This is the second post in a three part series where I go back to the basics of climbing so you can create a solid foundation to build upon. In the first part of this series I went over body positioning and how you can start using gravity to your advantage. In this part of the series we are going to look at proper gripping technique that will help you both avoid injury and climb better.
To start let me ask you this question:
“What part of your body gets the most tired when you climb?”
I hear “Forearms!!” as the resounding answer.
The dreaded forearm pump is every climbers kryptonite! Our forearms are our weakest link. Why? Because it’s not really a main muscle that we use everyday like our legs. We only heavily use our forearms during climbing, so they don’t have nearly as much strength or endurance.
So, you may wonder why you continue to feel that early onset of pump when you’ve been climbing for years! Surely all the climbing you’ve done must have built up some kind of forearm strength and endurance, right? Well yes, BUT, there’s more to it than that. There are many factors that play into forearm endurance. There’s body positioning (which we talked about here), forearm specific endurance training, and gripping technique.
The way you hold onto each hold directly affects your forearms. You have no muscles in your fingers, just tendons that attach to your forearm muscle. So, it only makes sense that if we improve they way we hold on then we can reduce the amount of work our forearm needs to do, which will lengthen the amount of climbing time we can put in before the pump comes in to crash the party.
Over gripping is a great way to get pumped really fast. Over gripping usually stems from a fear of falling, which can either mean that you are afraid of hurting yourself if you fall or that you just really want to finish the climb. These are two completely different things.
If you’re over gripping to prevent yourself from falling so you can successfully finish the climb, then it’s likely that you are just over gripping the holds through the crux to give you that extra boost you need to get you through it. It’s usually more of a mental boost more than anything. Test yourself by seeing if you can relax your grip at all during the sections you think you may be over gripping. This is all strength and endurance that can be saved and used later. Over gripping is just going to make you more tired faster and give you less attempts on the climb you are trying to complete. The more attempts you can get in, the quicker you’ll come to getting it.
On the other hand, if your over gripping is fear based than this probably means that you’re over gripping throughout the entire climb. You’re expending WAY more energy than is necessary which is going to exhaust you very quickly. If this is the case then you have to address the fear head on. You have to practice falling so often that you become completely comfortable with it. Start with short falls and slowly work your way up. Practice this hundreds of times (I’m not kidding) and as you become more comfortable with it you’ll notice your grip begin to relax. Also, make sure you have a belayer/spotter that you trust; that helps BIG TIME.
Keep in mind that over gripping not only uses up unnecessary energy but it can also be very dangerous for your fingers, particularly on crimps. An open hand grip is the safest for your fingers but feels less secure than a closed hand crimp. Although there are occasions when a closed hand grip is necessary, there are also many times when an open hand grip is sufficient (see here for info on open hand grip). Just watch yourself to make sure you are not straining your fingers excessively.
Use All Your Resources
You understand how important a role your forearm endurance plays in climbing, so what else can you do to improve your efficiency? Well, something simple you can do is to make sure you are using of all your resources (i.e. your fingers!). Do you know how often I see the poor pinky finger neglected while climbing? A bunch!
When we climb we are usually placing all of our weight on 8 fingers and on the tips of our toes, however, it’s not often that we have all four points of contact secured on the wall. We are often in the position where we only have one hand on the wall and one or two feet. This means that at best we are using four fingers to carry a significant amount of weight. Four fingers is not a lot, so imagine how much extra weight has to get redistributed to your other fingers once you take one or two fingers away. You’re basically asking your forearms and fingers to work overtime.
Ok, so I know that there are times when this can’t be avoided, holds get small or pockets get too tight to fit every finger. I get it. What I’m really referring to is those times when you just choose to use 2 fingers on that edge when it could clearly fit every finger. Or even those times when a finger slips off or you just don’t catch the hold properly. I see that happen a lot! You’re burning yourself out much faster and demanding a lot more out of your fingers and forearms. However, it’s all about finding a balance between reducing injury and climbing efficiently. When you don’t catch the hold properly can you still pull safely and strong enough to make the next move? Would readjusting your hand burn way to much energy? Is it better to just fall, try the move again and try catching the hold better? Just think about it and make sure you’re making the best decisions that are going to help you climb better.
Do you think you can improve your gripping technique? Share by leaving me a comment below!