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In this article IMG_0185I have tried to get across the main subject or teaching points that I use while coaching from a basic level all the way through to competition standards.

No matter what the level, it often seems that any one of these 5  simple points are the biggest stumbling block to progression in climbing.
These are my ‘go to’ concepts for any first time session with a client. Feel free to use them and/or share your thoughts/ideas with me.

The 5 points:

  • Look at your feet!
  • Climb with different colour footholds.
  • Try to pause before each hand hold.
  • Use your toes, not your mid sole.
  • The top is not the finish.

Using the concepts above…

With any of my clients I always suggest, as with most subjects, that breaking them down into manageable parts is a good idea. These concepts are such broad topics that it may be best to treat them as something to  consider while climbing, rather than a specific technical aspect. Just be mindful about them, allow the thoughts to float around in your headspace.

Take one concept, think about what it means and how you might implement it. Consider it through out the early stages of a climbing session, especially the warm up. When you start to get tired, don’t worry, just enjoy your session.

Try and keep one concept in mind for 5 or 6 sessions, until you can consider and climb with all of them at the back.  Remember to keep the concepts at the forefront of all of your climbing and movement reflections.

1. Look at your feet!

The simple nature of the title gives nothing away as to the depths that this concept reaches. It is a common thing that many new climbers are told and is obvious. But what it really means or what I suggest is to really look at your feet; take your time to focus on them and be mindful to watch you feet move until they are on a hold or in the position you want them to be. All too often a climber moves the leg and then foot, gets close to the required foot hold and then looks away at the last second. Looking away before the foot is properly connected to the hold will lead to inaccuracy, a lack of confidence in movement and thus excess pressure exerted through the hands.

It is better to place the foot slowly and accurately, weighting it confidently and thoroughly. This is only possible if the foot is observed for the entirety of movement.

Look at you feet and take your time. Slamming your feet onto holds is OK inthe lower grades and you mostly likely will get away with it, but as the foot holds get smaller and smaller as you progress through the grades, more accuracy is needed.

You’re going to have to learn mindful and precise footwork at some point, so why not learn now?

2. Climb with different colour feet

All too often new climbers (specifically indoor climbers) start off on the lower graded climbs and desperately try to get to the top, by way of grabbing the hand holds and smashing feet on the foot holds. While this might achieve the sole aim of getting to the last hold, it will instill very bad habits and look terrible.

A simple concept to improve this bad practise is to use any colour foot holds. In doing this, you will have to make decisions each time you move; decisions on balance and precision. Leaving the decisions of movement up to the route-setter (the person who put the holds on the wall) while learning to climb will hugely inhibit your movement progression.

This is often a hard task as it is so different to how most people climb, so to start with this try using the same colours along with different colours while forcing yourself to make at least 3 foot moves before every hand move.

3. Try to pause before each hand hold

Being able to reverse the move you have just done is a clear sign of a climber who understands good technique and balance. Being able to reverse movement can be the difference between success and failure.

Reversing movement requires an understanding of various different techniques, and the skill to be able to effectively combine them. Specifically the techniques that I have mentioned in the intro, but it’s enough just to think about them. Practise climbing slowly and attempt to pause for as long as you can before each hand hold is grabbed. At the start this may only be a second so try to find body positions that allow you to be in balance and pause for longer and longer. Aim for an eternity!

You can mix this exercise up by trying to pause with fewer and fewer points of contact with the wall e.g. rest with no hands at all.

4. Use your toes, not your mid sole

There are many advantages to climbing with your toes (or the toe part of your shoe) on the hold. The main one of these is that it allows you to twist your body while maintaining solid contact with footholds. Novice climbers will often begin by placing their midsole on the hold and effectively reducing the movement of the foot. As you try to rotate (which you should definitely be trying) your foot will pop off from the hold or you will need to lift yourself up/jump to allow the foot to move and this wastes a lot of energy.

Another reason that you should not be using the midsole of your shoe is that it makes poor use of the shoe’s engineering. Climbing shoe designers work hard to make shoe as supportive to your toes as possible and so shoes are often softer in the midsole.

You can improve your toe placement on the holds by thinking about climbing with your heels facing out from the walls. When climbing on smaller footholds this is absolutely crucial. So, to gain the most from your feet at this earlier stage of your climbing career try to make a habit of this technique now.

