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System board drill vs. overgripping?

Original Post
Lukasz Czopyk · · Krakow, Poland · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 10

Hi all,

I want to ask for advice in fighting the problem I have noticed attempting outdoor routes. The thing became more noticeable last time cause I have decided to turn more into projecting/redpointing this season (vs. mostly onsighting previously) but possibly remains since before, unobserved.

General description:

I have noticed, that as the handholds becomes harder, the foot<->hand balance I use for movement/holding degrades rapidly in the favour of hands. At simple holds no problem; strictly speaking I made a good improvement in forcing legs to do the job here. But at "small" holds the situation changes: I start to "hold for life"->whole upper body is tensed and takes my weight-> feet are unloaded->consequences. I want to emphasize, that I rarely cannot LATCH but rather I am not succesfull to DO THE MOVE due to finger pain, tensed upper body and not using legs.


- as the holds becomes smaller I am starting to "overuse" them - this is not strict overgripping since they are mostly edges and pockets. I just start to hang on them and unload the feet.

- the footwork remains unaffected in terms of technique, is still "silent", precise, no slips-offs etc. I just stop to PRESS with legs. Although my feet are properly positioned, when it comes to DO the move knees are frozen, I am "afraid" of moving my hips, legs, lower torso etc. When I should press with foot to move COG, I feel "afraid" that fingers will slip/release. I suppose that this could be perceived as some lost of coordination between lower and upper body or so.

- the problem is not powering out, pump, endurance type, I am definitely good enough here,

- the problem is (RATHER) not finger strength-related: I can effectively utilize similar holds (see below) for hangboard routines,

- the problem is not leg/toes strength-related: I can effectively do one-leg squat on similar footsteps (indoor, etc.). However I think, that the problem CAN be general lower body coordination/movement-related since I always find my knees, hips etc. a bit "stiff", "not willing" to move. F.i. during dance class (laugh mode allowed) I had always problems with lower body coordination vs. very good upper body rhytmics, etc.

- the problem is related to tunnel vision, during actual attempt I can barely focus on the aspect,

- I dont THINK (definitely could be wrong here) that problem is related to fear of falling: it takes place during toproping on very short routes I am familiar with, I feel comfortable, cannot recognize consious signs of fear, etc.


- what I perceive as most serious consequence is not immediately falling, but rather pain/soreness that develops rapidly in fingers due to overloading. It significantly limits number of attempts I am able to do at 100% what restricts general "efficiency" of projecting (I become tired, unable to use window of low temperatures during the day, etc.). 

- despite I (can) do only few attempts on such routes, next day I feel pain of upper-body muscles like after heavy body-building session, so not only fingers are involved.

- third consequence is degradation of general technique and movement range due to tighter frame of tensed upper body+"frozen" legs.

Others (not sure if important):

- holds and footsteps I am talking about are on 7a/b vertical limestone, short (<12m) routes.

- they are ~10-14mm deep (something I routinely use for HB training so not unfamiliar with structures that size), 2 to 4 fingers wide edges and pockets. I use crimp grip but not closed one. Moves are long, so body position has to change significantly between holds. Highsteps highly involved. Since I am big guy, need to keep hips as close as possible.

- the rock is in general slippery but due to protruding grains/microstones IS PAINFUL for skin/joints.


In fact I consider the problem to be mostly psyche or coordination, so want to develop techniques potent to create habits, subconsious customs and movement patters.

1. Hangboard pullups

I have never used rungs to pullups, just for hanging. My way of thinking is that (possibly) HANGING is too static and my subconsious is used to the situation when fingers moves vs. the ledge only to very very limited extent; in the opposite, during making the move in course of actual climbing, fingers and hand may MOVE (or are repositioned) against hold's surface. The "unfamiliar" dyhotomy creates subconsious fear vs. first signs of finger drift->tension->etc. So maybe with dynamic pulling motion I get comfortable with this sensation? Of course the drawback is, that it unloads feet at all-> bad habits (similar to campus, so on).

