Climbing holds and how to conquer them

For every climber, the trail of holds set to the blank canvas of an indoor climbing wall represents the challenge inherent in rock climbing itself – reaching the summit. For newbies looking at a wall for the first time, these colorful outcroppings may appear to be just arbitrary shapes placed with random happenstance, but a more seasoned climber is aware that each hold is placed to serve a specific purpose, and the sequence you choose to has a significant impact on the potential difficulty of your climb. Climbing, after all, is really a puzzle, and these holds are the pieces used to build the whole picture.

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What may not be clear at first or fifth glance is that all the different types of holds can really be whittled down to 4 main shape families. Sure, within each family there may be many iterations and variations, but once you are able to identify what shape of hold you are dealing with, you can better understand it's purpose along with your path and how best to utilize it.  Read on to learn more about how to conquer these climbing holds and crush your climb every time.

Climbing Jug hold 1.jpgJugs (& Crimps or Edges)

Jugs are the type of hold that every climber breaths a sigh of relief to see. These are generally the easiest holds to work with. You can identify a jug because it is usually a fairly large protrusion with a substantial surface climbing Jug Hold grip 1.jpgarea to grip with your whole hand and even a lip to get your fingers behind – like a handle. You can hang from it, hook onto it, some are even large enough to match on. You'll most likely see these types of holds on a beginner route, but they can also be seen on harder routes and are great for taking a rest. Routes made up of mostly this type of holds are sometimes referred to as "jug hauls".

Chances are if you've been on any climb you have already met and conquered this hold. Think of it more as a welcome friend along any route, and use it as a way to re-focus yourself and make solid plans for the rest of your climb. A crimp or an edge can still be a good place to stabilize and get your bearings.

Climbing Edge grip.jpg"Crimps" or "edges" are a variation on a jug with generally less surface area to work with; i.e. if you can only fit your finger pads onto it, it's a crimp. These guys still follow the same premise though, when approached properly they can be a valuable hold to find a moment of recovery. Crimps are often used on easier climbs at foot chips because the edge of the climbing shoe can fit on them quite easily.

How to conquer this hold: Once you are climbing grades that use crimps you should start to consider finger strengthening exercises. Because crimps put a lot of strain on the finger tendons in ways that other hold shapes do not, building strength in safe and controlled exercises can help you continue to push your self on your crimp heavy project in a healthy way. At LVAC we have a fingerboard that has many different edges to work the crimp strength. Start with the most positive edge on the fingerboard, hang with the elbows bent slightly, greater than 90 degrees for 7 seconds then rest for 5 seconds, repeat that 6 times, rest for 3 full minutes and then repeat the 6 hangs.

Climbing Sloper.jpgSlopers

Climbing Sloper grip 2.jpg

Slopers are fairly self-explanatory and more challenging than they might at first appear. Along your path, they will look like a mound (it can be small or fairly large) that doesn’t have a lot of texture or any kind of lip. The challenge of slopers is that they require you to use your whole palm as opposed to leveraging with a finger grip. When a sloper is smaller it can act as a jug given that the fingers can wrap over it, when the sloper is too large you’ll be relying mostly on hand strength to generate surface friction.

How to conquer this hold: Since we're dealing with skin friction here, remember to chalk up! A sweaty hand on slopers means instant slip. These holds can be very daunting so keep in mind you'll probably get the best leverage if you keep your arm straight while gripping these guys. You may want to feel around for the best part of the hold before committing fully, sometimes there can be a bump or divet along the surface that might give you a slightly more advantageous grip.

Climbing Pinch Grip 1.jpgPinches

These holds are not the most fun. As the name suggests, you approach a pinch like holding a sandwich, but without the tasty reward of eating it. Pinches usually long and narrow and can sometimes have some sloper surface like, but unlike a sloper, using a pinch means engaging your thumb. These holds can require a more engaged position from your whole body and often require more hand and finger strength than other holds.

How to conquer this hold: Pinches are not normally for hanging on to, but they can be depending on the type of terrain, so don't be fooled.  Here is where good technique is really important. Approach a pinch with awareness of its direction and orientation.  if you find the right body position don't be afraid to use it for a longer transition. That is how you ultimately build the strength to use them more effectively.

Climbing pocket hold.jpgPockets

Pockets are holds that basically act as holes in the wall. They are usually really deep, but very small so as to not fit more than 3 fingers. Pockets are categorized by how many fingers you can fit inside, for example, a “mono-pocket” accommodates one digit, a “two finger pocket" of course houses two. They come in all sorts of fun shapes and sizes, and also depths; while deeper pockets are easier to work with, you may also come across some shallower pockets that require a little more strategy to use.

How to conquer these holds: Monopockets are definitely the most strenuous on your tendons, so be wary of using your whole weight with mono pockets. However, 2 and 3-finger holds can be very helpful. When approaching this hold, you want to use as many fingers as will comfortably fit in the hole, and always use your strongest fingers. Feel around for a sloped edge or ridges inside the pocket that can help give you a better grip or allow you to pull against it. But be careful moving off of a pocket too quickly with out removing your finger(s) in time; this can add additional strain.

Remember, any hold can be a hanging hold and any hold can be a transitional hold, it just depends on how strong you are.  A Fingerboard is a large hold designed by hold companies has an array of hold shapes and sizes in a compact layout, and using a board to train your finger strength is a great way to improve your grip for many of these holds types. It is space-saving strength building!  But the best way to get better, of course, is to just keep on climbing. 

Dina Liberatore is the climbing director for Chicago Athletic Clubs.

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