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  • Dr. Allison Andre, DPT

Refine Your Climbing Technique With Grip Training

In the world of rock climbing, every move counts, and your success hinges on the strength, precision, and reliability of your grip. Rock climbing grips play a pivotal role in this thrilling sport, connecting climbers to the rock, providing the stability and control necessary to ascend vertical faces, overhangs, and boulders. They serve as the fundamental link between human capability and the sheer forces of gravity and nature.

So let's demystify all the grips out there! Today we delve into the world of rock climbing grips, exploring their various types, the factors that influence grip strength, techniques to improve your grip, and tips for choosing the right grips for your climbing adventures. Whether you're a seasoned climber seeking to enhance your performance or a beginner eager to understand the mechanics behind a solid grip, this article will provide you with the knowledge and insights you need to send your next climb.

"The mountains are calling, and I must go." - John Muir

Yellow Rock Climbing Grip


Table of Contents:


What is a Climbing Grip?

Rock climbing grips, also known as holds or handholds, are the specialized features or formations on a rock face that climbers use to maintain their grip and control during their ascent. These grips come in various shapes, sizes, and textures, each presenting a unique challenge and requiring specific techniques to navigate.

They provide stable points of contact on the rock surface; they are anchors enabling climbers to securely position their hands and establish a firm hold while playing a crucial role in balance and movement, guiding climbers as they strategize their route, helping them determine the most efficient and effective path to reach their destination. Grips can dictate the difficulty and style of a climbing route, demanding varying levels of strength, flexibility, and skill.

Grip technique and the ability to assess and adapt to different types of holds are essential for successful and safe climbing experiences. Understanding the definition and purpose of rock climbing grips sets the stage for exploring the intricacies of different grip types, training techniques, and choosing the right grips for specific climbing scenarios.

Why We Need to Know Our Climbing Grips

Understanding the multitude of climbing grips can significantly enhance our performance on the wall for several compelling reasons. Here are just a few:

Woman rock climbing

1. Improved Efficiency

Different grip types require specific techniques and body positioning. By understanding and utilizing the unique characteristics of each grip, climbers can optimize their movements, conserve energy, and efficiently navigate the climbing route.

2. Enhanced Grip Strength

Engaging with various grip types challenges and strengthens the muscles of the hands, fingers, and forearms. Over time, climbers develop greater grip strength, enabling them to tackle more challenging routes and hold onto smaller, more delicate holds.

3. Technique Refinement

Working with different grip types forces climbers to refine their technique, adapt to diverse climbing styles, and develop a repertoire of movement strategies. This versatility enhances their ability to tackle a wide range of climbing challenges.

4. Resting Points

Well-positioned grips offer resting points along a climbing route. These strategic holds allow climbers to take a break, shake out their muscles, and regain strength and focus before proceeding further, reducing the chances of fatigue-related accidents.

5. Confidence Boost

Feeling secure in their handholds promotes a positive mindset, reduces anxiety, and allows climbers to focus on their movements and overall safety.

Different Types of Rock Climbing Grips

Ok, so let's get into the climbing grips you will most commonly encounter both in and outside of the gym! Each grip presents its own challenges and requiring specific techniques to navigate, and you will probably have your favorites! Here are some of the common types of rock climbing grips:

Grasshopper holds with an Onsite Lifesaving Wall showing different climbing holds

1. Crimps

Crimps are small, narrow holds that require climbers to grip them with their fingertips. Think small and difficult! These grips provide minimal surface area and require precise finger strength and control and can place a high strain on your finger pulleys.

2. Slopers

Slopers are smooth and rounded holds with minimal positive features, making them challenging to grip! Climbers must rely on friction and body positioning rather than relying solely on finger strength. Slopers often require an open-handed grip and precise weight distribution to maintain contact with the hold.

3. Pinches

Pinches are grips where climbers pinch the hold between their thumb and fingers. These holds require a combination of finger, thumb, and forearm strength. Depending on the size and shape of the pinch, climbers may need to exert inward or outward pressure to maintain a secure grip.

4. Jugs

Jugs are large, positive holds that offer a generous amount of surface area, making them easy to grip. I love a good jug! They are often rounded or incut, providing a secure and comfortable handhold and are typically used for rest or recovery points on a climbing route. If you are a new climber, jugs are particularly beneficial.

5. Pockets

Pockets are small, concave features in the rock where climbers can insert their fingers or thumbs. Pockets can vary in depth, requiring climbers to fit their fingers into the pocket while maintaining tension. Finger strength, body positioning, and precise finger placement are crucial for effectively utilizing pockets.

6. Gastons

Gastons are holds where climbers use the palm of their hand to apply outward pressure against the hold. This technique is often used on sloping or angled holds. Climbers create opposition between their palm and the hold, relying on forearm and shoulder strength to maintain contact and control.

7. Mono

Mono holds, also known as monos or mono pockets, are small and shallow pockets where climbers insert a single finger. These holds are particularly challenging because they require a high level of finger strength and precision. Climbers must distribute their weight carefully and maintain tension to prevent their finger from slipping out of the pocket.

8. Undercling

An undercling grip involves gripping a hold from underneath, with the palm facing up and the fingers pointing towards the climber's body. This grip relies heavily on forearm and shoulder strength, as climbers must pull themselves upward using the tension created by pushing against the hold. Underclings are often found on steep or overhanging sections of a climbing route.