2. (Stupid but along my logic): feet-on campus on painful rungs.

This is not very wise but I have paid a lot of time to develop this so listen:))): possibly, surface of the rungs could be arranged (curbs etc.) to trigger some unpleasant sensation to fingers (of course I am talking about slight soreness/harshness, not a risk of sharp, violent pain like ninja-like avoiding of spikes or so!). Than feet-on campus. Maybe this would engage subconsious to work on loading feet, not fingers to avoid "pain" of the latter?

Any ideas?



Eplumer400 · · Cleveland, OH · Joined May 2016 · Points: 115

I'm not going to be of too much help here but I can try.

This sounds like it's way more mental than anything physical or technique wise. Climbing is equal parts mental, physical, and technique, and requires a proper balance of all three to succeed. Are you free soloing? If not, then you need to trust your belay that they'll catch you and not worry about falling on difficult moves. I'm not saying that you're afraid to fall, but I've been in similar situations where I locked up thinking I wasn't going to make a move because of slipping. I took a second, closed my eyes, breathed out, did a quick 3 count and went for it. Doing everything you can to keep yourself calm before and during a climb would be highly beneficial for you, so you don't lock up and your technique of getting your legs up suffers.

I once saw a video on Youtube that gave an exercise to help with feet technique and trusting your legs to work harder on routes, and that was to hold tennis balls in your hands while working routes. This may be worth trying out so you feel more confident with your feet.

John Wilder · · Las Vegas, NV · Joined Feb 2004 · Points: 1,530

Sounds like you need to work on trusting your feet to me- get on some really hard slab climbs and focus on your feet. 

Lukasz Czopyk · · Krakow, Poland · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 10

@Eplumer400 - interesting drill indeed: I understand, that it was holding tennis balls in BOTH hands on slab? (I see potentially significant mental difference vs. slabbing with hands-free).

Ok, seems to drift to idea of feet trust. Does make sense and (what specifically grows in me) relates mental "insecurity" that appears on small holds and leads to not using even big footsteps. Here question arises: does anyone can suggest feet trusting routine on slightly ovehanging system wall? The point is, that my home board would be great tool: its 100% accessible, easy to rearange, etc. so I could "whip a psyche" in good atmosphere but is a bit of overhang?



Lena chita · · Cleveland, OH · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 735
Lukasz Czopyk wrote:

@Eplumer400 - interesting drill indeed: I understand, that it was holding tennis balls in BOTH hands on slab? (I see potentially significant mental difference vs. slabbing with hands-free).

Ok, seems to drift to idea of feet trust. Does make sense and (what specifically grows in me) relates mental "insecurity" that appears on small holds and leads to not using even big footsteps. Here question arises: does anyone can suggest feet trusting routine on slightly ovehanging system wall? The point is, that my home board would be great tool: its 100% accessible, easy to rearange, etc. so I could "whip a psyche" in good atmosphere but is a bit of overhang?



yes, the tennis ball drill is that you get on a slab route with good feet, and hold tennis balls in your hands and hold them against the wall as you climb, instead of grabbing handholds. Flat palms against the wall also works, don't need tennis balls.
to answer your earlier question, pullups, and hangboard, and campusing are the wrong thing for you at the moment, if you are already overusing your upper body. Sometimes there are no shortcuts and magic bullets. If you know that you tense up and freeze and stop using your feet, you need to tell yourself to relax, straighten the arms, breathe, and use the feet.And you should practice doing that even on easy routes.

But what you are describing is pretty typical. When the route is easy you can do this, when it gets harder all your "technique" goes out of the window. And the only solution is to be deliberate about it, and to keep trying.

amarius · · Nowhere, OK · Joined Feb 2012 · Points: 20

Perhaps the following would help -

Place slightly worse handholds next to the ones that still enable you to use feet efficiently. Since the worse holds are, pretty much, in the same place as good holds, you should have no mental excuse to change your climbing style. Make sure to work both sides of your body.

