Rock climbing

Five technical tips for better heel grip while climbing

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The hooking of the heel is part of these magics, get-sh*t-done maneuvers that can facilitate a seemingly impossible move. When done correctly, it helps you reach farther, use less energy, get your body over the lips of roofs or into corners, or just keep your hips closer to the wall.

Although easy to understand, heel hooks are not always easy to apply. Here are five tips for mastering undertones.


Learn to recognize heel hook opportunities. Do you feel perplexed during a move? See if there are any support points that would help you keep your body close to the wall or get up and get over something. Was a bouldering problem solved with a heel hook in mind? The more you practice, the better you will become at recognizing when heel hooks are appropriate. The first heels you kick off will likely be low and at normal foot height, but eventually you’ll master the heel hooks overhead.


Heel placement is just as important as the ability to recognize a heel opportunity. Never just stomp on something and expect it to hold or help. You will actually need to engage your butt, hamstring, calf, and ankle muscles for this gadget to work. Generally speaking, you’ll want to turn your ankle against the wall and turn your little toe outward. Your foot should be about 10 to 45 degrees from the wall. Tilting your foot this way will help engage your large leg muscles and further lighten your upper body. Be aware that not all heel hooks are the same. Some holds will require more delicate placement.


The strength of the hamstrings and glutes is essential to maintain and generate appropriate tension. While most climbers remember to do their suspension and campus exercises, they often mistakenly overlook the lower half. Some of those climbers limped away from heel hooks with torn hamstrings and LCL injuries. Do old-fashioned squats or lunges. Better yet, lie on the floor and rest your heels on an exercise ball. With your hips extended and your core engaged (flat back!), roll the ball towards you using your heels and roll it out. If it’s easy, try it with one leg.


Not all, but some heel hooks require knee flexibility for proper and safe execution. Beware of heel hooks that sit close to your pelvis and force you to twist your foot while rocking. If your knee is not ready for this, a torn LCL may be the result. Help prevent LCL injuries by making sure you’ve warmed up your lower half properly.


Hip flexibility is another requirement for some heel hooks. If you can’t keep your hips close to the wall when your legs are open, you may lose some of the reach you need. Practice holding the “frog” pose every day by opening your legs on the floor and reaching forward with your hand. Your legs should be in a “T” position relative to your body. This stretch is not only good for heel hooks, but also for climbing in general. Another good one is the “pigeon” pose.