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17 Footwork Drills for Climbing

17 Footwork Drills for Climbing

If you feel like you’re too tired to finish a route or a climb is too hard, it’s probably that you’re using your arms significantly more than your feet or your footwork sucks. 

I asked hundreds of climbers on Reddit, Facebook, and at the gym, “what footwork drills do you do?” and these are the 17 best ones that I found. If you do these footwork drills, you’re going to get better at climbing and you’ll be able to send harder routes. 

Drill 1: Quiet Feet 

This is a more basic footwork drill. And hopefully if you’re a beginner, you’re already doing this drill. But if you aren’t, let me walk you through it really quickly:

Overview:

You’re going to place your foot as quietly as possible on each foothold. Maybe in a climbing gym, you’ve heard a big bang or you accidentally kicked to the wall – that’s what this drill is preventing. It’s making it so that you have to be as precise as possible by quietly placing your foot on a hold. 

Modification for higher difficulty

  1. Some people like to increase the difficulty of this drill by putting a bell on their foot and then you’re not allowed to let the bell ring either while you’re placing your feet. 
  2. An even more difficult modification of this drill is to actually cut your feet off every time you’re about to move your feet. So if you want to move your feet up, you have to cut both of your feet off and then place them back on the wall. As quietly as possible. 

Drill #2: Pivoting 

This is going to help you get the body position you need so that you’re not working as hard to get to the next hold. 

Overview

On each foothold, you’re going to pivot one way or the other on the holes.

Eventually you’ll get to the point where you can pivot without thinking about it. 

Modification for higher difficulty

If you want to make this a little bit more difficult, you can do what’s called hip tap. So instead of just pivoting your feet, you actually have to touch the wall with your hip before you’re allowed to move on to the next hole. 

Drill #3: Feet Only 

This is kind of a fun drill but you’re going to need to be in a climbing gym that has a slab (an overhang route won’t work for this drill). It actually took me a couple of times to find a route that I could actually do this drill on because most of the walls at my gym are overhung. 

Overview

For this drill, the whole purpose is you use your feet and transfer your weight from side to side without using your hands.

You have to transfer your weight from one foot to the other so much that you’re going up like how you would walk up stairs stairs. Your hands can touch the wall, but you’re not allowed to hold on to anything with your hands. 

Drill #4: Blinking 

This drill is different than any footwork drill I’ve done before. And this is actually my first time doing it was for this video. 

Overview

Essentially, right before you make contact with the foothold, close your eyes, make contact with your eyes shut, transfer your weight to that foot, and then you can open your eyes for the next move. 

The whole purpose of this is to trust your feet more. 

One thing I will say about this drill though, is the shoes I wear make it a lot easier. I have soft sole shoes so I can actually feel the divots of the rock beneath my foot.

Some of you may have more stiff shoe sole shoes and though those are great for edging, they aren’t great for this particular drill because you those shoes may not be the easiest to feel the rock underneath. If you have stiff soles, you may have put a little bit more effort into the trust you’re putting into your feet. 

Drill #5: Down Climbing

If you’ve watched some of my videos recently, you may have seen me do this drill. I do it oftentimes with warmups, but I actually first started doing it as a footwork drill. 

Overview

Oftentimes, climbing coaches will have you do down climbing on full rope routes where you’re climbing up top rope or even lead climbing. So instead of being lowered by the belayer, you “lower” yourself by down climbing, which forces you to focus on placing weight in your feet. It works the same way with bouldering but you don’t have a rope in your face or have to unclip from quickdraws.

Keep in mind where you’re going to place your feet on the way down while you are climbing up so it is easier. And then as you’re climbing down, you’re probably pretty tired so you need to adjust your body movement to leverage your feet so that you can keep your arms as straight as possible. 

If you don’t use your feet to lower yourself and you’re in a lock off position the entire time, this drill’s going to be really hard to do. 

Drill #6: Smearing 

There are actually professional climbers like Timo Narasaki and Jain Kim who are famous for smearing their foot up all the way until they reach the hole that their hands are on. At which point they mantle that hold. And one of the main reasons they’re able to do this is because they’re super good at smearing.

Overview

The whole purpose of this is you are going to smear with one foot while using the other foot. And ideally you actually use the foot that you’re smearing to work your way up the climb. This is something that takes practice. And so you may just find yourself sticking your foot on the wall. But if you can really focus while you’re doing this drill on actually pushing against your foot, that’s on the wall and it will help you get up higher.

Drill #7: Coin Holds

I’ve seen this a lot on YouTube and blogs to help become as precise as possible with your feet. This is also a drill that I hadn’t done until I started filming this video and to be honest, now that I’ve filmed it, I’m not sure I’d recommend it to people. 

Overview

You put a coin on each foothold on the route with the coin facing up and leaning against a wall, or it can be laying down depending on the size of the foothold. When I did this, I was using American coins, which are super skinny quarters, for example, and they kept falling off the hold before I was able to start climbing. Luckily I had some foreign coins that were a little bit thicker so I was able to do it on a few holds. 

