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Climbing Footwork Fundamentals

Updated: Oct 31, 2023

When you're rock climbing, how much attention are you paying to your feet? It should probably be more! Let’s go over some climbing footwork fundamentals.

Bring awareness to where you are placing your feet, how you are placing them, and how much weight you put into your feet.

Achieving this awareness is as simple as consciously focusing on them. The perfect drills for this are a 2-second look, quiet feet, and sticky feet.

2-Second Look

Every time you move a foot, you have to look at it the entire time and then take an extra two seconds to look at it once you place it on a new hold. The exaggerated attention now will ingrain subconscious awareness of your foot movements.

Quiet Feet

Don’t make any noise with your feet as you climb! If you do, stop, come down, and repeat the move until you can without banging your foot on the hold or against the wall. This drill fine-tunes the control of your feet, making you more conscious and efficient.

Sticky Feet

Pair this drill with quiet feet for a fully footwork-focused session. When climbing, you cannot adjust your foot once you place it on a climbing hold. This forces you to consciously set your foot in the position you think is best. Place it wrong; no micro-adjustments are allowed, as you must keep climbing. If you fall, correct your foot placement next time and continue up the climb with the drill.

After spending considerable time drawing attention to your footwork, it is time to level up in footwork fundamentals. We hesitate to define a set length of time or number of sessions you should perform each of the above drills as abilities and learning time vary between individuals. If you need more time to master the art of awareness and control, spend more time. If you pick it up quickly, you can move on, but don’t compare yourself to others and focus on your climbing journey. It’s better to master the footwork fundamentals from the ground up rather than rush through the basics and struggle later.

The second component of footwork fundamentals is engaging your feet. You’ve mastered foot placement, but what good is placing your foot on hold if you can’t use it to propel your weight upwards (or in whatever direction the following holds are)?

Some refer to this as learning to trust or weigh your feet. Many climbers fear slipping as the footholds shrink in size with more challenging climbs. Or, first-time climbers are simply uncomfortable with the idea of standing on anything other than a large edge in oddly shaped climbing shoes.

If you are in one of the above situations or want to increase confidence in using your feet to generate power, try the following drills.

Climbing Footwork Fundamentals

Street-shoe climbing

Pick a pair of sneakers that fit your foot well and have a decent sole. Try to get all grades up to your project level in your street shoes. Make an effort to keep your feet on the wall. Street shoes make it easy to cut feet or overgrip and rely on upper body strength. After challenging yourself in regular shoes, put on your climbing shoes and go back to repeat those climbs. You should feel more confident with your climbing shoes; standing up on all feet feels like a breeze.

If you have approach shoes, you can use those for this drill.

Straight Arm Climbing

A drill with “arm” in the name may seem counterintuitive, but climbing with straight arms forces you to rely on your feet for stability and power. Climbing with straight arms requires hip movement and, thus, foot movement to advance with less assistance from the muscles in your upper body.

That’s it! Climbing footwork fundamentals are centered around having control and intention with foot placement and confidence to use your feet. Spend time mastering those two areas, and your footwork will improve and, ultimately, your climbing. If you struggle with footwork and climbing, comment below your biggest struggle. Or, if we missed any beneficial footwork drills, please post them below to help other climbers!


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