Some bits of climbing just look more obviously impressive than others. It’s not always easy to explain to people why I love balancing my way across the slab wall or pulling hard on a ladder of crimps. But it’s really easy to show people how brilliant climbing is by showing them videos of people doing dynos.
Dyno is short for dynamic movement and generally involves some kind of jump, with all four points of contact (hands and feet) coming off the wall at the same time.
A dyno could comprise of one simple jump up or up and to the side. More complicated dynos can involve a sequence of hand and/or foot movements to get you from one point to another across several metres of the wall. Here are a few links to some of my favourite examples of dynos from international climbing competitions.
IFSC Hachioji World Championship 2019 (1 min. 21 sec.) Ridiculous coordination dyno climbed by Janja Garnbret
IFSC Moscow World Cup 2018 (29 sec.) Big ol’ jump and some more complicated dynos as well climbed by Tomoa Narasaki and Jernej Kruder
IFSC Meiringen World Cup 2018 (1 min. 53 sec.) Amazing coordination dyno climbed by Tomoa Narasaki and Jernej Kruder
As you can see, they look ridiculously impressive and require a great deal of skill. For me, dynos are simultaneously one of the most fun parts about climbing and one of the most frustrating. Let’s take a little time and delve into why that is.
Firstly, dynos do not necessarily suit my style of climbing. I realise, the idea that people have different styles of climbing may, initially, seem a bit odd. Surely, you just get from the bottom hold to the top hold and there’s only so many ways of doing that, you might think. But everyone climbs in a different way and uses the strengths and advantages of their own body to solve each problem as best they can, in their own style. Climbers come in all shapes and sizes. Some move very fluidly and flow dynamically up the wall. Some climb in a more controlled and static style, moving with epic precision between holds.
I may not always move with epic precision but I’m definitely a more static climber. I find dynos frustrating because fast and bouncy movements do not come naturally to me. When it comes to fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscles, I was last in the queue for the speedy stuff. During my brief and unpleasant foray into the world of running, I was always more comfortable plodding along consistently over long distances than going hell for leather on a short sprint. I can happily hike for nine hours in a day at a reasonably consistent pace, but I'm destroyed after a hundred metre dash. Slow and steady is much more my style than fast and explosive, both on and off the climbing wall.
So, when I try dynos, the movements don’t feel intuitive and natural to my sloth-like body. To me, it seems like some people don’t need to think so hard about dynamic movements. They don’t need to consider how to get their body weight into the optimum position to push or pull it in the right direction. Working this stuff out isn’t a complex mathematical problem for those blessed with a fluid style of climbing. They also require no painful trial and error process of working out how to stop the momentum they’ve generated so they don’t spin off the hold and land in a heap-of-dirty-laundry-style splat on the floor. I’m not saying the climbers who excel at dynos don’t practice and haven’t worked extremely hard to get as good as they are. It’s not all a matter of natural gifts. However, from what I’ve experienced and observed, some people do find these moves far more intuitive than those of us who find the whole dyno thing somewhat baffling.
One of my earliest successful dynos
That being said, I have made huge improvements in this area of climbing over the last couple of years. I’m especially proud of how I’ve managed to somewhat control the sheer terror that flinging myself about in this way induces. Dynos used to, and often still do, scare the bejesus out of me.
My brain tends to work on a worst-case-scenario basis, which leads me to look at dynos as an exciting way to badly injure myself.
When presented with a series of volumes to run across, my catastrophising brain considers how my foot might slide down one of the big flat surfaces, subsequently smashing my face into the treacherous hold and breaking all my teeth. Even relatively simple dynos onto big friendly holds that I can easily hang my bodyweight on produce fears of my shoulders being ripped from their sockets or large chunks of my skin being removed from my hands if I don’t cling on with sufficient gusto. I vividly remember the first time I tried to commit to jumping from one hold to another. I ended up marooned in a corner of the bouldering wall in Kelsey Kerridge sport centre squealing ‘I can’t do it, I can’t do it’ until Husband literally had to firmly push me off the jug I was clinging onto in order to generate some momentum and send me in the direction of target hold. Not exactly my finest hour.
