Climbing Technique

Climbing involves linking together a series of movements based on foot and hand placement, weight shift, and movement. When this series of movements is combined correctly, a smooth climbing technique results. This technique reduces excess force on the limbs, helping to minimize fatigue. The basic principle is based on the five body parts described here.

a. Five Body Parts. The five body parts used for climbing are the right hand, left hand, right foot, left foot, and body (trunk). The basic principle to achieve smooth climbing is to move only one of the five body parts at a time. The trunk is not moved in conjunction with a foot or in conjunction with a hand, a hand is not moved in conjunction with a foot, and so on. Following this simple technique forces both legs to do all the lifting simultaneously.

b. Stance or Body Position. Body position is probably the single most important element to good technique. A relaxed, comfortable stance is essential. (Figure 6-1 shows a correct climbing stance, and Figure 6-2, page 6-4, shows an incorrect stance.) The body should be in a near vertical or erect stance with the weight centered over the feet. Leaning in towards the rock will cause the feet to push outward, away from the rock, resulting in a loss of friction between the boot sole and rock surface. The legs are straight and the heels are kept low to reduce fatigue. Bent legs and tense muscles tire quickly. If strained for too long, tense muscles may vibrate uncontrollably. This vibration, known as "Elvis-ing" or "sewing-machine leg" can be cured by straightening the leg, lowering the heel, or moving on to a more restful position. The hands are used to maintain balance. Keeping the hands between waist and shoulder level will reduce arm fatigue.

Figure 6-1. Correct climbing stance—balanced over both feet.
Figure 6-2. Incorrect stance—stretched out.

(1) Whenever possible, three points of contact are maintained with the rock. Proper positioning of the hips and shoulders is critical. When using two footholds and one handhold, the hips and shoulders should be centered over both feet. In most cases, as the climbing progresses, the body is resting on one foot with two handholds for balance. The hips and shoulders must be centered over the support foot to maintain balance, allowing the "free" foot to maneuver.

(2) The angle or steepness of the rock also determines how far away from the rock the hips and shoulders should be. On low-angle slopes, the hips are moved out away from the rock to keep the body in balance with the weight over the feet. The shoulders can be moved closer to the rock to reach handholds. On steep rock, the hips are pushed closer to the rock. The shoulders are moved away from the rock by arching the back. The body is still in balance over the feet and the eyes can see where the hands need to go. Sometimes, when footholds are small, the hips are moved back to increase friction between the foot and the rock. This is normally done on quick, intermediate holds. It should be avoided in the rest position as it places more weight on the arms and hands. When weight must be placed on handholds, the arms should be kept straight to reduce fatigue. Again, flexed muscles tire quickly.

c. Climbing Sequence. The steps defined below provide a complete sequence of events to move the entire body on the rock. These are the basic steps to follow for a smooth climbing technique. Performing these steps in this exact order will not always be necessary because the nature of the route will dictate the availability of hand and foot placements. The basic steps are weight, shift, and movement (movement being either the foot, hand, or body). (A typical climbing sequence is shown in Figure 6-3, pages 6-6 through 6-8.)

STEP ONE: Shift the weight from both feet to one foot. This will allow lifting of one foot with no effect on the stance.

STEP TWO:

STEP THREE:

STEP FOUR: STEP FIVE:

STEP SIX:

Lift the unweighted foot and place it in a new location, within one to two feet of the starting position, with no effect on body position or balance (higher placement will result in a potentially higher lift for the legs to make, creating more stress, and is called a high step) The trunk does not move during foot movement.

Shift the weight onto both feet. (Repeat steps 1 through 3 for remaining foot.)

Lift the body into a new stance with both legs.

Move one hand to a new position between waist and head height. During this movement, the trunk should be completely balanced in position and the removed hand should have no effect on stability. Move the remaining hand as in Step 5.

Now the entire body is in a new position and ready to start the process again. Following these steps will prevent lifting with the hands and arms, which are used to maintain stance and balance. If both legs are bent, leg extension can be performed as soon as one foot has been moved. Hand movements can be delayed until numerous foot movements have been made, which not only creates shorter lifts with the legs, but may allow a better choice for the next hand movements because the reach will have increased.

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