How to Smear – Climbing Technique 101

Smearing is a common climbing technique utilized in both indoor and outdoor rock climbing. Although the move may seem straightforward, it’s not easy to master this fundamental climbing technique. Once mastered, it can significantly enhance a climber’s progression, especially on slab-like surfaces and competition problems.

‘Almost anything can be a foothold, if you believe it to be so”

Neil Gresham, Greshams Masterclass on Footholds

📚 This article is part of a wider guide: Climbing Technique 101

What is smearing?

Smearing is a climbing move that involves pressing the sole of the climbing shoe against the rock surface and then sliding the foot in a controlled manner to maintain friction and balance. This technique requires the climber to use pressure and strength coming from the feet to create friction on the rock, instead of relying on shape edges or footholds.

smearing climbing technique explained

As a technique, smearing can be performed both on outdoor rock faces and indoor climbing walls. It’s most commonly used on slab terrain. Oftentimes smears are combined with other moves such as a deadpoint, to generate enough friction on the wall to grab the desired hold. This technique is particularly useful for shorter climbers, allowing them to reach holds that they might not be able to reach otherwise.

Smearing is considered a fundamental move in climbing and is typically learned early on in a climber’s training. However, it does require a lot of practice to master. The technique demands precise foot placement and a confident approach, as the climber must be able to actively place their feet and maintain balance.

how to perform a smear

Smearing is a straightforward technique in rock climbing that is relatively simple to pull off initially but takes some practice to master. Here’s a brief clip where Neil Gresham demonstrates the smear and how to execute it correctly.

1. position your foot on the wall or rockface

To perform a smear, start by positioning the ball of your feet flat against the rock surface, with your toes facing forward. Then, apply pressure to your feet, causing the rubber sole of your climbing shoes to stick to the rock.

2. keep your center of gravity over your feet and lean back slightly

Leaning back while smearing can increase the amount of rubber contact between your climbing shoes and the rock surface. By shifting your weight backwards, you increase the pressure being applied to your feet, which can create more friction and improve your grip. However, it’s important to find a balance between creating more rubber contact and maintaining your center of gravity over your feet, as leaning too far back can result in a loss of balance.

3. move your feet

If the initial smear doesn’t take you to your target hold, you may need to perform another smear. In this case, it’s important to wait until you have established a solid connection between your feet and the rock before moving. Once you feel secure, you can then slide your feet in the direction you want to go, repeating the process until you reach your target hold.

common mistakes while smearing

1. improper foot placements

If your feet aren’t placed correctly on the rock, with enough rubber on the rock face, it will be difficult to generate friction and maintain balance. Ensure the balls of your feet are flat against the rock with your toes pointing straight ahead.

2. Not applying enough pressure

If you don’t apply enough force, your shoe rubber will not stick to the rock or wall and you will have difficulty generating friction. Make sure to apply enough pressure to your feet to create a solid connection with the rock.

3. leaning in too far backward or forward

Maintaining your center of gravity over your feet is crucial to avoid falling. Leaning in too close to the rock reduces rubber contact and causes us to slip off. Similarly, leaning too far backward will cause us to lose balance and fall off. Finding the right balance for smearing takes practice.

4. Not engaging calf and foot muscles

Smearing requires a lot of strength in the feet, so be prepared to engage your calf and foot muscles.

5. performing the smear in dirty shoes

Smearing relies on rubber to create friction between your foot and the wall or rock face. Dirt or chalk can obstruct this and cause you to slip off even when practicing good form.

practicing the smear

The “smear” is a technique that demands rehearsal to master. Here are some tips to help you improve at smearing.

  1. Practice on the easy slabs: if you are practicing your smearing while indoor bouldering, find yourself a good slab wall and practice your foot placements. If you practice outdoors, opt for some easy, smooth rock faces.
  2. Focus on your foot placement: pay close attention to how you are placing your feet, ensuring that the ball of the foot is flat against the rock or wall
  3. Apply pressure: engage those calf and foot muscles and use strength to push your foot into the wall and generate friction
  4. Maintain your center of gravity: have your weight positioned over your feet and avoid leaning too far forward or backward
  5. Practice walking in small controlled movements: smearing should be drilled in order to master this technique so while you are practicing the foot placements also focus on making small and controlled movements on the wall
  6. Continue practicing: smearing is one of those techniques that you learn early on but take a while to truly master. If you think you are good at smearing right off the bat, I guarantee you that you are wrong!

when to smear in climbing

In climbing, smearing is often employed when there are no clear hand holds visible or when the footholds are insufficient. It can also be utilized when a climber needs to reach for the next handhold, but doesn’t have enough height or reach to do so. Smearing is a technique that is commonly utilized by shorter climbers to gain additional reach.

Smearing is a fundamental climbing move that is useful to have in your toolset as it can help you overcome challenging sections of a rock face or boulder problem.

shoes matter when smearing

You can smear with any type of climbing shoe but it is easier to perform on a soft shoe as opposed to a stiff shoe. Soft shoes have less rubber meaning they are more malleable and it becomes easier to put a lot of rubber on the rock face. Stiff shoes on the other hand lack flexibility and are not as well-suited for smearing as they are less pliable when attempting to create friction on a smooth surface.

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