9. Side Pull

Side pulls are grips where climbers pull sideways, using holds that are angled to the side of their body. These holds require a combination of grip strength and body tension. Climbers must position their body and utilize their core and opposing muscles to maintain contact with the hold and prevent their body from swinging away from the wall.

half crimp grip

Techniques to Improve Rock Climbing Grips

Now that you have a solid understanding of various climbing grips, it's time to put that knowledge into practice and strengthen your grip! Developing strong and reliable rock climbing grips requires focused training and conditioning. By incorporating specific techniques into your training regimen, you can enhance your grip strength and control to take your climbing to the next level. Here are some highly effective techniques to improve your rock climbing grips:

Finger Training Exercises

1. Hangboarding

Hangboarding involves using a specialized board with various finger holds and edges. By hanging from different grips for a specific amount of time or performing dynamic movements, you can target and strengthen their finger muscles. Hangboarding exercises can be tailored to focus on different grip types and finger positions.


2. Fingerboarding

Fingerboarding utilizes a smaller, portable board with a series of shallow edges and pockets. This technique involves performing specific exercises, such as dead hangs, pull-ups, and lock-offs, using the fingerboard holds. Fingerboarding allows climbers to isolate and target specific finger muscles, improving grip strength, control, and finger tendon conditioning.

3. Campus Board Exercises

Campus board training involves climbing a vertically positioned board with a series of rungs or horizontal edges. Climbers use their arms to pull themselves upward, skipping rungs or performing dynamic movements between rungs. Campus board exercises primarily focus on explosive power and finger strength, simulating dynamic movements encountered on challenging climbing routes.

campus board

It's important to approach finger training exercises gradually and progress at a pace that suits your current level of strength and conditioning.

Incorporating these finger training exercises into your regular training routine can lead to significant improvements in grip strength, finger control, and overall climbing performance. Consistency, proper form, and a balanced approach to training will yield the best results. Remember to listen to your body, allowing for adequate rest and recovery between training sessions to prevent overuse injuries and promote muscle growth.

Forearm Training Exercises

In addition to finger training, developing forearm strength and endurance is crucial for improving rock climbing grips. Here are some effective forearm training exercises to incorporate into your climbing training routine:

1. Wrist Curls and Reverse Curls

Wrist curls and reverse curls target the muscles in the forearm, including the flexors and extensors. One technique to perform wrist curls involves holding a dumbbell or a barbell with an underhand grip and resting your forearms on a bench or your thighs. Slowly curl your wrists upward while maintaining a controlled movement. Reverse curls involve a similar motion, but with an overhand grip.

2. Forearm Pronation and Supination Exercises

Forearm pronation and supination exercises focus on the rotational movements of the forearm. These movements are important for maintaining grip stability and control while climbing. To perform pronation exercises, hold a weighted object, such as a dumbbell (I like to use an axe), with your elbow bent at a 90-degree angle and your palm facing down. Rotate your forearm to bring your palm facing up. Reverse the motion to perform supination, where your palm faces down again.

When incorporating forearm training exercises into your routine, start with lighter weights and gradually increase the intensity as your strength improves. It's important to maintain proper form and perform the exercises in a controlled manner to prevent injury.

In addition to these exercises, climbing itself is an excellent way to develop forearm strength and endurance. Regularly engaging in climbing sessions, particularly on challenging routes and holds, will naturally work and strengthen the forearm muscles.

Remember to give your forearms adequate time to recover between training sessions to prevent overuse injuries. Additionally, stretching and foam rolling the forearms can help alleviate muscle tension and promote flexibility.

woman performing a plank

Core and Upper Body Exercises for Better Weight Distribution

Proper weight distribution plays a vital role in maintaining balance and stability while climbing! Strengthening your core and upper body can help improve your ability to distribute your weight effectively. Here are a few exercises to incorporate into your training routine:

1. Planks and Side Planks

Planks and side planks target the core muscles, including the abdominal, oblique, and lower back muscles, helping to improve core stability and strength so you can engage your core effectively while climbing. Maintaining a strong core helps you control your body position, enabling better weight distribution during challenging climbing movements.

2. Push-Ups and Push-Up Variations

Push-ups are excellent for building upper body strength, specifically in the chest, shoulders, and triceps. Variations such as wide grip, diamond push-ups, and decline push-ups can further target specific muscle groups, providing a well-rounded upper body workout.

Trying Out Different Grips and Experimenting

Practice, practice, practice!! Trying out different grips and experimenting during climbing sessions is essential for honing your grip selection skills. Explore various grip types, experiment with different hand positions and body movements, and observe how they affect your overall climbing performance. Embrace a spirit of curiosity and willingness to learn from each climbing experience, as this will help you develop a deeper understanding of grip selection and refine your instincts on the rock.

woman indoor bouldering

It's essential to recognize the importance of rock climbing grips in achieving your climbing goals! Grips provide the foundation for successful movement and stability on the rock. By implementing grip training exercises and selecting grips wisely, you can enhance their grip strength, control, and overall climbing performance.

So, whether you are a beginner or an experienced climber, I encourage you to incorporate grip training into your regular routine and pay close attention to grip selection during your climbs. The development of strong and reliable rock climbing grips will not only improve your climbing abilities but also contribute to your safety and enjoyment on the rock.

Remember, climbing is a journey of continuous learning and growth. Embrace the challenges, celebrate the successes, and always prioritize safety. May your climbing adventures be filled with memorable experiences and exhilarating climbs!

Happy climbing!


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