Sunday, 23 August 2009

Improve your Foot work

The first and must important part of achieving good climbing technique is learning to use our feet effectively. We hear lots of people saying certain climbers have good footwork, but what does it actually mean?

In my opinion the two most important factors of good footwork are;
1.) Being able to place your feet quickly and precisely.
2.) Being able to transfer your weight over your feet.

1.) Be quick and precise:
When we are placing our feet we should be aiming to use the front of our rock boot as much as possible. This means the inside edge, outside edge and the front point! This allows us to be precise with our foot placements when standing on smaller holds, allows us to twist and turn when climbing by simply pivoting on our feet, and minimises the chance of our feet slipping off.
Using this part of our feet also allows us to gain more force and height from the foot placement. Think about how your foot works when jumping, you flex your feet and push off from your toes. Its the same principle when flexing your foot to stretch for a distant climbing hold or flexing your foot when powering up for that dyno! Obviously, we also have to learn when it is appropriate to heel hook or toe hook (usually of very steep ground), but the majority of foot placements should be made as above.

How do we improve this?
It may sound simple, but looking at your feet when you place them helps. Make a conscious effort to look at the foot hold, and place your foot exactly where you are looking. If you are clumping around with your feet, banging them off the wall each time you place them or hoping about on a foot hold to readjust, you are wasting valuable energy when you climb. The easiest way I have found to practise this is to think really hard about it when you are climbing easy warm up climbs, slow down and really concentrate on placing your feet quietly in control. As you improve at this, begin to attempt climbing these routes quicker, but still be precise and controlled with your feet placements. Over time this will improve your footwork on all of your climbs. Another training tip I have for improving this is to attempt climbing boulder problems in the EICA: Ratho arena using features only for feet. This will help you learn how to trust standing on small holds, it will help you improve your judgement with foothold selection and it will also help build up core strength as keeping your feet on small holds when climbing steeper problems requires a lot of body tension!.

2.) Transferring your weight over your feet:
Spend time during your next session watching a really good climber on a route up our main lead wall. As they move up the wall you will see them transfer their body from side to side or twist their whole body each time they reach for a hold! The climber is doing this so that they can move their weight over the foot that they are pushing off, thus moving in the most efficient way. If your weight is over your foot when you push up on it, you use far less pulling energy in your arms! A really good climber to observe doing this is Nat Berry, as she is phenomenal at this technique in climbing. Her amazing level of flexibility in her hips, allows her to transfer her weight over any foothold regardless of how awkwardly placed they are!

How do we improve this? This is a really important skill to master, as the whole point of good technique is 'minimising the amount of energy used in our arms' ! The less energy we use in our arms, the longer we can climb on a route before we get tired. Learning to transfer our weight over our feet makes us more efficient at how we use our feet and reduces the strain on our arms, thus making us more technical climbers.
The best way I have found to practise this technique is to spend time on the slab areas in the wall. Practice climbing the routes with one hand, but really concentrate on getting the upward motion from your legs!. If you have to pull with your hand to make a move, stop and think about your feet and body position, then try again. Once you have mastered this, make things harder for yourself by attempting these climbs with no hands. You can place your hands flat against the wall, but you are not allowed to touch any of the holds. It is impossible to achieve this without transferring your weight over your feet!

Finally start experimenting with how we can use twisting to help us transfer our weight over our feet. Again use the slab area to begin with. Force yourself to only use the outside edge of your climbing shoe, in order to do this you will have to twist your whole body round each time you stand up on a foot. An easy way to think about it is to say to yourself - 'if I am standing up on my right foot I have to twist to face left, if i am standing up on my left foot I have to twist to face the right'!

Spend a bit of time each session concentrating on practising good footwork and you will become very good at using your feet. Remember, there is more to being good at climbing than just getting fitter and stronger! If we don't move well when we are climbing we are not going to climb to our full potential!

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