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Academy: 1-3-5 Core Tension Drill

Part of our "Toes to Knows" Climbing Academy series--covering climbing from footwork to mental preparation.

Tags: Beginner, Intermediate, Movement

Last week I described X-motion, which is a dominant movement pattern for quality climbing. One of the keys in X-motions is to have sufficient core tension to maintain a stable position between your two anchor points. In this post, I describe a drill that helps you increase your perception of how much core tension to use on a given move.

I call this drill the 1-3-5 Tension Drill. The 1-3-5 refer to levels of tension in your body:

  • Level 1 tension is loose and free. Your arms will wiggle at your sides. Your knees will bend easily and back will wobble.
  • Level 3 tension is some stiffness, but still able to move body parts
  • Level 5 tension is everything rigid—like a steel pipe
  • Levels 2 and 4 are in between these

It’s good practice to be aware of how much tension you’re carrying in your body and this drill helps you have a perception of that.

Good climbing is a flow between tension and relaxation. Usually, on hard moves, you need a lot of tension to be able to stick the move. In between those hard moves, you need relaxation to create fluid movement.

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In this drill, try one move on a boulder three times. On the first attempt, maintain level one tension in your body. On your second try, use level 3 tension. On the third try, use level 5 tension.

1-3-5 Tension Drill

Here are two pictures of my friend Haley trying this drill on a difficult move. In order to stick the move, she needed to increase her body to a level 5 tension. This kept her hips over to the left a bit more and gave her just enough reach to latch the small hold she was going for.

Tension Compare

The goal is to increase your awareness of how much tension is required for a given move. Do this drill on several different moves or entire boulders. Be mindful of the level of tension required. Ultimately, the goal is to make this awareness automatic so you don’t need to consciously process while climbing.

Goal of Drill

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