Flagging Climbing Technique: Why and How to Do It (2023 Guide)
Climbing is not a sport of pure power. Yes, making powerful moves while rock climbing can be necessary. But believe it or not, you can get a long way in climbing if you focus on technique training instead of building power.
Climbing flagging is one of many climbing techniques that drastically improve your climbing efficiency to get better. Flagging is an advanced climbing technique that utilizes a flagging foot to counter-balance your body and keeps your center of gravity close to the wall and under control.
Keep reading to learn more about the different flagging climbing moves, why they are essential, and how to begin practicing flagging like the best climbers in the world.
What is Flagging in Climbing?
As a budding climber, you might have been told to obsess about training your footwork by keeping two feet on the wall at all times. But what if we told you that having two feet on at all times isn’t necessary?
What if we told you that using only one foot and flagging the opposite foot is the best option?
Flagging is a technique that prioritizes acute attention to body positioning. It focuses on strategically positioning your body instead of other aspects of climbing, such as power, endurance, or strength.
Imagine a vertical line running the length of your body. Imagine trying to balance your weight symmetrically on each side of that imaginary vertical line as you ascend upwards. You would feel balanced if you had a left handhold and a right foothold.
But what would happen if you had a left foot and a left hand?
If you tried to climb, your body position would be imbalanced, and you might swing away, or barn door, on the way up. However, if you flagged your free leg, you might be able to reach the next hold without barn dooring.
Another way to think of the flagging foot is like a monkey’s tail. As a monkey climbs a tree, they waver its tail back and forth strategically to remain balanced. Climbers can do the same thing with one foot flagging as they climb. Likewise, flags help climbers maintain control over their center of gravity by using a flagging foot to counter-balance their body as they move up the wall.
Types of Flagging Positions
The flagging position you choose depends on the type, position, direction of holds, and direction of the overall movement. Below, we’d like to discuss the three most common and effective flagging movements.
The most common flagging technique is the side flag (or outside flag). It is one of the most intuitive climbing techniques and, therefore, easy to learn. A side flag is when you position one leg out to its respective side of your body to maintain better balance, hence the name. So a left leg side flag would mean that the flagging foot swings to the left of the standing leg.
A typical scenario for side flagging is when your right foot and left hand are positioned in a relatively straight line above and below one another, and you need to move upwards. By swinging the flagging leg, the left leg, out to the left, you effectively bring your body position closer to the wall so you can more effectively drive upwards on the other leg.
The side flag is prevalent on steeper climbs with long moves and dynamic movement, where it’s imperative to keep your hips close to the wall and more weight over the one foothold to achieve balance and reach farther holds.
The rear flag (or back flag) is the second most common flagging technique. Typically, you use the rear flag when you only have holds on one side of your body and need to move in the opposite direction.
For example, your left foot and left hand have good holds, but you must move up and right for the following sequence of movements. In this case, your free leg, or the right leg, is the flagging leg, which swings behind your left foot.
Flagging your right leg will bring your center of gravity closer to the left and position your body weight and hips closer to the wall. This allows you to move to the right more efficiently and grab a new handhold.
Compared to the other flagging techniques, the inside flag is slightly less intuitive than the rest. Therefore, this move is commonly replaced by side flagging. However, when the time is right, a well-placed inside flag is perfect for maintaining balance and preventing swinging.
Inside flagging is similar to back flagging in that the flagging leg crosses over the standing leg to improve your balance. However, with this move, the flagging leg swings inside the other leg, in between it and the wall, instead of behind the whole body.
For example, to reach the next hold with your right arm, you can inside flag the right foot inside the left leg and to the opposite side of your body to pull the one hip closer to the wall and reach up.
Why It’s Important
Flagging is essential for multiple reasons. However, flagging is generally great for maintaining a more ergonomic body position, therefore, climbing more efficiently and conserving energy throughout your rock climb.
