Be like J.B. — recruit all four limbs for better climbing
I was not climbing very well . . . I was always climbing on one foot and one hand at a time, with the other foot doing nothing to help the move.” — J.B. Tribout, Climbing No. 133. This quote from a 1992 interview with French rockstar J.B. Tribout marked a turning point in my climbing career. No longer was I content to muscle up routes, pulling with one arm while the opposite leg pushed. I began, instead, to focus on finesse, concentrating on bringing both of my feet and hands into simultaneous play. While my 8c tick list is still a bit shorter than J.B.’s, I’ve nevertheless made significant gains, and I’m a much smarter climber for having heeded J.B.’s advice. Kick the rock. Unfortunately, hard moves where you can distribute your weight evenly over both feet are few and far between (these are more commonly known as “rests”). If you’re like most climbers, you usually initiate moves with a single foot (the active foot, which bears the bulk of your weight) without sparing a thought to the other foot (the passive foot). Neglect no longer! Instead of indiscriminately slopping your passive foot against any old smear or worse yet, wind-milling it into the ether (excepting a select few cases where this might actually be necessary), focus on recruiting the passive foot to push you up the rock. Because the passive foot doesn’t bear as much weight as the active one, it’s more likely to stick to small holds. Choose wisely and specifically. When climbing frontally (or “squared up”), don’t hesitate to “outrigger” (splay and smear) the front of your passive foot in the absence of footholds or to bump the foot onto progressively higher jibs to extend your reach. In an “Egyptian,” or drop-knee situation, you can also shuffle your drop-kneed foot onto progressively higher ramps to extend your reach. To counter the “barn door” effect on off-balance moves, flag your passive foot behind the active foot, steadily pressing your toe or outside rand against the rock. Holds, holds everywhere! Intermediate holds needn’t always be on a direct line with your target hold. Any hold within arm’s reach is fair game, be it a sidepull, undercling, or downward pull. In fact, some moves actually require that you “drop down” to a low hold to generate momentum. Another common mistake is to charge into the sequence above a strenuous clip without taking the time to reset both hands. After you clip, pause a moment to shake out, re-establish both hands on the rock, and readjust your grip, even if it means clamping down on an imaginary rugosity. Imitation is flattery. Next time you’re out cragging, keep an eye on someone whose climbing style (not just raw strength) impresses you. Chances are they’re using all four limbs. Strive to emulate that style, practicing on routes at least a number — not a letter — below your limit, and exaggerating your movements to build muscle memory. While this may initially feel forced, you should adapt over time, until such movement becomes intuitive and all four limbs are working in concert.