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Learn These Techniques For Attaining The Next Level

The second part of a three-part series on basic techniques, this lesson drills down into flagging, the move for making reaches on steep rock without having to increase your power.


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To learn even more from successful climbers such as Paige Claassen, check out our online How To Climb LEARN courses

If you’re muscling your way up overhangs and burning out too soon then look no further than this mini-series! We’re continuing to look at crucial energy conservation techniques for steep walls, which enable us to obtain balance when making the reaches. These moves can transform the game for those climbing in the V3/5.9 range. In the first article we looked at how to step through and use the outside edge of our foot in order to make each reach from a balanced position. We also noted that this move becomes the default when climbing on overhanging walls when we only have one foothold to stand on.

Also Read: Dial In Outside Edging and Crush Steep Climbs

The question is what we do when it isn’t possible to step through and use the outside-edge? This may occur for several reasons, for example, when there’s an obstructing feature in the way such as the lip of a roof or a volume. Alternatively, the foothold may be too far out to the side to reach with the outside edge of the opposite foot. More simply we find that the natural flow of the footholds leads us logically into a front-on position (either with our left-foot on the left or right-foot on the right and hips parallel). When this occurs, we could, potentially, swap feet and go into an outside-edge position in order to obtain balance and solve the problem. Sometimes this will provide an acceptable solution, yet there will be many times when swapping feet will cost us time and energy. As our grip fades on a hard move with a small foothold, a foot-swap may take too long or we may risk fluffing it. In many cases, we may also find that having swapped our feet to obtain balance to make the reach, we need to swap them again straight afterward to obtain balance for the next reach, and so on. If you’ve ever experienced the sensation that you’re swapping feet way too much on a route then it could be because you are only able to achieve balance one way—using the outside-edge move and you haven’t yet mastered the “mirror image” of this move.

A Slacker’s Guide to Sending 5.14

The flag provides an alternative method to using outside edge to create balance on steep walls. It applies to situations when the foot has been positioned for a front-on style move (ie: left-foot on left) and hence enables balance without swapping feet. The aim is simply to pass the free (or passive) leg through in order to achieve balance. There are two variants—the outside flag, which is used when the foothold is high (because there isn’t room to step inside) and the inside flag, which is used when the foothold is low. Both methods are equally effective for obtaining balance; however, the inside flag allows further energy to be saved in the arms as we’ll see later.

Outside Flag

Former World Cup competitor Delaney Miller demonstrates the outside flag, using the passive outside foot as a rudder to stabilize. The passive foot can either take advantage of a hold, or just smear or even waive in the air if that is what feels natural.

The outside flag is performed when the selected foothold is relatively high, for example, at knee-height or higher, and out to the side. Position the foot front-on style (ie: if the foothold is on the left then use your left foot) using inside-edge of your shoe, then pull-up keeping your hips roughly parallel to the wall. Don’t try to twist in as this isn’t the objective of the move and won’t be possible! As you’re pulling-up to gain height, swing the passive leg underneath you and brace the foot against the wall for stability if possible. The key is that you achieve a balanced, stable position at the top part of the move, after pulling up and not at the start of the move before pulling up. As such, the most common mistake is to flag through and find the balance point before pulling up. This may enable you to clip or dip in your chalkbag before moving up, but unless you re-set the flagging leg whilst pulling up, you’ll find that that you are no longer in balance at the crucial point when you need to make the reach.

Also Read: The Dark Art of Slab Climbing

On the very steepest walls or roofs it may not be possible to brace your foot against the wall for stability and instead, the leg needs to be held in mid-air at the balance point. This can be trickier than it sounds and you only need to be one degree out in order to be off balance. On big holds, you may still be able to make the move even if your flagging leg is slightly off-balance but on small holds or slopers on a hard boulder problem you’ll find that this will make all the difference and you’ll miss the target hold. The answer is to be aware of two axis for the flagging leg (ie: how far through it goes and also, how near or close to the wall it goes). A common mistake is to be too hasty in making the reach and to snatch for the hold before taking care to settle into the perfect balance positions. In these cases, an extra second or two to steer the flagging leg into the correct position is time well spent. In general, most who are learning this move don’t bring the flagging leg through far enough.

Many climbers question whether they’re performing the outside flag incorrectly because it feels as if they’re using too much arm strength. However, this is the nature of the move and you will always need to pull-up and lock-off. If a particular outside flag move feels disproportionately strenuous then it pays to question whether you’d be better off swapping feet and using your outside edge, as this will enable you to twist into the wall and save on arm strength.

Inside Flag

Climber doing inside flag move.
The inside flag has the passive foot pass through the active leg/foot. Hook or smear the  passive foot as needed.

The inside flag is used when we have a single foothold that is relatively low down, for example, lower than knee-height. Position the foot front-on style (ie: if the foothold is on the left then use your left foot) using inside-edge of your shoe. Then as you stand-up, bring the flagging leg through inside you, in a simultaneous, coordinated motion. As you do this, the hips will twist-in and the chest and shoulders will roll, as if a rotating, cork-screw motion is passing through your body. The aim is for all limbs to be straight by the time you’ve gained height and you hit the final flag position. You should feel in complete balance when you make the reach and you should also be able to make the reach with your arm virtually straight and using minimum arm strength. Common mistakes are to keep the active leg too bent (ie: not to stand-up far enough), not to flag through far enough and also, to let go of the lower handhold too early, so as to lose benefit from the lower hold.

To learn even more from successful climbers such as Paige Claassen, check out our online How To Climb LEARN courses