Good footwork, agility and balance are essential components in rock climbing and mountaineering. Once you have perfected these techniques, it will enable you to tackle technically difficult climbs more proficiently and with increased confidence.
Before you can improve your balance techniques, it’s important to understand the physiology of your body when you’re climbing. Basically, your ‘centre of gravity’ and, therefore, your balance is always going to be your centre of body mass, i.e. around your belly area and you should be conscious of that before attempting to make any difficult climbing manoeuvre which requires careful balance. In understanding the physiology, it enables you to anticipate the direction of the force on any handhold or foothold as you’re about to make a move and after you’ve completed it.
Your centre of gravity should be centred in both a left-right as well as a forward-backward direction and it’s this awareness which will enable you to negotiate difficult terrain more easily. It’s also worth noting that keeping your body closer to the climbing surface relieves the pressure on any grip as it helps to maintain your centre of balance over your centre of mass.
Useful Exercises To Improve Technique
There are plenty of different exercises you can do to improve your balance. These can be done both whilst you’re out climbing and there are also exercises you can perform when you’re not in the process of climbing.
Balance exercises are focused on two areas – static and dynamic – and it’s important that you understand each principle and train for both. Static balance exercises involve either one or both feet being on the ground whilst dynamic balance exercises are concerned with your body being in motion.
Static Balance Exercises
- Practice walking in a straight line, heel to toe and then come back to the start point by walking backwards. Once you’ve mastered that, try doing it with your eyes closed.
- See how long you can balance on one leg by folding your other leg behind you and holding it by your foot or knee
- Balance on one leg then squat before returning to the standing position. Once you’ve mastered this exercise on solid ground, try it again on something like a trampoline or a piece of foam
Dynamic Balance Exercises
You can improve your dynamic balance through practising a variety of sports. Fell running and bouldering are good ‘on rock’ sports for this or anywhere that has uneven terrain is effective in improving balance so you might try running through a local wood nearby. Other sports which test out and improve your dynamic balance effectively include:
- Skiing and snowboarding
- Ice skating and roller skating
- All racquet sports such as tennis, badminton, squash and also table tennis
- Volleyball and basketball
Other Climbing Related Exercises
There are also plenty of other climbing related exercises that can help to improve your balance. If you live near an indoor climbing wall, this is probably the best and safest way to learn how to improve your balance, especially in the early stages of climbing.
Crossing a 60 degree or greater incline just by using your feet is a good test or you might find an easy route to climb using both hands at first then come back and do it again just using one hand. At first, this can be done using your strongest hand then do it a third time using only your weakest hand.
The more you practice these kinds of techniques, the sooner you’ll not only improve your balance but will also build up muscle strength which focuses on your upper body and legs, leaving your hands and arms as free as possible to focus on balancing.