Academy: Heel Hooks

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

Tags: Footwork, Intermediate


A heel placement is a great tool to combat a barn door. You can balance your body weight between the heel that’s on the hold and, ideally, your opposite hand. This lets you move the heel-side hand up to your next hold.

Some of the same principles of matching slope and normal pressure discussed for toes applies to heel. Heel placement keys include:

  1. Match the angle of the hold with your heel (your heel is round, so this is less of an issue)
  2. Keep heel pressure normal to the surface
  3. Activate your heel by pointing your toe and engaging with your hamstrings and hips
  4. Maintain core tension so you can balance your weight between your heel and opposite hand, allowing you to move your other hand up

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Practice Drill

Climb a few easy boulders using three heel hooks per boulder (use any hold to do this, ignoring route colors if you’re in the gym. Try heels on different kinds of holds, from big, solid ones to tiny sloping holds. Experiment with different hip positions and core tension to see what feels the most stable.

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