Lukasz Czopyk · · Krakow, Poland · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 10

A lot of words of wisdom from @Lena chita and @amarius. Thanks for Your input, really appreciate it and will try to utilize (both suggested routines seems usefull: In a day or two I will reposition rungs on home board along @amarius: was thinking about placing shallow rungs such a way, that it makes access to surface of a deeper ones a little more difficult. Not impossible, but difficult. Think, that this creates a little obstacle for stupid "dynoing" to good rungs. But anyway need to REMEMBER and slowly, consiously think on relaxing upper body).

Small disclaimer: I suppose everyone tends to consider themself's issues as special and unusual. Regarding climbing: it is in generally true that decrease of holds size is a flagmark of increasing difficulty what leads to technique breakdown (in course of complicated and interesting biomechanics occurences I suppose, but it is generally accepted and understood so no need for discussion here). But the reason for this topic is that during so, my footwork technique does not OBSERVABLY deteriorates; I mean all witnesses I was asking claims that "it was LOOKING ok". It is only my feeling, that during short moments of not beeing too focused on GO! (as I said - tunnel vision, need to enlarge field but not physically slow down the climb) I can feel that despite footsteps are decent I barely touch them, what is, plainly, stupid. Probably whole is similar to these uber-strong guys able to hang on bar, pretending to climb the stairs at the same time with their feet:)

Thanks again,


Lena chita · · Cleveland, OH · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 735

When the footholds get smaller, you sometimes need to think about using them differently. With bigger footholds, pressing DOWN on them works just fine. With smaller/worse footholds, esp on overhanging walls, you need to focus more on pressing INTO the wall, not DOWN. You can usually get to the same place by thinking about actively engaging the core. See whichever mental image works better for you.

Regarding footwork/technique, there isn't an arbitrary "level" that you reach that means you don't need to improve anymore. Your footwork might be decent (though self-evaluation can be flawed, and your friends might not have the experience to really know... and internet "experts" certainly can't gauge any of this!), but it can always be better, for all of us.

Here are some footwork drills that might help.

aikibujin · · Castle Rock, CO · Joined Oct 2014 · Points: 294
Lukasz Czopyk wrote:

- holds and footsteps I am talking about are on 7a/b vertical limestone, short (<12m) routes.

Here's another idea: maybe your shoes are not good for that style of climbing? Or the rubber is too worn? My experience with 5.12a/b (7a/b) vertical limestone routes is that they tend to have small edges (or sometimes small pockets) you need to stand on. I certainly notice a huge difference in my ability to stand on small holds when I use a pair of shoes with fresh rubber, vs. a pair of beat up shoes with really worn rubber. That's why I usually reserve my newest shoes for the harder routes. Other than that, I don't know what to add. I cannot imagine how you can get to climbing at that grade on vertical limestone without learning how to transfer weight to your feet better, because to me vertical limestone seems to be all about using tiny handholds just for balance, but use your legs and your feet to do majority of the work.

Nick Drake · · Newcastle, WA · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 483

Being vertical are your hips squared up to the wall on many of the moves? How is your range of motion for hip turn out? Can you make the movement with your hip close to the wall without an arch in your lower back?

I found that when I worked on flagging more aggressively (or scumming with top of toe) on the other foot it allowed me to relax my grip more on smaller crimps. 

Some interesting tidbits on movement square to the wall here, I find this applies to vertical routes and not just the steeps:

Lukasz Czopyk · · Krakow, Poland · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 10

(Ok, thats gonna be another wall of text).

About shoes: yes, that's true, shoes plays important role in slippery limestone and it is taken into account here. Usually I take 3 pairs (among which one is new-but-just-broke-in) and switch them to optimize vs. route, day plan (training/send/hard RP), conditions etc. It may play some role but I think I sort it out to rational extent from the point of view of described problem. Of course it could always be better.

And now to mr. Drake...

