Where Do I Put My Focus to Improve My Climbing?

Where Do I Put My Focus to Improve My Climbing?
Matthew Rodriguez at the Climbing Youth World Championships in Seoul, South Korea. Photo: Dimitris Tosidis

This is an important question! Where DO I put my focus if my goal is to improve my climbing?

Thankfully, science is here to tell us.

In the simplest terms, different areas of the brain (specifically the primary motor cortex), connect to and control different parts of the body. This has even been mapped out in 2D... But the 3D map is WAY MORE disturbing and entertaining:

This unfortunate fellow represents what we would look like if our bodies grew according to the amount of brain power it receives. A very large majority of the motor cortex is devoted to our hands (as well as to our mouth and lips for speech articulation). This tells us that hand coordination comes much easier to us than foot coordination. I mean, look at those feet! They are tiny!

I run tests where I have athletes try to locate and use holds while closing their eyes, and 100% of the time they are able to intuitively find hand holds and figure out how to use them. Finding and properly using footholds is another story. Think of every time you are climbing slab. It's the foot that pops off first. Think of every time you are climbing steep wall. The feet cut first.

If you want to turn sloppy, lazy, disconnected footwork into intentional, accurate, effective footwork, it will take a huge amount of your focus, mostly due to the fact that our brains are not naturally wired to have strong motor skills with our feet.

The good news is that you CAN re-wire your brain. But it takes focus and consistency. Start to set goals for yourself at the gym with this in mind.

For example:

  • I will look at my feet while placing them securely on a hold or volume.
  • I will shift my focus this session to reducing footwork errors.
  • I will dedicate 1 hour to trying to stand on shallow volumes or small jibs to build familiarity and comfortability on sketchy, insecure footing.
  • I will repeat this steep boulder (with tiny foot jibs) until I can climb it 3X in a row without cutting feet, with a focus on pushing with my legs/feet and maintaining body tension.

Note: Make sure you shoes are properly fitted and tight. Make sure you explore which shoe brands/models give you the best "feel" on the wall. And get to work!

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