The best way to become a better climber is to simply get out and climb. Once you've gotten started, regular climbing will allow you to quickly build up strength and endurance. And just being at a rock gym will allow you to watch better climbers and mimic how they move on the wall.
But another important aspect of developing your climbing skills is to learn the types of holds and how to use them. Climbing holds come in a huge variety of shapes from blobs to bats. Many of these shapes try to mimic real rock features while others are merely for fun. But it is not the specific shape that matters, but rather how that shape can be utilized. In fact, even turning the same shape upside down might result in a completely different type of hold.
Become familiar with the types of holds listed below and how to use them. You will surely improve your climbing just by being able to predict how to use a hold by looking at it. Plus, it will make sharing beta, or the sequence of moves, with fellow climbers much easier.
Jugs are every climber's best friend. The term basically encompasses every large, easy to grab hold. They can be held with the entire hand (and sometimes both) while requiring minimal energy. Beginner routes can be made up entirely of jugs. But even advanced routes will often have them on overhangs and roofs.
No special technique is required to use jugs. However, it can be helpful to keep your arms straight to keep them from getting prematurely fatigued. Also, don't be afraid to take advantage of the solid handhold to do a foot smear.
Mini-Jugs and Incuts
Mini-jugs and incuts refer to the same type of hold. These holds are smaller than jugs but still provide a very solid handhold. Generally mini-jugs are only deep enough to fit up to the second knuckle while jugs will be deep enough to fit your entire finger behind. All mini-jugs and incuts have a lip to get your fingers behind.
Just like with jugs, the most efficient way to use mini-jugs is with a straight arm and straight wrist. In most cases, the maximal length of fingers should be placed inside the hold. However, if the hold is less than one knuckle deep, it is best to put the joint directly on the lip while below the hold. This technique allows a more natural open grip (as opposed to a closed grip crimp described below) to reduce the chance of injury.
Slopers can be very difficult for new climbers but are quite a necessity on more advanced routes. They tend to have no lip or edge of any kind. Or if they do possess a featured surface, it is practically useless to get a direct grip. Slopers make up for their roundness with a rough or "positive" surface.
The secret to slopers is to get as much surface area of the hand on the climbing hold. The friction generated between the hand and the hold keeps the climber from falling off. It takes some getting used to before slopers feel comfortable and trustworthy. Slopers are best hung on from below with straight arms.
Pockets are essentially round holes that allow you to hook between 1 and 3 fingers. They vary in depth and texture but generally do not have any sort of lip.
When using pockets, you want to most efficiently use the few fingers that fit. For one finger pockets, you want to use your strongest finger--generally your middle or index finger. Two finger pockets are best held with your middle and ring finger. Using these similarly sized fingers keeps your wrist in a straight line. Three finger pockets use all but the pinkie. Sometimes it can be advantageous to jam more fingers into a smaller pocket, but not always.
Pinches are usually vertically oriented holds. They can share similar properties to slopers and other holds, but are narrow enough to fit the entire hand around.
Pinches require using the thumb on the opposite side of the hold to create a strong squeezing force. Of all the climbing holds, pinches usually require the greatest amount of strength. Depending on the shape of the hold, the pinch could use between 1 and 4 fingers opposing the thumb. The thumb can be used on other types of holds to provide additional holding force, but is essential for pinches.
Crimps and Chips
Crimps and chips are generally small, thin climbing holds. Chips are most commonly footholds but can also be used for hands on advanced climbing routes. These types of holds are seldom found on beginner routes due to a greater need for strength and solid technique.
While nearly every hold so far has used an open grip, crimps use a closed grip. A closed grip means that the first knuckle is flexed in the direction opposite its natural bending. That is, you press directly downward on the pads of the finger, not the tips. Closed grips can put a lot of strain on the joints and tendons so take care to prevent injury. When using a crimp, try to get the thumb involved--either press the thumb on the side of the hold or wrap it across the top of the other fingers to generate a more powerful force. Crimps can be difficult when you first begin, but practicing will build the necessary strength and confidence.
Edges are defined by their pronounced edge and flat top surface. They are similar to crimps but significantly larger and with no lip. Edges are usually wide enough to fit four fingers.
