3 Reasons Balance Is Important in Rock Climbing

Often underestimated, balance is a vital — if not the most important — part of rock climbing technique.

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When we talk about climbing, we talk a lot about forces—forces of friction, forces of gravity, the force you yourself exert on various holds as you push and pull yourself up the crag. Without going full Newton, let’s just say that all of these forces work together to propel you up that wall. But there’s one component of climbing that’s often underestimated: balance.

You may have Superman lats, but if you’re not thinking about the equilibrium of your body on the wall, you’re not climbing efficiently. Without proper balance techniques, you may be unnecessarily fatiguing your muscles by trying to force your way up, fighting against your own center of gravity the whole way. Case in point: balance was the key for climber Craig DeMartino, who had to relearn how to climb after losing his right leg in a bad fall (and wrote a great article about it for Climbing.com, which you should read).

So, let’s get specific. Here are three reasons balance is vital for climbers, plus some tips on how to put what you’ve learned into practice. In other words: Bring balance to the force, climbing Jedi.

Using your center of gravity will keep you on the wall. When climbing, gravity is your number one enemy, but it can also be your friend. In order to avoid swinging or falling, you’ve got to make nice. Being aware of your center or gravity allows you to counterbalance, using your own weight to maintain balance and stay on the wall. First, find your center using a trick that DeMartino and many other climbers recommend: hang a two-foot draw from your harness, and, as you climb, keep the draw hanging straight center between your legs.

Balance is the basis of all your favorite techniques. Stemming, flagging, lay-backing, and more are all based on counterbalancing. In general, try keeping your hips against the wall and your arms straight, letting your legs lead the fight against gravity. In the Masterclass he teaches alongside Tommy Caldwell, Alex Honnold goes so far as to say, “The point of using your arms in rock climbing is to keep you balanced over your feet, so that your feet can push you over the wall.”

Balance conserves energy so you can climb higher and longer. Leading competitive sport climber Lynn Hill values balance over strength. “Many of the women who I've taught to climb have a better sense of balance than the men,” she once said. “I think it has to do with being a little more sensitive to it rather than relying on strength. It's also a reflection of a passive attitude— balancing your way up the rock, rather than attacking it.” You’re not going for pull-ups in the Presidential Fitness Test. Relying on brute strength to force your way up the wall will just tire you out. Instead, improve your balance with stability exercises, like these from The Climbing Doctor, Dr. Jared Vagy, and world-famous climber Jon Cardwell. As you improve your balance and stability, you can climb more efficiently, allowing you to rock those challenging endurance climbs.

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