How to Back Step / Drop Knee – Climbing Technique 101

The Back Step (also known as the Drop Knee) is a foundational climbing move that helps the climber maintain balance and stability on the wall or rock face. By dropping the knee, climbers can keep their center of gravity close to the wall. This technique not only unlocks efficient climbing but also increases the reach of the climber.

Backstepping or twisting offers a better, more efficient way of climbing as opposed to the hip square (frontal climbing position) that most climbers seem to default towards. Practicing the drop knee is key to becoming a better climber.

📚 This article is part of a wider guide: Climbing Technique 101

Back Step / Drop Knee / Twisting / Hip In are all the same climbing move

Drop Knee and Back Step are used interchangeably to refer to the same climbing technique. Some climbing communities will refer to this technique as the Twist Lock or simply refer to this style of climbing as ‘hip in climbing’ or ‘twisting’.

Regardless of what it’s called, the basic technique remains the same – the climber shifts their weight back and away from the wall by dropping the knee in the direction of the target hold, keeping their center of gravity close to the wall, and reaching for holds that are further away.

Some climbers will refer to the Drop Knee as a more extreme version of the Back Step but this only makes climbing terminology even messier and pushes us further away from what is important. Climbers should focus on mastering the technique, rather than getting caught up in the terminology.

I hope this clears up some misunderstandings about the Back Step / Drop Knee / Twist Lock / Hip In.

What is Back Step and why use it?

The Back Step refers to a climbing technique where the climber shifts their knees in the same direction, keeping one hip close to the wall. This keeps their center of gravity closer to the wall, maintaining balance while reaching for holds.

Dropping the knee reduces the weight on the hands and shifts it onto the feet of the climber, making climbing more efficient and requiring less flexibility compared to keeping the hips squared to the wall.

During a back step, the knees are pointed in the same lateral direction, away from the target hold. The dropped knee is turned inward, enabling the hip to get closer to the wall. This allows the climber to make a more controlled movement toward the next hold.

Mani does a great job at illustrating this in his video about the Drop Knee.

mani the monkey explains the back step or drop knee climbing move on youtube
Mani the Monkey’s video on the Back Step / Drop Knee

When reaching for the next hold from a dropped knee or Back Step position, climbers are able to maintain their center of gravity close to the wall, which helps to prevent pushing themselves away from the wall in the opposite direction. In contrast, when climbers use a hip square position, they are more likely to push themselves away from the wall and lose balance and control.

In conclusion, the backstep is particularly valuable for preserving energy and climbing more efficiently. Most climbers tend to use a hip square position most of the time but by practicing the backstep, they can improve their technique and become more versatile climbers. Not only does the backstep help reduce fatigue as it puts less weight on the hands, but it also requires less flexibility.

Practicing the drop knee can also help climbers develop a deeper understanding of balance and body positioning on the wall, and further refine their climbing skills. With regular practice, climbers can develop the confidence and muscle memory needed to execute the back step effortlessly. In short, the Back Step is an important technique that all levels of climbers can benefit from practicing more.

how to perform a backstep

To perform a Back Step, identify the target hold first. Turn the hip in on the side you are about to reach. This should rotate your knee out towards the other side, pulling your center of gravity close to the wall. During the Drop Knee, both your knees are pointed in the same direction. Now you can reach for the next handhold much more efficiently and with more balance and stability.

In practice, the backstep is often used in combination with other climbing techniques such as the flag, which helps body tension on the wall. Foot swaps are also often necessary when performing the backstep in a sequence.

common mistakes while backstepping

  1. Not rotating the knee enough: you don’t have to assume a complete drop knee position to perform a backstep, but you should drop the knee enough so that the hip gets close to the wall. If you don’t rotate your hips, you may fail to maintain balance.
  2. Not twisting the hip enough: by not twisting your hips and keeping them close to the wall, you are forcing your arms to do more work than is necessary.

practicing the back step

As mentioned earlier, backstepping is one of those moves that should be practiced thoroughly so that the moves become muscle memory.

A warmup is the best time to practice climbing moves. Find yourself some easy boulder problems or routes that are way below your max grade. Perform each move on the route with a backstep. You’ll find that you will have to perform a foot swap or step-through to perform the backstep in a sequence. Don’t be afraid to combine these climbing techniques as you are practicing. Just make sure every reach is performed with a correct drop knee.

Once you start practicing backstepping on higher grades, you’ll find that performing an outside flag in conjunction with a Back Step offers a great way to maintain body tension while climbing.

Keep practicing this foundational climbing move during every session. Practicing during the warmup is how I incorporated backstepping (in combination with an outside flag) into my default climbing style.

when to back step in climbing

As highlighted in this article, Backstepping enables you to climb more efficiently. It should therefore be used as much as possible. Here are some specific cases in which you should use a Drop Knee:

  1. If the next hold is out of reach: using a Back Step increases the reach of the climber by a couple of inches. That’s why this technique is favored by shorter climbers.
  2. When the route is overhanging: during steep terrain, the Back Step allows for an efficient way to keep your center of gravity close to the wall.
  3. When you are getting tired: backstepping allows you to transfer the weight from your hands to your feet. This will enable you to continue climbing while preserving energy.

Of course, the backstep cannot be used in every scenario. Sometimes dropping the knee isn’t the best choice. While rare, some moves are better done in a hip square position or by performing a back flag as opposed to a Back Step.

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