Deciding what to focus on for the very first entry in Move of the Month presented a bit of a challenge at the outset. Out of all of the infinite number of possibilities I could choose from for movements – both specifically used in climbing as well as training movements – which should I highlight first? But when I took a moment to reflect, the answer came pretty easily: Eyes on Your Feet. In other words, the importance of continuously remembering to focus your visual awareness on your feet while you climb, consciously, until this becomes second nature (i.e. unconscious) to do so, a part of your climbing rhythm.
“Duh,” you might be thinking right now. “Of course you should look at your foot placements when you climb.”
However, even though you may be thinking that this is obvious, you may not actually be implementing this technical/tactical strategy to its fullest potential when you climb, which is why I chose to spotlight it. It’s very common for climbers to not reap the full potential benefits of intelligent and precise foot placements when they climb, even if they think they are.
The way to break yourself of this habit is to pay attention to what your eyes (and your feet) are doing, especially during your warm-ups and cool-downs, making sure that you watch as your foot connects with the intended foothold exactly and precisely, every single time. The common error is to think you’re doing this, but to actually be looking away at the last second or even fraction of a second before your foot connects with the hold, which can lead to a huge dump in climbing efficiency as you fail to take full advantage of each foot placement.
Repetition Yields Fruition: Drill It!
- Get Started: During your warm-up, watch each foot connect with every intended foothold exactly where you want it. Oftentimes, climbers think they’re doing this, but they’re actually looking away from footholds at the last second, assuming that their foot is connecting properly with the foothold. Pay attention and watch every single foot placement you make. Choose an easy route, and climb it slowly, focusing on each and every foot placement. Always place the foot on a hold or a smear with intention. Look at the foothold, and then place the foot quietly and precisely on the hold.
- Step It Up: Look down and out to the sides at the new footholds that become available to you between every hand movement. Look in every possible direction that you could potentially step. Climbers regularly become overly focused on handholds, since they’re closer to the eyes and brain, and forget to reassess footholds with every move. Don’t forget to look left and right, low and high, and take into account toe hooks, heel hooks, flags, and back steps as well as more standard foot placements. Experiment with using different/not-as-obvious footholds on your familiar warm up/cool down. Develop a level of comfort with using the footholds that make the most sense for you, not just the obvious ones. The more you do this and make it second nature, the faster and better you will become at quickly scanning all available footholds and better yet, knowing where to look and selecting the most efficient footholds to use without wasting any time.
- More Advanced: Building on the above, work toward developing a high level of comfort with pasting, front-pointing and smearing wherever you find a good balance point – not necessarily needing a true foothold at all, but instead feeling where your body is ideally positioned. “Create” a foothold where you want one even if there isn’t anything to stand on at all by driving pressure into the top of your toes, the side of your foot, or the edge of your toes (among other potential positions) against the wall even when there’s no hold there, at the perfect balance point. You can use this method when you’re flagging, too, taking some weight off of your upper body muscles and helping to ratchet your body up to extend your reach (flagging will be another move of the month!).
And (ironically breaking the watching-the-foot-connect rule) once you’ve developed a sound ability to “feel” body positions and foot placements, you won’t always need to watch your foot to find and effectively utilize foot placements like these – you will just naturally drive your foot in at the right place and angle on the wall below or to the side and oriented in the right way to help assist you through the move as best it can.
I’m assuming for all of the above that you already have properly fitting climbing shoes, and that you know that it’s usually smartest to stand on the edge or tip of your big toe, or when back-stepping on your toe(s) (as opposed to the balls of your feet, and heel hooks and other exceptions aside) to maximize both your strength/power and your reach on any given move when necessary. For more on footwork, check out Improve Your Sport Climbing (12): Technique, Part 6 (EASY-HARD): Primary Technical Issues (A): Footwork.