Rock climbing holds come in a crazy variety of different styles so when you start climbing at an indoor wall it can be pretty confusing to figure out which of the multicoloured lumps of plastic you should grab first.
Each different climbing hold has a unique shape and requires a different technique to get the most out of it. Knowing which climbing hold is which gives you the best chance of tackling a route and helps you to spot for other rock climbers, giving killer climbing advice that will help them beat the wall too.
If you know the difference between each climbing hold you can also grab some to build your own mini route at home, creating a practice area that will really develop your rock climbing at a level that suits you.
Climbing Hold Materials
Old school climbing holds used to be made from rock, resin and even wood but a lot of these materials were either difficult to build with or wore down easily. Modern climbing holds are usually made from polyurethane which is the same stuff you use to make skateboard wheels. This material makes climbing holds both durable and simple to produce in a wide range of shapes. There are also corn and soya bean based materials currently being developed to create an environmentally friendly type of climbing hold.
Climbing holds are normally modelled on the shape of holds you might find on a rock face but there are some unique styles, such as climbing holds shaped like numbers and letters, that you’ll probably never find in natural rock. Most climbing holds are textured to represent the grip and feeling you get from climbing on rock and even get polished and slippery when too many people have climbed on them, just like real rock climbing holds do.
Climbing holds are commonly described in terms of how positive they are. A very positive climbing hold is one that is easy to use because it has a strong edge which you can grab onto, usually running horizontally across the hold. Less positive holds normally make routes more difficult as you have to trust your weight to a much smaller edge, requiring better balance, grip strength and power than a more positive climbing hold.
Jugs are probably the most positive climbing hold you’re going to run into, these holds are so easy to use that you could almost climb them blind. Deep and forgiving, a jug is normally shaped with a large hollow area at the top of the hold which you can easily slip one or more hands in. The simplicity of jugs has even led to the name being used for any very positive or easy hold on a rock face, no matter what the shape.
How To Climb Them:
Just curl your fingers over the lip of the hollow area and pull. Jugs are super easy to climb and are normally used as a resting point during difficult routes, giving you breathing space to figure out your next move.
This type of climbing hold is very similar to a regular jug, just a bit smaller. You can normally only fit one hand on an incut and the the edge or hollow of the hold is usually shallower making it harder to climb.
How To Climb Them:
To climb an incut, curl your fingers over the positive edge and push them as deep as you can into any hollow to give yourself the best support. These holds are slightly trickier than jugs but still quite easy to use. Try to climb with your arms straight instead of bent when you reach an incut or jug, as this will reduce fatigue and leave you with more energy for later moves on the route.
Crimps are one of the tougher kinds of climbing hold you’ll run into. A crimp is usually small, thin and irregularly shaped and is often used as foot holds at the start of a route or on traverse walls. These challenging holds require good strength and technique to master as they offer a fairly small positive edge to work with. This is the type of hold that true rock climbing heroes thrive on.
How To Climb Them:
Crimps are usually too tiny to fit more than one hand on. Their small size and slight positive edge mean that you have to create a lot of power through just one hand when climbing them. To do this you need to use a closed grip rather than the more open hand style used on other holds.
Place the pads of your fingers onto the edge of the crimp and then bend your fingers upwards from the first knuckle. Press your thumb either along the side of the hold or over the top of your fingers and push down creating a powerful, locked grip that will help you to securely hold the crimp. This rock climbing technique, also known as crimping, can be stressful on your arms so make sure you take a break from it when needed, building your strength a bit at a time until you have full confidence in your grip.
Slopers throw nearly every climber the first time they try one. Unlike most other climbing holds, slopers have a rounded shape with no positive edge. To compensate for this lack of grip, slopers usually have a very rough surface which gives your hands extra traction. Slopers are normally larger than other holds and are frequently used in advanced climbing routes, you may even find entire routes made just from slopers.
How To Climb Them:
The lack of positive edge on a sloper means you’re not relying on finger tip strength. To tackle these climbing holds you need to use friction created by the surface area of your hand so the more of your hand you can get onto the hold the better.
