Regardless of your climbing level or experience, real improvement can always be achieved when you go back to the basics and really understand the way that you climb. What habits have you picked up? Are they good or bad? Do you avoid certain climbs? If so, then why? Are you climbing in the most efficient way? All these answers create the foundation that we have created for ourselves since day 1, and unless you were an expert from the second you first touched the rock, then taking a couple steps back to review, understand and strengthen our foundation is one of the best things we can do to improve.
Only the best climbers go back and perfect every aspect of their climbing, that’s why they are so good. I know that it’s easy to get caught up in climbing, climbing and more climbing, and it seems unnatural to go back to the basics because we feel like we aren’t moving forward. Just trust me me that you are. Not just steps, but leaps and bounds forward.
So, this is the final post from the three part ‘Back to the Basics’ series. In the first two parts of this series we looked at efficient body positioning and proper gripping technique, and in this final post we are going to look at the importance of footwork. These are your building blocks. Hopefully by now you’ve realized how you can improve by making adjustments to your body positioning and gripping.Now we are zeroing in on footwork.
Footwork is HUGE. In fact, excellent footwork is usually what makes the difference between a good climber and a GREAT climber, not strength. Most climbers focus the majority (or all) of their training in building strength from the waist up. It’s like we’ve just been trained to neglect our feet. We have hang boards, campus boards, pull up bars, and grip masters to train our upper body. What do we have to train footwork? Just climbing.
Even though experienced climbers know that weighting your feet and good footwork make a big difference, we are just conditioned to think that what we are always lacking is strength. Fact of the matter is your strength probably outweighs your footwork, which gets you into the cycle that your always feeling you need to get stronger, when really just some better footwork is what you’re actually lacking.
Your legs are already incredibly strong, much stronger than your arms. Take advantage of that! Here are a couple pointers to keep in mind that will help you improve your footwork.
1. Use Your Legs
Yup, starting with the obvious here. I’m sure you were told this when you started climbing, or perhaps you’ve even given the advice yourself! Well, you may not be following through with this advice as much as you think. How much do you think you pay attention to footwork when you’re climbing up an easier climb? I’m guessing, not much. Don’t worry, I’m guilty too. However, just because a climb is easy or you feel super solid on a hand hold doesn’t mean you should just muscle your way up. First off, this is an unnecessary way to burn through your fuel tank, and secondly, it’s just a way to develop BAD HABITS. You’re never going to be able to improve your footwork if your instinct is always to try and muscle through it.
2. Fix Your Shoes
Footwork can be very delicate. You don’t want your foot to slip off a hold from unforced errors (sorry, I used to play tennis, but the word seems to make sense there….for me at least 🙂 ). Basically, what I’m trying to say is that you don’t want to be falling off a climb because of silly mistakes that can be easily avoided.
Making sure your shoes are strapped or laced on properly can make the difference between a stick and a slip. This is especially true when you are performing maneuvers like heel hooks. A loose shoe can easily slip off (I’ve had it happen) during a solid heel hook. Taking the time to make sure your shoes are nice and snug help you feel more secure on the wall which in turn boosts your confidence.
I also know several climbers that change their shoes depending on the type of footing involved. They have their heel hooking shoes, their toeing shoes, their bouldering shoes and their route shoes. Now, you don’t need to go to this extent (I certainly don’t) but it just goes to show how much some climbers value footwork.
Also, a good habit to start practicing is cleaning your shoes before stepping onto the wall. Dirty shoes means less friction and friction is a climbers best friend. It’s easy get dirt build up on the rubber of your shoes outside and even inside at a gym. A towel or rag is a great way to clean your shoes outside before a climb, whereas inside just wiping the bottom of your shoe on the side of your legs is usually enough to clear off any debris.
3. Brush the Holds
Ok, now I’m not going to get into it here, but it’s a little pet peeve of mine when climbers don’t brush holds. They can get super greasy and slippery, which is just frustrating. Holds easily get covered in chalk, rubber, dirt, and even blood, all of which don’t make the climb any easier.
Brushing holds improves your friction and is also courteous for other climbers. Powering through a slippery foot hold that you were too lazy to brush doesn’t make you a stronger climber, it makes you annoying. It just creates more work for the climber that comes along and decides to give it a brush. Plus, although brushing helps to improve friction it is also great for your mental game. When you brush, you are signaling to yourself that you will feel more solid and stick better. This shift in mindset alone does wonders for your climbing.
4. Be Quiet and Precise
Having precise foot placement and quiet feet usually go hand in hand. If you’re placing your foot precisely on the foot hold then chances are you’re also climbing with quiet feet. This means that your actually looking at where your feet are going and not aimlessly placing them on something that feels good enough. If you don’t have confidence in your foot hold then you’re not going to have confidence in your next move.
Proper foot placement gives you the best combination of stability and friction. You want something you can stick to and push off of. Look at the hold and also think about your next move. Will you need to match on this foot hold? Will you need to change feet? Are you moving up or down or left or right? All these questions determine the where and how of foot placement.
“Where on the hold is best to place your foot?“
“How should you place your foot? Toe, heel, inside edge or outside edge?“
5. Know Where You’re Going
In order to successfully execute proper footwork you need to know where you’re going. First, you need to study the climb ahead of you. Find out where all the holds are (obviously this is easier indoors) so that when you get on the climb you don’t miss any key holds, and you’ll be able to develop a sequence that flows well.
Second, it’s very helpful to understand where your body will be going once you make a move. Perhaps your body is going to swing out and finding a toe hook or heel hook could really help you hold the swing or even keep you from swinging altogether. It’s all about efficiency. Find the best holds and place your feet on them in a way that reduces the weight on your arms and the amount of energy needed to make the move. Be creative. There are a surprising amount of different ways to place your foot on even the smallest holds.
So, how’s your footwork? Do you think you pay attention to it as much as you should? Let me know below!