Footlock is for chumps


I read this statement on one of the arb forums recently and it made me feel a bit dispirited.

Many of the views expressed in these forums have become increasingly parochial, to the point that I sometimes wonder how positive a contribution they are actually making. Views seem to have become so entrenched, rather than using these new(ish) channels of communication to debate issues in a balanced, informed and fair manner, the opposite seems to be happening. You are either for or against something, there is not ground in-between the two positions.

Well, that is simply not the way I roll, sorry.

I am not prepared to turn climbing techniques into a quasi-religious matter, to the go on a crusade to convince others of their merit. Seriously?! Most of this is quite simply down to personal preference – and personal preference depends upon any number of things, such as your physique, the environment you work in, the trees you climb, your level of competence, your preconditioning, to name but a few.

I enjoy footlocking (😂 autocorrect turns footlocking into bootlicking, go figure).

I enjoy the simplicity of it, the flowing motion and the ease of installation and transition to my climbing system. Also, footlocking is part of our heritage, it is a traditional technique, but more than that, it teaches a trainee arborist about analyzing a sequence of movements, assessing your centre of gravity in relation to your body and builds confidence in being able to hold your own weight.

But I also enjoy using mechanical ascent systems to access the canopy, especially on long ascents, on ascents up against the tree trunk or on a work site that demands many ascents during a day. Yes, this technique is efficient and less tiring.

Every time I switch between the two it is as though I were discovering anew the advantages of the technique I am using, the switching allows me to contrast and compare.

It is interesting watching trainee arborists using mechanical systems for the first time: you get them all set up, and you can see the expectation in their eyes, they have seen the apparent ease with which people walk up a line – all the more so the disappointment is visible when they come down after their first ascent, realizing that it is not quite as easy as all that.

Of course, both routes – mechanical ascent or footlocking – demand practice, but that is what it takes to get proficient at something. Both can be done well or badly. Footlocking killed your knees, you say? To this I would respond that maybe you did not understand and apply the movement correctly (or it was not suited to your body or it uncovered pre-damage from past activities): any sequence of movements can hurt you if the force is applied at the wrong moment.

Take rowing for example: a sequence of movements that uses all major muscle groups in the body and is low-impact. It is, however, important on the backstroke to wait until your legs are fully extended before you start the pull backwards with your upper body. If these movements are not well synchronized, you put a lot of strain on your lower back. Does this make rowing bad for your lower back? No, all it means is that your are applying force at the wrong moment and that the motion is therefore desynchronized.

The same thought is applicable to footlock: If you apply the full strength of the upward push from your thighs when your knees are fully extended outwards, yes indeed, you are going to apply pressure sideways across the knee. BUT, if you start the movement gently when your knees are in the extreme, outward position, letting the upper body and arms take care of the first part of the motion and only apply maximum force from your thighs when the legs are in a more upright position… voilà, no cross-load being applied to the knees.

Apart from this, what I am trying to say is why don’t we stop getting tripped up over the choice of different techniques, which are personal preference, and rather use that time and energy to discuss bigger issues we have to deal with, such as high incident/ accident rates, health and safety organizations demanding (for instance) permanent back ups, anchor point failures or struck-bys.

Now this would seem to me to be time and energy more wisely spent.