It is easy to spot someone with good climbing footwork. If you don’t know what that means, think about the climbers in the gym that you have watched effortlessly float up the wall. They are silent, except for the occasional power grunt, and they make everything look easy, even if they drop off the wall panting with exertion.
So, what are they doing differently than all the climbers slipping off footholds, campusing up a problem after cutting feet, and loudly dragging their shoe rubber up the wall? It all comes down to footwork. These silent crushers are accurately putting weight into their feet, stepping on footholds with precision, and trusting their foot placements.
Below are a few awesome footwork drills to help develop great footwork skills:
The first one is common. It’s called “Quiet Feet” or “Silent feet.” Choose a few boulders that are a grade or two below onsight level. Your onsight level is a difficulty level on a boulder or roped route that you can complete on your first try without receiving any beta.
For example, if your onsight level is V3, perform this drill on V1s or V2s. It’s essential to practice this drill on boulders lower than your ability level, so you can perfect it while climbing easier terrain before practicing on more challenging terrain.
As you climb each boulder, your feet cannot make any noise. Place them carefully, and climb as silently as you can. Also, try to maintain eye contact with each foot throughout the movement. Don’t look away until you start to weight the foot!
Quiet Feet is beneficial to your climbing because it means you are intentionally placing your feet on the footholds. When you have intention, you are paying attention to what part of your shoe to place on the foothold and what part of the foothold to utilize. This decreases the chance of slipping off, contributing to better performance.
The next drill is called sticky feet. For this drill, choose boulders of similar difficulty level as above (1-2 grades below onsight). As you climb, try to be extremely precise with your foot placement on each foothold. The rule is once you place your foot, you’re not allowed to adjust it. Pretend there is super glue on the bottom of your toe. Once your foot touches the hold, it’s stuck!
This drill can be tricky, but it will go a long way toward precision. On top of improving accuracy, you’ll have to adapt better sequencing techniques. Knowing what orientation your foot must be on a foothold to perform the next move requires a lot of thought.
Another simple yet challenging drill for footwork is downclimbing. Most climbers don’t realize the value of downclimbing since it’s easy to only focus on climbing up. But downclimbing can improve your footwork immensely.
Downclimbing is more challenging than climbing up, especially if it’s not something you often do. Therefore, choose boulders to downclimb that are 1-2 grades below your onsight level. Once you climb up the boulder, climb back down until both hands end on the starting hold(s). As you downclimb, you will have to focus more on your feet, since downclimbing is feet first. Practicing this will help bring conscious awareness to foot placement while climbing.
Lastly, the slab eliminates drill is the most challenging footwork drill. Slab walls tilt forward (away from you) or past 90 degrees. Climbing on slab requires a certain amount of footwork in the first place since the majority of your weight when climbing slab will be on your feet.
For this drill, choose a slab problem that is relatively easy for you to complete. Climb it normally. Then, climb it with just your right hand and then your left hand. Once you can climb it with just one hand (and each one), now climb it without any hands. Climbing slab problems with limited hand use or no hands will assist in learning how to put weight into your feet and the footholds, and it will help you learn to trust your foot placement completely.