Knowing how to drop knee well is a crucial climbing skill.
Many beginner climbers tend to use brute force to climb up, only looking for the next hand hold they will grab, just pulling with their arms and not paying any attention to their footwork.
The longer you climb, the more you understand how important it is to have good footwork. The only way to progress and climb higher grades is to improve your climbing technique.
The drop knee technique is an underestimated but essential footwork technique that will make your climbing so much more efficient, especially in overhangs. It works by pushing your feet against two footholds at a distance, dropping the knee, and locking your body in the wall to create tension, and therefore more stability.
We will talk about what the drop knee technique is and why it’s so important. We will also explain how to drop knee effectively, and recommend some tutorial videos. Finally, we will give you some climbing tips and share common mistakes climbers do when drop kneeing.
What is Drop Kneeing?
Drop kneeing is a climbing technique that helps you bring your body close to the wall by twisting your foot and leg inwards.
The drop knee, or ‘Egyptian,’ is performed by stepping on footholds that are at a wide distance and turning the hip of the same side as the reaching arm inwards, dropping the knee. As the hip rotates all the way in, it comes closer to the wall. Your body twists to reach up with the arm while the other foot pushes off the other foothold, creating tension in your body.
This underused footwork technique helps you conserve energy on the wall by locking your body and gives you more control while climbing.
Why Drop Kneeing is Important in Climbing
Climbing with square hips keeps you away from the wall, especially in overhang climbs, making it difficult to hold more weight on your legs and feet. That’s why you tend to rely on pulling yourself up and putting all the strain on your arms, tiring them out.
Learning to drop knee not only will give more flow and control to your climbing; it will make it significantly more efficient.
So let’s see some more specific advantages of drop kneeing:
- Because of the body’s stance, opposing forces are applied by the feet, creating tension and locking in the body.
- The load on the arms is reduced. If you are really stable on your feet and have locked in properly, there are cases where you can even let go of your hands. Therefore the drop knee stance allows you to rest or prepare for the next move without wasting energy.
- Bringing the hip in close to the wall and dropping the knee keeps your center of gravity in your lower body, giving you more stability and removing tension from the upper body. This is especially important when climbing overhangs. Drawing the body into the wall helps to transfer weight from the hands and arms to the footholds and legs.
- Because of the stability created by locking in the body, and the bodyweight being transferred to the lower body, you can really push and drive up with your feet and reach further with your arm.
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- The position of the body resulting from drop kneeing supports you in using stronger muscles of the body than the arms, like the lats (latissimus dorsi), abs, and hamstrings. That is partly because it compels you to keep the arms straight.
- When drop kneeing, you need less strength to stay close to the wall than when you have a frontal body position with your hips facing the wall.
- Locking in your body and twisting your body and hips will keep you from swinging away from the wall in overhangs and longer reaching moves.
When you become proficient in using the drop knee technique, you will see that you will unlock moves that you thought were impossible.
How to Practice Drop Kneeing Effectively in Climbing
Now that we have established how important the drop knee technique is, let’s take a look at the necessary steps you need to follow to practice it.
To make the steps of this climbing technique easier to follow, let’s assume you are going for the next hand hold with your right hand. You will drop the knee of the same side as the hand you will be reaching with, in this case, the right side.
- Get set up on the wall with your arms straight. Your feet must be positioned on footholds that are relatively apart from one another so that you have space to drop your knee, but not too far that you sacrifice stability.
- Initially, your feet will be placed with more weight on the toes and especially the base of the big toe.
- Pivot the right foot, turning the whole leg inwards, so that the weight transfers on the outside edge of the shoe and the knee drops lower than your hips.
- You should feel like your feet are pushing the footholds out, away from each other.
- By pushing on the feet, pull the right hip close to the wall.
- Finally, reach up for the target hold with the right hand.
When to Use the Drop Knee Technique
Ideal situations to execute the drop knee are when you are holding crimps or slopers. When you have to hold your weight by pulling on challenging grips, you want to keep more weight on your feet and let your legs and abdominal muscles support your body rather than relying on your arms.
For similar reasons, drop kneeing is helpful when climbing overhangs. You want to keep your body close to the wall, and your feet locked in so that you don’t swing. On vertical walls, it may not be as crucial because it’s not so difficult to bring your hips close to the wall, but it can still make resting on the wall more accessible and your movement more controlled.
On the other hand, on slabs, it’s not advisable to drop knee, as your knee and thigh will probably end up pushing you away from the wall.
Generally, drop kneeing is useful in every situation where you can apply it, as it gives you additional reach and more push upwards using the stronger leg muscles. In general, this technique improves your efficiency, so anytime you decide to use it, you will conserve energy.
Now when you only have one available foothold, you can’t lock in your body by pushing on two footholds and dropping the knee. In those cases, it’s better to use the flagging technique, where you use your free leg as a counterbalance to prevent swinging. For more details on flagging, check out our article on how to flag in climbing.
However, especially in overhangs, if you do have two footholds available, drop kneeing is more effective in keeping you closer to the wall than flagging. That is because when flagging, your hips are parallel to the wall, so naturally, you are further away, you can’t pull your pelvis and body close to the wall with the same ease as when you twist your body to the side.