- Flagging helps keep your hips close to the wall. With your hips close to the wall, you position your weight more directly over your feet. Keeping more of your weight on your feet drastically reduces the pressure your arms feel as you climb and helps you stay on the wall longer.
- It’s important for pulling, making longer moves, and reaching farther holds. For example, with a right hip sucked up to the wall, you can pull your body closer to the next hold and use less energy to reach it.
- One of the common mistakes in climbing is over-gripping and locking off too much. Flagging helps you maintain straight arms. When you keep your arms straight in climbing, you conserve more energy by utilizing a more extensive array of muscles in your arms instead of just the large ones, like the biceps.
- It prevents swinging, also known as barn dooring. When you barn door, you inadvertently cut loose on one side of your body. The momentum of your swinging body, like a barn door opening up, pulls your center of gravity away from the wall and forces you to lose balance.
How To Do It
The best way to start flagging is to force yourself to try it during your next climbing session. However, before that, we recommend checking out a few helpful videos and trying out the following drills.
Find an easy route with good hands and feet.
Start with two feet on, and reach up to make the next hold. Notice how your body position may have felt out of balance.
Now, try the same move but use a side-flagging foot to counter-balance.
Find an easy route with good hands and feet and where the hand hold is stacked directly above the foothold.
Try the next move with one foot on. Notice how your body wants to barn-door and how you cannot reach the next hold successfully.
Now, try the move with a rear flag in the same direction your body wants to swing to counter-balance.
Find a route with a same-sided hand and footholds.
Try the next move with a traditional side flag. Notice how you must foot swap your feet to make the next move in the sequence.
Now, try the move with an inside flag to the same side so that your foot does not need to be swapped to continue the sequence.
To go further, we recommend checking the excellent videos by Movement for Climbers on the topic.
As you start experimenting with flagging, it will be important to try and avoid some pitfalls or common mistakes that come with trying out a new technique.
- Flagging in the wrong direction: Inexperienced climbers know they should flag but sometimes flag in the wrong direction. To best understand which direction to flag, think about which way your body will swing when you try an imbalanced move. Then, flag your foot towards the same side to remain in control of your center of gravity.
- Not utilizing your flagging leg to push: Extending your foot out to the left side to do a side flag is one thing, but don’t forget to actively push against the wall to generate more momentum and rely less on pulling.
- Sagging your hips: When a climber learns to flag, they may focus too much on the flagging motion and forget about their hips. When this occurs, the hips sag away from the wall, and the climber’s center of gravity pulls them down. Instead, if you’re trying a back flag to the left so you can reach with your right arm, keep your right hip tucked up against the wall to enhance your reach and use less power.
- Using the wrong type of flag: When a climber gets comfortable with a specific type of flag technique, they tend to overutilize it. However, it may be possible that it’s the wrong flag movement for the given climb. If you find yourself having to foot swap a lot, it may be because you’re side-flagging too much when you could be inside or rear-flagging. Even though you are expertly keeping your balance, you are decreasing the efficiency of your climb with too much foot swapping.
Tips To Integrate Flagging Into Your Training Plans
Reading an article about the art of flagging is a great place to get started! However, it cannot replace trying the technique out on real rock or in the gym or receiving proper instruction from a climbing guide or coach.
With that said, here are some tips to help integrate flagging into your training plans.
- Stand on one leg and reach one side as far as you can. Your other foot will naturally swing out to the opposite side to remain balanced– this is a great way to get used to side-flagging.
- Climb a route or boulder problem well within your ability and force yourself to use a flagging leg every move. Believe it or not, you don’t need two feet at all times.
- Sign up for a technical class at your local climbing gym or hire a guide to coach you outside– you cannot replace proper instruction.
Now that you’ve successfully researched flagging and have a conceptual understanding of the technique, it’s time to try it out for yourself!
Time to head to the gym or get back outside to your project. Flagging a foot may be the secret you require to send your climb!