Types of Holds and How to Use Them
Updated: Apr 17
Have you ever made this face after falling off of a problem? Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. While climbing holds may look simple enough, understanding the nuances of each type of hold is an essential part of climbing; and a lot harder than it looks!
While there are only a couple of types of holds in the climbing gym, they come in thousands of shapes and sizes which affects the way you are going to use them when climbing.
The best grip on a climbing hold is always going to be the grip that maximizes contact with the hold. More contact = more friction. And more friction = feeling more secure on the hold. This rule applies to all types of climbing holds: jugs, crimps, pockets, pinches, and slopers. While there are techniques that apply to specific holds, maximizing contact with the hold will always be the number one priority.
So Let’s Dive into the Types of Holds and How to Use Them!
Jugs: Everybody’s BFF
Buckets, jugs, hero holds, baskets, ladder rungs, whatever you want to call them. Whether you are a beginner or an old crag veteran, you recognize jugs as hot commodity both indoors and out. As problems get more difficult, we often times see the jugs disappear for smaller, far worse holds. But nearly every beginner route will be chalk and chock full of them!
It is tempting to grab at these holds as they are familiar and feel the most secure, but doing so will likely leave your hands red, blistery, and ultimately unable to climb. This is because it is easy to maximize contact with jugs so moving off of them creates a great deal of friction that can really hurt your hands. In order to escape this problem, avoid readjusting your grip once you have made contact with the hold. You likely have enough contact on the first go so when you readjust all you are doing is shredding more skin off.
Crimps: Let’s Crimp It Out
Crimps are some of the most common holds you’ll find in climbing, both indoor and out. One key element to understand about crimps is that “crimp” can refer to the actual hold OR the way in which you use the hold. This rings true for other types of holds (such as pinches) as well. Crimps are small edges of rock or plastic that are only big enough to fit your finger tips. Crimps may vary from larger edges fitting several finger pads to tiny “credit card” crimps that may only have room enough for a thin sliver of your finger tips. While there are many intricacies to crimping that we could get into, let’s talk about the three basic ways to hold a crimp: open crimp, half crimp, and close crimp.
To open crimp, place a single finger pad on the hold and extend the knuckles as far as possible. This provides very little contact with the hold and therefore is the weakest way to crimp. However, open crimping is also the healthiest for your fingers as it causes the least amount of stress on your tendons. I suggest open crimping for any training but it is not entirely practical on the wall.
To half crimp, increase contact with the hold by bending 90 degrees at the middle knuckle. Half crimping stresses the fingers more than open crimping, but you will find that it is a much stronger grip. Unless you are really pulling on that project, I suggest half crimping for the majority of your crimps.
Note: The thumb does not come up and over for a half crimp, it must remain down.
Last we have the number one cause of finger injuries: the full crimp. To full crimp, place as if you are going to half crimp but wrap the thumb over top and bring the palm in toward the hold slightly. Full crimping maximizes your contact with the hold, but it places enormous stress on your tendons. This grip is not recommended for beginners and even advanced climbers tend to shy away from it.
Pockets: “Which fingers do I use?”
Pockets are small holes in the rock wherein you can only fit 1-3 fingers. The first question is, “Which fingers do I use?” You almost always want to use your middle and ring finger in a pocket. This is because:
1) They are attached the furthest back and closest together on your flexor digitorum profundus (forearm muscle). 2) They are generally the longest fingers and therefore fit most comfortably. 3) As the middle two fingers, they stabilize the hand better than any other two.
Another key component of pockets is to center your gravity beneath them and pull straight down (as pictured). This increases the surface contact which, as we know, makes the grip stronger!
Slopers: The Hardest Climbing Hold?
Ask every climber and they may tell you something different. I, for one, despise crimps and find myself quite at home on slopers. I’ve also met plenty of climbers that think the opposite! Regardless of your favorite hold, slopers are tricky, rounded holds that come in all shapes and sizes. The key attribute of a sloper is the lack of any lip or edge to gain purchase on. For this reason, gripping a sloper relies entirely on surface contact.
This grip attempts to increase contact by pressing the palm to the hold and arching the fingers to match the shape of the hold. The key here is to get as much friction as possible. It is also crucial to, much like pockets, center your gravity beneath the hold. You do not so much pull on a sloper as you do press into.
This grip, often referred to as Meat Hook, aims to maximize surface contact by pressing the forearm and wrist into the hold. While this grip will feel more secure than a normal sloper grip, it is not always optimal and will leave your forearms chewed up! Experiment with slopers and use these tips to find which grips work for you!
Pinches: Do I Have to Use My Thumb When I Pinch?
Yes! Otherwise, you are not pinching! Pinches are holds with edges on either side that allow you to position your thumb opposite your other digits. Sometimes pinches will be too wide to fit around if you have small hands or too small to get your thumb on if you have big hands, but most every time you see a pinch you want to try and get your thumb around it. Why? Because it maximizes that ever-important surface contact! Not only that, but the thumb adds an opposing force (the squeeze) and engages differently from other holds so you will almost always feel more secure with the thumb on.
While I have provided you with solid footing for understanding climbing holds, the best way to get to know these holds is to go out and use them! Play around with different holds. See which ones you gravitate towards and which you want to avoid at all costs. And spend more time on those you don’t like! You’ll find that as you learn the intricacies of each type of hold, you will start to feel more comfortable on those pesky crimps or lousy pinches that have been giving you trouble.