Tag Archives: climbing

Move of the Month 4: The Open-Hand Grip (Improve Your Climbing Series)

Move of the Month is back, hopefully with more consistency this time around!

This month’s move is the open-handed grip position. Though I started out my climbing life attempting (somewhat successfully) to crimp every hold I grabbed for dear life, I’ve long since come to believe is the most desirable way to grasp and use the majority of handholds, “crimpers” included – unless you need the extra strength of the crimp to help you hang on and/or pull you through. If you’re confused about the difference between open-handing and crimping a hold, take a look at the photos below for clarification.

In this photo I'm open-handing with both hands.

In this photo I’m open-handing with both hands.

In this photo, my left hand is open-handing, while my right hand is crimping.

In this photo, my left hand is open-handing, while my right hand is crimping.

I don’t want to get into too many nerdy details here (or in any Move of the Month entries) about the whys of the open-handed position being preferable, so I’ll keep it short and to the point, sharing my top three reasons why I prefer open-handing holds as my default way of taking holds rather than crimping, and why I recommend training to a high level of comfort with open-handing holds.

First, open-handing holds tends to have less injury potential than crimping due to the less stressful  way an open-handed grip loads your fingers. As your fingers are already extended in an open-handed grip, this reduces the risk of a sudden and potentially damaging impact (e.g. the dreaded tendon or pulley “pop”) should your crimp-grip unintentionally open up (a major cause of climbing finger injuries).

That same less power-sapping, less stressful grip also helps you preserve that finger strength for if and when you need it for crimping, usually making for a slower drain of your strength, power, power endurance, and endurance than you would experience were you to crimp every single hold all the way up a route (and also reducing the risk of explosive, unintentional opening from crimp to open hand).

Finally, I find that keeping an open-handed grip gives me more potential directions of movement that I have off of any given hold than when I lock it down into a crimp grip. I feel more relaxed and able to almost swing off of my much more relaxed grip – the relative relaxation of my hand extends through my arm and shoulder, and I can usually more easily change my angle and trajectory of movement for my entire body than I can if and when I lock a hold down into a powerful crimp. To fully open hand any given handhold, I actually have to drop my relatively short pinky entirely off of the hold in question, but I still find the leverage better in many cases.

Here I am open-handing a small hold with my pinky off -- my most commonly used grip on small holds these days.

Here I am open-handing a small hold with my pinky off — my most commonly used grip on small holds these days.

I still crimp when I need to -- here crimping hard with the left hand while open-handing with the right.

I still crimp when I need to — here crimping with the left hand while open-handing with the right.

This is not to say that crimping doesn’t have its place. I believe that you should be able to crimp when needed, of course – when the strength generated by your bent fingers gives you the extra purchase and power needed to get you through the move. You should most definitely train your fingers to be strong in a crimped position as well as to be strong at open handing – and ideally, to be strong at changing in a controlled way from an open-hand to a crimped grip, and from a crimped grip to an open-handed one.

Crimping a hold instead of open-handing it can make the difference between doing and not doing a move for me sometimes, for sure. I just only pull out that weapon when necessary these days – and it only took about six tendon pulley injuries over the course of my first few years of climbing for me to stop crimping so much (slow learner, but I do learn eventually).

If you want more details about this week’s topic, check out Improve Your Sport Climbing (12): Technique, Part 8 (EASY-HARD): Primary Technical Issues: C) Grip.

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!

Climbing IS the Best Training for Climbing, But… Part 11 (IYC 17)

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More Specific Training Can Help You Climb Off of the Plateau or Perhaps Avoid it Altogether

For those wishing to improve their climbing effectively and efficiently, the ideal amount of time spent “just climbing” vs. structured climbing training (i.e. employing drills and exercises focusing on areas that need work in a climbing context) vs. strength training outside of climbing is a matter of figuring out the appropriate amount of time to dedicate to each activity, given where you are in your life as a climber and where you are in the training year, too.

This will involve some trial and error, for sure, and what will be most effective for you really depends on your particular situation. In general, though, those interested in engaging with training for climbing beyond “just climbing” should keep in mind the following:

