Kevin Perrone LMBT, EP-C
The high step is an easily relatable example of mobility in climbing. How well you can flex at the hip is a measure of both flexibility and strength. Who among us hasn’t had that awkward experience of being a little extended between holds and trying to get a toe up on something kinda high? Only to end up being a little short of the foothold. You try to hike that knee up just a bit more but sadly nothing happens. Maybe you try again to get that thigh just a little higher but an inch might as well be a mile. Well have no fear, should that situation happen again here are four tips I’ve adapted from different places that can give you that extra bit you need to send. On average you’ll be able to get several inches of additional height.
When it comes to improving mobility there are what I refer to as fixes and opportunities. Fixes are things like improving scar tissue with manual therapy, adjusting a fixated joint via chiropractic adjustments, or even just improving awareness though good coaching. They are things that once you address them, they tend to stay improved. Opportunities are things that rely on miscellaneous reflexes or neurological gimmicks to temporarily improve things. They provide a window of opportunity for you to take advantage of but if unused will not impart any lasting change.
All four of these tips fall under the opportunity label. They come from four different systems and have different mechanisms behind each of them. I encourage you to try all of them out. Since everyone is different, results will vary. However I have yet to find someone who at least one of these won’t help. To test these out you’ll want to check your high step before and after trying out the assorted tips.
The first one comes from Be Activated. It has you press and rub specific spots on the body to instantly improve strength of different muscles. In this case we’ll be working on a spot for the psoas, one of the muscles that flex the hip. A stronger psoas should mean that you can bring the thigh up higher. To find the spot to press you’ll start at your belly button and then go over about 2 inches and then down about 2 inches. You’ll then push into your abdomen at a slight angle towards the spine. You should find a spot that is a little tender. Then massage it with 10-15 clockwise and 10-15 counterclockwise circles. While the area might be tender, it should not be painful. You’re not trying to see how much discomfort you can endure, you’re just waking up an area. Then make sure to do it on the other side for the other psoas. Besides better high stepping it’s possible that this could give more strength during posting or toe hooking too.
For a more in-depth explanation and to see how much change you might get check out the video for it.
This second one comes from Z-Health and is called a middle toe pull. It’s a little bit of a misnomer since what you’ll actually be doing is a self mobilization of the instep (the top of the foot) rather than literally pulling on a toe. While most people think of the joints in the foot being just the ankle and the toes, the bones that make up the foot should be able to move as well. It’s just that they don’t move much in comparison. In the body there are neurological connections relate certain joints to specific muscles. By ‘waking up’ the joint with motion we can increase the strength of its related muscle. Which in this case would be the hip flexor.
Set up – standing nice and tall with one leg back, tuck the toes under so the top of the foot is in contact with the floor. There should be no discomfort in the foot that you’re mobilizing and 75-90% of your weight should be on the support leg. You should feel a stretch/your focus should be on the middle of the instep. Dip slightly by bending the support leg a little to change the vector of force on the foot and then straighten it back out. Repeat for 3-5 pulses and switch sides.
Common errors – using too much force, feeling it more in the toes than instep, foot not being straight, not maintaining good posture during the drill
Check here for the video.
This third one to try comes from Functional Range Conditioning. It involves trying to isolate your toes in movement. By improving the ease with which you can control your body you should lower overall tension and improve range of motion. You’ll be trying to alternate lifting and lowering your big toe and your other toes. Lift the big toe off the ground while leaving the other four toes in contact with the floor, then switch allowing the big toe to come down while the other toes come up. It sounds simple enough but for some people the toe will stayed stuck to the ground. If you’re one of those individuals, try lightly rubbing on the top of the toe for 10-20 seconds and then try it again. It’s possible it may take several attempts to get this to work. If it’s really easy for you try doing it with both feet at the same time but with the toes doing opposite actions. So on the left foot the big toe would be up and the other toes would be down and on the right foot the big toe would be down and the other toes would be up. You would then try to switch both feet at the same time and continue to repeat. This drill along with the one from Z-Health is great for people who wear super tight climbing shoes. Loosen up your feet and improve your performance.
Common errors – moving the entire leg side to side to ‘help’ lift the toes up, generating superfluous tension elsewhere in the body while trying to accomplish the toe movement…usually comes in the form of the fingers half contracting in random ways.
For more information check out the video.
This last one is adapted from Pavel Tsatsouline’s ‘Super Joints’. He showed it as a way to improve hamstring flexibility but it works just as well for the hip flexor. What you’ll do is raise your knee up as high as you can. Then take a hand and push down on the knee while simultaneously pushing up into your hand with your leg. Don’t allow the knee to lower down while you push. You’re not trying to see if your arm is stronger than your hip flexor, you’re just trying to increase effort in having to hold your leg up. Then after about 10-30 seconds while still pushing up with the leg and down with the hand, suddenly remove the hand and the thigh should pop up a bit higher. You can repeat the process another time or two. Eventually you’ll reach a point where you no longer get any improvement.
Common errors – not releasing pressure from the hand quickly enough, trying to focus more on balance than the drill…if that’s the case perform the drill on the floor or leaning against the wall. If your body has to focus on balance it’ll take away from the effectiveness of the drill.
For more clarification, check out the video.