April Contest Post – Use Your Feet!

(Leave a comment below for a chance to win a new pair of shoes from Evolv!)

How many times have you been at the crux of a route, only to hear your friends shouting encouragingly “Use your feet!” In the back of your mind, you’re thinking, I AM using my feet, my legs are on the wall aren’t they?

As a tall climber, who learned to climb at the Gunks, I developed some bad habits early on. I was rewarded for making big reaches between the positive horizontals, and not worrying too much about what was going on below my waist. Once I latched the next set of jug,s I would just reel them in, shuffle my feet up and continue on.

This realization didn’t occur to me until a couple of years ago, on my first trip back to the Gunks after being gone for about 10 years. A few months before the trip, I’d had the opportunity to do a personal coaching session with movement and technique Jedi Justen Sjong, which I will forever remember as the day I discovered what my feet are really for in climbing. It was with him that I learned about initiating all movement with the lower body, dropping and driving off the foot holds, and other things that people who know how to use their feet well already know.

In the last contest post, about weaknesses, only one person mentioned their footwork, but my guess is it’s something all of us could work on, though perhaps we aren’t as aware of it as something more tangible like finger strength. I was recently reminded of this when Justen came out to do a coaching clinic and I realized I’d been way to focused on strength training this winter and had not given nearly enough attention to the subtleties of technique. It’s less fun to practice, but takes determined repetition to make it part of your repertoire.

What about you? Is technique something you practice on a regular basis? Are you aware of how best to “use your feet” or are they still just those things that weigh you down?

Leave a comment and you’ll be entered to win your choice of a new pair of shoes from Evolv. Few tools are as important to your climbing as your shoes, and if you don’t feel confident standing on your feet, you won’t be able to use your lower body properly. Be sure to click the ad below to browse Evolv’s entire shoe line, and start drooling over what pair you’ll choose if you’re the lucky winner!

Contest closes on 4/30/13, one entry per person. Winners will be chosen by random drawing through the Splitter Choss super computer. If you won last month, you can’t win this month. Folks affiliated with Splitter Choss aren’t allowed to enter, more fine print, etc, etc, etc.

62 Responses to April Contest Post – Use Your Feet!

  1. Learning on granite I was punished very early on for not using my feet. There was always that slab pitch after a couple beautiful cracks that I was dreading. Cracks are no problem! Just shove your feet in a twist, right? Apparently I was doing those pitches wrong too but, at least I could get by! Since then I’ve gotten better but, I need to constantly remind myself: “Place your feet!”

    Otherwise, when those slab pitches hit, it’s a whole lesson in skin grinding agony :).

    Matt Hoffmann April 8, 2013 at 2:19 pm
  2. The thing that finally made me really start using my feet was ice climbing. When I stopped pulling up into stances and instead stood up into them, my forearm pump vanished.

    Will April 8, 2013 at 3:07 pm
  3. I’d like to think that after 19 years of climbing I know how best to. But I still think it’s a weak point. In observation, I think it’s smearing that bests climbers more than anything, especially those that do a lot of indoor climbing. But when you don’t climb a lot, effective footwork will save your forearms and extend your climbing time by a lot.

    Jestep April 8, 2013 at 4:08 pm
  4. I learned how to climb in the Red. But I was weak, so I tried really hard on my footwork. But I still sucked. My first trip to North Carolina to climb run out trad slab was a “blast”. I’ve still got a lot of work to go.

    Jamie April 8, 2013 at 8:18 pm
  5. The best climbing advice I was ever given was the old mantra of “Look down to go up.” Sometimes, when things are getting a bit tricky, I catch myself repeating it over and over again.

    John April 8, 2013 at 9:30 pm
  6. I started climbing after many years of cycling. I love to put all that leg strength to good use. My footwork is still improving. I try to always place my foot with purpose instead of stutter stepping into a foothold.

