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How it Works: The Mantle

Stuck trying to get over a lip? Master the Mantle!

Rock climbing is all about pulling, right? Grab hold, pull on hold, grab next hold. Well, sometimes pulling doesn’t get you where you need to be. Sometimes you have to PUSH IT. That’s where the next move in our How It Works series comes in: Enter the mantle.

First, a little climbing history lesson:

The term mantle originated from early mountaineers rocking over rock shelves that looked like fireplace mantels. As such, older climbing technique books spell it "mantel." For our purpose here, we're sticking with the modern day spelling.

What It Is

Mantle (n): A transfer of motion from pulling to pushing while rock climbing.

A helpful way to visualize a mantle is to picture yourself exiting the side of a pool. Before you leap out of the water, you have your hands on the poolside edge in a downward-pulling position. Then you jump up, engaging your arms and planting a foot on the ground. You then use your shoulders to push yourself the rest of the way up to a standing position.

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Nate Davison preparing for the mantle on Washed Up (V4) near Moab, Utah.

Rowland Chen pushes out one of the most famous mantles out there... John Gill's iconic Pinch Overhang, considered by many as the first confirmed V5 in the USA. Photo: Roy Quanstrom
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Because the mantle is a totally unique move within rock climbing, it is not an intuitive skill to learn for the majority of beginners; it is a technical motion that takes practice to master. Mantles are typically not set in climbing gyms due to injury risk or terrain limitations, although this is changing as more gyms include free-standing boulders in their design.

Usually, the only place to learn how to mantle is outside on bouldering top-outs. That being said, make sure you have pads, spotters, and an experienced friend with you if you decide to practice. Falling with your hands and feet over the lip of a boulder is dangerous!

For a clear visual on proper mantleing technique, check out this video of FrictionLabs Pro Joe Kinder from Eastern Mountain Sports:

 
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How To Do It

A well-executed mantle typically consists of four key elements. Since every mantle is different you may need to mix up the order of some of these steps, such as the high step and the initial pull.

  1. A high step

A high step is exactly what it sounds like. Bring that foot up! No, no...higher. A high, well-placed foot is key to maintaining your balance and the ability to push your body all the way up through the mantle. The key foot placement varies: sometimes you have your toe on a hold below the lip of the boulder, and sometimes your heel is smeared precariously on the lip.

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‍Mike Seidel’s mantel demo: first, throw up your high step. In this case, it’s a heel hook over the lip.
  1. The initial pull

This is the pulling motion involved in the mantle. Use your arms to pull your body above the lip you’re trying to get on top of. If you have already placed your high step, use it to continue pushing your body up. If you have not placed it, do so now.

The goal of the initial pull is to achieve a balanced, locked off position from which you can move a hand without falling (check out our last article on locking off for more details). Sometimes there is a hold to grab over the lip after the initial pull. If so, hit it.

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Next, Mike pulls up with his hands and his heel, balances in a lock-off, then reaches his right hand to a crimp.

More difficult mantles with less available holds often require a palm press, detailed below.

  1. A palm press

The meat of a true mantle. Because it’s not the most intuitive motion to grasp, the palm press is usually what stops inexperienced mantlers from reaching the top of their projects. You might be able to get away with skipping the palm press on some mantles, but it’s usually a necessity for more challenging ones.

After achieving a locked-off and balanced position over the lip, it’s time to flip your lower hand to a palm press. There are two variations of the palm press to choose from:

  • Hand-in: Rotate your hand inward as you switch to a palm press, causing your thumb to point down toward the ground. Compared to its counterpart, this method allows you much greater initial pushing power through the shoulder and tricep.
  • Hand-out: Rotate your hand outward instead, causing your thumb to point up the slope of the topout. Harder to push with initially, but a great position to be in with your weight over the lip.
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‍Lastly, Mike flips his left hand to a hand-out palm press and uses it to push himself up. He simultaneously pulls with his right hand and heel hook–which he eventually switches to a toe in order to stand up.
  1. Total commitment

No, this isn’t part of the physical technique. But seriously, don’t overlook this part. Evaluate the consequences. As I said near the beginning of the article, mantles are difficult and potentially dangerous––if your foot slips or you lose your balance with your weight over the lip, it is entirely possible to take an awkward fall.

But if you make an effort to commit to the full range of the mantling motion, you’ll increase your chances of getting to the top. If you’re not ready to commit to getting over the lip, I suggest you bail and try again later. Because committing is half the battle––and you really shouldn’t half-ass a mantle.

Want to see a few more examples?

FrictionLabs Pro Carlo Traversi slay Midnight Lightning, a historic boulder problem with a notoriously heinous hand-in mantle, in this video from Digital Stoke:

https://vimeo.com/114185866

FrictionLabs Athlete Jeremy Fullerton demonstrates a more traditional mantle… To score higher style points try to avoid the tempting but convenient “knee dab.” ;)

https://youtu.be/vcZQu5YWjYM

Did we miss anything about proper mantling technique? Comment and share to make sure your voice is heard!

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