How to Heel Hook – Climbing Technique 101

One of the more common climbing techniques, the Heel Hook is a basic technique that has many applications on the climbing wall. Mastering this complex move is essential to furthering your climbing technique.

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

What is A Heel Hook?

The Heel Hook is a basic climbing technique in which the heel is latched onto a hold-in for stability, support, or in some cases to rock over a higher foothold. This is a popular move that you’ll frequently see climbers use to maintain tension on the wall. Learning the heel hook, and its many use cases will make you a more well-rounded climber.

‘Bouldering’ | Image by Bookis Smuin | under license CC BY-SA 2.0

Due to its numerous uses, executing the Heel Hook can be challenging. It’s a technique commonly used in a passive manner, for the purpose of sustaining balance during the next move. However, there are many instances where it is necessary to actively employ the Heel Hook.

how to perform the Heel Hook

To perform a heel hook, first, place your heel onto a foothold. Then engage your heel by pointing the toes outward and elevating your hip. This active position brings your center of gravity closer to the wall and maximizes the surface area that your heel occupies.

Only once you have made your heel active, can you make the next move. As with everything in climbing, exceptions exist where the heel can only be used passively.

If the heel pops off during your next move, you should ask yourself why it did. In many cases, the heel checked out because you simply forgot it was there. Be mindful of your foot placements and use the heel hook to leverage yourself when making a consequent move.

Furthermore, consider replacing the heel with an edge once you’ve made your move. Just because the heel provided balance in the previous move, doesn’t mean it’s doing anything for you in the next. Use your feet wisely, they are more powerful and useful than your arms.

practicing the Heel Hook

Although a simple technique, mastering the Heel Hook requires a significant amount of time and practice. Start by using heel hooks wherever possible, and remember to point the toes outward and engage the hips to bring your center of gravity closer to the wall.

Louis has a great video with extra tips for beginner heel hooks.

common mistakes while Heel Hooking

Heel Hooking is one of those basic moves that a lot of climbers get wrong. Below are some typical errors that are made while performing the Heel Hook.

Not pointing the toes outward

Most heel hooks made by beginners are passive heels. The heel is placed (often without even looking at the foot) and then forgotten about. These climbers understand the need to use the heel to increase their stability but fail to see that they can get much more out of that position.

By using the heel actively, the climber can bring their center of gravity closer to the wall, further increasing stability and unlocking more reach. This is done by pointing the toes down and raising the hip as opposed to hanging from a latched heel. Another added benefit from this position is that your heel is using much more surface on the hold, more rubber = more friction.

Always try to activate your heels and engage your hips when doing heel hooks.

forgetting about the heel

Frequently, climbers neglect to maintain pressure on their heel, causing it to disengage from the wall during the subsequent move. This occurs when climbers fail to focus on their heel after placing it. By not applying adequate pressure, the foot slips off the wall.

not paying attention to foot placement

Another mistake that applies not just to the heel but to most beginner foot placements is that the climber simply isn’t looking at their feet while placing down a heel. When you don’t look at the foothold, it’s hard to find the optimal position therefrom you can get the most leverage. A bad placement, even when used actively, can lead to the heel coming off the wall.

‘John bouldering at The Happy Boulders’ | Image by Mark Doliner | under license CC BY-SA 2.0

when To Heel Hook in climbing

The Heel Hook is one of those moves that can be used extensively while climbing. It has so many applications in both indoor and outdoor climbing, both in bouldering and sport climbing. Some climbers are always looking for a heel while climbing, while others will only use a heel when it is absolutely necessary.

A lot of this is based on the climbing style that you wind up creating for yourself. Every climber has a distinct, personal style. But one thing is for certain, you can rarely go wrong with a well-placed, active heel.

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