If you’re looking for how to improve your climbing technique, this overview of how to toe hook will help. When we find ourselves on steep routes or roofs, with all our weight hanging from our arms, which are starting to get pumped, we need to get creative! That’s where toe hooking comes in, just one of the ways to utilize a not so common part of the foot to help us surpass overhangs.
We will look at when it’s appropriate to use toe hooking, and give you tips on how to do it effectively. By practicing techniques like toe hooking, you will definitely improve your climbing technique overall.
What is Toe Hooking?
Toe hooking is a technique used in climbing, where we hook the top side of our foot, from the base of the toes to the shoe’s laces on a protruding hold. It’s then easier to lock and stabilize our body on the wall by pulling with our foot and shin. It’s as if you are using your foot as a hand to hold onto the wall.
Toe hooking is especially useful in overhangs or roofs, as it helps to keep the body closer to the wall and takes some load off of the arms. It’s also helpful when the hand holds at reach are not so good. It is a technique that prevents swinging and wasting energy by doing too many dynamic movements.
Why Toe Hooking is Important in Climbing
The top front of the foot is a part of the body that we don’t often use in climbing. But toe hooking is an extremely valuable technique to have, not just in bouldering, but in sport climbing as well, as we will see.
Some of the advantages of toe hooking are:
- It allows you to transfer your center of mass and center of gravity at a position that gives you more control. For example, when you have to hold on a sloper, you can strategically place a toe hook and pull to transfer your weight so that you’re not just hanging from that sloper.
- It really makes a difference in overhang routes. The legs have some of the stronger muscles of the body. Using them while toe hooking will be more effective than a tricky hand hold when trying to climb over a protruding crux.
- Toe hooking can also be used to lighten the load for your arms. When you are holding a bad crimp, or a sloper, toe hooking above your head can help transfer most of the weight to your feet, to be able to go for the next move, or even just to rest and chalk-up before moving on. So forearm endurance won’t limit you as much.
- Maybe the most crucial benefit of toe hooking is avoiding swinging. When navigating overhangs, or doing movements that have more momentum, it’s important to find ways to keep the feet on the wall so that you don’t swing. Swinging can mean risking a fall or just wasting energy. If you feel that reaching for the next hold will stretch your whole body and cause you to swing, it’s a good time to toe hook. It will keep you close to the wall and increase your balance and control.
How to Practice Toe Hooking Effectively in Climbing
The most practical way to try out toe hooking or to improve your technique is at the bouldering gym. There you can experiment with different holds and repeatedly practice moves to understand the mechanics of toe hooking.
So let’s take a look at some of the factors that will determine how effective your toe hook can be.
Types of holds or rock surface you can toe hook on
When you decide to toe hook, you need to find an available surface under which to hook your toes.
You can use:
Keep in mind that it’s easier for the toes to hook around holds with large edges than a flat hold where only friction and pressure is used to keep the toes in place.
Positioning of the foot and toes
You will use the side to bottom area of the hold to place your foot. Place as much of the toes and top of your foot (lace area) as you can on the surface you are toe hooking. Stabilize your toes under the hold and pull with your shin muscle (tibialis anterior) to maintain tension so that your body stays locked in position, and you can safely reach for the next hand hold.
Positioning of the body and opposed forces
Use your body weight or pull with your arm to create an opposite force and add friction to the toe hook so that you don’t have to spend more energy keeping your body from falling or swinging. The toe hook can help tremendously in supporting your body weight if you do it right.
So to create an oppositional force to the toe hook:
- Push off a nearby hold with your other foot to create compression. The closer to you that hold is, the easier it is to create tension
- Get your body in a position where your weight pulls against the hold
- Use your arm (not the one that will reach next) to pull towards the opposite side to create tension.
Muscle engagement and body tension
A passive toe hook will stabilize you, but if you want to transfer weight from your arms to your feet to help you lift yourself, you will need to really engage your toes and pull as much as you can.
As you pull, your foot will start curling towards your knee, so the muscles at the front of your lower leg will engage.
On top of pulling with the foot and shin, what will make the toe hook even stronger is body tension, which you can achieve by keeping your whole body engaged, especially your hamstrings, quads, glutes, and core. The core definitely needs to be engaged before you go for the next move, to stay in control during the move and for your toe hook to remain in place.
Examples in pictures
We have gone through some general direction on toe hooking, but practicing and experimenting on your own will help you the most! So let’s look at some more specific cases where you can use this technique:
- When your body is on a ceiling at a horizontal position, toe hooking and pulling with your foot, combined with opposed pulling of your hands can create the necessary tension to keep you stable and close to the wall.
- When the appropriate holds are available, you can toe hook both feet for more support.
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- One more advanced use of toe hooking is to invert your whole body when crossing a large roof to take the load off of your hands and avoid the possibility of swinging if you went first with your hands.
