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6 Tips for Better Climbing Footwork

Improve Your Climbing Movement Techniques

By

Eric Horst crimping up

Place your feet quietly and softly and you'll climb efficiently like Eric Horst at the New River Gorge.

Photograph © Stewart M. Green
Mia Axon climbing on Dinosaur Mountain in Boulder Mountain Park, Colorado.

Mia Axon plants both feet solidly on the wall before moving her hands to the next handholds.

Photograph copyright Stewart M. Green
Ian Spencer-Green dancing up Bullet the Blue Sky at Penitente Canyon, Colorado.

Good footwork is important to climb hard sport routes like Bullet the Blue Sky.

Photograph copyright Stewart M. Green

Climbing efficiently is all about good footwork. Use your feet well by placing them softly and quietly on footholds, make small steps, and use your legs to push and you will get up a lot of hard routes. You will also have confidence in your feet. You will trust your rock shoes and footholds and move with balance and decision.

Follow these six tips to improve your climbing footwork and you will improve as a climber.

1. Place Your Foot and Push

Climbing uses two opposing body forces—pushing and pulling. Climbers usually pull with their hands and arms and push with their feet and legs. Pulling always takes more energy than pushing and usually leads to a climber getting pumped in his arms and unable to move efficiently and strongly. A pumped climber usually falls off a route. Pushing with the legs, which have the strongest muscles in the body, allows the climber to reserve arm energy for route sections that require their use and particular strength. Always try to utilize the legs to push and initiate all climbing movement and for upward motion.

2. Look at Your Foot

Look at your foot anytime you are moving it to another foothold. When you are solidly set on a rock face with three or four points of contact—hands and feet placed on a wall—then scan the rock surface for your next foothold. Usually that next foothold will be obvious, but sometimes you will have to find a small chip edge or sloping hold that is not optimal but you need to use it to keep your body in balance as you move upward. Now move your foot up to that foothold, keeping your eyes on your foot from the time it leaves the previous foothold until it is securely placed and weighted on the next one. All good climbers watch their feet, knowing that foot placement is the key to climbing success. Not watching your feet as they move from foothold to foothold leads to inefficient movement, lack of confidence, and over-gripping with the hands because the feet are insecure.

3. Climb with Quiet Feet

There should be no sound from your feet and rock shoes as you climb. If there are foot sounds, it is because the climber is not watching her feet as they move from foothold to foothold and the shoes are scraping against the rock surface. The climber who doesn’t watch her feet usually relies on the sound of a foot against the rock to know if they are placing their foot on a hold; this creates random and insecure foot placements—hardly the recipe for climbing success. If you watch beginners climb, they almost always scrape their feet against the wall while concentrating on handholds. Be aware of your foot movements, look at the next foothold, and climb silently like a cat and you’ll be dancing up the rock.

4. Place Your Foot Softly

Climbing with quiet feet means placing your feet softly on the rock surface. Make delicate and careful foot placements. Don’t bang your feet down on footholds, even big ones, but try to be like that cat that stealthily pads across the roof of a house. Placing your feet softly and quietly means paying attention, being in the zone, and staying focused on moving efficiently and carefully. Think of climbing as a vertical dance and move with grace and economy. If you bang your feet around on the rock, you’re going to fall off, expend lots of energy, get pumped, and not have lots of fun.

5. Make Small Steps

Another mistake that novice climbers make is taking big steps. High steps are sometimes important for upward movement, but they require lots of leg strength and balance and they foster insecurity. Whenever you make a high step, you have to not only push hard with your bent leg but you also have to pull with your arms and upper body, expending valuable strength. Most of the time, it is better to make two or three small steps rather than one giant step. Even if the footholds are small or sloping, you will feel more secure and use less energy with small steps. Practice small steps on easy routes or in the indoor gym to see what works best for you.

6. Check for Abnormal Shoe Wear

A sure sign of sloppy footwork is rock shoe wear. Look at your rock shoes and they will tell you a lot about your foot movements. If the rand, the strip of rubber around the toe box of the shoe above the sole, is worn unevenly or worn with rubbed holes in it then you are dragging your feet against the rock surface. Sometimes the novice climber will also tap the front of their rock shoe against the rock as he moves it up to the next foothold. This also leads to rubbed areas on the rand.

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