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Stop Stomping! Six Tips For Better Footwork

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As a climber of over 13 years (and a coach on and off throughout), I’ve developed a very visceral reaction to the sight of bad footwork. Honestly, I hate watching a climber stomp their way up a route using the sides of their feet and waddling side to side like a penguin. Every athlete has heard a coach or two yell, “Stay on your toes!” Why do people treat climbing differently?

Good footwork is a skill that must be carefully cultivated. While it’s not always the most fun or flashy technique to develop, it is arguably the most helpful to upping your climbing game. You may be able to do muscle-ups and dead hang on crimps, but if you can’t stand on your feet, your project will remain unsent.

Here are six tips you can use to develop better footwork.


Do not use the sides of your feet—like almost never do it. If you’re just starting out, then your big toe should be your main contact point. For more advanced climbers, there are rare cases when your weight may shift to your pinky toe or the side of your big toe, like while backstepping or inside- flagging, but you have to know the rules to understand when to break ’em. Staying on your big toe will allow you to pull yourself into the wall or pivot when necessary. You will also be able to match or switch feet on small footholds.

—> If using the sides of your feet proves to be a hard habit to break, try this trick: cut a tennis ball in half and, without covering the toe box, tape each half to the end of your shoes. With the tennis ball halves attached, climbing with the sides of your feet will be impossible.


For steep climbs, pull with your toes. The muscles you would use to draw a line in the sand are the same muscles that should be utilized while climbing, especially on high-angle climbs.

—> To develop this skill, try attaching resistance bands to the back part of your shoe. Have a partner grab each resistance band while you’re climbing and see if they can pull your feet off. This exercise will help you learn how to better engage the muscles needed to keep your feet on the wall.


For volumes and slabs, try dropping your heels and spreading your toes. This will allow you to get more surface area on to the terrain.

—> Practice on volumes or flat jibs to develop this skill, or outside on slabs. Remember to keep your hips into the wall to prevent yourself from slipping out. Once you’ve got a sense for it, try going no-hands! 


Use “quiet feet.” Quiet feet means you’re intentional and delicate with your foot movements. One of the biggest mistakes new climbers make is looking up before they’ve actually placed their foot down, and so their foot scrapes the wall before it lands on the hold. Tracking your foot movement with your eyes all the way to the foothold will ensure you don’t miss, slip or stomp.

—> If quiet feet proves to be a challenge, try adding poker chips to footholds and see if you can climb without knocking the chips off. Don’t have poker chips? Use bottle caps, coins or corks. This exercise will force intentionality. 


Fit your shoes correctly. It’s always important to bring the right weaponry to the battlefield. Wearing terrain-appropriate shoes will help you make precise foot movements and improve self-confidence.

—> Check out the article here for tips about picking the right shoe. Also, though it may seem tempting, don’t wear socks with your climbing shoes. Climbing shoes are designed to help you feel the holds and wall surfaces!


Find the best part of the hold. All climbers feel around for the best part of a handhold, but many just plop their foot down on a hold. Especially if it’s a volume or a larger hold, think about the specific part of the hold you are going to stand on and why.

—> Even when using quiet feet, it’s possible for new climbers to miss the exact spot they were aiming for. Try “squishing the bug,” with the bug being the foothold, to ensure your toes are ideally positioned. 

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