This is the first in a series of three posts where I’m going to go back to the basics so that you can get the most out of your climbing training. Having a solid foundation in anything is important if you want to continue learning and building upon it. Without a good foundation, things eventually crumble to the ground.
Since climbing isn’t something we really study, thinking about the fundamentals of climbing is not something most of us do. We just get out there and climb and rely on our common sense and instincts to help us to the top until we have enough experience to start developing some technique.
Well, perhaps it is my background in engineering, but I like to break things down to the basics and really understand how things work. I think doing this provides us with a great opportunity to analyze ourselves as climbers and rethink our approach. You may find that just some minor adjustments to your body positioning can result in major improvements in your climbing.
Just think of a building with a sub-standard foundation, eventually the building may start to shift and you will see things like cracks in the walls. Patching up the cracks is just a band aid fix and isn’t going to keep the building from deteriorating, fixing the foundation is what is going to keep the building strong and standing.
So, on that note let’s work on making our foundation stronger by first taking a look at proper body positioning. Then in Part 2 we’ll get into proper gripping techniques and finally in Part 3 we’ll look at footwork.
When you climb you usually have at least two points of contact on the wall at all times, a hand and a foot. The point of body positioning is to keep yourself balanced on the wall by using the least amount of effort. At any point on a climb there are different ways you can position your feet, body and hands, and your goal is to find the one that brings you the most balance (takes unnecessary weight off your arms), which makes your next move easier to achieve.
How Do You Find Balance?
Your center of gravity is usually around your navel and you want to center this point as best as you can between the points of contact you have on the wall. In most cases, when you properly balance your body you should be able to carry the majority of weight on your feet, reducing the amount of weight on your arms.
Your forearms are your weakest link, you want to avoid any unnecessary weight on them so you can extend the time you can pull on them before you get pumped. Your legs are much stronger (they’ve been carrying you around your whole life!) so it only makes sense to use them as much as possible. How often do you fall off the wall because your legs are tired? I can’t even think of a time. So, the key here is to be aware of where your center of gravity is and then use your legs, arms and core to position it in the optimal place so you can climb the most efficiently.
So, I’ve only really talked about positioning your center of gravity in a 2-dimensional sense; up or down and side to side within your points of contact. What about the third dimension? Away from the wall and close to the wall. This is when you need to start thinking more about gravity. Climbing is a constant battle against gravity. Gravity is always going to be there, so you need to work with it by using it in a way that will keep you ON the wall instead of spitting you OFF it. Let’s take a look at some examples.
Body Positioning On Slab
Gravity always pulls you straight down; perpendicular to the ground. Climbing on slab usually involves a lot of smearing and small holds. Your feet take the majority of your weight and you use your arms mainly for balance. It seems to be many climbers instinct to stay close to the wall when climbing slab, which is fine if you have bomber foot holds, but is usually just a good way to cheese grade off the climb. So, since gravity is pulling you down at 90 degrees you want to position your body so it is pushing down on the wall at 90 degrees. This means moving your hips away from the wall so that it is above your weighted foot. Not only does this allow you push straight down, it also increases the surface area of your foot on the wall which gives you more friction. Using this body position works WITH gravity because it pulls you onto the wall.
Body Positioning On Vertical Walls
On vertical, or even near vertical walls, keeping your hips close to the wall is the most desirable. When you climb on vertical walls, your feet are already pushing down perpendicular to the floor, but in order to get the most weight pushing down on your feet then you need to keep your hips over your feet and close to the wall. As you drift your hips away from the wall, more weight gets transferred to your arms (working against gravity) and as you move closer to the wall more weight gets transferred to your feet (working with gravity).
Body Positioning On Overhang
Overhangs are a bit tricky because you can’t rely on your legs as much; your arms need to start carrying more weight. Overhang climbing requires the most upper body and core strength and technique. You want to hang off your arms and use your core to keep your feet pressing on the holds. Sagging your hips will result in loosing body tension and your feet are more likely slip off. You can work with gravity by pulling straight down with your arms and by using your core to position your feet as best you can so they are pulling straight down (usually heel hooks). It’s not always possible to push straight down with your feet, so maintaining body tension is key. This is when good technique can take you a long way. Look for places where you can place your feet so that they are pushing straight down. Heel hooks work great or even big flake-like holds that you can stick your toe in and rock on to.
Practice Makes Perfect
Warm ups are the BEST time for you to practice body positioning because they give you time and mental space to think about HOW you are climbing. They are also the time when many climbers develop bad habits. Since the climbs are easier we don’t think about body positioning because we know we can rely on our strength to get us up the wall. Then, since we have no practice with body positioning, we carry these habits forward onto harder climbs.
A good exercise during your warm ups is to position and balance your body correctly for every move. Become more aware of your body and focus on what positioning allows you to climb with the most ease. Try it and see if your warm up feels less strenuous than it did before. Practice this often until it becomes second nature for your body to find balance as you climb. You don’t have time to stop and think about your body when your working harder climbs.
It’s also very helpful to have a strong core. Core, core, core!! A strong core will help you position and hold your body where it needs to be. Check out this article if you want some good core exercises.
What are your thoughts? Do you think you pay attention to body positioning as much as you should? Share your thoughts with me below!