Good footwork is essential for efficient climbing; being able to stand on your feet, shift weight over them, smear up the wall, and precisely place them are the basics which once you master will enable you to climb harder or more technical problems.
1. Precise foot placement is a good place to start; really looking at where you put your foot on a hold and getting it right first time can save time and energy. A good exercise to practice this is through using corks: on a traverse wall or lower level boulder wall, place corks on some footholds and then try to traverse across, using every hold with a cork on. You’ll probably notice that you are climbing quite slowly and this is because you have to think about placing your feet and do it slowly to avoid knocking the corks off. Extension? Add more corks or use poorer feet to put your corks on!
2. Another drill for precise footwork is the one-time placement game. This is where your feet have imaginary glue on them, and once you’ve touched a hold with your foot, it must stay… So if you’ve placed your foot right on the edge of a terrible foothold, you’ve got to commit and go for the next move anyways! This will again help your first time foot placement.
3. This next drill helps with foot placement again, but also with how you position your body and putting your weight through your feet. For this you’ll need 2 tennis balls and a fairly slabby wall. Try to climb up the slab with the tennis balls in your hands so you can’t pull on anything. Whilst doing this, aim to think about pushing down through your feet when stepping up, and trusting your feet!
4. If you struggle with standing up through your toes then strengthening your calves and feet. You can do this through resistance training – all you need to do is stand on the ground and then press up through your toes into a tiptoe. To make this a little harder, stand on a box or some stairs and drop your heel lower when you go down. To extend this further, add some weights – either hold some kettle bells or wear a weight vest. Aim to do this twice a week, doing 3 sets of 10 each time. Strengthening these muscles will allow you to push through your feet, and be more comfortable on smaller footholds.
5. Learning how to switch feet efficiently is drill number 5. Practice the different foot swap techniques so you are able to use any first time on the wall. You can do this on the traverse wall when warming up at the beginning of your session. The most common type of foot swap is putting on foot on top of the other and then removing the bottom foot. To make this a little bit more difficult, see if you can do it silently, or make the foothold worse every time.
6. If you have a home wall, you can try putting shiny tape over some footholds and then climbing using them. The friction on these footholds will be poor so you will have to be even more precise and trusting with your feet, and really push down through them. Be careful with this one though – wouldn’t be fun to slip off and land awkwardly!
7. Play the toe-stab game to improve your accuracy and tension. Stand a bit away from the wall and then get a friend to point to a foothold, or chose one yourself, and then aim to touch that foothold as quietly as possible. To make this a little harder, try going for feet that are more awkward to reach, or balancing on one leg for the duration of the exercise.
8. Lastly, they say there’s no better way to improve footwork than climbing outside on rock; footholds on rock can be thin, smooth, wet or sometimes just don’t feel like they’re even there! Keep climbing outside, as you can’t be as careless with your feet placement like you can when standing on coloured blobs inside.