Great footwork makes climbing hard routes and boulders less strenuous! Learn an effective practice strategy to improve your climbing footwork and movement skill.
Many climbers find that their footwork deteriorates, and gets “noisy”, when they begin to struggle on a difficult climbing sequence. If this sounds familiar to you, then make this your mantra:
“When the going gets tough, focus on the feet!”
Remind yourself of this every time you begin to struggle—and get pumped—on a boulder problem or route.
Due to the proximity of the eyes to the hands, it’s quite natural to overfocus on hand positioning at the expense of finding the best foot holds. Paradoxically, the key to unlocking many crux sequences lies in more effective use of the feet. Consider how often you have fallen, only to discover that you missed a critical foot hold that enabled a slightly different, energy-saving body position.
Improving Footwork and Climbing Efficiency
Increasing your foot-focus takes self-awareness and practice. For starters, ask your belayer to yell at you to look for feet as you begin having difficulties on a route. The same thing goes in the gym or while bouldering. The more your attention is redirected toward finding the best foot holds and body positions, the more automatic it will become in the future.
On difficult routes, some climbers place small chalk tickmark just above a critical foot hold as visual cue. This practice is quite effective when climbing fast is essential. Still, you need to remember to look down in the first place! (Please don’t go overboard on making tickmarks—just mark the most vital, easy-to-miss footholds. Brush off your tickmarks when you’re done on the route.)
Deliberate Practice Is Key for Improvement
Here’s a great drill for developing foot-focus—I call it “target practice.”
Pick a technical route (indoors or outside) that’s about one full number grade below your on-sight ability. Attempt to toprope the entire climb with a sustained, steady focus fixed on your feet. With each placement, identify the best part of the hold and then, with laser-like focus, place your foot onto the best part of the hold. Think of this perfect foot placement as hitting the bull’s eye of the target!
Strive to develop a kinesthetic feel of the foot placement as you shift weight onto the hold—the goal is to sense the quality of the placement. Try to keep your foot completely still as you reposition your center of gravity and press off the hold. Meanwhile, place as little focus as possible in other areas such as reading the route ahead, getting the hand beta perfect, and so forth. The mission here is to train footwork, so don’t worry about your overall performance on the route. Feel free to rest on the rope in order to practice a specific move, and nevermind if you happen to fall along the way.
This drill may be quite challenging at first, as your tendency toward hand-focused climbing may be strong! But trust that in developing better foot-focus you will become a more-skilled climber and elevate your capabilities.
Copyright © 2000–2019 Eric J. Hörst | All Rights Reserved.