Barn door: A deeper understanding and how to fix it

If you’ve reached this article, then you have probably experienced barn dooring. Or swinging uncontrollably when you climb. Understanding how the “barn door” effect works and how to counter it will improve your rock climbing ability.

You “barn door” when your body swings open like a door because of poor hand and foot positioning. This occurs when your 2 points of contact are limbs from the same side of your body. Your right hand and foot act like hinges on a door causing your body to swing. The “barn door” effect gets stronger the steeper the overhanging walls you climb. You can fight the barn door effect by either having a strong core or good technique. Good for you if your abdominal muscles can fight it off but that will needlessly spend too much energy. It is better that you train flagging techniques to counter its effect.


Why does the barn door effect happen?

Simplest answer is that it happens because of gravity and your body positioning.

Rad Rookies | understanding barn door and how to fix it | barn door demo
Releasing the right hand hold destroyed my balance causing a “barn door”

You can compare your torso and limbs to a door and its hinges.

The “barn door” effect happens when gravity pulls you down while one side of your body act as hinges. Gravity will cause your mass to rotate around the hinges. This twisting force that causes rotation is called Torque or “barn door”. The barn door will be in effect until you reach a zero rotation position or stable position.


The barn door effect on different wall angles

For the sake of simplicity, you have to imagine your body as being “a door and its hinges”.

We will be using 3 examples to show how the barn door effect varies depending on the wall angle. All hinges will be on only one side for consistency.

1. Perfectly vertical wall. This will result to the barn door having almost zero rotational force on the hinges. It means that you would experience minimal barn dooring at this wall angle.

Rad Rookies | understanding barn door and how to fix it | Barn door effect | perfectly vertical wall front view
There will be no rotational force applied on the hinges in an ideal environment.
Rad Rookies | understanding barn door and how to fix it | Barn door effect | perfectly vertical wall side view
Gravity applies force that is parallel to the axis of rotation

2. Perfectly horizontal wall. Also known as “roof”. Your hinges will experience the full rotational force from gravity. Mastery of body positioning and weight shifting is a must for this type of wall.

Rad Rookies | understanding barn door and how to fix it | Barn door effect | perfectly horizontal wall front view
Huge swing happens resulting to a movement of 90 degrees. Full force of gravity is perpendicular to the axis of rotation.
Rad Rookies | understanding barn door and how to fix it | Barn door effect | perfectly horizontal wall side view
Gravity causes torque and makes the door swing

3. Steep wall. Also known as “45 degree wall”. The rotational force applied by gravity on your hinges will be halved. Although the barn door effect is halved, you’d still need to be good with body positioning and weight shifting to finish this wall.

Rad Rookies | understanding barn door and how to fix it | Barn door effect | steep wall front view
Weaker barn door compared to previous example
Rad Rookies | understanding barn door and how to fix it | Barn door effect | steep wall side view
Force perpendicular to axis of rotation is almost halved because of the wall angle.

The barn door effect on different body positions

You might be thinking… “The previous examples had all the hinges on one side only. But what if we change the position of the door hinges? Will it change the amount of swing?”

Yes, changing the position of the hinges will change the level of rotational force.

Let’s use 3 examples to show how the barn door effect varies depending on the body position. We will be using a steep wall for this example.

1. Both hinges at the bottom of the door. This is like having both feet stepping on rock holds but having none for your hands. The basic tendency of the door would be a huge vertical swing. A 135 degree vertical swing.  It means that you will fall from this position.

Rad Rookies | understanding barn door and how to fix it | Barn door effect | both hinges at the bottom of the door front view
Massive swing happens on the door’s body causing 135 degrees of displacement.
Rad Rookies | understanding barn door and how to fix it | Barn door effect | both hinges at the bottom of the door side view
Door rotated 135 degrees because of the barn door effect

2. Both hinges at the top of the door. This is like having both hands grabbing rock holds but having none for your feet. The tendency of the door would be to swing vertically but not as strong as the former example. A 45 degree vertical swing. This means that your arms will carry the full weight of your body. Most people will fall from this position. A few people with strong upper body can still climb this wall but I don’t recommend you do that.

Rad Rookies | understanding barn door and how to fix it | Barn door effect | both hinges at the top of the door front view
This is what a cliff hanger would look like. The hinges need to be strong enough to carry its weight, else it falls.
Rad Rookies | understanding barn door and how to fix it | Barn door effect | both hinges at the top of the door side view
Force perpendicular to axis of rotation is almost halved because of the wall angle. This caused a 45 degree displacement from starting position.

3. One hinge at the upper left and one hinge on the lower right. This is like having your left hand grabbing a hold and your right leg stepping on a hold. Gravity will still pull the door down and the rotational force would be along a diagonal axis. The lower left corner of the door puts a stop to this diagonal rotation and makes the position stable. That is like your left leg stretched out to counter the rotational force of the barn door.

