Move of the Month 11: Flagging (or Otherwise Dropping One Foot Off the Rock While Climbing)

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Shifting into a flagging position to execute a climbing move.

“Do you realize that you pretty much always have both feet on the wall?”

This question actually transformed my climbing style long, long ago, much in the same way that learning how to open-hand as my default grip rather than crimp for dear life changed my climbing. At a few points along the way, something that another climber has pointed out to me has helped me make a major leap forward in my climbing. Other such incidents that stand out include being directed to actually take a minimum of at least one real rest day from all physical activity every week (shocker!), and more recently, being told (by my dear husband) that I was weak and needed to strength train with a particular focus on pull-ups and pulling (best advice ever given to me). Anyhow – point being that there are these times when someone else’s observation can have a profound and lasting impact on a person’s athletic performance – and unleashing my feet from full contact with the rock was one of the earlier ones that helped change my climbing.

Flagging involves letting one leg swing behind (most commonly) the other leg to help the climber advance on a climb. There are inside flags, too, in which the leg swings in front of the other leg – I find I use these most often on steep rock where there’s space between rock and leg to allow for this movement easily. Thinking of the counterweighting leg as a virtual “tail,” and envisioning how cats or monkeys or other leaping, long-tailed animals use that appendage to help create better balance is a good visual – the leg/tail swings around behind or in front of the other leg until the balance point is felt, allowing the climber to release whichever hand needs to let go and move up. Using flags can provide efficiency gains in certain climbing moves, as illustrated by the following photos:

Flagging isn’t the only one-foot-on technique that climbers should work to incorporate into their climbing – letting a leg drift out to the opposite side to counterweight can be an effective technique, too, whether the foot of that leg makes contact with the rock (front-pointing, or just letting the toe drive into the rock without being on a specific hold to help hold body tension/position), or not, as the case may be.

Letting go of the three-points-of-contact concept and allowing the feet and legs to become counterweights encourages greater fluidity and ease in climbing, so long as this doesn’t involve allowing the foot off the rock to become a toe-dragging, useless deadweight behind you. Sensing the proper positioning of one’s body and learning to let go of the need for both feet to be on holds at all times goes hand-in-hand with learning how to smear effectively.

Experiment with incorporating this technique by climbing on easier terrain (for handholds) and looking for places where you can comfortably explore letting a leg dangle behind you, and then shift that leg behind and in front of and out to the side of the opposite leg, noting how this shifts your sense of balance on the handholds. Gradually work to incorporate this into your climbing world – like all techniques, with enough practice, it will become second nature and you will automatically drop a foot off and swing the leg into the correct balance spot when it makes sense to do so.

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