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Fancy Footwork and Leg Power Part 3: Find Your Stability

In the previous posts, you saw fancy footwork and showing off that leg power in parts 1 and 2 of Fancy Footwork and Leg Power. Now all we need is the last piece to make these come together for better climbing. In the final post of the series, we’ll work with gravity while up above and how you are standing or positioned on the wall or rock will affect your movement.

Gravity is a Mean Force

One thing that climber needs to consider is where his/her center of gravity is. Because that will affect the outcome of a movement or change in position. According to Eric J. Hörst, author of Learning to Climb Indoors, there are three things to be aware of when it comes to climbing.

  1. Balance
  2. Stability
  3. Application of Force
Twisting the hips towards the wall helps with balance.

With these factors in mind, one needs good footwork to accomplish them. You want to shift your bodyweight so the shoe rubber sticks to the hold or rock and not slip. Whether it’s pushing off from a starting point or directing your foot to another hold, keeping your center of gravity in check pays off. If not, you’ll fall or try resisting gravity’s pull.

Depending on the wall angle (vertical or not), there are ways to achieve this. One can climb straight on with the body right over the feet. This kind of climbing is what climbers first learn. If on a less than vertical wall, twisting the hips either into or out from the wall helps keep your center of gravity close and forces your legs to push harder into the footholds. This can add inches for a long reach (which is great for shorties like me) and maintain contact with the rock.

Keep Me Upright

Speaking about stability, there are lower body positions and maneuvers that help you keep steady on the problem. These are also effective to help your balance too. From Peter Beal’s Bouldering Movements, Tactics, and Problem Solving, they are:


Climber stemming inside a corner.

A stem is a simple position which allows the climber to evenly distribute weight on both feet. Stems are common to do inside corners or spaces where he/she can stand on opposing holds on two feet almost without help from the hands. Even though it’s easy to do, there still needs to be a good amount of balance and friction to stem. From this position, it’s a great opportunity to let the hands and arms rest. Once you can easily recognize the chance do this, take it.


Working a backstep on the bouldering wall.

Despite sounding like a dance move, this positioning helps stability while reaching back for a hold. Rock and Ice Magazine’s Rock Climbing Technique article states a climber uses the outer edge of the feet and turn the hip so that the outside of it faces into the wall. Now, there’s extra reach with the hand on that same side. Backstepping is especially important on overhung sections where you need every inch to step up and reach.


Using dropknee for balance.

Dropknees combine parts of stemming and backstepping. Overall, it’s a backstepped foot placed closer to the hip and leveraged with an opposing foothold. This allows you to find a hold and place a foot on it so the toes and knee point down and twist away from the wall. Once secure, a climber can twist the hip away, pull up and into the wall. Usually this frees the hand on the same side as the dropknee to reach.


Pulling away from the holds to start the problem.

This more of an upper body movement but works well with the lower body too. As the name suggests, using opposing force to stay on the problem is what this does. Whether it is leaning to the side to hold onto the holds or rock better or pushing away with the feet in the same manner, a constant state of tension is needed. Many problems allow or requires this kind of movement to send it.


Passive side flag on overhang.

Keeping balance can be difficult if there are only good holds for a certain side on a problem. In Climbing Magazine writer Julie Ellison’s article Climbing Techniques: How to Flag, she describes a technique called flagging. It allows you to use a free-hanging foot as a counterbalance to make the next move, gain more reach, and prevent a barn-door swing. Which means you have a leg sticking out either to the side or behind you maintaining balance so you don’t swing out.

I know this sounds weird but I recommend doing it. When working on overhangs, I flag my legs so I stay balanced and prevent swinging out. If you need to with a side flag, with your hips twisting into the wall, you can press the instep of the flagging foot against the wall for some balance. This move can be used on almost all angles and types of routes.


Using a rockover position to move up.

No, this isn’t giving rocks a makeover. A rockover is where you step high onto a foothold and move up enough to be able to sit on your foot and press up into a standing position. Hopefully with little use of the hands. A good rockover is great use of balance and turnout of the hips. A precaution with rockovers is overusing the knees and to not put too much stress on them.

Swingin' Barn-doors

Earlier I mentioned the term “barn-door” or “barn-door swing”. In Beal’s book and in climbing slang, a barn-door is when one swings from the wall or boulder if leaning away from it in an unstable position. Hence, you look like a swinging barn door from the “hinge” part. This might result in falling off if not you’re able to catch yourself. So, that is why it’s important to keep good balance on problems so this doesn’t happen.

Wrapping Things Up

There you have it. All the parts to one should know for good footwork and lower body movement for climbing. I hope you learned something from this series. Or at least enjoyed reading the articles. Until next time, happy bouldering!