    Chris April 8, 2013 at 9:37 pm
  7. I’m short and I like to boulder which often involves making big moves. My friend is always yelling at me to point my toe even more.. And when I do, it usually gives me that extra inch I need to stick the next hold without cutting feet.

    jfell April 8, 2013 at 10:01 pm
  8. I know my footwork is holding me back some, but I think training technique is much more difficult than climbers realize. How do you know you are training proper technique? What movement is holding you back? How do you measure progress? Strength gains are easy to measure…technique, not so much. I find that my footwork and placement will sometimes effect my balance, something I need to work on for sure!

    Gif April 9, 2013 at 5:18 am
  9. Having learned to climb at a little crag in the D.C. area that has some of the most polished holds I’ve seen anywhere helped build good footwork, if you couldn’t use your feet well you wouldn’t make it up too many of the climbs. Thirty years later and the only reason I make it up most climbs is because I rely on feet rather than strength and on harder climbs, 12’s and harder, it really shows, I just don’t do well on them unless the climbs slabby.

    Ralph Kolva April 9, 2013 at 8:08 am
  10. I miss the footwork I had as a teenager, run out on poorly protected slabs in NC. Years later I regained some composure in Cali but nothing will ever compare to the Zen and attention to finite edges during those moments. I try to keep my head down 75% of the time while making movements in order to focus on this. Maybe it works. Probably not though.

    Ian Barrett April 9, 2013 at 7:49 pm
  11. I remember KC Baum saying there is three rules to climbing technique: feet, feet, and feet. I just might have two left ones is the problem, dammit!

    Bryan Gall April 9, 2013 at 10:35 pm
  12. I recently got to the point in my climbing where I had to really dial my technique to improve. I’m a shortish woman (5’5″) so footwork is important. I warm up every gym session with traversing drills focusing on footwork. It’s made such a difference! Now when I’m faced with a hard move and I put that power into my legs, I can stick it like magic!

    Katie April 10, 2013 at 2:00 pm
  13. As a pretty short climber, I often find I have to use mini-footholds as intermediates to reach the higher hands. The only good news—hand-foot matching seems easier from this height. I’ll keep working on my feet or I’ll quit getting better!

    Jeremy Cohen April 11, 2013 at 9:49 pm
  14. Be confident in those foot placements and put weight on those toes; after that you can relax the hands.

    Tod April 12, 2013 at 1:13 pm
  15. Climb a lot at Lumpy.

    Lynn April 12, 2013 at 7:34 pm
  16. I tend to not train on a hangboard, and maybe that is the reason I can’t climb hard. But for the past three months I haven’t climbed harder than 5.8 because the climbs I’ve been doing and the people I have been going with. But on those 5.8s I have been working on my technique, a lot. When I have gone to the gym the past couple of weeks, I have been able to climb 5.11s without flailing and getting completely work (I still get worked at times though). My technique on the harder climbs I’ve been doing have been going well because my technique seems to be a lot better than I used to. I’ve been focusing largely on my breathing and subtle footwork, and keeping my arms straight. Technique is cool.

    Parker April 13, 2013 at 5:55 pm
  17. I’m always inspired when I watch Youtube videos of Lynn Hill, and all climbers but she comes to mind, about how much more her feet move than any other part of her body. And then I thrash myself to death on a much easier wall. What am I missing?!? After reading these posts, I think I’ll try to keep my head down. “Initiate all movement with the lower body.” I gotta stitch that onto my pack or something.

    Bryce April 13, 2013 at 10:33 pm
  18. I learned to climb in a gym with really technical problems, so when I climb it helps me to pay attention to every part of my body. My problem though is that I don’t apply the same technique on real rock, especially on taller pitches. On a tall climb, I’ll get nervous and just use my arms like cranes on the biggest holds I can get a hold of. As a result, my arms give out too soon and it makes me even more nervous. Something I’ve got to work on.

    Isaiah April 19, 2013 at 9:12 am
  19. True dat.

    Rafael April 22, 2013 at 12:19 pm
  20. The technique that really helped me bring my footwork to the next level was learning how to pull with my feet as well as push. Learning how to really pull helps on everything from thin face to juggy overhands, and it seems like an area that most climbers overlook.