(Concept also applies for using upper right hinge and lower left hinge of the door)

Rad Rookies | understanding barn door and how to fix it | Barn door effect | one hinge at the upper left and lower right front view
The barn door effect is minimized because the center of gravity is in the axis of rotation. And the door stopper stop it completely.
Rad Rookies | understanding barn door and how to fix it | Barn door effect | one hinge at the upper left and lower right side view
The door will be in a stable position as long as the hinges can handle its weight.

What climbing techniques counter the barn door effect?

You use a “door stopper” to stop the “barn door”. I’ll be sharing to you 2 basic climbing techniques that will put a stop to your barn door problems.

1. Regular flagging

Remember the “one hinge at the upper left and one hinge on the lower right” concept? You can use it by doing the climbing technique called “flagging”.

Rad Rookies | understanding barn door and how to fix it | regular flagging
Using 2 holds (left hand & right foot) and flagging the left leg
Rad Rookies | understanding barn door and how to fix it | regular flagging with physics figures
Extended left leg stops the barn door. You will swing to the left without that extended leg.

Use 2 rock holds. Use your left hand to grab a hold and your right foot to step on a hold.

Door stop with your left leg. Extend your left leg to your left. Your left leg will stop your body from rotating clockwise. The farther you extend your left leg, the less rotational force you’ll experience.

Read this article if you want more detailed instructions on how to do the flag.

2. Back flagging

Now you might be asking what about if you’ve got no choice but to use 2 rock holds on the same side of your body? Do you just rely on your core strength for this?

Fortunately, no.

There is a technique you can use called back flagging. The concept is to lower your center of gravity to reduce the rotational effect on your body.

Rad Rookies | understanding barn door and how to fix it | back flagging
Back flagging
Rad Rookies | understanding barn door and how to fix it | back flagging with physics figures
Extended left leg to the right stops the barn door. You will swing to the right without that extended leg.

Use 2 rock holds. Use your right hand to grab a hold and your right foot to step on a hold.

Bring hips close to your right foot. Bring your hips as low as you can. Move your hips as close as possible to your right foot to reduce the swing.

Door stop with your left leg. Extend your left leg to your right. Your left leg will stop your body from rotating counter-clockwise. The farther you extend your left leg, the less rotational force you’ll experience.

Read this article if you want more detailed instructions on how to do the back flag.


Conclusion

We’ve learned that the barn door effect is caused by the force of gravity. We’ve also learned that it becomes stronger the steeper the wall is. And that there are climbing techniques we can use to counter its effects.

Read 10 simple leg drills for beginners if you want to improve your flag and back flag. Practice the leg drills diligently and you’ll be sure to see results.

I hope this article was helpful to you! You can also read how I spent my 20 hours of active rock climbing time and use it as a guide. If you enjoyed reading this, then share it to your friends! And if you enjoy reading more content like this, then subscribe to my mailing list. Have fun rock climbing! Be good at anything fast and be a rad rookie! 🙂

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20 thoughts on “Barn door: A deeper understanding and how to fix it”

  1. I’ve always wanted to do rock climbing but scared to because I’ve seen the “barn-door-effect” on some climbers too! Maybe I have to go through every technique first so I know what to do 🙂
    Thanks for sharing these tips!

  2. I’ve seen the ”barn door” in rock climbing movies only – in Vertical Limit and Cliffhanger. Nakakatakot! I can’t imagine having to do it with both hands on just one side, parang ambigat. But yeah, I reckon having the leg across will help balance your body. I think kids have this natural instinct in them and can find ways to balance themselves in the most unusual circumstances without thinking twice. When you’re older, your head gets the better of you sometimes. Training siguro talaga dapat for this to become second nature.

    1. Hi May! I agree with you observation. As a child, your body functions close to how nature intended it to. But as you grow old, you become too accustomed to the comforts in our society and you lose some of your natural functions like mid section balance.

      So yeah, training is essential indeed. 🙂

    1. Hi Monz! Glad you found my scientific tips helpful, haha.

      Being athletic does give you an advantage when climbing the beginner walls. But brute athleticism won’t be enough when you start to climb intermediate walls. 😛

    1. True! A good understanding of the physics behind climbing will help improve your skills. This is especially useful when you try difficult walls. 😀

  3. Thanks for sharing these information. I am learning a lot because I am thinking of trying this recreational sports. Kudos for you!

    1. Hi Blair! I’m glad that you are learning from my Rock Climbing Series Posts. Do try rock climbing! It is a fun way to exercise, hehe 😀

    1. Hi Mikhaela! Glad that you found my tips helpful. 🙂

      Yes, the basic positioning I shared in this article will help you avoid injuries and improve your climbing skills.

    1. Glad that you found it interesting! Yes, understanding the “barn door” concept and putting it into practice can help improve your climbing techniques. 🙂

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