Tip 14: The Fine Art of Footwork

By Justin Stirrett

Climbing Tip: Use Great Footwork

For some reason when I’m climbing hard, I forget that I have anything from the knees down. Yet every couple of months, I spend hundreds of dollars on the newest shoes with the stickiest rubber in order to help my climbing. And still failing at climbs due to bad footwork happens far too often. So what are the keys to footwork and how do we become better at it?

Footwork takes time and a lot of practice before one can start using his or her feet to their fullest in our climbing. Footwork is one thing that is not that hard to teach but takes a lifetime to master. The simple act of placing your foot on a nub of rock, weighting it and moving off of it, can be one of the most frustrating things or one of the simplest things in climbing. It is the key to unlocking the climbs of your dreams.

Most of us blame the shoes on our feet or the rubber on the shoes as to why we slip off a hold. But I look back at some of the great climbers on some really sick routes and see that many climbed in really bad shoes by today’s standards and some even without any shoes at all! The key is to learn how to weight your feet and to move off of them. Here are a few areas that you can try to work on. The next five points are from Michael Doyle's Training Manual for Competition Climbers. Mike is a great teacher and he words these points better than I ever will.

Accurately Placing Feet
If you watch a good climber or someone who climbs a lot you will notice that they do not adjust their feet that much. They know where to place their feet and they know when their feet are right. A great drill for this is to concentrate on your feet while you are warming up. This means looking at your foot until it is on the foothold. You do not need to edge that much in indoor climbing. Most footholds are fairly large with the best way to place your feet actually touching the wall about 1cm above the hold and smearing down onto it. This will set you up for rotating on the hold later. Before your foot is placed, try to determine the sweet spot of the hold, the place where you think you can stand and put the most weight on it. Experiment with different positions on different holds. Only when you are satisfied that you have the best foot placement do you make the next move. This drill is great because it will teach you where your feet are. By doing it slowly in warm-up you will reduce the amount of readjusting done on harder routes. Most people look up from their feet too soon, before their feet are properly on the hold. This means that they may miss the sweet spot of the hold.

Weighting Your Feet
Determining how much weight you can put on your feet will depend on the angle of the wall, the size of the foothold, and the angle from which you are stepping. This drill should be done on several different angles and can also be done as part of a warm up or when you are already tired. Start with both feet on what you consider bad footholds, then hold on with one hand. Now slowly try and relax your hand and concentrate on your feet, feel how much weight they can take. You should relax until your hand lets go. Make sure you do this very slowly and on different types of footholds. This will show you how much you have to hold on with your hands and how much weight you can transfer to your feet, a very useful thing to know. This drill should show you if you are over gripping when you climb. Over-gripping is when you are squeezing too hard with your hands. Concentrate on relaxing your forearms and your arms. You may need to tighten up your core (abs, hamstrings, and quads) in order to take as much weight as possible.

Pulling With Your Feet
Your legs are stronger than your arms, and can support your weight better. Learning how to pull with your legs rather than your arms will allow you to save that precious upper body pulling power for times when you really need it. You can move your body with your legs by reaching out with your legs and pulling with your feet. This means that you will have to cup your toes slightly in order to pull from the other side of a hold. Try this. On a vertical or slightly overhanging wall grab two holds and hang straight down. Keeping your arms straight, put both feet on the wall then extend one leg out and place it on a hold. With your arms still straight pull your body towards the foot until your hips are almost directly above the foot. Try this in the other direction as well and on a steeper wall. It helps to have softer shoes that allow you to toe-in on footholds for this drill.

Back Stepping
Back-stepping is when you place your little toe, or outside edge against the wall when standing on a hold. It allows you to push your body in one direction or the other while keeping your arms straight. For instance if you are reaching with your left hand you can back-step with your left foot and keep your right arm straight. Thus using your leg muscles rather than your upper body to push you in the direction you wish to go. Back-stepping is very useful when holding onto sidepulls and underclings. When warming up try back-stepping every move with only one foot on. If you are reaching with your right hand keep your right foot on, and if you are reaching with your left hand keep your left foot on. This will not always make the move easier but at least you will learn when it works and when it does not.

Rotating is very important for conserving energy and momentum while climbing. Allowing the weight of your body to carry you through one move and onto the next. When rotating, it is important to keep contact with the foothold so you place your feet in such a way that rotating your foot will not cause it to come off (stand near the front of your shoes and be prepared to drop the heel). Start with your hands crossed on two side pulls at chest height, and about one foot apart. Place both feet on decent footholds about 3-4 feet directly below the hand holds. Now if you are reaching out with your right hand you want to rotate on your right foot, moving the weight from your big toe to a back step. Concentrate on dropping your heel and not losing contact with the foot hold. You will learn where the sweet spot is for your shoes, which for most shoes is different. Try and reach as far as possible with your right hand and then come back to the starting position. Repeat for your left hand. Rotations are very important for crossovers and maintaining momentum, so practice while warming up. Try and rotate every move, obviously this is not always desired but you will learn when it works and when it does not. Try and climb easier routes with just straight arms to see how rotating will help you.

Living Thought: The Walk

The walk through life is just as hard as any foot problem in climbing, but with a higher price involved than when slipping and falling. Every one of us makes choices in life - some good ones and some bad ones. While on a path in life, some people’s paths are wide and seemingly easy while others are narrow and seemingly burdened. Let’s look at a couple of these paths.

The first is the wide path that seems easy and care free. Those on this path live for today and do what ever feels good; they buy a ton of toys and try to fight their way to the top of the pile. I’m sure that most of you reading this will agree that we have been fed this garbage for far too long. On this path, we see broken families, huge debt loads while still possessing a feeling of not having or being enough. People some how make this path look good and seem to be really good salesmen…for it appears that many of us are buying into it.

The second path is the narrow path. This is the one that has what some would call burdens, rules or guidelines. This path is more about living for tomorrow, being content with what we have, helping others get to the top and enjoying where we’re at. You see that these people have less debt, less broken families, and a feeling of belonging to a big picture. Don't get me wrong - these people have their problems just as much as the first group but they deal with them differently.

Now, for me I find that the first path sucks. All that work just to buy a thing to look important - like I have it all together! Why?? I know I don't! Living a meaningful life is to live life with a purpose. A set of guidelines or rules as some may call them is a way to gauge yourself from day to day on this path. It helps you to be honest with yourself and your life. For me, I find those guidelines in the Bible.

"Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14 (New International Version)

Justin Stirrett Bio Canadian, Justin Stirrett (a.k.a. WhipperJ) has been climbing for almost 20 years. He climbs 5.12, boulders V10 and WI6. A climb that is closest to his heart is 'Jacobs Ladder' (5.14a R) in Pemberton, BC. Although climbed in 1995, it hasn’t been repeated (or confirmed). In 2003, he worked a boulder problem for two years and gave it around 2000 tries. The result was “Come to the Altar” (Cimarron, CO) and maybe as hard as V14. Learn more of him at www.bridgethis.org/whipperj.


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Date Posted - 12.31.13

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