    John Wesely April 22, 2013 at 12:19 pm
  21. Learning to climb in the Red and coming from a Division I sport, I’ve been able to move through many moves purely because of athletic strength and not through footwork. I’ve been afraid of vertical and slab climbing because of this limitation. Generally, I’ve distilled my climbing experience to high-stepping and grabbing a jug. Now, I’m trying to commit to climbing more scary slabs to improve my footwork and be able to confidently navigate tricky sequences and conserve energy – hoping that it translates effectively to thinking about and performing endless jug hauls.

    Cal April 22, 2013 at 12:22 pm
  22. I’ve been gym climbing for about a year now and picked up on what a difference it makes when you use (and trust) your feet fairly early on. Now if I just remembered that all the time… 🙂 It still amazes me how you can go from a stance feeling so-so to feeling totally solid, just by moving one foot into a slightly different position.

    Matt April 22, 2013 at 12:28 pm
  23. “Trust your shoes there’s a reason they’re so expensive” It finally sunk in when my forearms were too pumped to climb anymore and I wanted to anyway. I switched my focus to using my hands as little as possible and all of a sudden my feet improved dramatically.

    Dustin April 22, 2013 at 12:40 pm
  24. This was/is still probably my biggest problem. I was already pretty athletic when I started because I came over from boxing, so I was able to muscle myself through most of the lower grade problems at my outdoor spot. I am basically just now starting to learn to use my feet properly and it has allowed me to improve exponentially.

    Robert April 22, 2013 at 12:43 pm
  25. I like to warm up at the gym by setting up a sequence of easy bouldering problems and down climb/traverse from one to the next. It works wonders.

    Elliott April 22, 2013 at 12:53 pm
  26. As a relatively new climber, I have keyed in on one important point (among many) that every beginner should know right off the bat. It’s that you must force yourself away from the natural instinct to pull yourself up a route, and move toward the more efficient/effective means of pushing from below. You make the moves with your legs. The toe hook and the heel hook are some of the most important tools in my climbing toolbox. A whole new world of options opened up to me when I discovered them. I am still learning to use them effectively; but as I learn, my climbing abilities have gotten noticeably better. Its all about keeping those hips in and body weight balanced over the feet. With good technique, a climber should be able to stay planted on the wall with only minor use of hand/arm strength.

    Matthew April 22, 2013 at 12:57 pm
  27. I have recently worked on improving my legs as far as climbing goes. I have better knowledge when it comes to balancing my body from the waist down. i had no idea legs were do important! Climbing in slick pumas probably doesn’t help either.

    Ryan Hannagan April 22, 2013 at 1:17 pm
  28. I make an effort to take time to feel whether my foot is stable before putting weight on – lightly feeling around a hold with a foot before stepping (/whatever) onto it. I’ve found that this does wonders towards forcing me to improve my technique instead of dragging my feet all over walls without taking the time to check them. Even with the pause, this results in a smoother climb overall, since there is no wavering/adjusting for slightly off footwork.

    Jess Izen April 22, 2013 at 1:19 pm
  29. I’ve always been told to “climb with your feet”!

    Linda April 22, 2013 at 1:56 pm
  30. Climbing yesterday at Main Elk in western CO I was reminded of how critical it is to have good feet on overhanging routes. It ain’t easy but I am learning how to keep my toes bumping up when pulling a roof.

    Paul April 22, 2013 at 2:10 pm
  31. Love your shoes, the traditional standard for sport climbers!

    Shiloh Dorsett April 22, 2013 at 2:14 pm
  32. a comment

    Max April 22, 2013 at 2:22 pm
  33. Jackson Falls (southern Illinois) is infamous for its bulges and slopers, leaving newbies, and many experienced climbers, to struggle with finding footholds. Even after being a regular for many years, I have to remind myself that many routes require finding and trusting a foot (that often can’t be seen because of the bulge), then standing on it before reaching the next hand. It’s something we advise every newbie: use your feet first.

    matt maxwell April 22, 2013 at 2:52 pm
  34. I just started climbing, and I’m trying hard to get in the habit of using my feet properly.

