The twist lock and backstep are the bread-and-butter moves of a steep-wall connoisseur. As the climbing surface tilts back past vertical, it becomes increasingly difficult to place a high percentage of weight on your legs. Consequently, a greater portion of body weight must be supported by the arms—which, of course, possess less absolute strength than the legs. Use of the twist lock and backstep together helps draw your body in toward the surface of the overhanging wall. This changes the force vector on the handholds, making them feel more positive and secure. More important, this drawing-in of the body places more weight onto the footholds and also gives you a longer reach.
Unlike climbing in a neutral position (hip and chest against the wall), however, hip-turning twist and backstep moves are not intuitive, nor do they feel efficient, to the average beginning climber. Therefore, it’s not uncommon for a novice climber to avoid these unfamiliar twisting moves in favor of “normal” facing-the-rock positions. Of course, such a climber will find overhanging climbs to be incredibly difficult, reachy, and pumpy–they might even complain of routes being undergraded! If any of this sounds familiar, take it as a sign that you need to become more fluent in using twist lock and backstep moves.
The twist lock is typically used to ease the upgrading of a hand on an overhanging section of wall. For example, consider the situation in which your left hand is on a good hold and you’d like to reach up high with the right hand. While you could attempt this move straight-on—chest facing toward the wall in a neutral position—it’s far less strenuous to turn your right hip to the wall before making the reach upward.
Proper positioning of the feet is critical for making this move work. Since the right hip is turning to the wall, you’ll need to use the outside portion of your right foot on a hold somewhere below or in back of your body (hence the term backstep). Usually you’ll find a complementary left foothold to help maintain the twist-lock body position. The feet then press in unison while the left arm pulls down and in toward your torso, creating the twist lock. Finding just the right body position is the key to providing a secure twist lock; when you do, you’ll notice that a surprising lack of effort is needed to reach up and acquire the next right handhold. This amazingly efficient locomotion over steep terrain is the magic of the twist-lock technique.
Granted, superlative use of the twist lock and backstep is something that will take many hours (actually months) of practice. In fact, during your initial attempts at using these moves, you might swear that they require more energy than basic straight-on moves. Trust that with practice you will develop the necessary motor skills to make these moves feel quite easy. Initially limit your practice of the twist lock and backstep to boulder problems that overhang about 20 degrees past vertical. As you acquire skill, expand their use onto even steeper boulder problems as well as onto overhanging roped climbs.
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