Ride the Wave

The “Climb­ing Sen­sei” Justen Sjong ex­plains how to put some sass in your ass for smoother send­ing at the boul­ders and be­yond.

Climbing - - CONTENTS - By Justen Sjong Pho­tog­ra­phy by Tory Pow­ers

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:

PUSH­ING: By con­nect­ing con­sciously with your big toes, feel­ing the push­ing ac­tion, and weight­ing your feet, you’ll re­duce the load on your quick-totire 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.

PULLING: 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.

SWOOP­ING: 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.

Push to pull with the big toe

Push your hips/butt away from the des­ti­na­tion hold

to gen­er­ate the per­fect tra­jec­tory.

DRILL: Try a sim­ple stand­ing jump on the ground: To gen­er­ate, you bend your knees and sag. Then you feel the mo­tion and leap. The same prin­ci­ple ap­plies on the wall: You push your body away from the hold to cre­ate the swing, and then feel the nat­u­ral point (dead­point) at which to arc back. To drill on the wall, pick a long move and re­peat it un­til this mo­tion feels nat­u­ral. Fo­cus on feel­ing the dead­point so the swing has a fluid tran­si­tion. Grin when good things hap­pen; this is you ex­press­ing to your body, “Nice work!”

Sass in the ass

Ro­ta­tion of the heel puts sass in your ass—the hips are the cen­ter of your body, and by toss­ing them around in a con­trolled man­ner, you’ll climb with greater play­ful­ness and ef­fi­ciency.

DRILL: Find a long ex­ten­sion move and put some sass into it. Re­peat un­til it starts to feel nat­u­ral. To be­gin, don’t let the front of your climb­ing shoe touch the wall, so your heel has room to swoop. If work­ing with a pre­cise toe place­ment, bend the el­bows to cre­ate greater ten­sion and con­trol. This comes at the cost of a tighter breath, so pause to re­set the breath. By con­nect­ing with your breath, the knee will bend; as it does so, feel the heel ro­tate and hips swing in uni­son. The em­pha­sis should be on sync­ing up the heel and the hip, which re­duces the load on your core and keeps you from peel­ing away from the cen­ter line of the body— when this hap­pens, you typ­i­cally over­load the fin­gers and then fall.

Drive of the legs/tim­ing of the core

Of­ten, we push with our legs at the right mo­ment, but once we reach the tar­get hold we re­lax the knee or quad, which cre­ates hip fall­out. If your hip falls out

from your cen­ter line more than 4 to 8 inches, it can be hard to reel back in.

DRILL: Keep your legs work­ing even after you catch the hold. First, hover your hand over your tar­get hand­hold for a mil­lisec­ond and feel the quad work­ing. Then, keep the quad work­ing and grunt to en­cour­age core en­gage­ment. And fi­nally, play with tim­ing your re­lease—at some mo­ment, your core and quad need to re­lax, an in­flec­tion point you can dis­cern with prac­tice.

Eye on the Ball

Of­ten, climbers will put en­ergy into look­ing at the next hold. How­ever, it’s bet­ter to fo­cus on the hold while si

mul­ta­ne­ously feel­ing the toe man­age your butt. DRILL: Prac­tice large ex­ten­sion moves and keep your eye on the next hold, but feel what the toes or— bet­ter yet—the whole lower body are do­ing. Now, pause to re­flect: Face the wall and mimic what you just did, but drop your eyes to the floor so you can feel the move in your body, not your mind.

Heel-Hip Con­nec­tion

“Flick­ing” with one heel and keep­ing the other in a fixed lo­ca­tion are cru­cial for body align­ment. Flick­ing comes from the leg that pushes the body and comes off the foothold as a fol­low-through ac­tion to push­ing. Where you keep the heel of the other (an­chored) foot is also key, since your body weight will be com­ing onto it. For ex­am­ple, if you’re gen­er­at­ing off a left sidepull, the left heel should flick while the right heel should pivot to the right and stay in place un­til you’re ready to bring the hips back into neu­tral.

DRILL: Sim­i­lar to the drill above, prac­tice large ex­ten­sion moves with feel­ing and re­flec­tion.

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