As I tried more dynos and managed to keep all my teeth and shoulders where they should be, I gradually got braver and, rather than having to be bullied into trying big jumpy moves, I started to seek them out. Given the opportunity to pick whatever I want to play with in a climbing gym, I will almost always choose something on a vertical or slab wall that requires tricksky technique, teeter-tottery balancing skills, and preferably some pressing and flexing into bizarre shapes while stuck in a corner. But I will now happily, willingly, and even enthusiastically (if not successfully) give the jumpy stuff a good go. A lot of the time, I must confess, I even enjoy it.
One very satisfying thing about dynos is the way your body learns the movements with each attempt, and it all sinks it into the muscle memory bank.
I will use the dyno I tried this week at Eden Rock bouldering centre in Carlise as an example. This was a relatively simple dyno if you could keep hold of the starting handhold as you went for the target hold, which lanky Husband could do. I have long limbs for my height, but I could only just keep my fingertips on the starting handhold and use them to control the momentum I was generating a little bit. This meant quite a few things needed to happen in quick succession for me to complete the move.
First, I had to swing my left leg back, then plant it onto and kick off a big foothold to launch myself up and sideways a bit to the next handhold.
At the same time, I had to turn my left hip into the wall to help me shoot my left hand in the right direction, while trying to keep my right hand either on the starting handhold or pressing against the wall to help stop the swing.
Finally, I had to plant my left foot on a second chunky foothold, after I’d done the big jump, to stop myself completely swinging around (known in climbing as a ‘barn door’) and sliding off the target handhold.
So, there’s a lot going on.
When I first tried this move, I was nowhere near completing it. I didn’t even make contact with the hold I was aiming for, let alone hold onto it. But, as you can see from the video montage of all my failures below, with each attempt I got a little closer, and a little closer, until I was infuriatingly close to sticking it. You can also see some examples of the frustration I was talking about before. With each attempt at this move I could stop thinking about certain bits of the movement as my muscles started to learn and remember what I wanted them to do.
At first, I was concentrating really hard on making sure my left foot hit the hold after I kicked back and ensuring I pulled my weight up and over that foot so I could kick off it and launch myself into the air. Once I’d done this part of the move a few times, I could start focusing on squeezing like hell with my left hand as I grabbed the target handhold and worrying about whether my left foot was going where I wanted it to. You can see from the video below that my left foot gradually goes from hanging like a dead weight, to swinging out the left and smashing into the wall, and finally to landing on the foot hold. Once this action sunk in, I could switch my focus to my right hand and try to keep it on the starting handhold as much as possible given my wingspan.
With each repetition, my body calculated exactly how much momentum I needed to generate to reach the next handhold but not swing off it in a dramatic and uncontrolled fashion.
Eventually we arrive at the most excellent part of dynos. Finally completing the move and feeling like a total badass. On the successful attempt, I can’t tell you what I did differently. I tried the move seventeen times by that point and had sort of stopped thinking about it. You can see it all fall into place when you watch the video below. As the left foot lands my hip turns into the wall and my left hand shoots up to the target hold. The fingertips on my right hand drag across the top of the starting handhold, killing a small but very important bit of the swing generated by my left foot. And my left foot lands on the second foothold, actually shortly followed by my right, and completely stops me from swinging out like a barn door and ending up in a heap on the floor. It looks relatively easy when you get it right and is over in two seconds.
As you can tell, I was extremely pleased with myself for getting this move done. It hit the sweet spot of ‘challenging but possible’ that keeps me coming back to climbing over and over again. Finding a move like this, that is challenging enough to make you think and work hard but always feels tantalisingly within your grasp, is extremely addictive and keeps me flinging myself up walls for hours on end. The process of overcoming the fear, learning the movement, and observing the progress is a joy, even if it can be a bit frustrating after a lot of extremely close attempts.
I’ve still got a long way to go with dynos and dynamic movements in general, as my natural instinct is generally to do things slowly, calmly, and without all the jumping and fuss. However, I’ve really enjoyed working on this part of my climbing and, though I wouldn’t call it one of my strengths, it certainly feels like less of a weakness. And, as I’ve mentioned, it looks impressive and, let’s face it, sometimes it’s just fun showing off.