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Basic Footwork

Why is Footwork Important?

Most new climbers are under the misconception that climbing is a sport that focuses primarily on the muscles in the upper body. At first, it may seem that way until the climber develops proper technique to transfer the weight held by the arms and move it to stronger parts of the body. Simply put, footwork is important because your legs are stronger than your arms. You spend all day getting from point A to point B using your legs rather than your arm; they’ve got more power, more strength, and more endurance. Proper footwork allows us to take advantage of this.

So, footwork is an important and fundamental part of climbing (unless you enjoy campusing everything). In this article we will be discussing basic movement techniques, fundamentals, and drill you can use to improve your footwork; however, we will not be going over the anatomy of the shoe, if you want information on that, a good article to check out may be at (Climbing Magazine or 99 Boulders ).

Footwork Fundamentals

  • Inside Edge
    • Use of the inside edge consists of use from the big toe to the ball of the foot, trying to maximise use of the big toe as much as possible, this allows for maximum reach. This edge is strong and sensitive and where most climbers will begin from and trust the most. The inside edge allows for some of the most vertical movement and is best suited for movements that require pulling from the feet or dynamic vertical movement generated through the legs.
  • Outside Edge
    • Use of the outside edge consists of use from the big toe to the pinky toe, again trying to make the most use out of the big toe. Though use of this edge is less stable and less natural use of this edge allows for hip and shoulder rotation and because of that greater potential reach. Proper use of the outside edge allows for cross-through sequences and twisting reaches.
  • Smear
    • Use of a smear consists of use of the entire toe box placed on a hold or part of the wall that is less then perpendicular; examples would include: slopers, volumes, and other wall features such as corners, or chimneys. When smearing the toe box should be engaged with the heel lower then perpendicular to the surface your shoe is touching. This allows for the most friction and makes your feet feel the most stable This may feel unnatural at first as normally to feel secure on a hold you want your feet perpendicular or higher then perpendicular to take advantage of the edge on the shoe. The next thing you want to focus on is moving the hips away from the wall in order to move your weight closer to perpendicular to the smearing angle. This is also the main downside to a smear, it moves our center of gravity away from the wall which often shifts more weight into our arms. That said, having some of the weight on our feet and more on our arms is better then not being able to use our feet do to a loss of friction, so there’s a fine balance.
    • In short, in order to achieve a stable smear: drop the heel, relax the calf muscle, keep your arms straight, lean back and trust your arms.
  • Front Point
    • Use of the front point consists of use of the front point of the shoe, this technique is typically required on steep overhung routes, pockets and places where other foot placement options are not present. When performing a front point you should think about actively curling the toes to grab hold of the lip of the hold in order to increase the amount of contact the shoe has with the wall.

Activities & Drills:

Precision Feet

  • Pick the best spot on every foothold you plan to step on
    • While moving onto the foothold do not take your eyes off your foot is perfectly placed

Quiet Feet

  • Move across the wall with little or no noise coming from the feet

Glue Feet

  • Place the foot on the hold and keep it there without readjusting until that foot moves from that foot to another hold.


  • Pick the best spot on the foothold as in “precision feet” but right before placement close your eyes and finish locating the hold using your spatial awareness and touch.


  • Pretty self explanatory, this forces us to focus on our feet and doesn’t allow for us to pull for holds, teaching us to use our weight effectively and utilize our feet


  • In my opinion one of the best ways to train precise footwork fundamentals because of the inability to use our arms to pull in compensation for poor feet.
  • When traversing you can focus on:
    • Walking forwards on the wall
    • Walking backwards on the wall
    • Crossing over with the feet (think high school dance class grapevine)
    • Matching the feet
    • Playing with levels (outstretched, scrunched up, wide feet – narrow hands, narrow feet, wide hands, leading with the feet, leading with the hands.

We’ll go further into detail with some of these drills or techniques, such as matching feet, in another article. But hopefully this will get you started.

99 Boulders – The Fundamentals of Bouldering Footwork – https://www.99boulders.com/bouldering-footwork-fundamentals
Climbing Magazine – 2012 Gear Guide: How to Buy – Rock Shoes –  https://www.climbing.com/gear/2012-gear-guide-how-to-buy-rock-shoes/
Climbing Magazine – Training: 7 Simple Drills To Improve Footwork And Technique – https://www.climbing.com/skills/training-7-simple-drills-to-improve-footwork-and-technique/