How much slack is too much in lead belay?

How much slack is too slack while sport lead belaying?

Is there any differences in the speed and force in a fall when you give more / less slack?

A pair of climbers tried to find the answer in their video “Overcoming the Fear of Falling: Too much Slack while Lead Belaying?“  They concluded that in dynamic belay (IMPORTANT!!), belaying with some rope slack results in the softest catches if there is no possibility of decking.  On the other hand, in hard catches, slack may make things worse.  *Please note that the conclusion is for sport climbing only.

 

 

Static or Dynamic, Which Way is Best?

When we first learn to climb, coaches and better climbers will often exhort us to climb slower so we can “establish”, or find our balance. This is because beginning climbers often have trouble understanding their center of gravity and finding positions of stable balance.

Overly Static

Climbing slowly for beginning climbers is often a good teaching tool as it very clearly shows the difference between good and poor balance. However, once climbers progress to the stage where they’re able to use their hands and feet competently to efficiently finding positions of stable balance, this same static approach to climbing can hold them back in their climbing performance.

Many climbers versed on vertical terrain have trouble adjusting to the steep stuff where an overly static style simply doesn’t work. Even on vertical terrain however, a more dynamic approach can be more efficient. To understand why let’s take a deeper look at something we’ve all done.

The Stairs Example

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5 Tips for a Better Warmup

Emma long lane

Warming up in the Long Lane – photo by Moriteam

Experienced climbers know that a good warmup often preludes a good day of climbing, but not everyone understands what a good warmup looks like.

A proper warmup not only warms the muscles but should transform your body and mind from a resting state into one ready to deal with the challenges of the climbs you’re trying to do that day.

1. Progression

The most fundamental principle of warming up is progression. You don’t jump straight on your 5.12 project, you get on that 5.10b, then the 5.11a then the 5.11c, then your project. It’s easy to get impatient and try to rush the process but you’ll end up paying the price.

Whether you’re bouldering or route climbing, a good first warmup climb is aerobic-level climbing. This is climbing done at a low enough intensity that you can do it continuously for over 2 minutes while barely getting pumped, if at all.

At an indoor bouldering wall this is easy. Just stay on the wall for 4-10 minutes on holds big enough that you don’t get pumped. For route climbers, going up and down a route once or twice is a roped alternative.

Don’t stop there though. Warming up isn’t just about cruisy climbing, but preparing your body for the challenges ahead. That means after you do your 1st, “I could do this in my sleep” climb, you should be progressing into a 2nd  or even 3rd warmup climb closer to the difficulty of the routes you want to do that day.

During your warmup climbs, a moderate pump is fine, but avoid going into a deep pump, even if it means asking for take or jumping off the middle of a boulder problem.

2. Stretch…Dynamically

Stretching cold muscles can be counterproductive and even cause injury, but stretching after muscles are warm can increase range of motion and decrease the chance of injury during climbing.

Dynamic stretches are generally safer to do and better suited to a warmup routine as you’re working and warming the muscle at the same time you’re stretching it.

Some examples of simple dynamic stretches useful for climbing are wrist circles, shoulder rolls, and jazz hands(opening and closing the hands quickly and forcefully).

The theory and specific details of dynamic stretching are beyond the scope of this article but DPM climbing has written a nice guide to the art of stretching for climbing.

Besides stretching on the ground,  you can stretch on the wall. Moving your shoulders, hips, feet, and other body parts gently through their range of motion during your first, aerobic level climb is a sports-specific way to incorporate stretching into your warmup.

Dynamic stretching is always a good idea but can be especially useful for outdoor bouldering or climbing when you don’t get a chance to warmup properly through climbing alone.

3. Train Movement

If you’re already keen to the idea of warming up you probably have a set routine, such as ARCing on the wall for 5-10 minutes, or running laps on an easy route.

That’s a fine basic warmup but you can do better. Rather than simply staying on the wall, focus on training an aspect of movement.

Silent feet – where you focus on placing your feet precisely on the hold without extraneous noise, is a good one. Straight arms – where you keep your arms absolutely straight and use rotation from the hips to bring your body up, is an even better movement drill.

Besides drills, you can also train other aspects of climbing, such as performing committing moves, or new moves which you’re not familiar with. These things are easy to train during your warmup, where the holds are bigger, and the consequences fewer than on your project climb.

