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

Walking up the stairs is an example of efficient dynamic movement in action. When we are standing at a step, we are in a position of stable balance, and when we get to the next step, we are also in a stable position, but the positions in between are of unstable balance.

We thus efficiently ascend the steps of a stair by using momentum to carry us from one stable position to the other, minimizing the amount of time and energy used in the positions of unstable balance.

Don’t believe this? Try climbing the stairs in a static, slow-motion style, and see how much extra effort it takes.

The Jain Kim Example

Jain Kim is often described as having a beautiful, smooth and flowing style of climbing. This elegance, and flowing nature of her climbing stems from her precise dynamic movement.

Let’s look at an example from the Imst stage of the 2013 IFSC World cup to see what properly executed dynamic movement looks like:

jain move 1 Here Jain sets up for a move upwards to a distant handhold. She is in a position of stable balance, but the poor quality of her hand and foot holds means the body positions currently in between her and the next handhold are of unstable balance.

Jain move 2

She preps for a dynamic movement upwards by keeping her hips(aka Center of Gravity) down low in the opposite direction. She then launches her hips up and inwards towards the next hold.

jain move 3

The momentum of her COG carries her efficiently through the points of unstable balance to where she can reach the next hold and is now once again in a position of stable balance.

Wall Angles

The effect of efficient dynamic movement is most obviously felt on steep walls, where positions of unstable balance quickly make themselves felt. However, precise dynamic movement is often the most efficient movement style even on vertical walls, and even non-technical slabs.

Think of the stairs example – you can inch your way up a step statically and stably, but it’s far from the most efficient way to get up.

Movement Tips

Knowing that precise dynamic movement is the best way to move on most terrain, what can we do to facilitate this?

  1. Learn to place hands and feet quickly and precisely, as dynamic movement affords us less time to place our hands and feet.
  2. Learn to generate momentum from the lower body. Efficient dynamic movement stems from the lower limbs, not the arms.
  3. Improving your lead head so you can move more fluidly instead of defaulting to an overly static style that feels more secure, but wastes energy.

When to Climb Static

Dynamic movement is the most efficient way to get from one stable position to then next, but it allows us less time to place our hands and feet correctly. In certain situations, we aren’t always afforded this opportunity:

Finicky holds

When encountering finicky holds that need to be taken very precisely, such as a 2 finger pocket, you may need extra time to catch the hold correctly.

When falling is out of the question

During onsight attempts, competitions, or dangerous climbing situations such as climbing before the first bolt or bold trad, falling may be out of the question. In these situations, taking a slightly more conservative, static approach can help ensure holds of unknown quality are taken well.

Keep in mind though,  an overly static approach uses  a lot of energy, which may cost you the onsight or competition in the end.

Technical slabs

On very technical slabs where the difference between stable and unstable balance is a matter of millimeters each way. In this situation, the extra time to adjust our balance and place our limbs precisely afforded by a static approach is more important than the efficiency of our movement

Recommended Reading

These ideas are not new, and are presented very well in the books 9 out of 10 Climbers Make the Same Mistakes and The Self Coached Climber. If you found this article helpful, we highly suggest getting these excellent books on climbing and practicing the concepts they teach.

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