  • Beginner climbers should spend the largest portion of their training time dedicated to “just climbing,” but ideally always with a mind to learning and improving tactical/technical skills. Getting feedback from others and observing more experienced climbers is a great way to hasten this process. Training off the rock most or all of the time will not teach you how to rock climb or make you much of a better climber without a lot of time spent on the rock, too.
  • More experienced climbers/trainers should spend proportionately more time working on less-strong areas that hold them back using outside of climbing strength-training methods than the beginners should, and beginners should spend more time climbing and less time training such areas of concern – though they should definitely still give them some attention.
  • The less you’ve trained a specific area that holds you back, the more potential gains you are likely to make in that area, whether it’s technical, tactical, physical (strength, power, power endurance, endurance), or mental.
  • The more you’ve trained a specific area that holds you back, the fewer potential gains you are likely to make in that area, whether it’s technical, tactical, physical (strength, power, power endurance, endurance), or mental.
  • If you’ve been climbing for a long time and you’ve utterly ignored an area of climbing or training, you have way more potential to improve than someone who has trained all relevant areas equally and efficiently and effectively right from the get-go.
  • Neither beginning climbers/trainers nor experienced climbers/trainers should spend all their training time strength training a particular area (for example) in every workout all year long, even if it’s their weakest link. Training should be varied enough to avoid overtraining, burnout, overuse injuries and boredom.
  • Both groups should spend plenty of time training by using climbing as training, but viewing almost every day as a training opportunity when you’re aware of your areas that hold you back and choosing moves, routes, angle, sequences and styles that push you is a great way to implement more focus and direction into your climbing without making it all about training, all the time.
  • Don’t do any of this if it makes your climbing too serious and never fun, unless you enjoy being too serious and never having any fun. Balance training days or months with days or weeks or even months dedicated to doing whatever you want at whatever level you want. Training is a big-picture, long-term prospect, and most sports do have an off-season for refreshing and renewing psych. Climbers would do well to remember this! 100 percent peak performance all the time is impossible, no matter who you are.

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!

Climbing IS the Best Training for Climbing, But… Part 10 (IYC 17)

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More Specific Training Can Help You Climb Off of the Plateau or Perhaps Avoid it Altogether

So by now you know that even if it’s true in one sense that  “climbing is the best training for climbing,” this statement is misleading and often misapplied or used as a reason to avoid any structured training for climbing. While you definitely need to climb — and climb a lot, and climb regularly — to get better and stay proficient at climbing, the reality is that most (probably all) climbers who wish to improve at climbing would likely benefit from adding some structured and specific strength training, along with some personalized drills and exercises and focus areas, to their training/climbing routines, regardless of how much climbing experience they have.

It sounds so simple on the one hand – if you’ve read the last nine entries here, perhaps you are already on the way to busting out of a plateau or have implemented strategies to help you avoid a future plateau. But it can be confusing to evaluate and establish what is causing a plateau or how to get out of it, for sure. I’d suggest being patient as you go through the process of working to bust a plateau, starting with the simplest solution that makes sense for you, and also keeping in mind that new training protocols should be introduced gradually and incrementally, with expectations for tangible results in months or years, rather than days or weeks.

Examples of how to approach busting a plateau include:

  • If you’re climbing at a high volume (by default meaning a relatively low intensity), try climbing less (fewer days and less time per workout in each day) and intensifying your workouts (making them harder in terms of difficulty).
  • If you’re exhausted and feeling burnt out, you’re probably overtraining; try resting more and recovering. This is a big factor in how hard you can train and climb, both – if you’re never fully rested, you cannot train as hard as possible (nor climb as hard as possible), and you therefore can’t make gains as quickly as possible either.
  • If you struggle with strength and power and/or have pronounced muscle imbalances, try adding a day or two of sport-specific/oppositional strength work to your training plan. Though you can effectively train numerous athletic skills using weight training, I’ve come to believe that for climbers, weight/resistance training is most applicable for pure strength gains, and that the other sport-specific skills/areas tend to be more effectively and efficiently trained for most climbers in a more climbing-specific way (i.e. through actual climbing drills rather than using nonclimbing terrain/equipment for training).
  • If you struggle with particular techniques and tactics, make these the deliberate focus of your climbing workouts or even days outside. Slow it down, refine the skill, drill it, and work on it consciously until it’s perfected. If you don’t address technical/tactical deficiencies, they will not improve and can get even more ingrained and more difficult to undo later.
  • Choose the climbs or climbing areas with the holds, angles, lengths and styles of movement that appeal to you the least (or that “suit your style” the least) three or four more times often than you choose the ones that cater to your strengths. Reward yourself with style-friendly climbing one day a week or one or two climbs per session.
  • Make sure you’re trying climbs that actually challenge you regularly – and that challenge you in all relevant dimensions. Mix it up. Get pumped, go big, work on shaking out and getting it back, move dynamically, do a bunch of hard moves on small holds in a row, and so forth. Keeping all of the elements that go into climbing in play in your climbing – at a level that’s challenging for you (regardless of how hard/easy they are for others) – will go a long way to helping you develop and push your skills and strengths forward evenly in this incredibly diverse and demanding activity.

How much time you dedicate to each of these areas of training, how specific your training needs to be, and what area(s) your training should be most focused on during different times of the year (i.e. periodizing your training program) depends on you as an individual. This is why one-size-fits-all climbing training can be a total shot in the dark; it may help you if it happens to target an area that’s really holding you back, but it may have little or no impact on your climbing if it works an area of relative strength while disregarding an area that would have a far greater positive impact on your climbing with more attention put there.

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!