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When to Flag in Climbing and How-To Do It (With Videos)

When to Flag in Climbing and How-To Do It (With Videos)

My climbing gym is finally opening up (COVID 19 Closure) for 2-hour reservations for members and the time restriction got me thinking that I need to make sure I do everything in my climbing session each time if I want to reach my lofty goals by the end of the year.

One of those things is technique training. I’m still learning technique and perfecting it so I know that with the long break away from climbing, my technique has likely suffered a dip in performance. One of the techniques I’m worried about having made a dip is flagging so I decided to do some research about it so that I can get the gym and practice it with “guns blazing.”

What is a flag in climbing? Flagging is a more advanced but extremely fundamental technique in bouldering and rock climbing. A flag in climbing is when you move your free foot as a counterbalance to maintain position and balance while moving your hands. The further your hand reaches out to the side, the further your trailing leg needs to reach in the opposite direction.

Table of Contents:

  • When Do You Flag and How to Do It
  • Outside Flagging
  • Inside Flagging
  • 3 Reasons Why Flagging is Important
  • Common Mistakes In Flagging
  • Evaluating Your Flagging Skills
  • Drills to Help Train for Flagging

When Do You Flag In Bouldering and Climbing?

Climbers mostly flag when they are reaching a hold that is to the side of their center of gravity or if you only have one foothold. There are two different flags and depending on the position of the foothold you’re leveraging, a different flag should be used.

Outside Flagging:

When to use it: You will use outside flagging when the foothold is higher up/closer to your stable handhold and you are your next handhold is out to the side of your center of gravity.

What is it: Outside flagging is when you place your free foot/counterbalance foot on the outside of your leg. When you are doing an outside flag, your hips will stay parallel to the wall so there is no turning involved.

Steps to do it: 

  1. Before moving to the next handhold, evaluate the direction that you need to reach and if you need to do an outside flag or inside flag. If it is an outside flag, continue to step two. If it is an inside flag, review inside flag steps below.
  2. If you are reaching to the right, then ensure that your left foot is on the foothold. If you are reaching to the left, ensure that your right foot is on the foothold.
  3. With the opposite foot/the free foot, move it behind your leg/foothold while keeping your hips parallel to the wall
  4. Extend your counterbalance leg until it is straight and place the toe against the wall
  5. While smearing your counterbalance foot, reach for the next hold.

Inside Flagging:

When to use it: Inside flags are most common when the foothold is lower down and your body is more outstretched and you are your next handhold is out to the side of your center of gravity.

What is it: Inside flagging is when you place your counterbalance leg through the inside of your stable leg. To make this move, your hips will turn in the opposite direction that you are reaching and your knees will both be pointing in the same direction.

Steps to do it:

  1. Before moving to the next handhold, evaluate the direction that you need to reach and if you need to do an outside flag or inside flag. If it is an inside flag, continue to step two. If it is an outside flag, review outside flag steps above.
  2. If you are reaching to the right, then ensure that your left foot is on the foothold. If you are reaching to the left, ensure that your right foot is on the foothold.
  3. With the opposite foot/the free foot, move it in front of your leg/foothold while moving your hips in a perpendicular position pointing in the opposite direction of where you are moving. Your hips and knees should all be facing the same direction. If you are moving to the right, point your hips and knees to the left and vice-versa if you are moving to the left.
  4. Extend your counterbalance leg until it is straight and place the toe against the wall.
  5. While smearing your counterbalance foot, reach for the next hold.

Why Flagging is Important

Flagging, as mentioned at the beginning of this article is one of the most fundamental techniques required for leveling up your climbing performance. With that said, there are three main benefits most common among climbers:

It helps increase your sideways reach

Many times routes will require you to reach to the side of your center of gravity and if you have short arms or the hold seems just out of reach, a flag can help you get the additional inches you need to grab the hold. 

It decreases the energy needed to reach the hold

When it comes to controlling your momentum while reaching to the side, it can take a lot of energy to pull your body in that position and prevent yourself from getting off-balance while doing so. 

To minimize the strength and energy you need to pull your body into a position that can reach the hold, you can use flagging. Flagging balances your body and places your center of gravity in a beneficial position so your arms can stay straight and your legs and core (large muscles) can help you reach the hold.

Flagging prevents swinging

In many cases that flagging is useful, it is likely that a reach to that position would cause you to get off balance and thus the movement and momentum would cause you to fall. Flagging prevents any momentum or movement such as barn dooring from happening in the first place.

Common Mistakes In Flagging

As with many techniques in climbing, there are common mistakes that climbers make when they first learn to flag. It is important to recognize common mistakes that climbers make when they are flagging so that you can learn from them and avoid them.

Flagging in the wrong direction:

A lot of new climbers (me when I first started climbing), know that they are supposed to move their hips or do a flag, but they aren’t practiced or sure about what direction to do the flagging. Because of this, it is common in the early stages of flagging to flag in the wrong direction.

How to recognize this mistake: The easiest way to recognize this problem is to evaluate if your toe is pointing in the opposite direction from where your hand is reaching. If they are pointing in the same direction, then you are flagging in the wrong direction.