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- You can also toe hook on arêtes to maintain your balance without expending additional energy between moves.
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- Clamping is a technique very useful in roofs and overhangs. After placing your toe hook, you then stand on top of the foothold with your other foot. You can then squeeze with both feet to help you maintain your hook in position.
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Flagging is a way to shift your weight to keep your body from swinging away from the wall. It’s also a way to gain more reach. When you are forced to use holds that are all on the same side of your body, you can cross the hanging leg of that side to the opposite side (passing behind or in front of the other foot), using it as a counterbalance.
What can make this counterbalance more effective is if you combine it with toe hooking the hanging foot after you cross it over. By pulling with your shin you will get more leverage to reach for the next hold while staying close to the rock.
Flagging is especially useful in lead climbing, when you have to remove one hand to clip. Even if you have a good jug for the other hand, letting all your weight rely on one arm will tire you out, even more so if you are at an overhang and your feet are not properly positioned on the rock. Flagging will minimize the muscle engagement required to stay on the wall until you clip and give you more control while clipping.
Removing the toe hook
You need to be careful of how you remove the toe hook as well. It can get complicated since there are opposing forces at work. Your body pulls to the opposite side than the toe hook, so if you just release the toe hook, there is going to be momentum that may pull you away from the wall.
So you need to remove the toe hook slowly and with control. Take small steps with your feet to keep your balance by first stepping with the foot that is not toe hooking. If there are no available footholds close by, you can let your free leg dangle, while still toe hooking with the other, engaging your core to deaden the swing. Then you can safely remove the other foot too.
Toe Hook Technique Tips for Rock Climbing Beginners and Intermediates
We have gone over the main factors that will determine if your toe hooking will be effective. But there are some simple details that will make a difference in managing to toe hook for the first time, as well as in improving your technique if you are already toe hooking.
- The positioning of the hips is important to get your core locked in place. You need to figure this out case by case by practicing and feeling at which position you are more stable.
- The more extended your leg, the easier it is to get good tension on a toe hook. You can also drop your hips away from the wall to minimize the amount of muscular effort needed. When doing this, lock the hips and ankles.
- Stay close to the wall before hooking so that your center of mass is not too far out and give you unwanted momentum.
- When hooking your toes, pay more attention to the inner part of the foot, at the base of the big toe, as it is stronger than the rest of the top of the foot.
- To be able to pull hard with your shin, you need to have a good range of dorsiflexion (flexion at the ankle moving the foot towards the shin). So you could incorporate some dorsiflexion exercises in your warm-up. You also need strong shins, which you can train by hanging from a bar with your toes.
- Shoes that have a good layering of rubber on the top of the toes will be more effective when toe hooking, increasing friction, and protecting your toes.
Common Toe Hook Mistakes
When you place your toe hook, before you let go with your hand to reach for the next hold, these mistakes may cause a fall or swing:
- Using only the tips of your toes to hook. There is more risk in slipping, or simply not being able to engage your foot enough to be effective. The positioning of the foot makes a huge difference.
- Not engaging the toes as much as necessary to keep tension in your body.
- Wrong positioning of the rest of the body. You need to be aware of where your center of mass is so that you can shift your center of gravity by moving your body accordingly.
- Keeping your toe hooking leg bent means you need to use more muscle engagement and energy to stay on the wall, so you are not taking advantage of your toe hook.
- Missing great holds for toe hooking because they are at the side of the boulder and not visible while climbing.
In toe hooking, small adjustments in your foot, body positioning, and muscle engagement will make a big difference. So try to be aware and keep track of what you are doing with your body both when your toe hooks fail and when they succeed, and course-correct.
Helpful Toe Hook Tutorials on YouTube
What is really going to make you better at toe hooking is practice! Explaining a complicated technique like toe hooking cannot be done just in words, so here are some enlightening tutorials that will show you what toe hooking is, some specific examples, and ways to improve your technique.
Great examples of toe hooking:
A brief beginner explanation of what toe hooking is and when it can be used:
Tips on how to make your toe hook more effective:
Three uses of toe hooking:
Wrapping Things Up: Final Things to Remember for Toe Hooking to Climb Harder and Smarter
No matter what climbing experience you have, practicing techniques like toe hooking will make you a stronger climber, with better technique and so much more control on the wall. It will also help you conserve energy in challenging steep climbs.
To wrap things up, here are some of the most important climbing tips we shared:
- Use toe hooking to keep your body close to the wall and avoid swinging
- Toe hooking helps to take some weight off of your arms, especially in overhangs
- While toe hooking, keep tension and engagement in your body
- Keep your toe hooking leg straight and rigid and create an opposing force with the rest of your body
- Combine flagging with toe hooking when lead climbing to avoid tiring your arms and clip safely
- Stay in control while removing your toe hook to kill the swing.
- Practice, practice, practice!
If you enjoyed this post, you’ll also like our other climbing tips here.