Training: 7 Simple Drills To Improve Footwork And Technique

Fantastic feet

You’ve surely heard this once (if not a thousand times) before: Climbing is all about your feet. However, when a fellow climber recites that adage, it’s generally not followed with a detailed explanation about how and why your feet are important, so it can be confusing and frustrating and maybe not mean much at all in the end. So listen up, as that’s about to change. Two people who know a few things about improving footwork are 5.14 climbers, brothers, and training experts Mike and Mark Anderson, who together authored The Rock Climber’s Training Manual. They’ve compiled a list of guidelines and drills that will help you improve your footwork and become a better climber overall. Soon you’ll be spreading the adage, too—but with the knowledge and experience to back it up.

Footwork is typically the last skill addressed when climbers try to progress. This bias is not surprising since emphasis is almost always put on upper body strength, but learning to optimally place and weight your feet reduces strain on your forearms and puts your body in a position to efficiently reach the next set of handholds. Plus, the muscles in your legs are larger and have more stamina than your arms, so the more propulsion you can get out of those stems, the better. The net result is climbing that feels anywhere from a little to a whole lot easier.

Do these on toprope or bouldering close to the ground, so you can focus on the movement instead of worrying about falling. Set aside dedicated practice time two or three times a week; you can easily incorporate the exercises into a 20- or 30-minute warm-up. Pay attention to how your body feels (sensory feedback) while performing the drills, and practice them frequently. Your new skills won’t become part of your on-the-rock repertoire unless they are natural and familiar. You can accelerate this by attempting these drills on increasingly difficult terrain.

Wear tight-fitting, high-performance shoes. Strap on your redpoint kicks when redefining what you can effectively stand on and move off of. Your mileage gym shoes will be too sloppy and loose to get the desired result and practice.

Keep your feet low and move them frequently. Most gym routes encourage large movements between footholds. And while high-stepping or a wide stem may help you send the blue route, these techniques have much less value on real rock. When practicing, work to make small, frequent foot placements. Specifically, try making three foot placements for every hand move. Don’t be surprised if you have to add intermediate feet that aren’t part of the designated route. Climbing in this style will train you to keep your body close to the wall and your weight, well, on your feet.

Focus on feet and body, not hands. It’s easy to get fixated on hand sequences and simply put your feet on the biggest holds you can find. The gym offers an excellent place to experiment with how utilizing different foothold locations will drastically affect body position, which in turn, affects the use of handholds.

Weight footholds correctly. There is more to good footwork than just putting your piggies exactly where you want them. Once your feet are in position, concentrate on wrapping your toes over the hold while weighting your foot in a way that maximizes friction between hold and rubber. This requires a large amount of core strength and body awareness.


Precision Feet
Goal: Toe accuracy 
When boulder traversing or toproping, pick the best spot of every foothold you encounter and move your foot onto this exact location with great precision like a bull’s-eye. Do not take your eyes off the foothold until your foot is perfectly placed. Move quicker as your skill level increases.

Foot Stab
Goal: Improve coordination 
Wear your shoes, stand in front of the wall, and balance on one leg. Reach out and accurately touch pre-selected foothold targets with your raised foot. For increased difficulty, pick targets that require tricky reaches and challenge your balance.

Goal: Evaluate foot placement by feel 
Pick out a foothold and move your foot toward its exact location. Before your foot makes contact, close your eyes and finish locating the hold using spatial awareness. Keep your eyes closed until you have your foot securely placed. Evaluate your performance first through feel, and then open your eyes to confirm. Pick out the next hold and continue.

Jibs Only
Goal: Simulate real rock and utilize bad holds 
Only allow yourself to use tiny screw-on foothold jibs, small divots, waves molded into the body of handholds, and natural features on the surface of the wall.

Goal: Focus on lower extremities 
Many people develop tunnel vision and focus only on what is directly above them and in reach of their hands. When stuck in this pattern, the hips, legs, and feet are easy to forget. Practice downclimbing and let your feet lead the way as you shift your body to most effectively weight and utilize your feet.

Glue Feet
Goal: Increase holding power and prevent slips 
Imagine that your toes become frozen to the hold as soon as you place a foot; you can’t change the relationship between foot and hold—no pivoting, tilting, or repositioning. Simply flex at the ankle when moving past the hold. Learn to establish and feel a wide contact area between your foot and the hold, and then work to maintain this maximum contact while the rest of your body moves.

Goal: Learn from others 
Watch advanced climbers on the exact route or boulder problem you just climbed. When in witness mode, analyze how they move and use their feet. Also, note which footholds they use and consider why. Another option is to watch World Cup competition climbing videos to glean footwork nuances that you can later apply to your own climbing.