Man, your are spot on! The problem of squared hips is in very center of my system training; I can say, that literally 90% of my attention during stepping on system wall (like in Your link) is payed to hips position, movement, swing and so on. To the details:

- Yes, for me lower back protruding from the wall is a problem. Yes, it CAN play a role here,

- I do TONS of hips opening Yoga poses, exercises and so on. Am I improving here?: Yes, I became better IN THESE POSES (does it translate to hip square on the wall is different question of habits and subconsious but here we are at the very core of the said problem). Am I good here?: Not, the "lordosis" is still present, and my butt is funny huddling off the wall (while spine and all rest is soldered to the surface above).

- other ways of fighting it: Yes, I am trying. I have ordered tripod for camera so hope to be able to make video analysis of myself. Unfortunately, despite developed climbing community in my area, professional training/advice etc. is barely accessible. Yesterday I have also bought some wooden rungs, pieces and others. Today after work I am starting to prepare vertical/slabby addons to my system training to try no-hand climbups.

Here is a citation from Your link that strikes me:

"...Climbers with tight hip flexors have a tendency to arch their back excessively AND tend to be more passive with foot pressure vectoring...".

Mommy, mommy, someone just hit me in the head with a hammer!

It is about me!

Do You have more links or materials about it? I'll be looking but anyway, ask for share here.

Thanks of this input. It gives me hours of learning material and hope for great improvements!


Nick Drake · · Newcastle, WA · Joined Jan 2015 · Points: 483

Luk it sounds like we are in exactly the same boat! That was by far the most detailed article on the subject that I've seen. Very surprised that it's not discussed more frequently with so many weekend warriors having desk jobs (ie tight hip flexors and poor mobility).

I ran into similar problems (at a lower grade) on the first trip to Smith Rock last year. I just couldn't keep my hips into the wall when squared up and was crimping SO hard to stay on. Over this winter I did lots of stretching also, especially frog pose, and strengthened my glutes (one leg Romanian dead lifts are my favorite). While on the steeper boulder problems in the gym I would work on going square when the moves were small enough (V3-V4 range) while focusing on engaging the flagged foot (ended up doing lots of scumming of the top of my toe). Coming into the spring my static posture was improved, no lordosis in the lower back (and no lower back pain anymore either).

When I went to smith this spring my turnout was improved greatly and I was able to do much better on the vertical crimps and nubbins. However I still can't get my hips REALLY into the wall without the lordosis creeping in either. Most of my improvement came from using one foot to stand up and the other on applying more pressure flagging, where as last year I think that I was trying to just get both feet high and stand up off them, not really flagging.

True functional range of motion in turnout is my greatest weakness for that style of climbing (well ok finger strength needs work too, might be a tie). I've been trying to figure out what to do also. I'm thinking that what was written in the article about using strength in the position as being more helpful to ROM than static stretching is probably spot on. I plan to build a non symmetrical board of that same design and to work on turn out as described in the article. It seems like the best way to address strength in this way is to work out of the specific position. I'm not normally an advocate for climbing with a weight vest idea normally (due to loss of coordination and technique break down), in this case though it might be a good way to progress. Using the wood rails for feet and large jugs, where it's a strength training and not technique exercise. You'd have to also be doing real bouldering with a focus on precision to not loose it though. 

Lukasz Czopyk · · Krakow, Poland · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 10

Hi, It is truly great to hear that some shares the same issues! (Ha, ha ha!..:)

Well, going serious (and to some extent aside of the problem of this topic, I can say the following):

- I am fighting with my BIG ASS huddling-off the wall since long time, feeling that this decreases my climbing in many ways, not only forward-backward weight balance,

- (first) I have found, that there is a certain body mass, when my hips and upper thighs starts to collects fat/water. Keeping weight just 1-2kgs below this point improves ROM really great,

- Just like You, I perform Yoga hip opening asanas; indeed, the Frog Pose did a very good job; I have found that simple Downward-Facing Dog and various evolutions of (done seating for safety) works great also. In general, all able to stretch lower back erectors seems to be more effective.

