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The Trick To Pulling Harder Isn’t Actually To Pull Harder

Get the weight off your arms by putting more on your feet using the miracle of the drop knee. Here's how.


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Can’t get the weight off your arms? Don’t despair! In the first two articles in this mini-series, we examined two of the three main techniques for obtaining balance and saving juice when climbing overhanging walls. To recap, the outside-edge (or step-through) and the flag (inner and outer) apply to situations when there only one foothold is available, however, clearly there will be many situations when we have two footholds and wish to use them both. This is where the infamous drop-knee move comes in.

Drop knees will crop up typically when we have a pair of footholds, one either side of us, at approximately equal height. The classic mistake is simply to attack the move ‘front-on’, with hips parallel, your backside hanging out in space and arms pulling like crazy. You only have to do this for a few consecutive moves and you’ll be on the ropes in more ways than one.

A considerably more efficient method is to pivot on one foot and twist the hips into the wall. This allows the reach to be made by rotating with the chest and hence, minimizing the need to pull with the arms. An additional benefit is that sideways torque is created between the footholds (equivalent to a stemming move) which takes further weight off the arms. The mechanical advantage gained is felt more when climbing on smaller holds, for example when bouldering, or when you’re very pumped! Sometimes when you’re just about to fall off, if you rotate into a drop-knee you can stay on, seemingly miraculously.

Also Read: Part 1, How To Master Flagging

If you’re trying drop-knees for the first time, they can feel strange and awkward. Fundamentally, be sure to drop the correct knee, or you will make the move twice as hard instead of twice as easy. The consistent rule is always to drop the same knee as the hand you’re reaching with. In other words, if you’re reaching up with your left arm then drop your left knee. This rule is never broken, even when crossing over with your arms.

Once you’ve got a feel for the basics of the move there are a few refinements you can make. Firstly, don’t position the foot as an outside edge, instead, place it on the front point of the toe and pivot onto it as you pull-up. The key is to predict pivot in advance and stand on the nearest corner of the foothold in order to leave room to swivel onto the hold. This requires a pin-point accuracy but if you get it right it feels really slick. The first few times you practice on smaller footholds you may find that your foot skates off because you don’t leave enough space, but persevere and it will come.

A fine detail, which can improve execution further, is to place the foot which isn’t pivoting before placing the foot which pivots. This will mean that you are able to place the pivoting foot from a stable, balanced position, thus meaning that you can do so with greater control and accuracy. However, on some moves the natural flow of the holds may not allow this.

Drop knee notes

You won’t be able to do drop-knees when you’re climbing an overhanging arete or if there’s an obstruction such as a volume or the lip of a roof. The wall needs to be flat or better still, if there’s a groove to draw yourself into. You’ll also find that drop-knees don’t really seem to work well on less-steep overhangs, say from 5-degrees through to 25-degrees overhanging. They tend to come to the fore on steeply overhang walls, from say, 30 to 75 degrees overhanging. Drop-knees may be possible, though hard-earned when climbing horizontal roofs, although we tend to rely more on heel-hooks and toe-hooks for assisting progress when climbing at the very steepest angles.

On extremely wide drop knees, the knee must pass inside the elbow to prevent your limbs from getting in a tangle. The further apart the footholds on a drop knee move, the greater the demands will be on leg-strength and hip flexibility. Many will find that extreme drop-knees are beyond them but milder versions, with foot-holds closer together are possible. Clearly drop-knees are to be avoided if you have injured knees. However, if your knees are generally ok, but feel a bit weak then dynamic floor exercises such as forward and side-lunges are excellent for building supportive strength and flexibility. Extra flexibility work will also be beneficial, so do a basic static stretching routine for the groin/inner-thigh, hamstrings and hip flexors.

Technique drills

  • Practice during warm-ups where it’s easier to learn new moves and make refinements.
  • Set your own problems if you can’t find the move you’re looking for.
  • Video yourself or ask a friend for feedback.
  • Change your pace – try fast and slow versions.
  • Focus on maintaining form when you move onto harder stuff.
  • Watch the pros doing the same move/s on YouTube.
  • Try floor drills where you mime the move from a standing position.
  • Do a supportive lower-limb flexibility routine and a lower-limb strengthening routine, if necessary.

Get Better, Now. Six Essential Lessons To Go To The Next Level.