5. The top is not the finish

A fast and simple way to begin the journey of climbing slowly and effectively is to not think of the top of the boulder problem or route as the finish.

Try to climb each problem as if there is another 800 meters more climbing left to do, simply snatching for the top in any fashion is no good. After all, the top is arbitrary and if you visit another climbing wall that is lower or higher, do you always climb to the same point?

If you complete a problem, great, but climbing it more than once with these concepts in mind will greatly increase your efficiency of movement and will build up your database of muscle memories.

By climbing with the 800 metre mindset, you start to approach the problem differently. Energy is conserved, technique is considered, and rests are taken when they are available.

This concept is the one that most climbers see performance gains from. It requires a combination of all of these concepts, manifesting the loose thoughts and building better technique.


Thanks for reading

Please visit  for more information or to discuss  climbing coaching in Bristol

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Mindfulness Vs Body Awareness

Callum Nicklin blogging at TribeofC wrote recently on body awareness and what this means to him, I had discussed with Callum the idea of body awareness in relation to climbing many times and yet had never really considered what it really meant to me and how I would describe it to a group of students if or when the time came.

After reading his article it occurred to me that I did not agree 100% with Callum’s description of body awareness, I used to, but on reading and deliberating more I realised I was changing my opinion.

I have come to the conclusion that what I deemed to be mindfulness was closer to Callum’s, and perhaps many others, description of body awareness and vice versa.

For me, when I really wanted to describe and break down these terms while finding them similar I realised that they also had very different meanings,  It also occurred to me that they each would have very different effects in relation to climbing. That got me thinking… Which one would I choose as the most important trait to have as a climber, mindfulness or body awareness.

Firstly it is important to define the 2 words.

What is Mindfulness in climbing.

Mindfulness is the ability to think totally about one subject or movement, throughout its entire range and action time. It is to think solely about the action you are taking while also (contradictorily) considering almost everything at once, the feel of the hold, the angle, the strength needed, how tired you are, how strong you will need to be and so on.

It is the ability to consider/feel/be aware of/become one with nothing outside of the climb and also everything inside of it and at every stage of every movement.

What is Body Awareness in climbing.

If true multitasking were possible Body Awareness would be it at the forefront. Body Awareness is to know where and when each of your body parts (in active use or not) is moving and moving to where. However it is not only to know where it is also know what they can be used for and if this will be a benefit you and when.

For climbing it obviously a great deal of experience for the climb itself is needed but also the ability to command the body to move effectively.

Body Awareness is your mind making 1000’s of checks a second to calculate where your body is and feeding back what is possible for the next move or set of moves.

An example of this in climbing would be to ‘flick’ or ‘dyno’ for a hold while taking note of your trailing foot to use or catch an arête at the same time as catching the hold with your hand.

Mindfulness vs Body Awareness

What Mindfulness achieves in climbing

Being mindful of ones climbing and body is to enjoy climbing in its purest format, that alone can be the change a climbers often negative attitude to a positive one, even if grade improvements are not seen immediately. Being mindful it slows you down, it allows you to breath, to take stock of your ability and allows you to notice a mistake either before they happen or as they are happening allowing you a much clearer picture of how to correct this on the next attempt.

By aiming to be mindful while climbing, nothing else, simply aiming to be mindful you cannot help but become it.

The benefits of Body Awareness in climbing

Being able to judge moves and situations as they arise in a incredible short space of time can guide you through some tricky situations and more often than not can become the difference between success and failure on a climb.

Making mistakes on a climb, finding yourself swinging from a hold or perhaps you enjoy climbing that way can work well, but it only works if you can bring it all together, bring the whole body into play all at once. Being able to know where you body/limbs are can decrease the difficulty of moves be reducing errors and over compensation of swinging limbs.

If I had to pick one

Unfortunately even during writing this post I still cannot decided on which trait I would rather have in my bag of tricks.

Mindfulness would allow me to enjoy my climbing and all the movements at any level for hopefully a long life span, while improving on or having a high level of body awareness would lead me to climb harder grades and in an easier way.

Maybe they are inseparable, maybe they are simply one,  similar to mountains and valleys, troughs and peaks or dare I say yin and yang.