Ask any good climber and they will tell you that good movement on the wall stems from good footwork, yet it’s an area of climbing that’s often overlooked. Ok, on slabs or anywhere where you’re standing in balance it’s obvious that it’s mainly your shoes’ grip that’s keeping you there. This can be less obvious when the wall is overhanging and yet it’s just as true. This article is here to show you how, just a little more time thinking about your feet can free-up your hands and unleash that power that can get you up harder problems.
Why is Footwork so Important?
Next time you get a chance compare your arms with your legs. If you’re anything like me, you’ll notice that the muscles in your legs are miles bigger than those in your arms. They’re also much stronger. They’re perfect for supporting your body weight and thrusting it forwards or upwards – if you want proof, just try climbing the stairs. All that muscle is heavy, so how can you stop merely dragging it up the wall and instead start making it work for you?
In the excitement of trying to reach the top of the wall it’s easy to mostly look up and search and search for the next handhold to crank on. If you’ve got naturally good upper body strength, then this is a hard trap to avoid. It’s true that the power of your arms will get you to the top of lots of problems but, unless you’re Clark Kent, there will be a limit to your strength and that barrier can only be broken by engaging the rest of your body, starting with your feet.
It sounds obvious, but before you even move your foot, have an idea of where you’d like to move it. Getting caught in two minds or worse, scrabbling for a non-existent hold, means more weight on your arms for longer. When you’ve decided where you’d like your foot to go, move it there in one smooth movement. Try to avoid hopping your foot or scraping it along the wall, as this wastes time and strength.
If you’re kicking and banging and scraping your feet on the wall while you climb, then you’re wasting energy, in effect you’re wheel spinning and this will use up your strength. To fix this simply slow your feet down, focus on the hold you’d like to use and gently place your foot exactly where you want it. Don’t take your eyes off the hold until your foot is securely placed. If you do it right, you should hardly make any noise. As your accuracy improves you’ll be able to move your feet faster.
Weight Your Feet
Once your foot is in position you can really start to use it. If you’ve moved it up high or off to one side, then now is the time to get some weight on to it by moving your body. This is going to do two things: first it’s going to take weight off your arms and second, it’s going to create more friction and make it less likely that your foot will slip. We’ll be thinking about movement in future articles but, for now, have a play with moving your weight over your feet thinking especially about moving into balance and taking weight off your arms.