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Footwork basics

Submitted by overlord on 2006-03-16

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This article is going to focus on the aspect of placing your feet on the rock properly, meaning I won't discuss specific techniques like drop knees, hell hooks and such, just give you a few general pointers on how to get the max out of your footholds, how you use them is up to you. Some of the more advanced footwork techniques are covered in this article

1. Lets start with the basics: you need proper shoes to learn properly. What you're looking for when choosing such shoes is a comfortable fit and sensitivity. Don't go for those stif edging machines, go for soft comfy sensitive shoes that'll allow you to feel the features you're stepping on. Size them comfortably because if they hurt you too much they'll prevent you from using proper technique comfortably (even for an experienced climber edging on a small edge with the tip of hes toe can be painfull) and thus slow your learning process. Also try to keep your shoes as clean as possible. Wipe them with a wet cloth and air dry them, maybe even brush them with a soft wirebrush to get the oxidized rubber off and reveal the sticky stuff.

2. Another important aspect is flexibility. The more flexible you are the better efficiency you can achieve. So it won't hurt to take some time after a climbing session to perform a really good stretching routine.

3. You'll also need leg and foot strength. You can easily train the former and the latter will come with time.

4. Then you need to start LOOKING. I can't stress this enough. Look for footholds before climbing and while climbing. When you stand under a route and look for holds, look to where you can place your feet as well. Offcourse you cant see every little foothold from the ground, but those that you can see will come in handy and if you manage to remember them they may get you through a tight spot. You'll surprised at how much difference a good foothold makes. Also remember that you can use most handholds as footholds once you move past them.

5. LOOK at the foothold before you use it. Don't scrape around trying to find it without looking. Examine it, look for the sweet spot and then deliberately place your foot there. Senstive shoes come into play here. Focus on the feel of the foothold and you'll see that you can actually feel the pervect spot to stand on. Once you've found it don't scratch around. Your shoes will be gratefull, as will your technique and learning curve. Then put some pressure on it. If you don't step on a foothold it probably wont hold (especially if its polished) and youll just skid. You'll be surprised at how much difference a little pressure can make. Don't be afraid of stepping. That's what youre supposed to do. Imagine it's a normal step thats been washed in too hot water and it shrinked.

6. Next step is learning to trust your shoes. This is a long process, but slowly youll begin to realize how small a feature you need to securely step on.

Once you get the feel you can get those stiff edging shoes with super sticky rubber and use them the way they're intended to be used. The feeling for the foothold in step 6 is very important. It'll allow you to learn to use the footholds in the best possible way and tell you what you can actually do with the foothold you're standing on. Will it allow a drop knee to be performed on it or will you peel off while trying to achieve it???

Fot the grand finale i'll let you in on the IMHO best exercise for improving your footwork. And I learned about it in a thread on, though I cant remember the original poster, but I hope he (or she) won't mind if I repeat it here: go clim a slab with a tennis ball in each of your hands. That way youll really focus on your feet. And it'll also improve your balance.

Heres a nice little update from Daniel (a.k.a tisar) that im posting here because he suggested that i do so (plus its some really good advice):


Some things you might pay attention to:

- Follow gravity. If your body tends to 'fall' into a certain direction, place a foot right there. Don't mind if there's a good foothold, a bad one or even none, just place your foot there. - Move your hip actively over your feet. The hip is the center of gravity. Placing it conciously over one foot relieves both your other foot and your hands for the next move. - Place your toe tips only. Beginners often place too much of their feet, or worst, their instep flat to the wall. This turns out your leg and blocks the hip joint. 'Tips only' gives your hip a broader moving range to allocate your gravity center as needed. - Look at your feet! Watch them until placed properly. Easy said, but often you'll find yourself looking elsewhere while doing the last couple of inches to the foothold. It takes some time and attention to get used to it but is worth it.


Take care and keep your shoes clean.

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good start on foot work...everyone should work on quiet feet
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I know you wrote this a long time ago, but it still stands. Although I am not a 5.10 climber, footwork has totally made the 5.funs more enjoyable.

Activities such as "Silent Feet" as well as the "Tennis Ball in Hands" along with many others are in a book called "The Self-Coached Climber" I'm unsure of the author (I lent the book out and it is yet to be returned)

The ultimate academic field of study from which rockclimbing can be examined is in the area of Dance. (Applied Journal of Dance.....I think) Dancing deals with things like offset and dynamic balance, center of gravity and other things. The Self-Coached Climber integrates this data and I think it's pretty damn good.....even if it's just for the activities.
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it's quite easy to strengthen your feet: just use them barefoot as much as possible - walk, run, jump rope barefoot, balance on one foot etc. it doesn't sound like a lot, but it helps!
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The Tennis Balls in hands workout is great. Climb up in fairly easy, maybe 2 grades under what you normally climb.

Climb with tennis balls in your hands and it allows you to use your feet more....kind of hard to explain.. just try it, it works.

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