    Jake April 22, 2013 at 3:09 pm
  35. When I used to teach climbing and do competitions I would use a game I called “quiet feet.” The objective is to climb a problem or play add-on silently by not slamming a foot onto a hold or to kick the wall when flagging against it – it really teaches balance and energy conservation. This game is especially good for the gym where it can be very echoey.

    Footwork is the name of game, but just like having the right tires for the right vehicle, climbing shoes can make that difference. I got my first pair of Evolv Bandits in 2002 or 2003 when a rep making a cross-country road trip stopped off at our gym for a shoe demo. 3 pairs and many resoles later, I still use the Bandits as my go-to all-day trad shoe… though I’m not bashful about leaving them on for the hard sport climbing. Really could use a new for the summer – my toe knuckles are starting to bust through the leather…

    Ted April 22, 2013 at 3:20 pm
  36. Love thy feet. I think that was in the bible.

    John April 22, 2013 at 3:24 pm
  37. After climbing for several years of climbing, I seemed to hit a plateau at about mid 5.11. I trained both strength and endurance, however neither helped specifically with crack climbing. When I realized that improving my foot technique would really make a difference, I committed to learning the fine art of rand smearing, frog-legging, heel-toeing, and foot stacking. These techniques made a great difference in my all around trad climbing ability, as well as kept me feeling secure on most types of cracks.

    Jeff April 22, 2013 at 3:34 pm
  38. As weird as it sounds. Climbing on overhangs really drilled home to me how important your footwork is in climbing. If your feet aren’t in the correct spot you can’t move your hands.

    Steven April 22, 2013 at 3:53 pm
  39. I do about once a month or so. I will boulder on like V2 and below, working on silent feet. So the second I hear my foot hit the wall, or the hold, i drop and restart the problem.

    Foot work is super important….especially as I am 6`5`, 230lbs.

    Brandon April 22, 2013 at 4:04 pm
  40. Superb footwork was something I had to learn quickly, Due to a birth injury (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erb's_palsy) I learned “thugging” my way up climbs was not going to be apart of my climbing vocabulary. I try to make my climbing as fluid as possible. Someone once told me you should look like your dancing with the wall.

    Zach P. April 22, 2013 at 4:18 pm
  41. Feet are over rated. Build bigger muscles and unbreakable tendons.

    Ben Robertson April 22, 2013 at 4:30 pm
  42. When I first started climbing in the gym, I’d tend to hold on and do pullups. only placing my feet after the fact. I’ve since learned this becomes troublesome as ya progress through the grades

    Daniel April 22, 2013 at 4:36 pm
  43. When I was a young boy I was on a climbing team. I was a self taught climber for a couple of years before it. I had developed an affinity for campusing. Thusly, my footwork was incredibly bed. I would tear through shoes. Once I was on the team my coaches quickly saw my problem. I wasn’t using my feet. They quickly enacted a rule. If they heard my feet making noise of any kind as I climbed I would have to come down and do ten pushups. I got really strong. Now, as an older climber people often remark how quiet I am when I climb. I tell them I just don’t want to do any more pushups.

    Ian Winship April 22, 2013 at 5:02 pm
  44. I try to focus on footwork as much as possible. I’m new to climbing, but in the long run, I get the sense that footwork and other aspects of technique will get me more mileage than strength.

    To work on this, I like climbing with other people who have a similar outlook, who focus more on technique and not on strength. At the gym, I also like using the rental shoes to really make me focus on solid foot placement. If the foot isn’t good on even decent holds, it’ll blow off. You very quickly learn to get those toe placements right!

    Brian April 22, 2013 at 5:44 pm
  45. There is nothing better than working a project, realizing you aren’t using your feet well, then cruising it.

    Adam Floyd April 22, 2013 at 5:57 pm
  46. my evolvs are killer on slab climbs, i love standing on nothing and trying to solve the hold puzzle.

    steve April 22, 2013 at 6:08 pm
  47. I just started climbing about a year ago, mainly in the gym, but have been able to get outdoors a few times over the past couple of months. Although this is likely attributed to the fact that I am a new climber, I am always finding that working on my footwork is the key to getting past cruxes that give me trouble. Very rarely is it a matter of a lack of strength (as much as I would like to blame my arms); it is more often a matter of putting my mind to better work and getting my feet where they need to be.

