Not enough climbers think about their hips when they climb. Fewer still think about the mobility they have in their hips. With greater mobility, comes greater torque generation. What does this mean for you the climber? It means more power being generated to get you up the wall.
The hips are one of two joints where you derive most of your power from, the shoulder being the other. This is because both of these joints are ball and socket joints. When you generate from the hips (as you should be doing), you generate torque which can be applied to all the muscles in the lower half of your body. Failure to generate torque results in instability and risk of injury.
Have you ever knee dropped and felt pain in your knee? Or had your foot blow off the foothold and not be able to figure out why? What about big dynamic moves? Ever felt like you aren’t strong enough to get up to the next hold? Another great example is staying square to the wall – ever had the feeling like you just couldn’t stay close to the wall and had to pull extra hard to hold on? All of these examples are the result of a lack of mobility in the hip joint.
Here’s what I mean:
If you’re performing a knee drop by simply dropping your knee in, you’re losing stability in both your knee and ankle. Not to mention the fact that you’re putting a lot of force on the knee joint itself. By rotating from the hips instead, it keeps your knee in line with your foot (keeping that whole segment stable and braced), gets your hips closer to the wall (putting more weight over your feet), and creates torque from the centre of the body out (allowing you to push more). If you are lacking that hip mobility, it’s going to be hard to twist from the hips, which, by default, forces you to drop the knee instead, putting pressure on all the colateral ligaments. It also doesn’t allow you to generate much force from this position, because you’re only pushing from a small group of muscles. By starting from the hips, you create a whip effect – the force you generate has the ability to build as it travels outwards.
This same applies for all the other examples listed above. Generate from the hips and that distant hold you thought you needed muscle to reach becomes much closer. More mobility in the hips allows for you to not only stay closer to the wall, but it also sets you up to be able to transfer your weight over your foot much easier, allowing you to now push with your legs instead of pulling with your arms.
So, how does one fix this hip mobility issue? There’s a couple great exercises you can do to improve your hip mobility, and they can be done anywhere, in only a matter of 5-10 minutes per day. The first, is the Couch Stretch. This can be done on a couch (hence the name), or against a wall for a deeper stretch.
The second exercise is the Reverse Ballerina.
By increasing the mobility in your hips, you’ll be able to generate much more torque from the hips, giving you greater power when climbing.
If there’s one thing that can’t be stressed enough, it’s that when learning a new movement (or practising an old one), perfection is paramount. The quality of a movement, be it a knee drop, a deadlift, a curveball pitch or a handstand, far outweighs the quantity of a movement – how many reps you can do, how much weight you can lift, how hard a climb was. The reason for this is because not only does quality of movement help to prevent injuries, but the more efficiently you can perform a movement, the easier that movement will be. The other important factor is that by performing a movement properly, you create positive muscle memory, meaning you engrain proper movement habits into the brain. The outcome? You’ll be able to climb harder, lift heavier, throw faster, and balance better.
When starting out with a new type of movement, scale it to what you can do to get the quality you want. If you’re practicing a knee drop, get yourself on big, easy holds with good feet that will allow you to work the move and not have to worry about falling off. Next, practice repetition. Repeat the movement (properly) over and over and over. Make sure you spend time creating that positive muscle memory. In subsequent sessions, start to change the difficulty or load of the movement. Again using knee drops as an example, start getting on harder climbs and/or practice the knee drop using harder holds.
The biggest problem I see, is people trying to learn new movement under hard or strenuous conditions. This only leads to poor motor mechanic habits. Perfect practice makes perfect.