying to get the appropriate ‘feel’ for the move, try pausing here. You will find that you will be balanced, as your hips are close to the wall, and all of the weight is over that foot. Now stand up or reach for the next hold. Easy. The most important thing here is to remember that it’s the momentum you generate that allows you to use the foothold, that you wouldn’t be able to use otherwise. You need to flow through the first half, and then you can slow down (normally).
A twist-lock is kind of like the drop knee equivalent of a rockover. As you reach for the next hold, you use one arm to pull yourself right the way into the wall by locking off and dropping the required knee, extending your body along the diagonal from the reaching hand to the opposite foot (so if you were reaching for a left hand hold, you would lock off your right arm, drop your left knee, have you left hip into the wall, and pushing with your right foot). This often involves swing either up, from a low position on a high foot, or across from a position on the other side of the hold you’re locking off on, in a kind of traverse-and-reach maneuver. I’d highly recommend playing about with this move, as you’ll use it without realising it once you understand the feel of it.
To be honest, this can be done either statically to improve your balance (as a position), but it is more often used to try and maintain balance will stretching for the next hold. You just use whatever spare limb you have to act as a counterbalance. Usually legs, you can flag on the inside of your body (in a kind of twist-lock, but flagging instead of dropping a knee) or outside (often seen on delicate rockovers, where you flag the lower leg underneath the hold to get some weight over it early). You can also ‘dab’ the flagging foot against the wall to get some opposition, although is this sometimes considered cheating in comps with strict boundaries.
That’s about all I’ve got on this topic at the minute, but the key points to remember are:
- Think about where your hips are, as they ‘control’ your weight.
- Try climbing side on as it nearly always helps.
- Don’t be afraid to move a bit more dynamically, as it’s often the only way to get through a sequence, at least without pumping yourself silly.
I hope some of that was coherent. I suspect that practical demonstrations are necessary for the fine points of this subject, though…