Lay your hand out across the hold so that you have as much skin in contact with the sloper as possible. The hold will feel a bit weak at first and won’t be as solid as a positive grip like a jug, but the traction you get will actually give you enough grip to move onto another more positive hold. It’s important to have a balanced position when using slopers so that you can reduce the amount of weight you commit to the hold. Balance also means that you can make smaller, smoother adjustments which should reduce stress on your grip.
Slopers are also great for mantling on, pressing down from above the climbing hold like you would when you are getting out of a swimming pool, to lift yourself up and gain extra reach for your next move. However you tackle these fun holds it will develop your technique and make you a better climber.
Pockets are climbing holds that have a hole in the middle and usually no positive exterior edge. They’re normally quite small and provide a great workout for your fingers.
How To Climb Them:
Finger strength is key when climbing holds like this. You need to get as many fingers as you comfortably can into the pocket and then press down on the bottom of the hole.
Pockets come in one, two and three finger sizes. One finger pockets put the most stress on your hands and should always be climbed with your strongest finger. For two finger pockets it’s common to use your middle and ring fingers but go with the index and middle finger if that feels more comfortable. Finally three finger pockets take the index, middle and ring finger leaving your little finger and thumb to provide any extra balance and grip they can.
If you’re finding these holds particularly difficult go and practice on a campus board or even a chin up bar, hanging from one, two and three fingers to improve your strength.
Edges are one of the most common holds you’ll find on real mountain rock faces. They’re basically a positive edge that’s shallower or shorter than a jug. You can often get a couple of fingers onto an edge and they work equally well as footholds for your shiny new climbing shoes too.
How To Climb Them:
Edges are simple rock climbing holds to deal with, just hook as many fingers onto them as you can and then pull yourself up. Keeping your arms straight as you climb edges will reduce fatigue and don’t be afraid to crimp if you need to. Rock climbing holds with a closed grip will give you better power and a stronger connection to the edge, even though it will ask more of your hand.
Pinches are holds which have a positive edge on two opposing sides. These climbing holds are normally angled vertically, with the positive edges running top to bottom rather than horizontally like many other holds. This means that you’ll have to use your thumb as well as your fingers to get the grip you need.
How To Climb Them:
As the name suggests, pinch climbing holds require a pinching action in order to use them. Get your finger tips along one side of the hold and your thumb on the other, grabbing the rock climbing hold like your hand is a crab’s claw. Some pinches are irregularly shaped so try to make sure you have a solid grip in your other hand that will give you time to explore the pinch and adjust your hand position to ensure the best fit on the hold.
Pinch climbing holds require a tonne of grip strength and will probably feel a little awkward a first to climb. Try to start out with large pinches, as these require less strength to grip, before progressing to smaller climbing holds which will really test your finger and thumb muscles.
Building up pinch strength is best done by using your hands regularly to do physical work. Picking up heavy objects between your fingers and thumb instead of resting them in your palm and grabbing a grip strength tool can work wonders. The best bit about training your pinch strength is that it will improve your climbing all round, enabling you to tackle lots of other climbing holds more easily too with stronger fingers and thumbs.
Climbing holds don’t come much bigger than this. A volume is a large geometric shape, usually built from board or fibreglass, which often has bolt holes in it that can be used to attach regular climbing holds to.
Common shapes for a volume are irregular pyramids and half balls and you can even get hanging models too that are suspended from the ceiling by chain which will swing when you climb on them. Some of the most challenging boulder and competition routes are constructed entirely from volumes without a single regular climbing hold in sight.
How To Climb Them: Depending on their shape, volumes can be climbed in a number of different ways. If there aren’t any regular holds attached to them look for any positive edge you can find and climb them like an edge hold with your arms extended and a crimp grip if needed.
If your volume is rounded or there is no positive edge then it can be approached like a sloper, placing as much of your hand as possible on the surface of the volume to create friction and give you grip.
Volumes are also great for mantling or counter balancing from. Push down with your foot or hand against any non vertical face of the volume and you can reach higher up the wall to grab another something more positive..
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