    Andrew April 22, 2013 at 7:18 pm
  48. The Gunks actually force shorter and/or weak climbers to use their feet.

    Doligo April 22, 2013 at 7:37 pm
    • I could see that. It was wild being there with my wife who is 5 feet tall and seeing how different the climbs were for her.

      BJ Sbarra April 22, 2013 at 8:54 pm
  49. It took me 6 months of climbing before someone wise told me that I need to place my feet smartly. Now I try to avoid this waste of time for many beginners and tell them during their first session.

    Thinking about it, I need to change my shoes, they have hole in the tip (which mean that I’m using my feet, but not the right way 😉

    Guillaum April 22, 2013 at 8:38 pm
  50. I learned to boulder on diabase, which offers minimal to zero foot holds. Footwork is extremely important, especially since there is a pit of doom under every problem.

    Corey April 22, 2013 at 9:14 pm
  51. Over my climbing career, I found that power and strength developed a lot faster than technique. As a result, I ended up as an imbalanced climber with plenty of strength but not a lot in the way of technique. This started to become a hindrance as I started getting on harder routes involving intricate footwork. I had to go back to the drawing board and re-evaluate my training methods. I began working more and more on my footwork, focusing on toe, ankle, and knee movements.

    Peter Adamson April 22, 2013 at 9:58 pm
  52. Whenever I’m struggling on climbs within my level, its because I’m not paying enough attention to the feet.

    kpr April 23, 2013 at 12:18 am
  53. went and did slab … best way to learn the importance of feet 😉

    eric April 23, 2013 at 8:38 am
  54. Whenever my footwork is good the climb seems easy but if I start getting tired or start struggling I go back to trying to do a series of pull ups to get up the climb and it always feels awful. When my feet are good everything else is good.

    Dan April 23, 2013 at 10:38 am
  55. Learning on sandstone rock helped me realize how important using your feet (and trusting good rubber) is to climbing. Placement of a foot can mean the difference between sliding off and sticking it. I remember one of the first lessons in the class I took was to go hands free up a boulder (essentially up a sandstone slab). It helped me with balance and foot placement.

    Eileen April 23, 2013 at 12:22 pm
  56. Until recently, I didn’t realize how lucky I was to be climbing at the red, which has great feet everywhere… So many pockets

    Paul April 23, 2013 at 12:41 pm
  57. I actually enjoy working on technique even though it means I will notch the grade down. By technique I mean footwork and movement as they go together. Good footwork will bring success.

    ej April 24, 2013 at 10:26 pm
  58. Balanced upon one foot in a sea of buns and tights, I realized that attention to footwork could bring benefits undreamed of before I signed up for ballet class in college.

    rob in Pb April 29, 2013 at 11:17 am
  59. I suffered the same problem as this guy, I was all arms until I went to college and saw how the good guys climbed here. I began working on my foot work and it very quickly took me to a whole new level. Before that I never knew how important your feet are.

    Tyler April 30, 2013 at 8:50 am
  60. Definitely the best thing for my footwork was learning how to lead on grainy sandstone slabs. Nothing like balancing on a dime-sized hollow scallop to force you into placing good feet.

    Matt April 30, 2013 at 9:44 am
  61. It’s May 1, 2013 at 10:52am and thus I have officially missed the deadline to enter this contest and am probably therefore not qualified to win a free pair of shoes…and THIS is exactly why I think I should win the shoes… Because I’m always a dollar short and a day late and therefore I’m an extremely broke graduate student, racking up student loans and spending any pennies I do have beyond rent and food, on gear and gas to climb…
    Just sayin…everyone’s got a sob story right? this is mine and I would LOVE some new kicks to crush in this summer 🙂

    Halley Tollner May 1, 2013 at 10:54 am
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