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Training for Climbing Part 1

Lately, I’ve been finding myself wanting not just to be stronger but also get better at climbing. Becoming stronger helps for climbing, but it can only get you so far before you plateau. When I’m at sessions, I try to climb harder and do well. Over the past couple of years, I can tell I’ve progressed with my climbing, but I don’t think it’s enough.

Starting a high foot drill.

Overall, I want to improve my climbing ability through training, not just be a better boulderer. Before competing in competitions, I push myself during sessions but don’t train in the traditional sense. I do this because I’ve never been an athlete. So as a result, training for a sport doesn’t come naturally to me.

In high school, I used to participate in musical competitions. However, the preparation for those kinds of competitions was “practicing,” not training to me. It’s never occurred to me that those are the same thing. The reality is, is that they are, just for different activities.

How to Train a Climber

This article is the first of a three-part series covering how I will train. There will be a big learning curve in these upcoming months because this is completely new to me. My goal is to practice twice a week, in-between climbing days. If I can, maybe add a 3rd day of training on Fridays, depending on if I want to boulder or not.

Move Those Happy Feet

One of the big things I want to improve is using my feet better while I’m climbing. I think my footwork is good, but I think it can be cleaner and more efficient. I’ve found good articles and videos from sources such as Climbing Magazine, Rock and Ice Magazine, and Eric J. Hörst’s Learning to Climb Indoors I can learn from. During my training, I’ll use foot exercises to improve my movement on problems and the wall.

Some examples of exercises I can do are:

Shuffle Drills

If you want to learn how to lead with your feet, shuffle drills can help. One traverses across a wall by shuffling his/her feet sideways. I would probably do these on a comp wall or bouldering island for space. One starts with a foot stepping ahead onto a hold, shift hips over the foot, and then let other one catch up. This movement is to lead with the feet and let them do the work. Your hands are only there to hang on and for balance.

Inside/Outside Foot Edge Drills

As I’ve mentioned in my Fancy Footwork and Leg Power Part 1 article, the most common edging technique is inside edging. This drill requires climbers to turn his/her hip into the wall, with the outside edge of the inside foot and inside edge of the outside foot doing the work. Then the person is to climb a route in this position. These drills are to help outside edging feel more natural to engage.

Frog-Foot Drills

Doing this drill may look silly, but it teaches the importance of pushing with both feet simultaneously. Just like a frog extends its legs when it jumps. Starting with hands and feet on a wall, one steps up with one foot and then the other until he/she is almost in a squatting position with knees out to the side and crouching into the wall.

Pressing down with both feet, and in a continuous motion, one can move a hand upward and then the other. The hands are used for balance only and are not to pull the holds. One repeats the movement up the route and aims for smoother motion.

High-Step Drills

As one pursues harder problems and routes, there will be times while climbing, one’s next foothold is at the thigh or hip level. In this case, one needs to have high feet to make the next move less difficult. High-step drills can solve this issue.

On easy routes and maybe easy problems, force yourself to ascend by only using high feet. With hands and feet on the wall, start high-stepping with one foot onto a hold near the hip. Now, rock over this foot, then drive downward with that foot and move your hands until you have reached a straight-legged position. Continue this movement with the other one then repeat.


The act of downclimbing is self-explanatory in climbing. However, downclimbing is harder than it looks. One needs to plan where his/her feet are stepping and pay attention to them. One can do this either on a problem or route.

When one downclimbs, the focus is on the feet. You need to know exactly where the best place is for your foot to land. The movement will feel weird and awkward when you’re doing it, but it’s helpful to practice. Planning out your footwork in this fashion can also help perfect foot placement in the future. It’s recommended to start downclimbing on easy routes or problems then work your way up in difficulty.

What Else Needs Improvement?

My footwork isn’t the only thing I want to improve for climbing. In the next training article, I will cover another “core” area to work on, especially for when I climb overhanging problems or routes. Until next time, happy bouldering.