To avoid this mistake: If you are reaching to the left, your flagging leg should be in the opposite direction. To remember this, I remind myself that flagging is a counterbalance, meaning that if I reach one way, my leg should reach the opposite way.

Using the wrong type of flag:

A lot of times, climbers will do an outside flag, which in certain situations can make it harder to reach a hold that is higher up. 

In comparison, oftentimes climbers will use an inside flag when the foothold is relatively high. Moving your leg on the inside of your stable leg when it is already high, it becomes very difficult and in many cases, it uses more energy than not flagging at all.

How to recognize this mistake: A sign that you are making this mistake is that it is using a lot of energy to complete the flag and may even be more tiring than if you didn’t do a flag in the first place.

To avoid this mistake, evaluate how high the foothold is and what effort it would take to do each flag. 

If the foothold is clearly higher, attempt the outside flag. If it is clearly lower, attempt the inside flag. If you aren’t sure, then do whatever flag you think would be easiest for you.

Not leveraging your flagging foot:

A lot of times when climbers are first learning to flag, they stick their foot out like it is a dog or cat’s tail for counterbalance but they don’t use it to push their body weight in the direction they want to go.

How to recognize this mistake: The easiest way to recognize if you are making this mistake is by actually looking at your foot and seeing if it is pushing against the wall. If it is off the wall or just floating off the side of the wall, then you are making this mistake.

To avoid this mistake: When using your flagging foot as a counterbalance, also smear it against the wall so you can leverage it similar to a foothold.

Not keeping your hips as close to the wall as possible

Many times when climbers are just learning how to flag, they will do the movement with their leg but their hips, and thus their center of gravity, is hanging away from the wall. This makes it so that you have to use your arms more than having the support of your legs.

How to recognize this mistake: The easiest way to recognize if you are making this mistake is by evaluating how much you use arm power to pully your body into the wall when you make moves.

To avoid this mistake: Before you move your hands and after you have your feet in flagging position, evaluate how far your body is away from the wall and move it as close to the wall as possible.

Evaluating Your Flagging Skills

Evaluating your flagging skills can be beneficial if you are trying to improve your flagging skills or if you want to evaluate if you are doing them correctly or efficiently.

When to evaluate your flagging technique: If you are new to flagging, an evaluation may not be beneficial. However, if you’ve been practicing flagging or have attempted to flag while climbing and don’t feel confident in your flagging skills, then an evaluation may be beneficial.

Evaluating your flagging skills while doing flagging drills is usually the easiest. However, if you want to evaluate your flagging skills on routes while you are climbing, you can use the same criteria to do so.

Outside Flag Evaluation How-To

Outside flagging is the most common flagging and the easiest but understanding your current abilities with outside flagging can be beneficial for your training. Here are some basic qualities that you should evaluate for outside flags.

  • Hip angles and placement – 
    • Did your hips stay parallel with the wall throughout the movement?
    • Were your hips close to the wall throughout the movement?
    • If you noticed your hips separating from the wall, did you correct it by moving them closer to the wall?
  • Leg movement – 
    • Did you move your legs in the right direction behind your leg with the foothold?
    • Did it take a long time for you to move your legs to the correct position?
    • Did you move your feet before moving your hands?
    • Was your leg stretched out straight before you moved your hands?
    • Did you feel comfortable with the leg movement?

Inside Flags Evaluation How-To

Since inside flags and outside flags are different movements, the way you evaluate it is different as well. Here are some basic qualities that you can review for your evaluation of inside flagging.

  • The quality of your turns – 
    • Did you turn your hips in the correct direction
    • When you turn your hips, how easily do you turn them and did it feel comfortable
  • The speed of your turns – 
    • Did you take a long time to process and figure out which way you need to turn 
    • Did it takes a long time to turn your hips
  • How close you can bring your center to the base –
    • Did you keep your hips close to the wall?
    • Did you move your hips closer to the wall when you noticed they were away from the wall
    • Were you able to keep your hips close to the wall throughout the entire movement?

Drills to Help Train for Flagging

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wXIzRVab3lg&feature=youtu.be

Line and Flag

This is a great drill to start understanding the direction of flagging that is needed for each move.

Focus: This drill can be used to practice Inside Flagging and Back Flagging

What you need: Space on a climbing gym wall that allows you to traverse

What you do:

  1. Reach for a new hold
  2. Visualize the line that goes straight from your hand to the ground
  3. Turn and step on a foothold that is in line with your hand and the ground
  4. Flag your other foot and move your body to center on the line
  5. Reach for the next hold

Flagging Routes

This is a great drill to practice getting the feeling of flagging down in your mind so that it becomes second nature while you are climbing. It is also a great drill that you can do at the beginning of each climbing session so that flagging is on your mind while you do the rest of your climbing training.

Focus: This drill can be used to practice Inside Flagging and Back Flagging

What you need: 2 or three routes that are 2-3 grades below your level

What you do: 

  1. Climb each route and force yourself to flag for every move, even if it doesn’t seem necessary.
  2. Take a break and repeat step one 2-3 times.