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Feet pasted against the walls on the crux, twenty-fifth pitch of the Premuir Wall (VI 5.13d) on El Capitan, I crouched and coiled. In one movement, I pushed my butt upward, latching the edge that brought me a successful first ascent. Climbers rarely associate the largest set of muscles in the body with technique. But the posterior and hips, in sync with the core, play a major role in good movement. The best climbers move instinctually from the toes up through the butt. The rest of us, however, need to learn careful, conscious skills that become engrained over time.
The best way to practice the following skills and drills is while bouldering, indoors or outside, where you can get playful in a low-commitment setting. As you master these skills, you can then put them to use up on the cliffs.
Creating the perfect wave
“The wave” is the product of efficiently moving from hold to hold. A perfect wave ripples from your toes up through your backside, and from there along your core and torso to the fingertips—it’s about directing motion to the next movement. The wave begins in and is directed by your big toe, so let’s begin there by understanding this toe’s three primary actions:
By connecting consciously with your big toes, feeling the pushing action, and weighting your feet, you’ll reduce the load on your quick-to-tire arms and shoulders. With time and practice, this action will become unconscious and you’ll see improvement. Start with easy grades and build up in difficulty. You don’t want to surpass the threshold at which your focus drifts to your upper body—when stressed, we tend to focus here because it provides a natural level of security on the wall.
When we walk, we use our feet as platforms. But, in climbing, we also use our feet as hands, i.e., we pull. Climbers should have an elevated heel, which leads to a natural pulling action with the toe that then brings the butt around. Watch out for heel fluctuation or wavering—this uneven pressure can cause your foot to pop. Pulling can be envisioned as adding pressure to the hold: By lifting the heel, you weight the toe, securing your contact with the rock.
If you adjust your heel position, your hips want to follow. By swooping your heel with authority—i.e., describing an arc in space with it—you’ll naturally move your hips from side to side, which generates playful, fluid movement. (Purely dynamic movement, meanwhile, comes from aggressive heel rotation.) One caveat: Don’t place too much toe on a hold, which makes it hard to swoop as your toe smushes against the wall.
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