One of the most critical aspects of rock climbing technique is the ability and willingness to stand on your feet. Every day we support and move our bodies with our feet and legs. But the most common thing we observe among beginners, and some experienced climbers as well, is that they will walk up to a climb, take a firm grasp with both hands and proceed to try and pull themselves up the rock. It’s as if their feet had suddenly ceased to exist. While frantically reaching and waving their hands across the rock looking for something to grab hold of, their poor lower appendages are left to dangle or blindly scrape at the rock in hope of purchase.
When teaching basic climbing technique I often us the analogy of walking up a set of stairs. In that scenario, you may or may not reach out to the hand rail for balance, but it is your feet that propel you up the stairs. Each movement starts with moving a foot up, transferring your weight to it, and standing up on it. In the same way, your other foot moves from its previous position to its next; in one smooth movement. The same principle works for climbing. Find hand holds for balance, step up onto the first foot hold, transfer you weight and move up. But don’t stop there! Remember the other foot. It needs to leave its current location and move to the next, not be left dangling. This should happen in one continuous movement. On a set of stairs, the next “foot hold” is obvious. But in climbing, we must plan our movements. That’s why I always encourage my students to know where the next foot hold is before their foot leaves its current position. This is the simple technique of moving from stance to stance. Remember to have a plan for your feet and constantly scan for potential footholds as you climb.
Here is a simple exercise to help you concentrate on using your feet to propel you, versus doing pull ups with your arms. The next time you are at the gym or crag, back off the grades to something well within your ability and try to climb it without reaching your hands above your shoulders. This will require you to focus on balance and footwork. Ultimately, you should start each movement by moving one foot up, then the other, and only then should you reach for the next set of hand holds. I like to refer to this as letting the hand holds come to you. As you become more comfortable, start increasing the difficulty of the routes. There will be times where you have no choice but to reach above your shoulders, but really try to minimize the number of times you do it. This can also be a great competition between you and your climbing partners to see who can climb a route without reaching above the shoulders or at least doing it the fewest number of times.
If you are interested in improving your climbing technique, consider booking a couple days with one of our instructors. Seneca Rocks Climbing School will make you a better climber.