Foothold handbook
How to get the best purchase on common gym holds


Place pointed toe precisely in the opening
> Press down with forefoot
> Raise heel slightly to engage calf


Flat wall

Flat Wall
> Smear like on a slab (p. 30)
> Drop heel as far as possible to maximize contact
> Bend toes upward to engage forefoot


Small edge

Small Edge
> Focus on the most positive section
> Keep ankle at about 90°
Wrap toes around hold


Small edge

> Drop heel to maximize contact
> Push toes and forefoot down
> Stay up high on hold


Mike and Mark Anderson — Mike has climbed 5.14 and done free free ascents of grade V and VI big walls in Yosemite and Zion. Mark has put up several 5.14 first ascents throughout Colorado and works as a climbing coach. Together they designed the Rock Prodigy Training Center, a unique hangboard system, and authored The Rock Climber’s Training Manual.



Previous Comments

was very good to kow about all thanks for your tips wating for another tips of climbing

Dhurba Bista - 01/26/2015 11:43:06

I take teen climbers out to slab climb when they first acquire climbing shoes. There are no hand holds. They must balance their weight over their ankles and smear. Their hands can only be used for balance. A day of climbing like this yields better awareness of the roll feet and legs play when climbing on rock. The next day, I take them to regular climbing routes. They notice improvements in their climbing skills.

Mrs. Bails - 01/08/2015 5:08:26

I have found that on overhanging routes it is PARAMOUNT to place your foot on the hold in the same position as in the smear picture above (or even more heel down, toes sticking up a half inch or less. Then as you spin up & in your toes will spin to END UP ON TOP of the hold. (Tip: straight arms out from the hold. Even though this "feels" worse on your grip. You r spending your grip strength on the setup. Not the go. So your foot is more likely to stay on. ) See my album "Foot Placement" on Fb.

Pete Baumgardner - 11/20/2014 3:40:50

Yes, pictures mean thousand words. Will it a go anway. Thx

Wojciech - 09/07/2014 3:48:43

Sorry one more point, when we say 'use your feet' what we are really saying is 'use your footwork to have better technique' be it resting, making upward progress.. Anything.. Good footwork makes everything easier and more efficient, but saying 'use your feet' is just about the worse advice because it is soooo broad and your going to just make your climber frustrated, instead of 'use your feet' try saying 'shift your weight to your left foot so you can turn your hip in and hit that bomber jug' if some one really wants some advice on a route, give it to them, don't dust say feet feet feet!!! It might not be that obvious to them what to do with those footsies.

Dan - 09/06/2014 11:45:41

I was at the crag a few days ago listening to a guy who had that "I'm a 5.12 climber " look belaying his gf on a 9. She was falling and just kept saying use your feet! You have to use your feet.. He was getting super impatient and She was borderline tears trying to climb to be with Mr 5.12... It was sad, he just kept saying feet feet feet, but couldn't say anything about how to use them. I think for new climbers you should tell them (on the ground) to stand feet under their shoulders and stand on one foot, now stand on the other so they move their hips.. Then do it again with wide feet to emphasize how much you can shift your weight from one foot to the other.. Then make them traverse to actively shift said feet on the wall, then throw them on a top rope so when you say 'use your feet' you are actually giving them something to do... Good article, I do many of these, just had different names for them.

Dan - 09/06/2014 11:36:27

Great article. I'd like to add that good footwork is not just for upward progress. It's also very useful for finding and properly using the best positions for resting. Sinking lower on a foothold (bending the knee or dropping the heel) can lengthen/straighten your arms or even fingers enough to put them in a more restful position. Conversely you may need to extend your height in order to rest, or use opposing feet position, or a drop-knee, toehook, heelhook or toe-heel cam to rest (not to mention kneebars). Resting alternate hands (shaking out) may require an adjustment to your feet (and body) position. Get used to pulling or pushing with your toes to find that "sweet spot" that allows you to take the most restful positions -- which will also improve your ability to make upward progress with minimal energy expenditure to your forearms. Finally, don't forget to rest your calves by dropping your heels when possible.

Crater - 09/06/2014 12:22:20

hey, thanks great help and info. any exercises to make toes, feet and legs stronger. Like finger and hand exercises/training

Renz - 08/20/2014 12:26:30

at first I must say that this article is awesome.that's really what I need . about drills ... there must be a picture or much better than picture a video that shows how each drill exactly works. I cant emagine some of them and cant understand.

nasrin niki - 07/07/2014 2:42:48

Really enlightening for me who has climbed for 30 years but only intuitively. Climbing is so multifaceted so one an keep on discovering new details and ways to climbs.

Sally Westergaard - 06/30/2014 6:15:44

Good topic to discuss! One of my favorite things about climbing... the calves, thighs and gluts sore the day after.

Roo - 06/27/2014 8:36:21