Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Gripping Positions: Which is Best?

One of the most important but overlooked aspects of climbing is the position of the hands on the holds. Typically beginning climbers do whatever comes naturally when they get started and unfortunately this often means crimping.

Crimping is by far the most mechanically strong grip to use in climbing but it is also the most injury-prone hand position. The raised knuckles exert far more force on the tendons in your fingers, making the likelihood of strain or tearing much greater. Therefore, it's advisable to work on consciously adopting the safer open-hand position.

I find myself inclined to use the open-hand position most of the time. In this position, the fingers are extended, allowing a more passive gripping of the hold,as seen here.
This is the first move of a V11/12 called Clear Blue Skies. I am using a crimp position for my right hand and snagging the first hold in an open-hand position. However, the next move involves a powerful and somewhat awkward cross to another edge for my right hand. The open-hand position's primary weakness is gaining height in a static position. Its passive attitude makes it hard to easily bend and lock off the pulling arm. Therefore, for the next move to work, I have to shift from an open-hand to a crimping position, building up enough body tension to make the next move. I find I often will make this transition in the course of a move, starting open-handed and then crimping to gain height. A good example is seen in these two photos of Jimmy Webb on the notoriously crimpy European Human Being V12 at RMNP. A powerful reach to a crimp is begun in the open-hand position with the tips of three fingers grabbing the hold.

After getting good contact,Jimmy sets up for the last move in a full crimp. A full crimp helps gain the necessary distance to the obvious left hold he is aiming for. It also helps resist the "barn-door" effect that this move produces as the climber's center of gravity shifts to the left.

Another option is an intermediate position between the two extremes. This can be seen in this photo of my setting up the last move on Clear Blue Skies.
The last move on this problem is a fairly powerful dyno off a poor left edge. The right hand is better but stays low. And, in order to set up for the move, I will first need to move my right foot up. An intermediate position allows me to minimize effort while hanging on to reset my feet and also allows a quick transition to the full crimp position for the final throw.

Sometimes part of the difficulty in a problem is mastering the exact position of your hand on a given hold and potentially needing to transition through different grip positions as you move. Often you will find yourself doing unlikely things such as crimping a sloper or openhanding a severely incut small edge. Find what works best for you and don't hesitate to try all alternatives. Even just an inch of height gain can mean success so find the grip that lets you get it. However don't forget the dangers of intense full crimping. The power it offers can come with a high cost. Be careful.

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