You are climbing a steep route, and for the life of you, you just can’t keep your feet on the rock. They just keep flying off every time you get stretched out, and every time your feet cut, they whip back in the air from the momentum of them coming off, and then you work to let the forward momentum swing them back on.
“Man, I need to do more crunches!” you think to yourself, after this happens eight times on the same route. “Obviously, my core is weak.”
You go home, and every other day (or every day), you force your body through a grueling 20-minute core workout involving all sorts of different ab-targeting, crunch-style movements. Hundreds and hundreds of crunches later, you are still struggling to keep your feet on, though…
What did you do wrong?
This is a very classic and common situation, actually. And it’s one that I trained incorrectly for years myself. I worked the piss out of my abs, so that I could get my feet back on if they whipped off the rock. Never mind that I didn’t really climb steep rock so my feet never cut off anyhow – but I worked on my abs, regardless. I guess I worked on them more for bouldering situations where my feet would cut off occasionally. And because people said I should work my abs for climbing.
But it never dawned on me to ask the question about whether it might be possible to avoid this wild, full-body whipping motion in the first place, a motion that can waste time while climbing, and also that obviously loads the upper body every time it happens. So – what if it’s possible to (mostly) avoid having the feet unintentionally whip off in the first place? Or, if foot-cutting is part of the beta, what if it’s possible to have way more control over the angle and trajectory of the cut, not needing the full swing out and back to happen over and over again because it can’t be helped?
Other than pull-ups and pull-up variants (topic of the next Lifts I Love entry), I credit deadlifts with having the most impact of all the lifts I do in improving my climbing performance. Deadlifts strengthen several major muscle groups on the back of the body – parts of the body involved in generating body tension to keep one’s feet on the rock when extremely stretched out, and parts involved in pressing up into these types of positions as well – especially on steep rock. Deadlifts also engage many muscle groups throughout the rest of the body. This lift really is a full-body lift, and it quite closely mimics the muscles used when you are generating a body-tension-y movement on steep rock.
It’s very important to learn how to deadlift properly to avoid injury; however, claims that “I have a weak back so I shouldn’t deadlift,” are a little off, seeing as one of the most effective way to strengthen a weak, injury-prone area is to lift weights to strengthen that area! Add to this that deadlifts will help you in living life, too – in other words, having the strength and know-how to lift heavy objects properly from weight training can have great benefits to avoiding injuries during life tasks, both now and in the future. That being said, deadlifts should be worked into slowly, making sure that your form is correct. If you are unsure, hire a personal trainer to help you learn how to deadlift correctly.
After you have spent several months (or years!) deadlifting, if this lift has addressed a problematic area for you, you will start to notice greater control over your feet not cutting, and that you can maintain greater body tension, especially on steep rock. You may be able to stretch out taller up on your tiptoes without losing your footholds. You will find that your body doesn’t wildly whip away from the rock with as much frequency or at all – and that when you do cut your feet, you have much more control over the trajectory. You will still be able to utilize momentum from your feet cutting if it makes sense, but you won’t be at the mercy of the wild, full-whip-back foot cutting if it’s not what you want in any given situation. In other words, you’ll be able to deliberately cut your feet and place them precisely where you want them next in most situations, or to not cut them at all if you don’t want to.
Read more about deadlifts: