When you first start climbing it seems simple enough, climb from point A to point B and be strong enough to do so.
However, the more you indulge yourself in the sport, the more you come to realize strength isn’t everything.
You come to understand that techniques play a vital role when climbing efficiently and effectively, and controlling your center of gravity is just another technique to be mastered.
So How Does It All Work?
So first you need to understand what I mean by “center of gravity”.
Just getting your head around it and keeping it in mind when climbing can do wonders!
Every object with mass (yes this includes you), has a point where the weight will concentrate, this is the center of gravity.
In humans, the center of gravity is in our abdomen/tummy area. Although, this can change and move slightly as we contort our body into different positions.
I want you to imagine gravity as a line from your center, pulling you downwards towards the ground. Now, if this line of gravity falls outside of what is called your base of support (BOS), it will cause you to lose balance and a reaction is needed in order to regain it.
In humans, our primary base of support is our legs. You can test this by leaning sideways when standing up on one foot. This position reduces our base of support to one leg, making this leg your BOS axis. As soon as your center of gravity passes your axis leg you start to tip and fall. This is a great example of you moving your center past your base of support.
If you can keep your center of gravity within your BOS when climbing, you can keep your climb stable and efficient. But failing to keep it within the BOS can result in a wasted movement to steady yourself… or worse, fall.
How To Reduce The Chance Of Losing Balance
There are two main ways to stop your center of gravity from leaving the BOS.
The first option is to have a larger base of support. An example of this is moving your legs into a wider stance.
This increases your base of support and as a result of that, you become more stable.
The second method we have is lowering your center of gravity.
This can be done by just bending your knees. An example of this working is when you are using a slack line; it gets easier if you bend your legs slightly and lower your center of gravity. This method also works on the wall however it is situational.
If you use both these methods, it will drastically increase your balance and make it less likely you will fall.
How Can I Translate This To Climbing?
Now that you have grasped the basic principle you can apply it to climbing.
Firstly, you need to understand that you want most of your weight on your legs at all times, as this helps reduce the amount of stress on your arms.
In order to take the weight on your legs, you need to ensure that your foot placements are solid.
Once you have your feet in solid positions, you are going to want to transfer your weight onto them.
This is great for two reasons – it takes the weight off your arms as mentioned previously, and also any weight on your legs applies downward pressure to your shoes, which will make it less likely that you will slip.
In order to stop yourself moving the weight off your legs, you need to be able to identify how it happens.
Your weight tends to shift from your legs when both of your feet are on one side of your center of gravity.
This is the main reason all good climbers keep their body close to the wall. The closer you are to the wall, the more weight your legs are taking.
So, have you ever seen anyone when climbing, throw a leg out into seemingly empty space? What they are actually doing is called flagging.
This is a great technique that makes use of your center of balance. You understand that if you move to the hold without the flag you will lose balance and fall.
The act of sticking your leg out relocates your center of balance allowing you to easily stretch towards that hold, without wasting precious energy on trying to keep yourself on the wall.
This is just one of many techniques that focus on moving your center of gravity around to make the next move in a climb easier.
Sometimes these techniques come naturally, others you have to force yourself to do a few times before they become a habit.
Now, here is the tricky part –
The more of an overhang the wall has, the harder and harder it gets to control your center of gravity to keep your weight on your legs.
There will be points where there is no other option than to allow your arms to take a majority of your weight.
But the idea is to get yourself into these situations as little as possible through the use of good foot placement and techniques.
There are many techniques that can help with overhang walls, but I will talk about them in another post.
Hopefully, now you understand the importance of being aware of your center of gravity and the benefits you can get from controlling it.