Edges can be used in two ways: like a crimp or like a shallow mini-jug. As a crimp, you would use a closed grip on top of the edge. This method is more strenuous on the joints but helps you feel more connected to the hold, particularly as you start to climb past it. As a mini-jug, you would hang off the edge on the first joint. This technique will feel less secure but is preferred when below the hold.
- Closed Grips Vs Open Grips in Rock Climbing
The terms open grip and closed grip are often used when discussing rock climbing. Learn the differences and when each type of grip is used.
Side Pulls, Underclings, and Gastons
While side pulls, underclings, and gastons are not explicitly shapes of holds, they are used differently and thus warrant inclusion in this article. Almost every climbing hold has a side that is the most useful. Depending on which direction this side is oriented, a hold may be classified as one of these types rather than its specific shape.
Side pulls occur when a hold is oriented sideways away from the climber. The holds are still used as described above, but the body needs to be falling away from the hold. Rather than gravity, the horizontal direction of force is what allows you to stay connected to the hold.
Gastons also occur when a hold is rotated sideways, but this time it is oriented toward the climber. These holds will often come in pairs and require an opposing outward push. Imagine you are pushing open a sliding glass door after sticking your outward facing hands in the gap. To use a single gaston, you will need to get your feet high and lean past the hold. Be careful, though, as your body will try to twist away from the wall.
Lastly, underclings are exactly as they sound: holds oriented upside down. To use underclings, you will want to turn your palm upwards and do your best to use the hold as you would normally. It can be difficult to get a good grip when you are below them, but it becomes much easier as you climb higher. One of the most beneficial uses of an undercling is for standing up when the hold is below your waist. They allow you to put a very strong opposing force on your feet.
Now that you know the holds, get out and use them. One of the best workouts to build strength, endurance, and technique is to simply traverse horizontally across the wall. Practice using the new holds and those with which you struggle. You will become a better climber in no time!
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Magda van wyk on August 05, 2018:
Were can i buy it to get the correct info to set it up aswell
Garrison on February 13, 2018:
A sloper hold is literally the opposite of a "positive hold". A positive hold, by definition allows one to apply a force perpendicular to the direction of the net force on your center of mass. The only way a sloper could be positive is on an extremely declined slab route.
Sam on August 10, 2016:
Sounds good bro sounds comprehensive but what about the SOS???
Melody on July 26, 2016:
Much Googling, and I finally found what I was looking for, in this article. I'm starting to get more serious about my climbing and this info will be really useful in taking beta from some of the more advanced climbers that help me. Thanks a ton!
NoahLindgaard on June 05, 2016:
thx i made a presentation for this wepside
Jim on June 01, 2016:
Thnx I'm a new rock climber but I'm #12 in canada
John cena on March 04, 2016:
Thx for the article
Pallavi Ruhela from Delhi, India on February 25, 2016:
Awesome, Natashalh! I love Rock Climbing... Nice
Lottie on January 15, 2016:
I just started Nicas level 1 and this proved very helpful when I was tested thx
Kristen Howe from Northeast Ohio on October 06, 2015:
Logan, this is a great hub. I always wanted to learn how to climb rockwalls in a gym. Very useful!
Kayleigh on January 10, 2015:
thanks, this is going to help me achieve level 3 Nicas! now I just need to write an essay as deatailed as your description!
LoganG (author) from Florida on May 13, 2012:
Awesome, Natashalh! I love it when more people start climbing. Have fun!
Natasha from Hawaii on May 13, 2012:
Thanks for this. I've just started climbing and have heard folks talking about these different types of grips and I'd sort of guessed west some of them were, but this really helps!
LoganG (author) from Florida on February 25, 2012:
Thanks Ausyeda! Glad you found it useful. Keep climbing!
Ausyeda on February 24, 2012:
Hi LoganG! I've been rock climbing for a year now but haven't come across an extensive review of holds before.. thanks for posting this!
LoganG (author) from Florida on December 06, 2011:
Thanks, Lauren! Glad you found the information useful. Good luck with your climbing!
Lauren on December 06, 2011:
I'm a new climber, and this is some really great information- both about the holds and how to use them. Thanks so much for putting it up!