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Heel Hook Climbing Exercise 2023

The heel hook is an exercise primarily used in climbing and bouldering but can also be part of specific fitness and military training regimens. 

The heel hook exercise is part of the climbing drills performed in military training and is designed to improve a soldier’s ability to pull themselves up and hook their legs onto a ledge, rope, or rail.

It’s the second exercise in Climbing Drills 1 and 2; it develops a soldier’s ability to pull up and hook the legs onto a ledge, rope, or rail.

This can be extremely useful in a variety of combat and rescue situations.

Here are the other Climbing Drill Exercises:

ExerciseClimbing Drill 1Climbing Drill 2
Exercise 1Straight Arm Pull UpFlexed Arm Hang
Exercise 2 Heel HookHeel Hook
Exercise 3Pull UpsPull-Up
Exercise 4Leg TuckLeg Tuck
Exercise 5Alternating Grip Pull-UpAlternating Grip Pull-Up

Heel Hook Army Climbing Drill Exercise

Climbing Heel Hook Exercise
Climbing Heel Hook Exercise


  • This exercise develops the ability to raise the legs from a hanging position and hook the feet securely on the bar.

Cadence: SLOW

Starting Position

  • Use a closed overhand grip in an extended arm hang to begin the exercise. 
  • This means you hang from a bar with your arms extended and your palms facing away.

Spotters Position (if needed)

  • If the soldier states no spotter is needed, then no spotters are required. 
  • However, if a spotter is required, two spotters should assume staggered stance positions on either side of the exerciser. 
  • Each spotter is prepared to assist by positioning one hand behind and off the back of the exerciser’s knee and the lower back. 
  • They must always be prepared to assist in the movement and catch the exerciser if their grip fails.


  • Count One: On Count One: Pull with the arms and curl the lower body toward the bar. Raise the feet above the bar and interlock them securely around the bar.
  • Count Two:One Count Two: Return to the starting position.
  • Repeat this exercise 5 to 10 times as per your physical capability and training requirements.
  • At the end of the exercise, if needed, the spotters may assist in guiding the exerciser to the foot pegs after the command of “Down”, prior to the command of “Dismount”.

Check Points

  • On count 1, initiate movement by first pulling with the arms.
  • Secure the feet over the bar by crossing one foot over the other at the ankles.
  • On count 2, fully extend the arms to return to the starting position.

What Muscles are worked by the Heel Hook Climbing Exercise?

The heel hook technique primarily targets the following muscles:

Muscle GroupRole in Heel Hook
Latissimus Dorsi (Lats)Used to pull the body upward.
AbdominalsEngaged to maintain stability and control.
Hip FlexorsUsed to lift the leg and hook the heel.
QuadricepsHelp in lifting the leg and stabilizing the knee.
HamstringsPlay a role in flexing the knee and providing stability.
Gluteal MusclesUsed for stability, aiding in hip flexion, and controlling leg position.
Forearms and Grip MusclesProvide the grip strength necessary to hold onto the climbing hold or bar.

The specific muscles engaged can vary based on the exact variation of the heel hook exercise or technique being used, and ensuring proper form is crucial for targeting these muscles effectively and preventing injury.

Climbing Heel Hooks

Heel hooks are a vital skill for climbers that can elevate your climbing technique from average to expert. 

The Usefulness of Heel Hooks in Climbing

Heel hooks can be used in various scenarios, but we’ve singled out three main areas where they are convenient.

  • The first is a rock over, which helps transfer our weight from our arms to our legs. It employs the big muscle groups in our legs and helps bring our hips close to the wall.
  • The second application is when you want to take a lot of weight off your hands. This can be useful if the handholds are bad or if you want to find a resting position. It’s also beneficial in steep terrain when a lot of weight is going through your arms.
  • The third key area where heel hooks are helpful is on compression barrettes, where you might put the heel around in a rep. This is very effective for maintaining tension in this terrain.

Understanding the Mechanics of Heel Hooks

Before we start training heel hooks, we first need to understand the mechanics of how the heel hook works.

  • Foot Profile: With ‘hook’ in the name, we must create a hook profile with the foot. To do this, point the toes forwards or down. This extends the heel position, creating a profile that will hook onto the holes.
  • External Rotation of the Foot: We also need to think about turning the foot out or external rotation of the foot. This is so we can place weight on the outside of the heel, which is particularly useful in steep terrain where the roof blocks the toe position or where we need to put weight on small edges.
  • Hip Position: The next thing we need to consider is the hip position, where our hips are in relation to our feet.

Engaging the Muscles

Consider the muscles used in this movement to ensure you are weighting your feet and maintaining tension. 

Primarily, we will use the hamstring (the back of the leg) to pull and engage on heel hooks. 

On steep terrain, mainly when your foot is turned out in the external rotation position, you should also engage your glutes and the external rotators of the hip.

Improving Heel Hooks

Next, we will explore ways to improve our heel hooks on and off the wall.

  • Isolated Practice: The first method is isolated practice. This involves seeking specific holds where you can heel hook and get used to the positions and movements.
  • Use of Heel Hooks: Another way is to identify specific problems where you need to use heel hooks. This might be rockovers, steep terrain, or a rut.
  • Strength Training: Lastly, consider specific exercises to strengthen the muscles used in heel hooks. Single-leg RDLs and glute bridges are excellent for developing strength in the hamstrings and glutes.

Heel Hook Exercise Benefits

The Heel Hook exercise, primarily utilized in climbing, has several benefits that extend beyond the climbing world. Here are some of the key benefits:

Increased Strength

  • Heel hooks engage several muscle groups simultaneously, including the arms, back, core, and legs. 
  • This full-body engagement can lead to increased strength over time.

Improved Coordination

  • Performing a heel hook requires upper and lower body coordination. 
  • Over time, regular practice can improve overall body coordination.

Enhanced Climbing Skills

  • For climbers, mastering the heel hook is essential. 
  • It’s a versatile move that can help overcome challenging routes and conserve energy by distributing the load from the arms and hands to the legs.

Core Engagement

  • Heel hooks significantly engage the core muscles. 
  • A strong core benefits virtually every physical activity, from everyday tasks to athletic performance.


  • This exercise can enhance your flexibility, particularly in your legs and hips, as you pull your leg up to a high position.


  • The heel hook also improves balance skills, which is crucial in climbing and many other sports and physical activities.

Injury Prevention

  • The heel hook can also prevent injury by strengthening often neglected muscle groups like the hip flexors.


This concludes our heel hook training; now, you should know more about heel hooks and be able to improve your heel hook technique. 

Other factors like flexibility also contribute to your heel hook ability.

Here are the other Climbing Drill Exercises that you can explore:

George N.