After finally setting up all of these holds with coins, I went to actually do the drill and yes, I had to be super focused and precise placing my foot on each foothold to prevent the coin from falling, which I did successfully, but I was putting a lot more work into placing the coins than I did actually climbing because it was really hard to set up. 

Someone commented on my video that they have successfully done this with corks, so maybe you can try that. And I love for you to enjoy this drill, but I definitely have some drawbacks where I’m not sure if it’s worth the time. Instead of this drill, maybe you should work on quiet feet instead.

Drill #8: Foothold Stare

This is the exact opposite of number four, which was blinking – 

Overview

For this one, you’re going to make eye contact with the hold while you place your foot. Only when your foot is placed and your weight has been transferred to it, can you move your gaze up to where your hands go. 

This is not only a drill you should be doing for learning footwork, this is also something you should be doing on all of your routes. 

With most routes, your feet are visible and being able to look at those holds while you place your feet will improve your trust in your feet and allow you to use your legs a lot better than if you were looking at your hands the whole time. 

Repeat this drill over and over again. You can also run this drill on your projects too.

Drill #9: Traversing 

This one can be really fun and challenging. Instead of climbing up a route, you are climbing to the side and across a climbing wall.

Overview

What I recommend is finding a section in the climbing gym where you can go from one side to the other without being interrupted or interrupting other climbers. 

While you’re doing this drill, it’s ideal. If you try to do some smaller moves where your body has to be super close, and then also try to extend your body out significantly to see what you can do, where, how far to the side can you go. 

Sometimes you may come across areas of the wall where it’s really difficult to move forward (sideways), to keep moving sideways but that’s the great thing about this drill is you really have to pay attention to your feet and make adjustments as needed so that you can make it to the end of the traverse. 

Drill #10: Tennis Balls

The idea for this drill is to limit the use of your grip while climbing. This drill really made me pay attention to where my feet were so that I wasn’t going to fall off. Another great thing with this drill is it also helps remind you not to over crimp because a lot of times, especially beginners, when they get into crimpy climb, they over crimp and put their thumbs on top of their fingers, which may cause tendon injury if you accidentally lose your footing. When you have a tennis ball in your hand, you can’t over crimp.

Overview

Place tennis balls in each hand and then you climb with whatever type of climbing holds there are. The reason this footwork drill works so well is because you have little hand contact with the holds. 

You have to really focus on where you’re placing your feet so there is minimal weight in your hands. 

It forces you to do, as some people call it, “the three fingers sloth” where your hand is pretty well open the entire time. So yes, it’s great for your feet, but also if you’re known for over crimping, maybe add this drill to your training regimen. 

Modification for higher difficulty

If you’re a beginner, I’d recommend doing this on “jugier” climb so you can still have a pad or two on the holds, but if you’re more advanced, try this on crimps. 

I found a climb that was a mix of both jugs and crimps – it was really difficult when it got to the crimpy part and I actually started panicking a little bit. So maybe it is something I should do to help with my mental training as well…

Drill # 11: Switching Feet 

This is another one of those super essential skills that you need as a beginner climber, and even intermediate climbers may need to work on this. If you’re not able to switch your feet on a route, you’ll find difficulty getting into the higher grade climbs. 

Overview

The idea of this drill is that every time you move your feet, you switch your feet. 

There’s three different ways to switch your feet so repeat this drill for each versions of the switch. 

  1. Squishing your other foot and wiggling out: So you have your one foot on the hold already and you usually have to wiggle it to the side to let your other foot off the hold. 
  2.  Jumping on your foot: This one you actually do a little hop and while the one foot is off the hold, the other foot jumps into it’s place. Usually the other foot is smearing above the hold and ready to be placed as soon as you hop. It is a little more risky but depending on the foothold size, it may be necessary. 
  3. Side to side: if the foothold is a little bit bigger, you may be able to place your foot on the side of your foot on the same hold. This is probably the easiest switch but it isn’t possible in a lot of routes that have smaller footholds.

Drill # 12: Follow Hands

This drill is actually one that I’ve included in a previous video on my YouTube channel about drills that you can do for body position and footwork improvement. If you haven’t seen that video, go check it out. 

Overview

You can only use holds that you’ve placed your hands on for your footholds. So as you go up a route, when your feet follow, they can only touch the holds that your hands previously used to get up the route touched. This makes you a little bit more aware of where you’re placing your feet and your body position, so it may force you to do flagging or backstepping more because you don’t have the option of all the other holds. 

Modifications to make it harder

There are two additional variations to this drill. 

  1. The next level of this drill is that you have to touch wherever your hands are before moving your hands in addition to only using the footholds your hands have touched. This teaches you to be more precise with your footing and it’s a crazy ab workout too.
  2. The more advanced version of this drill is still outside of my skill set so I haven’t been able to accomplish it but maybe you can. Not only do you have to do a hand-foot match (meaning your foot is on the hold your hand is on), you have to leverage that hold before moving your hand.

 The second variation is essentially mantling or like the Tomoa Skip (a move in speed climbing coined after Tomoa Narasaki that uses a hand match and mantle at the same time). 

