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10 Terms to Understand Climbing Footwork

By understanding these techniques, you can apply them to different situations when on the rock

Good footwork can make the difference between a send and a whip, so taking the time to understand the subtleties of each style can go a long way. These are the most efficient examples of footwork.

Toeing-in: This is the process of standing on a foot-hold with the toe of your shoe. It is a precise movement that requires abdominal strength to place the foot and lumbar (lower-back) strength to keep the foot. It is essential to become good at this technique before any other. Soft shoes make it easier to feel the hold, but harder to stand on it, while stiff shoes make it it easier to stand, but a more numb experience

Smear: This is the process of placing the sole of your shoe on a volume, or flat surface and pushing into the surface with your rubber. This is commonly seen in slab climbing. Classically, stiff shoes were considered the best for this, but, as soft shoes become more common, more people are enjoying their sticky rubber on slick, low-angle surfaces.

Edging: This is the process of standing on the outside (Pinky to middle toes) or the inside (edge the runs alongside your big toe) edges of your shoe. This becomes exceptionally useful on face climbs and slabs. It is a difficult technique to master because it is all in the hips but is effectively an exercise in balance one you figure it out. It is almost always better in stiff shoes, and is often more efficient than towing in, where it is useful, because it brings your hip closer to the wall.

Heel hook: This technique is the boulder destroyer, and the pump-saver. Learning to hook your heal behind features and then pull with your hamstring, or rock over into a perch (where you are sitting on your heel) is exceptionally useful and, where necessary, can drop the difficulty of a route or boulder problem significantly. Different heel hooks prefer different shoe stiffnesses, but in either case, the pointing of the toe away from the climber’s body, and the direction toward which they are pulling is essential for this technique.

Toe hook: This is the process of hooking your toes behind a hold. It is useful and requires time to master. It requires a lot of core strength, both abdominal and lumbar, and it definitely helps to have a sticky toe patch of rubber. There are variations on this technique, like the toe scum, but, like the heel hook, can work like another hand.

Heel-toe cam: This technique efficient. It is done by placing your heel in a positive hold, and then camming (kind of like jamming, toe presses against an opposite surface so that your foot cannot move) it against the rock above the foot. It is dangerous because some cams are so good that when you fall, they remain stuck in the rock and can damage your joints. With that said, many are fairly safe, and all can take a significant amount of weight off of your hands.

Toe-jam: Imagine a vertical crack. How do you stand in it? Tilt the inside-edge of your shoe so that it is pointing near-vertically and slide your now-vertically-narrow shoe into the crack. Now twist the inside edge down so that the outside edge rotates up. Both edges will bear into the sides of the crack. It makes for a very good foot hold unless the crack is super thin, in which case, this process becomes much more technical.

Knee-bar: This is one mega technique. Place your foot on a hold and press your knee into a hold that is the knee’s distance from your foot. Press up with your calf. If it is super bomb, you can get a now hands rest here.

The bicycle: this is the process of having one foot on top of the hold, while the other is underneath. You then squeeze both sides of the hold to create a clamp like grip.

Reverse-bicycle: This is the process of having one foot toe-in to a hold, let’s say a box, while your other foot toe hooks a hold higher up. The above foot pulls away from the lower foot, while the lower foot pushes away from the higher foot.