Both flagging and drop kneeing are especially useful in lead climbing, to keep your body stable and in balance while clipping, and also giving your more arm reach.
Drop Knee Technique Tips for Rock Climbing Beginners and Intermediates
Now let’s look at some more specific climbing tips that have to do with body positioning and engagement:
- To execute the drop knee, you need two opposing footholds that your feet can push against to create tension and lock your body in position. If the footholds are too close to each other, it won’t work, so try footholds with different distances to experiment and see what works with your body and what doesn’t.
- Place the foot of the leg that will drop knee second, so that you can place it with more precision. The foot that drop knees is usually placed higher than the other foot.
- Keep your arms straight during the movement. This can help for most of your body weight to be supported by your lats and prolong your forearm endurance during the climb.
- Keep full-body tension, engaging your core muscles and hamstrings to generate even more momentum when propelling your body upwards.
- Your drop kneeing foot needs to be very stable on the foothold. So take care when placing the toes so that later when you pivot, you can maintain stability. It’s good practice to look at your foot while placing it on the rock or wall.
If you feel you have limitations in your hips or you feel there is pressure going to your knees, you should do some hip openers like this yoga pose to help you. This exercise also helps with balance. If you keep reading, we also share a video with a hip opening exercise that specifically prepares you for drop kneeing.
Common Drop Knee Mistakes
Drop kneeing is one of the main causes of knee injury in rock climbing, and knee injuries can keep you off the wall for months. So you need to be extra careful when using this technique. As soon as you feel any discomfort in your knee, you should stop.
Most often, what gets injured or even torn while drop kneeing is the MCL (Medial Collateral Ligament). You could also dislocate your knee in dynamic movements, or hurt your meniscus.
Causes of a knee injury when drop kneeing:
- Rotating from the knee joint instead of the hip joint can create damage to your knee. The knee joint is a hinge joint and does not support rotation. So you should think of the movement as a hip rotation rather than initiating any movement from the knee joint.
- Lack of mobility or stability in the hip, causing you to compensate by twisting the knee
- Not warming up enough before climbing.
- Not practicing drop kneeing often enough to keep your knees strong. If drop kneeing is a technique you plan to use at the crag, it’s good to practice even easy drop knees regularly at the gym to stay in form.
- Reaching up before you have established your balance in the drop knee position can cause an awkward fall and injury while your knee is twisted.
Other common drop knee mistakes when climbing:
- You may be tempted to pull up with the arms before placing the foot. If you do so, you lose all the advantages that drop knee climbing offers. Instead, hang with the arms straight, place the foot on its inside edge, turn the foot to its outside edge while dropping the knee, twisting the body, and pulling up.
- Not allowing enough room on the foothold for your foot to pivot. If you step with the edge of your foot, when you pivot, you may slip off the wall.
- When the two footholds are further apart from each other, you need to leave enough space for your knee to drop when you set up, so your elbow is not in the way
- Not rotating the hip internally enough for the knee to drop sufficiently and lock your body in position.
- Drop kneeing in lead climbing can give you some trouble if you are not careful. If, as you drop your knee, the rope ends up behind your leg and you fall while you are above your protection, the rope may get caught in your leg and flip your body upside down.
You should always take care to have the rope between your body and the rock, hanging directly from your harness to your most recent clip, and keep your legs out of the way.
Helpful Drop Knee Tutorials on YouTube
Neil Gresham’s masterclass explains what the drop knee technique is and how it is executed. It also gives great examples of wrong and correct ways to execute the drop knee. Finally, it shows an exercise you can do to get used to the movement required when dropping the knee.
Brief and clear instructions on how to drop knee:
A great video with hip flexibility exercises specifically to prepare you for drop kneeing safely:
Wrapping Things Up: Final Things to Remember for Drop Kneeing to Climb Harder and Smarter
Next time you come across a hard move and are tempted to pull yourself up rather than using technique, take a deep breath and try to focus more on your feet.
Using climbing techniques rather than brute force will keep you stronger for the next moves and give more flow and control to your climbing style.
To wrap things up, here are some of the most important points on the drop knee technique:
- Drop kneeing is one of the smartest and most efficient ways to use the wall. You can essentially lock your body by pushing on the footholds and dropping your knee, keeping your center of gravity at your stronger lower body rather than overusing your arms.
- It keeps you closer to the wall and keeps you from swinging, so it’s particularly useful when climbing overhangs. It also relieves weight from your arms, suitable for crimps or slopers.
- Drop kneeing can allow you to rest on the wall, and in general, helps you conserve energy while climbing.
- It extends your arm reach and gives you stability on the wall.
- If you are not careful or lack hip mobility, you may injure your knee by trying to rotate from the knee joint rather than the hip joint.
- When you drop your knee while lead climbing, make sure you are not trapping the rope behind your leg.
To climb harder, you need to climb smarter. You don’t necessarily need to develop more strength. Instead, you should learn how to incorporate technique to use your strength and endurance efficiently.
If you are a beginner, you can start incorporating drop kneeing in easier climbs to get the hang of it. Focusing on your footwork techniques when starting out will definitely give you a head start.
And if you are an intermediate climber, wondering how to improve your climbing technique, you will see that drop kneeing can make a huge difference.
Remember to listen to your body and climb safely.
If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also like our other climbing tips here.