Lower Body Climbing Basics

Balance and Positioning
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Body positioning is key
Good foot placement allows for upper body rest

So you've figure out how to put your feet to the rock, but now you need to work that footwork into the rest of your climbing system. In an effort to climb efficiently and reserve as much strength and energy for your upper body as possible, you want to let your legs do most of the work. Whenever possible, shift your center of gravity over your feet.

For example, your hands are on holds above your head, and your left leg is placed off to the side. Most of your weight is hanging on your arms. Move your hips in towards the wall, turn your left knee outwards, and roll your weight up and onto that left foot placement. This should drastically relieve your arms and allow you to free a hand and reach for the next hold.

There are dozens of important footwork tricks that are best learned through the mentorship of a more experience climber. Play around with foot placements that might not feel comfortable at first and notice how it affects your balance, and your leverage for that next reach. You can high-step, placing your feet closer to waist level, or you can drop a knee, placing a foot off to the side on a steep route, turning your knee inward, and pushing out and upwards with your foot.

Generally, the closer your hips are to the wall on vertical or overhanging terrain, the more you'll keep your weight and balance centered on your feet. avoid the temptation to let your mid-body sag away from the wall, and learn to stand up on your legs. On lower angle rock, you'll want your hips slightly farther away from the rock, as this will allow you to push inward with your feet and find the best traction.

Perhaps the best way to learn creative footwork skills is to watch a more experienced climber. Head to the gym or your local sport crag and just observe. Pay attention to the relationship between the climber's choice of footholds, and the position of their hips and knees. Then try to imitate them the next time you tie in.

A Great Exercise
Some of the greatest advice I've ever received in regards to footwork was to make deliberate decisions before you move. Look the route over from your perch, choose your next foothold visually, and then move your foot there. Avoid blindly groping the rock with your feet for some sort of purchase, testing numerous placements before standing on one — it's inefficient and ungraceful. If you're in the gym or on an easier practice route, try picking a foothold visually and using it no matter how it feels. Force yourself to get it right on the first try, and quickly you'll develop a solid technique for climbing footwork.

Article © Abrahm Lustgarten, 2001.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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