I remember quite vividly when I first saw somebody do the kneebar.
It was at my local climbing gym. All of a sudden, the climber, who was already at quite some distance from the ground, released both of her hands, leaned all the way to the back and spread her arms like an eagles wings.
I was stunned at the sight, and immediately appreciated how incredibly important climbing technique is for getting truly good at climbing.
Today, I want to talk about the kneebar, what it is and how you can do it.
It’s an incredibly nice technique to be able to do and can have great utility in various situations.
So what is a kneebar exactly in climbing? The kneebar is a move where you place your foot on a foothold and hook your knee (or lower thigh) behind another hold or edge. By pressing your foot against the hold you can create enough pressure in your leg between the two holds to completely carry your weight. It allows you to rest your arms for a while and also to do some climbs that would otherwise be impossible.
Kneebars can be performed both on horizontal and vertical surfaces.
How to do the kneebar
The kneebar technique is actually both really easy and straightforward.
Following these steps will result in a perfect execution of a kneebar:
1. Spot holds roughly 50-65cm apart
The most important criteria for these holds is that they’re neither too far nor to close from another, so that you can fit your leg in between them.
It’s also important that the line between the two holds isn’t too far off the general direction of your climb. The closer you get to a 90 degrees angle, the more you limit your reach towards the next hold.
2. Place your foot on the lower hold
Do it in the right order. Making sure your foot isn’t placed awkwardly will ensure a comfortable kneebar that’s stable and won’t come loose once you put pressure on it.
Keep in mind that the “hold” on which you place your toe doesn’t have to be that large. In some cases, a solid smear can even do the trick.
3. Hook your knee behind the upper hold
It can be your knee or your lower thigh; this all depends on how big the hold, crack or roof is behind which you will place your knee.
4. Cam your leg by pressing your foot down
You’re actually using your leg as a camming device here, although it may not be spring loaded 😉
Press your foot downward until you reach a comfortable yet sturdy level of pressure that will lock you in place.
5. Flex your core
When doing a kneebar, you’re basically trading off muscle power from your abdomen and legs, for that in your arms. By flexing your core muscles, you’ll be able to let go of your hands.
6. Relax your arms and get rid of pump
Finally! You were about to fall because the pump in your arms was just getting too severe to handle. Luckily, you got the kneebar in place just in time. Time to lean back and show the world you can climb without any hands!
7. Exit the kneebar
This can be done either by flagging your opposite foot, or by pulling yourself up with your arms. Both should unwind the tension in your leg so that you can easily unlock your kneebar leg.
Where can you do kneebars?
The most difficult aspect of doing a kneebar, is spotting the locations where you can actually do it.
Always be on the lookout for holds that are a half legs length apart, and big enough to fit a substantial part of your knee behind it. The upper hold has to be bigger than the lower hold. In theory your foothold can be infinitesimally small, as long as it provides enough traction to build tension between it and the bigger hold behind which you place your knee.
When should you do a kneebar?
Whenever your arms are starting to feel really pumped, it’s a great time to be on the lookout for a kneebar location.
In situations where your arms are wide apart and you need to grab a higher hold, trying to get a kneebar in can also free up your hand to make your next move, which you otherwise would not have been able to execute.
Do you need a knee pad to protect your skin and tissue?
The short answer is: no. But it can be convenient.
Doing a kneebar while wearing shorts can be a painful experience, especially when climbing on real rock, which has a lot of sharper edges that can cut through your skin.
That’s actually why I prefer to climb wearing long sleeved jogger pants.
Personally, I find this to be enough protection, but I’ll have to admit I mainly climb indoors at the time of writing. Being a climbing enthusiast in a flat country like the Netherlands is a bad romance!
I do know, however, that there are a lot of climbers that do wear knee pads for climbing.
There seem to be two possible routes you can take when you’re looking to shop for some extra protection for doing knee bars.
First, there’s of course some knee pads on Amazon (if you buy through this link I get a commission and you can support my blog!).
To be honest, though, I don’t know how well these pads are suited for the specific purpose of climbing. I’m a bit sceptical.
Second, I’ve found a climber that seems to have made it her life’s mission to create the best knee pad for doing kneebars with. You can find her website here (If you buy through this link, I don’t get a commission. I always try to give the best information on this blog, whether it makes me money or not!)
Lastly, the guys over at Send Climbing can boast some nice reviews for their Knee Pads as well.
If you have any experience with either of these knee pads, will you let me know in the comments? I’m eager to learn what works for you!
The distance between your big toe and knee matters
Not everyone can do a kneebar at exactly the same spot where another climber might be able to pull one off.
This has nothing to do with skills and has everything to do with the length of your lower leg.
Depending on the specific situation, either being tall or short can give you an advantage and determine whether you can do a kneebar.
The distance between which a climber can deploy a kneebar is actually variable within a range. You can tweak the extension of your ankle to extend or shorten the range in which you can use your leg as a camming device. This range is determined by both the flexibility of your ankle and the size of your foot, and will give you roughly 15cm to play with.
People that search for the kneebar, often also ask:
What’s the difference between the kneebar and the dropknee?
Unlike the kneebar, where the lower leg is crammed between two holds by hooking the knee behind a ledge and pressing the foot of the same leg against a hold, the dropknee builds pressure between two different feet, by dropping the knee down and pulling one hip towards the wall.
Can you do a kneebar on a dihedral?
A dihedral is an intersection between walls. Although not that common, kneebars can in fact be employed in a dihedral.