Gravity: it happens! And for some reason seems most accentuated at the most inopportune times (like that time in high school when I was walking across the parking lot hoping Ima Sohot would notice my awesomeness. I tripped on a curb . . . ugh!).
Climbing can be just as humbling. Sure, every once in a great while, the planets align, karma remembers that grocery cart that you placed in the cart coral at Target and the heavens open welcoming you into the Bliss (pun intended) of the perfect send (with angels singing a hallelujah chorus). However, more often than not, each and every move is met with a painful reminder of physics class, apples, and Sir Isaac Newton.
Gravity is to climbers as kryptonite is to Super Man. We cannot weaken it’s power over us, and so we must learn to work within it’s confines. And the key to doing so is understanding center of gravity (COG).
Stand straight up for a moment, feet together. No problem, right? Now, without moving your feet, lean your entire body forward as far as you can. One of two things just happened. Either you moved your feet or you are currently taking a very close look at the carpet fibers. Why? Because when you were standing straight up, your COG, which is approximately at your navel, was directly over your feet. As you move forward, your COG also moved, this time ahead of your support (feet) and caused you to fall.
When climbing then, just like standing, we also want to keep our COG focused over our points of contact. When we don’t, well . . . gravity happens.
Let’s look at a basic stance on the wall.
In this picture you will notice that our climber has his left hand on the hold next to his head and his right foot on a lower hold. His left foot is flagging (just hanging out without a foot hold) to his left. This keeps his COG (red arrow) pulling straight down with support between his two points of contact (left hand and right foot). This allows him now to move his right hand up toward his next hold while maintaining a stable stance. Keeping this type of positioning (opposite hand and foot connected while moving the hand on the same side as the planted foot) through moves will greatly decrease the amount of energy needed in moving along the vertical plain.
Let’s look at another move.
Here you will notice that his left hand is on one hold and he also has his left foot planted on the hold directly below. Now as he tries to reach his right hand out, his COG is no longer between his points of contact, but rather outside of it. In doing so, his body is experiencing the same effect you just felt when you leaned forward, it wants to pull is body away from the points of contact (an effect that we call barn dooring because his body swings out from the wall like a barn door). In order to make the move, he has to throw himself into the wall to reach the right-handed hold.
An easier way to make this move is to use what we call a back step.
In this picture, he moves his right foot to the lower hold, turns his right side into the wall, and now steps up off of his foot to easily reach the hold he needs without the dramatic swing. Again, what he has done is placed his COG between his left hand and right foot (points of contact) which affords a much more stable stance on the wall.
Lastly, let’s look at a slightly more advanced technique called the back flag.
In this first picture, he has two hands on two holds pretty close together and his right foot on the foot hold. His next move requires him to move his left hand, which as we just learned is going to result in a barn door. To compensate, he has flagged his left foot behind his right (back flag). This shifts his COG to the right (black arrow) and closer to his points of contact, which then allows him to move his left hand up while still maintaining control.
Rock climbing has been described as a dance in the vertical world. When executed correctly, it is not only beautiful, but also much less taxing. If you would like personal training on these and many of the other nuances to moving on rock, consider signing up for one of the many classes that we offer at Bliss. In the meantime, pick yourself off of the carpet, practice these moves on our walls, and maybe, just maybe, Ms. Sohot (or Mr. Wright) will take notice of your own awesomeness 😉
Climb hard and Follow Your Bliss,