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How Centre of Gravity Affects Your Rock Climbing Performance

How often, when rock climbing, do you snatch desperately at an elusive handhold because your body is straining with exhaustion and you need to take the pressure off your legs or your arms?

Do you understand perfectly where your centre of gravity is and how you can make it work to your advantage? This is very important in rock climbing because by understanding where it is, you can balance your body with virtually every move thereby keeping the strain to a minimum.

So, where exactly is your centre of gravity?

It is roughly the middle point of your body, somewhere in your abdomen. The weight of your entire body acts from this point and where you put your centre of gravity can decide whether your weight is on your arms or your legs.

Once you understand this basic rule you will realize that:

  • Your weight is on your legs if the foot you are using is directly underneath your centre of gravity, or you have one foot on each side of it. This is good.
  • Your weight is on your arms if both your feet are to one side of your centre of gravity. This will tire your arms out.

This clarifies the simple rule about keeping your body close to the climbing wall: if you do this your weight is on your feet but if you lean out – your weight is on your arms.

Therefore being in balance ensures that when your weight is on your legs, you can move your hands from one hold to the next slowly and calmly, without having to make a grab for a hold. And being in balance means that your style, energy and performance will improve dramatically too.

In a perfect world, you should always be in balance when rock climbing, but of course, the world is not perfect and nor are you ever always in balance. You find yourself splayed across a rock with your feet on the wrong foothold and nowhere forward unless you switch feet and go the other way. This is a dangerous manœuvre and it would be preferable if you could switch hands, or use the strength of your arms to hold your weight whilst switching feet – another dodgy move!

Swinging a leg, or flagging, to a different position can move your centre of gravity, perhaps to somewhere better.

Which brings us back to switching feet, a technique which can bring your body back into balance – and how much you wish, at this stage, that you had the right foot on the right foothold to start with because switching feet is a difficult move and should not be done unless absolutely necessary.

However, if you find there is no other way and you have no alternative, here are some pointers:

  • Step 1: Pass the right foot in front of or behind your left foot, if your next move is to go left. If you are going to the right, pass the left foot in front of or behind the right foot.
  • Step 2: Choose a hold close to the foothold you are switching. Put your right foot, if moving left, or the left foot, if moving right, in a new hold. Choose your hold very carefully now as your legs are crossed at this point.
  • Step 3: Remove your other foot from the hold only after you have your opposite foot in a good solid hold. Move the foot slowly that is in the position of where you want to put the opposite foot.
  • Step 4: Uncross your legs. This can be a tricky manoeuvre in some situations. Be sure of all your holds.
  • Step 5: Find a new hold for your opposite foot. Again check all your holds to be sure they are secure.
  • Step 6: Put the opposite foot into the foothold that your other foot was in.

or alternatively, here’s another method:

  • If your left foot is on a foothold, but you want your right foot there so you want to stretch your left foot for that little ledge on your left side. Put only the tip of your left foot on the foothold. Put the tip of your right foot over your left foot’s big toe. Slowly rotate your left foot as you slowly pull it backwards until it frees itself from the foothold and gently lets your right foot’s tip settle on the foothold, sliding on your ever-retrieving left big toe. (thanks to Simon Trudel for this one)

But remember, you should not attempt rock climbing, or new manœuvres unless you have all the proper equipment and training with an experienced rock climbing instructor…

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