Lower Body Climbing Basics

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If being a good climber were solely dependant on arm strength, I'm better suited for walking. My light frame is no model for upper body power, but I've managed to stick with the climbing gig for over 10 years. On the way I figured out a few tricks.

Good footwork and solid lower body technique is the key to climbing. Delicate climbing footwork can become an artistic, graceful dance, and almost every tough move, hard reach, or awkward stance can be improved by finding that perfect foot placement, and by keeping your weight, and your balance, on your feet. The worst thing you can do is to try to muscle yourself up a cliff by your arms.

Making Your Feet Stick
Step one is to learn to trust your feet, and your climbing shoes. Your first instinct is to find something flat to stand on, and push down with your feet, like you were walking up a flight of stairs. The thing is, there's not much for flat footing on most rock routes, so you go skidding off into thin air like a scared cat on a tile floor.

OK, standing confidently on a tiny protruding pebble the size of a small gumball is easier said than done. But once you experience the capabilities of that sticky climbing rubber, and learn to position your body for maximum foot traction and balance, you'll be ready to walk on walls.

Instead of just pushing downward, make an effort to push into the cliff, or in the direction of your foothold's most positive aspect. Also, think about maximizing the contact area between your shoe and the rock. If it's a slopey hold, lower your heel, shift your hips away from the rock slightly, and spread the area under the ball of your foot over the rock. The more surface area of your shoe that touches the rock, the more traction you'll have. And learn to trust your edges. Your shoes were designed for meticulous placements on small nubs or cracks, so even the most improbable stance might be a breeze. Make a point of trying small footholds and eventually you'll build the confidence to stand where you please.

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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