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Three Yoga Poses to Improve Your High Step

I’m a fan of making my movement on the rock fluid and efficient, but sometimes there’s no choice but to go big. One of the most fundamental big movements we make when climbing is the high step. When the step is really high, I’ve been known to grab my foot, lean to the side and hoist it up onto a hold. While sometimes shenanigans like that are necessary (I know I’m not the only one who’s done it!) it’s obviously better to have the flexibility and power to do this hands free. Here are three of my favorite yoga poses to help improve your high step.

Side Angle Pose

Stepping our feet high involves opening our knees away from the midline of our bodies, or turning out. This is true for crack climbing as well as face, but more necessary for the latter. The yoga pose Parsvakonasana, or Side Angle, is a perfect, active posture to open our hips in this way. Directions are written for the right side, but do the left, too.

  • Stand with your legs really wide, about 4-5′ apart and your feet parallel
  • Turn your right foot out completely, so it’s perpendicular to your left, then bend your knee to 90°
  • Make your right thigh parallel to the ground and your knee directly above your ankle. (You might need a wider stance to get this alignment)
  • Lean your torso to the right and place your forearm on your thigh or, deeper, your hand on the ground outside your foot
  • Press your right knee back towards your pinky toe; this is a big part of opening your inner legs to help you turn out and high step
  • Keep your knee back, tuck your tailbone down between your legs, then turn your belly and chest towards the sky
  • Stretch your left arm along your ear so the whole left side of your body gets a deep stretch

Hero’s Pose 

A high step requires a deep bend in the knee. Though not in the same (externally rotated/turned out) alignment you’d use weighting the inside edge of your foot, this yoga pose will do the trick. The pose on its own is sufficient, but try “ironing it out,” especially if you’ve been doing long, uphill approaches or tend to have more pain in your knees. Leaning back in the pose opens the fronts of your legs and hips, which will increase their mobility. Hero’s Pose, or Virasana in Sanskrit, is also a great pose, alternated with Down Dog, to help the recovery of tired legs.

The Classic Pose

  • Kneel down with your shins and the tops of your feet on the ground (padding is a good idea!)
  • Separate your feet to outer hips width apart and check your feet are straight at the ankle, not toes turning in towards your hips, which is called sickling
  • Sit back on the ground between your feet, your bum should nestle against your inner heelsIf your butt doesn’t make it to the ground, don’t hover, put something between your feet to sit on, like a pillow, a flat rock, or a yoga block
  • Iron It Out
    • Roll up a towel or a blanket and place it deep in the creases behind your knees, then sit as upright as you can
    • Your hips will be hovering in this position; if it’s too intense, lean a little forward and put your fingers on the ground to take some weight off
    • After about a minute, slide the roll back to the center of your calves and sit on it again for another minute

    Open The Front

    • Lean back on your elbows (switch from one to the other if both don’t reach at the same time), or lie all the way flat on the ground
    • As you lean back tuck your tailbone under so your low back is less arched

    Two Variations of Pigeon Pose

    The deep muscles of the outer hips need to be loose to lift our feet high, regardless of if it’s on a face or a crack. This pose, in either form, will do wonders for your high step and your low back. One important thing to remember when we do these stretches is to keep our feet and ankles active. Spread your toes and keep your ankles from sickling (rolling out) to decrease risk of injury in your knees. Instructions are written for the right leg, but make sure you do the left one too.

    Seated

    • Sit on the edge of a chair or rock
    • Cross your right ankle over your left knee
    • Spread your toes and keep your ankle straight and slightly flexed
    • If your right knee is high, lean back a little and sit up straight; work to rotate your right thigh towards the ground, which will gradually lower your knee
    • Once your right knee drops and your shin is roughly parallel to the floor, you can deepen the stretch by leaning forward over your legs with a long spine

Reclining

  • Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the ground
  • Cross your right ankle over your left knee
  • Spread your toes and keep your right ankle straight and slightly flexed
  • Pick up both legs and hold your left leg in your hands (your right one will be through the hole between your legs)
  • Push your right ankle firmly into your left knee
  • Press your hips down into the floor, lengthen your spine, then gently pull both legs closer to your torso

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