I think it is really difficult and advanced, but if you’re super bored with the drill, you may want to try this more dynamically. So have fun with it. 

Drill #13: One leg/foot 

This drill really helps you be precise with where you’re placing your feet in accordance to where your hands are going to be. That way you don’t find yourself overstretching or going to the side, when really you should be square on 

Overview

The whole purpose of this drill is that you’re going to do each route twice – once where you only use your left leg/foot to climb up the route and once where you only use your right leg/foot. 

The leg that isn’t in use can be hanging down like a dead limb or you can swing it or put it out to the side for balance if needed. Depending on the route and the movement, I usually find it easiest to leave it hanging like a cat’s tail.

I think this can be a really fun drill if you find the right type of route and I recommend using an overhang type climb so that you don’t hurt yourself from jumping or cutting feet while you’re doing this. What I found was when I was going up with my left foot, my body position was significantly different than when I was going up with my right foot.

Drill #14: High, Low

This is one of my favorite drills and it’s a great way to test your limits and also improve your limits with how scrunched up you can be and still work well on the wall compared to how stretched out you can be.

The more stretched out you are, the more likely you are to cut your feet so you may fall off the wall. The closer your feet are to your hands (the more scrunched up you are) you may find yourself having a hard time, leveraging your legs, and you will have to use your core more to stay in place.

It also teaches you to use body tension and really hold onto those holes. Even when you want to swing off your feet, have to dig in and you have to figure out how to do that with your body. This has been a really fun drill for me to do, and I think you’ll probably have fun with it too.

Overview

For this drill, you do the same route twice. 

Attempt 1: You do the route with your feet super far away from your hands so you’re really stretched out. To do this, you will be moving your hands super high until you can’t reach a higher hold and then you move your feet just enough to reach another hold.

Typically, climbers find that it is really hard to find footholds because you are really stretched out so this will get you to understand how close you need to keep your hands to your feet for your size and preference. In addition, the more stretched out you are, the harder it is to leverage your legs to hold on and you may cut your feet more often.

Attempt 2: You repeat the same route but this time you are super scrunched up. When you are scrunched up, you may find it harder to move your body if your legs are really long (like mine). I’ve also found that it is harder for me to control the direction of my body so make sure if you are scrunched up with your feet super close together, spread your hands apart to create the triangle of balance. And vice-versa. If your feet are further apart, place your hands closer together.

Drill #15: Flagging Everything 

Flagging is an essential skill for anyone that wants to level up the climbing grades they’re in. And it’s a fantastic static movement. 

Overview:

Now, what you’re going to do is try and find a climb that has some sideways movement so it’s not just an up and down ladder. While you are going up the route, to flag on every single move.

The more you do this drill, the easier it will become, and it will become almost natural for you to do on your projects as well. 

When I first started doing this drill, I was still figuring out flagging and I sometimes did the wrong flag or flagged the wrong direction. To make sure that you’re not making flagging mistakes while you’re doing this drill, you may want to see my flagging mistakes video that I made right here

And as long as you’re avoiding those mistakes, this is going to be a great drill for you to develop your flagging skills. 

Drill #16: Rooting

I wouldn’t recommend doing this drill until you’ve really figured out flagging and have been comfortable flagging on your projects. 

It’s using your feet to pull your body towards your foot or away from your foot with pushing and pulling movement (all in your legs and feet). 

It may seem basic and simple, but if you’ve tried it, you may know better.

It’s actually more advanced and kind of difficult to figure out how to get your hips to move places. So once you’ve figured out flagging it’s time for you to start doing this drill, which is rooting. 

Overview:

What you’re going to do is find a route similar to the one, maybe the exact one you were doing the flagging drill on and instead of flagging, place your foot on the hold that you need your body to get closer to. 

Then pull your body toward it digging into your foot and pulling with your hips and legs. 

This drill really forces you to pay attention to where you’re placing your feet. It forces you to pay attention to how you’re using your feet to pull your body in. If you aren’t using your feet correctly during this drill, you may slipp off. 

If this is your first time doing rooting, and you don’t feel like you have the muscle for it, focus on these three muscles, 

  1. Lower back
  2. Glutes 
  3. Hamstrings.

These are probably the biggest muscles you’re using during this movement. So if you aren’t sure how to pull your body towards your foot consider, “am I engaging my lower back? Am I engaging my glutes? Am I engaging my quads and hamstrings?” 

Drill #17: Perfect Repeats

Knowing rooting and flagging is helpful for this drill but even if you don’t know how to flag and root, you can still do this drill. The idea is that you repeat the climb until you get the foot work perfect. 

Overview

I recommend finding a route that’s a couple of grades lower than what you’re currently climbing at. When you are sequencing the route, try to figure out each movement but understand you are probably going to be a little off.

Then climb the route. Once you get off the route, evaluate how you climbed it and then figure out what you could do to make it easier. Then climb the route again.

Repeat this process until you feel like you’ve climbed the route perfectly – then climb it one more time repeating that perfect beta and movement.

This can be pretty exhausting so consider taking longer breaks between runs to fully recover so you can perform as best you can on each run.

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