I’ve been avoiding these like the plague since I started climbing, which is now two and a half years. Resting heels I’m fine with but the active heel hooks, used to propel yourself up the wall, I find unnatural and scary. I never quite trust myself, and as soon as my heel hits the hold I’m convinced my ankle will snap. However, at the weekend I managed to conquer the heel hooking fear and I’m still alive to tell the tale, all limbs in tacked!
Being scared of using my heel resulted in me overusing my arms, to the point were I would end up locking off. The pure fear of ‘death by heel hook’ somehow gave me super strength to pull up and lock off. As impressive as this is at the time, all it really does is make it harder to use the heel, and ultimately puts myself at a higher injury risk. Having my heel on the hold but not engaging it makes it unstable and therefore more likely to come off. So in the process of trying to not come off the wall, I would make it even more likely to happen! I also found it difficult to wrap my head around how you move upwards via a heel. It’s been explained and demonstrated to me so many times, but I could never connect the movements. For some reason when Marcus (A Boy Who Climbs) explained it yet again for the 3012584 time: “Put your weight on your heel and move your other leg out to open your hips” the penny dropped.
This explanation finally made some sense to me, as it generated the mental image of flattening yourself against the wall, by weighting your heel and moving your other leg out. As you can see in the video, I didn’t go far but it worked and I felt myself move upwards which honestly caught me off guard!
I’ve come to the conclusion that the main reason for all of the unease was down to not understanding the mechanics of the movement, so that’s something I can look for next time I get stuck with something in climbing, skating or life in general.
It’s a big personal achievement to use an active heel hook, and if you’re struggling with it then just know that not everyone finds it an easy or a natural movement. Confidence, trust and time will get you there, along with some solid practice. Hope this helps!