This is the sixth article in an eight-part series on the fundamentals of climbing. If you haven’t read the first five articles, we invite you to visit our archive to read them. In this edition we’ll delve into the importance of opposing forces for effective and efficient movement.
Clever Use of Opposing Forces
You have already learned the importance of the Left-Right Rule for enabling stable movement. On easy climbs this left-right combination is usually a pulling right hand along with a pushing left foot (or vice versa). More difficult climbs tend to be more devious, however, so you’ll need to consider all the other possible arm positions—side pull, undercling, and Gaston—and figure out how to match one of these with an opposing foot placement.
Detailed below are a few of the most common left-right combinations called into use on difficult climbs. You should practice each of these on the bouldering wall in order to develop its unique motor skills. Vary your hand and foot placements as much as possible to acquire a broad range of use for each hand-foot combination.
Side-Pull Arm and Outside Edge of Opposite Foot
Side-pulling hands are a staple move on almost every moderate to advanced climb. While this move is a bit less intuitive than down pulling, you will quickly gain comfort in its use. Most important is the foot position you select to oppose the side-pulling hand. In most cases it’s best to use the outside edge of the opposing foot, not the inside edge. Doing this may feel awkward at first, but you’ll find a natural sense of stability once you learn to appropriately set your hips over the outside-edging foot. The key is to concentrate on rotating your hips so that the hip opposite the pulling hand is turned into the wall—that is, your face and chest will rotate toward the side pulling hand. This very stable position will allow you to step up your free (nonopposing) leg and quite possibly your free (nonopposing) hand as well.
Occasionally a move will dictate that a sidepulling hand must be combined with use of the inside edge of the opposing foot. While this, too, is a fairly stable body position, it provides less reach upward with the free hand. Therefore, anytime you are struggling to reach a handhold, try using the outside edge of your shoe to maximize reach.
Gaston and Inside Edge of Opposite Foot
The Gaston (aka reverse side pull) is the most unnatural and weak arm position for beginners, yet it’s a fairly common move needed to unlock many crux sequences. Use of the Gaston is best opposed by the inside edge of the opposite foot. Combining a Gaston with an outside-edging foot is strenuous but doable if absolutely needed. Practice this move in a variety of ways to gain comfort and strength in its use. As with all these advanced moves, the bouldering area is the ideal proving ground to experiment with and learn the skills.
Undercling and Inside or Outside Edge of Opposite Foot
Often overlooked by beginner-level climbers, undercling hand positions are actually quite easy to perform. What’s more, an underclinging hand helps maximize your reach with the free hand, and it positions your arm and body in a naturally strong position. Therefore, the undercling is a move you want to practice and put to frequent use.
Typically you will undercling a hold somewhere near your torso while you press with an opposing foot. This foot can edge with either the inside, outside, or toe portion of the shoe, although use of the outside edge is best for maximizing your reach (see above photo). Remember that in edging with the outside of your foot, it’s best to turn the hip opposite the pulling hand to the wall. In extreme situations you may even need to use a foot smear to oppose the underclinging hand. This is a very powerful but important move that you can practice on the bouldering wall.
Side-Pulling Left and Right Hands
Use of opposing handholds is a key move for unlocking a sequence that lacks any usable down-pull or undercling handholds. Most common are two opposing side pulls that you’ll draw inward to create tension through your arms, shoulders, and upper body. While you will be unable to create much upward movement, this opposition will allow you to upgrade one or both feet. Ideally, you’ll want to upgrade the foot that opposes the better of the two side pulls, so that it sets up a stable left-right combination. This will enable you to release the other side-pulling hand so as to upgrade it to the next hold.
Another possibility is opposing Gaston holds. Though strenuous, you may occasionally need to grab two Gastons at or just above head-height and pull outward in order to support your weight while upgrading a foot position. This is a most advanced move that requires a high level of base strength. A word of caution, however: Using a Gaston hold on an overhanging wall places great force on the shoulder joint and in rare cases can cause injury. Proceed carefully.
Copyright 2007 Eric J. Hörst. All rights reserved.