Let’s Talk Footwork

When climbers come to me to help them get better, I often hear “I think I just need to get stronger, but I don’t know how to.” I used to believe them and assume that they understood the importance of technique and efficient movement until I became a better coach and realized that is a wild assumption to make. I don’t think this is a dumb idea – to get stronger – but it’s just not a fully informed idea and I’m here to help you see the broader picture on becoming a better climber. 

Yes, there are advantages to becoming stronger as a climbing athlete, for sure. For example, being stronger allows us to do harder moves with less effort, makes us more resilient and therefore decreases our overall risk for injury. We can dive into more specific details about this in another post. 

The truth is you will not fulfill your potential as a climbing athlete by simply being the strongest you can be. Nor will you find that ‘flow’ state as often (or ever) by simply focusing on becoming stronger and not tending to the other important areas. Climbing is more complex than being simply a strength sport. Climbing requires strength, but also a competent level of technique and understanding of how to be efficient. It is a movement sport. AND more complex climbing objectives require a deeper understanding of, and ability to, implement efficient technique and movement on the wall. 

So I’ll start with the foundation to ALL technique and efficient movement – FOOTWORK. So what about footwork do I want you to take away from this post? That you likely need to spend more time focusing on it!!! Even if you feel you have ‘pretty good’ footwork. 

Things that you can focus on: 

  • Watch your feet while you are moving them to the next foothold UNTIL you’ve weighted that new foothold. 
    • This allows you to utilize the correct area of the shoe, while placing it both accurately AND precisely on the hold. 
  • This will instill more trust between you, your foot and the foothold. When you trust your feet, you weight them fully (instead of trying NOT weight that awful slopey foothold that you just *know* will slip off if you do weight it) 
  • When you trust your feet, you do not need to do the ‘foot dance,’ which is when you bounce your foot up and down on the hold to try to make it feel better. Stop that now, please. 
  • Place your feet as softly and in control as you can on each foothold. 
    • The days of slapping your feet down aggressively are behind you 🙂 
  • Depending on the climbing shoes you are wearing, using the correct area of the climbing shoe is often VERY uncomfortable and doesn’t feel very strong.
    • Just like our fingers have tendons that need to adapt to the stress we apply to them through climbing, our toes have tendons that need to adapt too! So just because it doesn’t feel secure now, doesn’t mean it will always feel that way. Put in the time to strengthen those toes now (by simply committing to the insecurity now). 

When you are putting intention behind your footwork for the first time, it’s important to practice on easier climbs so that you have cognitive space to focus on the task at hand. When you practice new skills on climbs that are closer to your limit, the quality of practice declines dramatically. 

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