Use of the feet and basics
A foothold is a rock ledge able to bear your weight on its vertical axis and large enough for your foot to push on it in a mainly downward direction.
Almost all small ledges that can be used as handholds can also be used as footholds but only a trained skill in using footholds will allow you to exploit the smallest of them.
The type of shoe used plays a key role in how your feet can be used differently and creatively when climbing. High-
Sloping footholds (used with the smearing technique) are exploited more effectively when you try to bring as much of the high-
On small and fleeting footholds the most effective part of the sole is the inner edge of the big toe. Often the rock shape prevents this foot position so you must “point into” the face with your toes, which requires greater strength in toes and calf-
As the foot is much larger than fingers, the scope for 'wedging' is restricted, so feet can only exploit twisting-
In traditional climbing technique, the legs were used only for supporting and for pushing the body upwards, an approach that today's “extreme” climbers have fairly and squarely abandoned. With the high difficulty levels achieved, the legs have come into their own with a very broad scope of active performance moves with:
· heel pushing and pulling (heel-
· upper part of the foot pulling (toe-
The specific use of these techniques comes well within a more evolved period of climbing.
From horizontal to vertical
In today's climbing, movement is seen as a flowing extension and evolution of walking. We must focus on both the shifting of our weight (i.e. our 'centre of gravity' conceived as an imaginary point inside the pelvis), and on the thrust of our legs. We also have to learn how to separate the movement of the pelvis from that of our feet – an essential step towards succeeding in retaining our balance when moving from one hold to the next.
Putting weight properly on a foot-
"Isolating" the pelvis is about moving the pelvis independently of our torso. This is usually performed when we use four holds (hand-
The pelvis movement allows us to optimally adjust the weight we put on our foot-
Learning and training is facilitated by repetition and performing these movements slowly, with exercises and repeated upward moves, on an easy climbing route.
On the easy, inclined climbing pitches, several small steps are the general solution while on overhanging routes it is better to lengthen -
Feeling the centre of gravity
Correct exercises allow us to "feel" the centre of gravity and find balance through independent movements between pelvis and the rest of the body.
Before lifting a foot, we must move the pelvis to seek an ideal balance on the other foot that remain on its hold. We must then remain balanced on one leg while moving the other to its new foot-
Use of the feet: horizontal holds and smearing
Beginners must first resist the temptation to place feet more than once on the same ledge, as if to test whether it will bear their weight or to improve the position of the foot. You must similarly resist the temptation for hand movements. Holds are ledges strong enough to both bear our weight when hung onto, and to allow a foot to push down on them to move the body upward. Except for the case of overhanging sections, where we cannot "hover" our centre of gravity over footholds due to the overhang, when we have our feet on footholds, we must try to keep our pelvis as vertically over them as possible.
Beginners must acquire familiarity with this principle on the easy, inclined walls because these routes tend to make one instinctively "lie down” on the wall. In doing so, the error is to move our centre of gravity away from its ideal position, which is instead directly above the foot-
The larger the foot-
When the ledge is narrower, we must try to use the instep point of the shoe and the joint connecting the big toe with the metatarsal.
In a more advanced stage of learning, we can also use the external part of the foot, close to the little toe.
For holes and small foot-
In general, we must learn to keep our heels low and not above the ledge level. We must therefore train our toes so as to avoid raising the heel when placing our shoe tips. This training is necessary especially for very small foot-
As to footwork when smearing, here the lack of a horizontal ledge means we must place our feet on a steep 'wave' or a smooth vertical piece of rock in order to fully exploit our shoe's grip. Unlike the case of using horizontal holds (where the optimal position is vertically on the hold), the smearing technique involves moving the pelvis out away from the wall to increase the potential grip of our feet. Here, the pressure that allows our soles to grip the rock is the force exerted perpendicular to the contact surface. This is of course only possible if we can pull hard on our hand-
When our hands must use the smearing technique too, we can achieve balance by moving our pelvis to above the contact surface of our feet, but when the sole grip is not enough to hold us, we must distribute our weight among all the holds we are using.
To learn to feel our shoe-
It is especially important to learn the correct position of the body when foot-
The skilled use of smearing technique is undoubtedly a very challenging training goal. While is relatively simple to learn how to place and accurately put weight on your feet on foot-
By kind concession of Paolo Caruso, Alpine Guide and author
of the book from which I have taken much of this text.
“Progressione su Roccia” by Paolo Caruso
Technical – teaching texts
Collegio Nazionale Guide Alpine -
A special thank you to Ivor Coward, who translated this page.