Fancy Footwork and Leg Power Part 2
In the previous article Fancy Footwork and Leg Power Part 1, I explained why using our legs more while climbing is better than depending on the arms. Plus, I mention what the feet can do on the holds. Now that we have the footwork down, how else do they help improve climbing? Here in Part 2, there are leg and foot techniques climbers use on holds and rock or give them better stability until he/she can make the next move. Those are according to Peter Beal in his book Bouldering Movement, Tactics, and Problem Solving:
- Foot/Toe Cams
- Heel Hooks
- Toe Hooks
Though the name sounds odd, kneebarring or kneebars are quite stable positions for climbers. From Rock and Ice Magazine, these require a foot on top of a foothold and then the upper leg (between the knee and mid-thigh) pressed up against an opposing feature. This is usually another hold or part of the rock. A climber should lean back a little so the leg can straighten some and jam the knee more into place. If done well, the climber can take their hands off the holds or rock.
For bouldering, kneebarring allows a climber to use poor handholds on a steep wall to stay in place until he/she is can move to better grips. When they’re found, the kneebar is released, the climber swings out and re-establishes his/her feet on the wall.
Foot or toe cams are pretty useful for extending a reach or take a rest when climbing. A climber presses the heel on a hold and the top of the same foot into an opposing surface. Think of almost wedging the foot between planes and sticking it there. This could be with two holds, in a horizontal crack, or within a large hueco. If using this technique, be careful and attentive to it so there the foot doesn't get hurt while moving around.
This particular technique is one of my favorites because I use it as a “third arm” to move upward frequently. A heel hook can be used on almost any kind of hold or edge for leverage. In Climbing magazine writer Julie Ellison's article Climbing Techniques: How to Heel Hook states to do this, the knee and foot must rotate so the sole is parallel to the wall. You’ll be in a better position to push down and in on the heel towards your core. Usually a heel hook is used at waist or shoulder height. When I do this, it’s about at waist height.
As you rise, the lower leg and foot will turn downward but keep pulling in. Do this until you're able to move the foot to another hold. Heel hooks put a lot of strain on the knees and hamstrings so it’s good to develop lower body strength. Straining the hamstrings is a common injury while heel hooking and tearing it too. So, this is one you definitely don’t want to push to far on or overdo.
Like heel hooks, these are also good when you can’t find a descent foothold. Toe hooks help keep a climber stable when using them opposite of the hands. ClimbingTechniques.org states finding an undercling or something similar and pulling hard upward with the toes is one way this can be done. Once the feet are secure, a climber can let go of a hand and reach for another hold. Toe hooks can be used with other toe hooks, heel hooks, knee bars, and regular holds. I haven’t used toe hooks a lot but they are handy when there aren’t any good footholds around.
Sometimes using your feet to do opposite actions on the rock can help keep you stable on a move. This is called bicycling. Beal describes how this is done is when one foot is toehooking while the other is toe pushing at the same time on the features. This is commonly used on overhangs and roofs. Be aware of foot placement so one doesn’t pop off while reaching for a hold in this position.
Show Me Your Stance
So, we have the feet and legs figured out so we can show off our footwork on the wall. But what about stance? Surprisingly, one’s stance even with the footwork can also make a difference on problems. In part three of Fancy Footwork and Leg Power, I’ll show you how all 3 of these factors come together and work well in making the ascent.