Improving Footwork -Outdoor climbing


Climbs in the gym requires a great deal of footwork and technique, but I’ve never found an indoor climbing hold that was truly as small as some of the feet you must use outdoors. Even in the more beginner to intermediate stages of outdoor climbing, it may feel like there is nothing there when you first look at a climb. Therefore, it feels like a slightly different game at times. I’m coming up with some tips to help anyone out there who is interested, as well as myself.

Let’s start with some basics:

1. You want to make sure you have a good outdoor climbing shoe. I have been wearing the Mad Rock Contact 2.0s and they are super sensitive. I like this because I can feel each hold and inside this really improved my footwork. The problem is that when your foothold is a tiny pebble you can hardly see, a sensitive shoe just doesn’t do the trick. Sensitive shoes are almost like climbing barefoot in that they use a lot more foot strength than help of the shoe. The shoe technically is a down turned toe, but when it meets a little edge that maybe would only fit my toe nail or a small fraction of my toes, the shoe doesn’t toe in. It smears at best. If you like sensitive shoes as well, by all means keep whatever kind you have, but for some climbs you will need a back up toeing in pair. A nice solid edging shoe can help you really toe into those microscopic seeming holds. Some shoes are harder at the toe and more sensitive throughout. The important thing is to find something that will stay down turned and in the tiny hold. You could also work on building up toe strength. For people who could stand on their tip toes like a ballerina, maybe the type of shoes you wear isn’t as significant. For others, we need the right pairs.

muscle josh

2. Try to spot out your feet ahead of time. Look and feel around the rock to find those good holds. Sometimes you may not see it, but you might feel it and think it is fantastic. When you find these holds, feel free to put a tick mark to help you see them. To honor climbing ethics, just make sure to wipe it away after you have climbed.

josh on suspect device

3. Remember the significance of body positioning. There are some bad feeling holds that turn into truly fantastic ones if your body is positioned right. Make sure you are finding the right way to place your feet, find the angle your body needs to be at to hold it, and if your hips need to be turned into the wall more. You may need to do a drop knee, back step, front step, etc to make it work best. Try playing around with different positions to see what is better or worse, this will help you learn how to determine what to do quicker by showing you what is effective and not.

cool move

4. Think about your climbing and analysis it after. Some people use everything in them to struggle up for a send and then call the climb done. While you should always feel proud of your sends, spend some time thinking about what worked well and what could have been better. Maybe you want to re-climb certain parts to see if you can make it easier. Maybe you want to keep going back to the same boulder and trying to resend it with your new ideas. Think about what went wrong, what felt comfortable, etc. Even if you don’t send, think about your climb for what you did do.

me great barrington

5. Remember to breath. When we feel the panic of either falling, not sending, being tired, etc, we tend to get tunnel vision or use our hands more than our feet. We stop thinking and focus entirely on finishing. This isn’t helpful for developing appropriate foot use. Focus on your breathing and keep breathing. It will help slow down your mind and allow you time to worry about what you actually are doing with your feet. It is easier said than done, so always keep practicing and being aware of when you fail to do this.

josh 2

6. Project climbs. Some people try a climb a couple times or just once and then give up. Projecting a climb by spending several attempts working on it, will help you try out different approaches and find the best. As I project things, instinctively my footwork gets better as I learn where to place my feet and what works. I can carry these lessons over to other climbs, however, and that is why it is good to keep working. It builds confidence, helps you learn, and may transfer.

7. Learn to watch your feet. There are a lot of people who start climbing by looking up and worrying about each hand. You want to also look down at your feet. Look at the options for your feet, decide what you will do, and then watch your feet move to that hold and situate as you want them, and then look up. Practice this on easier climbs where you can focus better and are not as worried. If you see yourself forgetting this on hard climbs, remind yourself and start focusing on it or climb it again with that new focus as it becomes more comfortable. Your hands and feet need the same amount of attention. Watch those feet!


8. Make sure you are actually using your feet. This may sound stupid, but it is possible to put your foot in a position and then not actually use the pushing off force from that foot. Think about which foot to put most of your weight on, think about actually pushing off the foot or applying pressure to hold the toe or heel hook. Your feet could be in the right place, but you need to make the mental and physical effort to exert the force and really use it. This goes along with trusting your feet. You have to believe in your foot placement and put the pressure needed on it.

Josh V7

9. Remember that sometimes you need small steps too. Moving up on the rock may take some high steps or big movements, but sometimes really small movements are necessary to. You might have to move your feet up slowly in the process of several steps instead of one large movement. Smaller steps use less energy and may make you feel a lot more secure.

These are just some tips to start with. I’ll definitely post more as I learn them, and feel free to share any reminders or tips you think may help as well. We’d be happy to hear.

anna 3


6 thoughts on “Improving Footwork -Outdoor climbing

  1. Reblogged this on adventuresunplugged and commented:
    This is a really good summary that was just worthwhile to share. It’s totally true, while missing the giant orange hand hold sign is tough, its the footwork that changes the most, and even to the point of mostly concave foot holds outdoors, little holes you stick your toes in, as opposed to convex ledges indoors. It’s an interesting transition that can make the cockiness gym rat humble 🙂

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