- To do this more climbing specific I have involved ballet plie-like (excellent tutorial: of course with modifications: I am trying to stand on my toes on campus rung lying on the floor, both hands above the head etc.

(One leg romanian dead lifts - will try, interesting idea).

Does all of this help? Hmmm.... yes, to a degree. I am definitely better in all of this excercises and AS LONG AS FRESH, NOT TIRED, FOCUSED it seems to improve my climbing. But as You adequately put, when a good, stiff turnout is really needed (aka: the route becomes harder) it partly flyes out of the window and crimping is a king again. It seems to be mental and psyche problem to link and KEEP all of this together since I dont think to be too weak for my project routes (at least comparing to other guys at this grade, but this is whole different story).

Physically, the ramaining issue seems to be the ROM of the lower leg (assuming strongly asymetrical position with upper one fully loaded) and feet trusting while highstepping and balancing (using terminology from Your yesterday links).

Yesterday I have built very small (~100 x 70cm) woodie with few rungs. It is not mounted to the wall but simply leans against the wall: the idea is to be able to reposition it at various degrees below (or not) system wall to try hand-off climbups etc. No opinion yet, been only able to check its stability; its ok, but no systematic training performed.



Lukasz Czopyk · · Krakow, Poland · Joined Jan 2017 · Points: 10

Ok, after 2 weeks time to small update:


  1. A small woodie under my system wall is arranged in following manner: kickboard is slab, while actual board is overhanging. With this setup, I perform as many as possible feet-on campusing trying to activate hips and legs while use as little finger strength for balance as possible. Highsteps, weight transfer etc.
  2. More Yoga for back stretching and hips opening. Hip flexors opening seems to be weak point.
  3. I am trying to add new level of visualisation: before attempt I am trying to visualize next one with more details and special attention put to footwork: for instance not only "left here, right there" but "left here WITH MORE TURNOUT, LEAN TO THE LEFT, than lift right there, OPEN HIPS, BEND KNEES". This mental constraining seems to work!
  4. I was able to send few routes involving small footholds; grades were at my limit. What I observe is, that now I am able to be more stable and reliable on my feet as long as I manage to consiously control it. Not much triumphalism here since (for small sample) I am not sure if my technique improves or f.i. the grading decreased in the area or these routes welcomes my style but anyway, from the grade-pushing point of view this season looks fruitful (and it is not even in its 1/3 here in Poland).


  1. Improve passive ROM in turnout position: more Yoga for hips opening and hip flexors stretching.
  2. Improve (make subconsious, automatic habit) transfering of weight onto highstepping leg. Need to trust this leg MORE and AT ONCE.
  3. Improve (make subconsious, automatic habit) creation of momentum of hips with ankles/knees bending, limit the tendency to tilting ONLY upper body while dynamic moves.

Summing up: I feel, that while it is still a lot do do, I grasp a clue for possible imrovement, at least.

What I consider to be still NOT corresponded (in my original question) is skin sensitivity which obviously decreases my climbing effectiveness. My skin just very quickly starts to hurt:

  • There are no wounds (no bleeding, skin is not punctured),
  • There is no extensive "consumption" of epidermis, I can see no tips, "discontiniuities" etc.
  • No sweating (routes are very short) nor (seemangly) too dry: I apply  moisturize salves etc.

Despite all of these, after very few grips of holds that are just a little sharp, my skin becomes red and painfull and I start to feel extensive burning. If I had to describe it in more detail, it seems not to be this external layer affected but rather some deeper lying tissues starting to hurt. For instance today (24h after session) I see and feel that epidermis is "complete", normal, lack of colour like it was burned or irritation. Gently touch does feel completly normal also; however any stronger touch gives strange "internal" burn feeling. Is definitely not a pain from bones, osteoarthritis, tendonis etc.

  • Specific diet? What to do?
  • Any advices on skin "hardening", desensualization etc.

Thanks and hope it helps,


Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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