Move of the Month 7: The Grip Release/Relax Trick (a.k.a. Avoiding Overgripping in Climbing)

My lower hand is pretty relaxed at this point, not gripping nearly as hard as my leading hand.

My lower hand is pretty relaxed at this point, not gripping nearly as hard as my leading hand.

Do you hold on tightly to every climbing hold you touch as if your life depended on it? If so, this month’s move of the month is for you!

In addition to cultivating comfort with open-handing climbing holds (discussed in Move of the Month 4), learning to relax your grip as much as possible when you climb can help you conserve strength while you climb (avoiding the dreaded pump for longer), as well as giving you more fluidity in your climbing.

One particular way to start working on this involves focusing on relaxing the grip of whichever hand is lower on a route as soon as the higher hand fully grasps its target hold. Loosening the grip of the lower hand so that it’s more of a pivot point gives you options to move in whatever direction makes the most sense. Keeping a vise-like death grip on the lower hold makes it harder to move efficiently and effectively in many situations.

Step One: Learning to incorporate this grip release into your climbing is as simple as drawing your attention to it, particularly while you’re warming up. Focus on releasing your grasp on the lower handhold and noticing how this usually makes your whole body more relaxed. Doing this consciously move after move after move – in other words, using conscious repetition – can help gradually train it into your “default mode” of climbing, so that you no longer need to consciously think about releasing your too-tight grip and relaxing every time your upper hand connects with the next hold. This is desirable!

Step Two: Since climbing at your potential is all about efficiency, start to work on relaxing BOTH hands as much as possible while you climb. You might experiment with this by focusing your attention on your hands for a given part of several climbing sessions, and noticing if you tend to routinely overgrip holds (which often leads to climbing with mostly bent arms as well, discussed in Move of the Month 6). In safe climbing situations, such as warming up with a trusted partner in the gym, or bouldering low to the ground on a traverse with a good landing and ample padding, experiment with loosening your grip on every hold you grab. Notice if you can hold on with a lot less force than you usually do. Try to release your grip as much as you can, even to the point of slipping off. Learning that sweet spot where you are holding on just enough to stay on and keep everything as relaxed as possible is ideal.

Step Three: Work on relaxing your grip with both hands while you’re resting on a hold or on a set of holds, trying to hold on with as little force as possible. Another key aspect of this involves cycling your grips, or trying to change the positon of your hands on the resting hold(s) to allow different muscles to be used. If you know the sequence ahead involves a lot of crimping, for example, it’s smart to figure out how to open-hand the rest as much as you can. If you know it involves pinching, trying to keep your thumbs out of the resting equation makes sense. Getting creative with your grip at a rest might also involve ham hocking/meat-hooking the hold(s), jamming, or another way of taking the hold(s) that allows more tired parts involved in the grip to get more rest. Hanging straight armed (Move of the Month 2) also helps make the most of rests.

This multipart series of articles starts here, in case you have to catch up – you’ll also find a full table of contents, complete with links, in that entry. This information and advice is based on my 20+ years of climbing along with observations I’ve made as a climbing coach/certified personal trainer. You might not agree with me or my take on things. That’s fine – feel free to take it or leave it as you wish! Also, remember that the information I provide here is purely offered as advice and that no exercises or training program should be undertaken without receiving medical clearance from a healthcare professional.

One other caveat: As will be true for all of the entries and articles in this series, if you’ve already mastered or maxed out the topic at hand to the best of your ability level, you’ll reap far fewer benefits or none at all from my suggestions – good for you that you figured it out, but sorry I couldn’t help you out more. Happy climbing and training!

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