What is Locking Off?
In climbing, the term locking off is when a climber tries to hold a position on the rock wall. The arms are usually bent around a 90-degree angle. Climbers hold their arms at this angle to help with balance and staying in one place.
Lock offs are not really a new technique. They are the end result of combining and refining techniques already discussed into a common static move that climbers frequently misunderstand and can waste a lot of energy on.
This is largely because newer climbers tend to focus only on the upper body portion of the lock off (the bent arm position). They often neglect the other two aspects of this technique that are needed to make it efficient. Climbers forget about cross-body tension and core tension.
As we have previously discussed, climbers should, as a rule, avoid unnecessary lock offs. Climbers should be engaged in moving up the wall. If they are resting, scoping out the route, re-positioning their feet, etc.–climbers should keep their arms straight for as long as possible. “Hanging out” on bent arms, or locked off, generally wastes energy and reduces your strength.
When Should a Climber Lock Off?
However, certain moves at higher levels of difficulty will require a locked-off position at some point during the process. As climbs become more difficult, holds become smaller, less incut, and further apart.
On vertical to slightly overhanging terrain, some holds require a precise and delicate touch to load properly and stick. These holds often must be, “snuck up on” if you will, leaving a lock off as the best or only option.
Don’t Forget About Your Lower Body and Core
The idea of what to do with the upper body is relatively intuitive for many climbers. For example, locking off a hold as far down as you can, holding that, then reaching with the upper arm to the next hold is almost natural.
However, most fail to concentrate on their lower body and core during such moves. This leads, at best, to muscling your way through a move, wasting energy. Or, at worst, allowing your hips to drift away from the wall resulting in a fall.
Performing a Lock Off
To perform lock offs effectively and efficiently climbers must focus on the basics of lower body efficiency–cross-body tension and core tension.
When performing hard lock offs, it is critical to fluidly shift your weight over your heel, keeping your back arched and your arms straight until the last possible moment. A climber’s weight must be settled on her lower body and held in place by her core, so that when she presses up, as little weight as possible is on her arms.
Locking Off on Slab
In a true lock off, climbers will first get their weight into position.They will lock off their arm as their hips settle on their heel. They will then press up with the motion point (their primary leg), just far enough to be able to reach the next hold slowly and in control.
On a slab, this position generally feels as though the locked-off arm is mainly for balance. Nearly all of her weight is on her foot, and her leg does nearly all of the work pushing her up to the next hold.
Locking Off on Steeper Climbs
As the terrain steepens, even well-executed lock offs feel as if they require much more work from the arm. While this is in fact true, the difference in feel tends to cause climbers to rely too much on their arms to execute these moves.
As a result, their focus goes to the arm, and away from the lower body and core. This then tends to result in their hips drifting away from the wall. It puts even more load on the locked-off arm and causes excessive fatigue and eventually failure.
Despite how it may feel, a proper lock off on this terrain will get nearly all of your weight over your motion point. The locked-off arm will still be primarily for balance and support–not for upward movement.
Climbers can achieve this result by being focused on their lower bodies. Focus on getting your hips directly over the heel. Use the lock off and the core skills of cross-body tension and weight shifting to keep the hips in line with the heel throughout the movement.
Good Technique = Advanced Climbing Skills
Many of the same refinements that advanced climbers need to master slab climbing translate directly to vertical and slightly overhanging. The key differences are feel and how forgiving the problem is of poor technique.
Good technique in this context is defined by how well a climber can integrate lower body efficiency, upper body efficiency, and connecting their core on a given move.
In particular, climbers at this level need to master the skill of coordinating weight shifting, straight arming, and arching their back (using cross-body tension of course) in as seamless and fluid a motion as possible. When climbers are approaching difficult moves statically, this will result in “locking-off.”
And, when lock-offs aren’t necessary, or when they won’t work, there is a new technique that is generally more efficient and often more effective. It’s called dynamic climbing.
All material is reprinted with the permission of the author. Copyright 2022 David H. Rowland. All rights reserved.