4. Fall

The goal of climbing is to not fall, and yet that very fear of falling can hold us back from success. If you’ve ever felt jittery on lead, or had trouble doing a move on lead that you could top rope easily, you understand that the mental aspect of climbing is just as important as the physical.

Taking a clean practice fall at a safe location on your warmup climb can be a great way to get the jitters out and set the stage for a smooth day of lead climbing. Ideally, your fall will be completely safe and clean, which means it should be far off the ground and away from ledges. Falling after an overhang is a good option.

Make sure to let your belayer know your plans, and consider warning them with a “watch me” before you plan to fall.  If you are a lighter climber with a heavier belayer, make sure your belayer either understands dynamic belaying, or choose a climb with an absolutely clean fall zone.

5. Project Specific

The principle of sports specificity states that the more similar your training is to the task you want to perform, the more effective it will be. If your goal is to send a steep overhanging route, don’t do your warmup only on vertical walls.

Outdoors, you don’t always have the luxury of warming up on climbs exactly emulating the climb you want to do, but if you can find climbs which have some key characteristics of your project, you’ll be much better prepared to send.

 

Recommended Reading

The Secret to a Solid Heel Hook

hook ready

Heel hooks are key on Silver #6 at STONE Bouldering Gym

Heel hooks are an important tool in your climbing arsenal. As our lower bodies are well suited to supporting our weight, using our legs as much as possible can save a lot of energy and help us climb more efficiently. Heel hooks allow us to use our powerful hamstrings to manipulate our bodyweight.

However, tons of beginners and even experienced climbers try to heel hook a few times but never quite get the hang of it, and give up. They put their heels on the hold just like they see the good climbers doing, but when they try to use the heel, it just doesn’t feel solid, so they end up using more basic techniques which do the job, but are inefficient.

What are they missing that the better climbers are getting? What is the secret to an effective heel hook?

It’s not enough to put your heel on a hold and wish for the best. The Three Components of a solid heel hook are:

1. Place the heel precisely

hook place

Place the heel on the most positive part of the hold

2. Point your toes AWAY from you like a ballerina going en pointe.

hook straight

There should be a straight line from your shin to the big toe

Aim for a straight line from your shin to your big toe. By doing this you engage the calves to push the heel down into the hold, putting more weight on it which locks the heel in place. Tightening the calves also stiffens the lower leg, allowing weight to be transferred more effectively.

3. CRANK. Put your weight on that foot and pull hard with the hamstring and glutes.

hook crank

Keeping the toe straight, crank hard through the heel

Try it and feel the difference.

This isn’t the end-all be-all of heel hooking – there’s a lot more that can be said on the topic, but if you have had trouble with heel hooks before and wondered what the fuss is all about, give this a shot.

Climb Harder & Safer #1: Lowering Off

Author: Jean Paul De Villiers

It is said that our lives are comprised of a few dozen memorable moments and that the rest is just filler. The man who has led a full life will, in his final moments, witness his first kiss, his first paycheck, his wedding vows, and the birth of his child. It is these special moments that stand out from the humdrum of everyday life and make it worth living.

The same might be said of our climbing careers. We spend so much time getting to the crag, scoping out routes, roping up, and belaying our partners, that relatively little is left for real rock time, those precious minutes when our pulses quicken, our focus narrows, and we call on a very specific set of skills and strengths to make a send that, right until the end, seems impossible. It is not that everything in between is pure tedium. Climbing life is full of moments that separate it from the monotony of the working week, and few can deny the lasting impression of experiences like wilderness sunsets and campfire gatherings. It is just that the moments which we really live for, the negotiation of tricky crux sequences and the red point of long-term projects, are fewer than we would wish for.

On some days we plod back to the bus station or car park with forearms completely spent, but on just as many others we wish we could have fitted in just one more send. If, like myself, you are prone to overthinking, you might try to think of ways in which you could have gotten in more climbing between all the walking, gearing up, belaying, cleaning and lowering off. And you might then come to the conclusion that while it is not possible to save much time when walking in and gearing up (without making these usually leisurely activities feel rushed – not desirable on weekends), it is possible to save time on cleaning and lowering off, those rock-based activities which, though time-consuming, do not actually involve climbing. In this, the first of a series of articles on how to make your climbing safer and more enjoyable, I will address these important but frequently overlooked topics and, in doing so, will hopefully help you to raise your special moment quotient.

Long Dong

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