Move of the Month 2: Straight-Arming Your Rests (Improve Your Climbing Series)

Kevin taking advantage of a great rest by lowering his body weight, bending his knees, and straightening his arms, allowing him to relax and shake out while looking ahead at what's coming up.

Kevin taking advantage of a great rest by lowering his body weight, bending his knees, and straightening his arms, allowing him to relax and shake out while looking ahead at what’s coming up.

This month’s move is a simple one, yet one that often goes under-utilized by climbers: straightening your arms at rests while you’re climbing. It’s a very common tendency for climbers to “rest” with their arms quite bent and with rod-straight legs — especially on slightly less-than-vertical to vertical to slightly overhanging terrain. The more overhanging terrain becomes, the harder it becomes to get away with feeling like you’re truly resting while keeping your arms bent. In other words, super-steep climbing tends to force the issue a bit more, resulting in straighter arms on rests or quicker, more obvious failure from not using rests as efficiently as possible.

Instead of keeping the arms in a powerful, bent, locked-off position during a true on-route rest — a place where you’re still climbing (not hanging), but you can shake out both hands alternately — try to lower your body weight down so that your legs are bent and your arms are as straight as possible.

At the same resting spot pictured in the first photo, here Kevin shows how he can miss out on this rest by keeping his arms bent and his legs straight while looking ahead.

At the same resting spot pictured in the first photo, here Kevin shows how he can miss out on this rest by keeping his arms bent and his legs straight while looking ahead.

The next time you find yourself on a set of handholds that feel good enough for you to take a rest and shake out each hand alternately on a route, experiment by lowering your body weight down on the holds until your arms are straight. Try to make this a habit in your climbing, looking for ways to straighten your arms and alternating which hand you can let go with while keeping the opposite arm as straight as possible. Sometimes this requires a shift in foot positions in order to find the most efficient rest for each arm.

Be careful about not taking the rest to its full advantage, too. What do I mean by this? As shown in the photo below, this most commonly happens when you straighten your arms but fail to bend your legs. In this type of position, you get somewhat of a rest, but not the fullest rest you could potentially get from a great resting spot like this. It takes more energy to lean back like this and keep your legs straight rather than bending your legs and letting your body weight sink down. It’s also way harder to shake out while leaning back like this.

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There will certainly be times when you take a much-needed (often very quick!) rest (a “quick shake”) while climbing when you will not be able to find a straight-armed position, or when you’ll only be able to shake one hand and not the other.  And, you will sometimes need to pull up out of a rest to feel out or get a visual of what’s ahead, particularly when you’re onsighting and you can’t see clearly what might be coming up from your most efficient resting position. However, it’s a good idea to make it a habit of trying to find the most straight-armed, least-fatiguing positions possible when you rest on your warm-ups, onsight efforts and projects — so long as amazing no-hands rests aren’t available, of course.

Recovering by resting efficiently while climbing is a key tactic that can make or break your send of a route, and strategically managing your rests to be as effective as possible can help you achieve this end. Finding resting positions that require the least amount of energy and that are the most truly restful positions for you is a major way to make the most of your on-route resting, and seeking straight-armed positions in which you can lower your body weight so that you’re hanging down (not out) by bending your knees usually supports this effort, allowing you much more ease in shaking out each arm in turn as you rest and contemplate what’s ahead.

This multipart series of articles starts here, in case you have to catch up – you’ll also find a full table of contents, complete with links, in that entry. My designation of each area as “easy,” “medium” or “hard” is purely subjective. I’ve arrived at the designations from my personal experience garnered from 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You may find some of the areas harder or easier to change. You also might not agree with me or my take on things. That’s fine – feel free to take it or leave it as you wish! Also, remember that the information I provide here is purely offered as advice and that no exercises or training program should be undertaken without receiving medical clearance from a healthcare professional.

One other caveat: As will be true for all of the entries and articles in this series, if you’ve already mastered or maxed out the topic at hand to the best of your ability level, you’ll reap far fewer benefits or none at all from my suggestions – good for you that you figured it out, but sorry I couldn’t help you out more. Happy climbing and training!

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