Fundamentals of Technique 8

#8. Creative Use of the Feet
What do you do when you start pumping out or lacking reach on steep terrain? Consider using one of your feet as a hand! Heel hooks, toe hooks, and knee locks are real difference-makers when it comes to surmounting roofs and surviving on overhanging rock. Given the strength of the leg muscles, a good heel hook, knee bar, or toe hook is often more effective and efficient than the available handholds in surmounting a bulging crux or roof. Let’s kick into the details of these critical moves.


Jen Cypressi stylin' at Governor Stables, PA. Horst photo.

Toe Hooking
Toe hooking is a foot move used mostly in pulling overhangs or in navigating roofs. This technique involves simply hooking as much of the toe and top (laces) portion of your shoe as possible on a large protruding hold. Sometimes you will toe hook onto a hold with a bent leg, and then straighten that leg as your hands move out the roof. Ideally you’ll have one foot toe hooking while the other foot pushes off a nearby hold. This opposing push-pull combination enhances the foot purchase on the holds and lowers the chance your feet will come swinging off the roof (a common problem). Strive to keep your arms and legs in the straight position as much as possible so that your body weight is being supported more by bone than by muscles. Done properly, you can navigate a surprisingly large roof with the limiting factor being forearm endurance. Experiment with this foot technique in the bouldering area and you’ll gradually gain skill and confidence in climbing with your back to the ground!

Knee Locks
Knee locks are a boon on overhanging walls and roofs with large protruding holds—that is, if you know the technique and can find a position to exploit this “thank-god” move. Consider a severely overhanging indoor climb with no obvious rest positions. Chances are the forerunner has positioned two holds in just the right way so that you can place your toe on one hold and then lock your knee against a larger opposing hold. Such a knee lock can provide surprising purchase and it will often allow you to drop one hand at a time to shake out and chalk up. When climbing outdoors you will occasionally come upon a knee lock that’s so solid you’ll be able to cop a rare, no-hands inverted rest! Keep your eyes open for a downward-facing block (with an opposing toe hold) or a knee-width crack or oblong pocket–miss such a knee-lock and you’ve missed perhaps the most important hold of the climb!

Copyright 2007 Eric J. Hörst. All rights reserved.