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Hanging On: How to Stay on Handholds

To climb a boulder or wall, one must figure out the best way to grab on to handholds/holds. You might remember this from “Climbing Holds: What Can I Hold?”. However, some holds you hold differently than others. Why? Well, let’s dive in.


Hand crimping on green crimp hold Take, for example, one approaching an edge. I stated in “Climbing Holds” crimps and edges force hands into a “crimp” shape. This position results in the knuckles just behind the fingernails into a closed position at roughly a 90-degree angle. The tip of the finger to the first joint lies on the flat part of the edge, and the second joint sticks up. The thumb is against the pointer or on top of it, and the wrist bends back for leverage.

According to author Peter Beal in his book Bouldering: Movement, Tactics, and Problem Solving, another way to grip edges or crimps is what’s known as an open-hand grip. Or an open-hand crimp. Think the tip of the finger to the first joint hanging off the edge with the fingers close together. Open-hand crimping is the preferred grip on edges because it doesn’t put as much strain on the fingers. Beal states that crimping works well, but “it’s the most injury-prone hand position.” Raised knuckles exert massive force onto the finger tendons, which increases the likelihood of strain or tearing.


Grabbing an orange pinch on a problem Pinching can make a huge difference when grasping on to poor holds. Pinches are excellent for this movement; who knew? Now the size may or may not matter, but pinching improves it. It helps to have one’s feet on good and supportive holds to relieve some of the strain and pull from the hands.


Hand grabbing a purple sloper hold These are my least favorite holds. For slopers, constant force must be applied onto the hold to stick. Having the hand spread out on the surface helps too. For these types, one wants to spend as little time as possible. If there’s any sort of texture that friction can benefit from, use it. I’ve found that spreading my hand out, then pushing onto the hold helps me stay on it a little longer. Or if the sloper is in close reach, wrap my arm around it to give me leverage then reposition so I can push off.

Use Those Arms

Not only are the hands critical in figuring out the best way to hold on, but so are the arms. They’re what produce leverage, torque, and yes, upward movement. There are five basic arm positions climbers should learn according to Learning to Climb Indoors author Eric J. Hörst:

Down Pull

Grabbing and pulling down on a purple hold This arm movement is the most frequently used and the first to learn in climbing. One grabs a hold or holds above the head with the palm facing the wall or rock. From here, one pulls down to go upwards, or if they wish, hang from the hold. This move pulls the body close to the hold(s). It sort-of feels like doing a pull-up.


Pushing myself up from a large hold Opposite of the down pull, mantling starts with the arms in a bent position near the torso and then push downward with the palm. Picture yourself pushing up and out of a swimming pool. That’s another way to do it. One might mantle off of a sloper if it’s big enough to do so or sometimes on top of a pocket. Another time one would mantle is reaching the edge of a boulder or a ledge.


Pulling inward with a blue undercling hold In my opinion, the undercling is self-explanatory. One grabs underneath the hold with the palm up and either pinch it or half-crimp, maybe open crimp. It’s best to hold these near the torso, so it’s closer to your center of gravity. If one can find an opposite foot placement, this move can be stable.


Pulling on a purple sidepull hold Sidepulls are for pulling towards yourself while maintaining an oppositional force. You oppose the force that your hand and arm create with the opposite one or with your feet. Try pinching the edge to help secure it. One can hold on to two sidepulls at the same time and pull inward to keep balance and leverage. As helpful as this is, it’s also strenuous. So, it’s best to have good footwork, move through quickly, and not lose too much energy over it.

Gaston (Reverse Sidepull)

Pulling 2 purple holds together Gastons are a more difficult arm position to use. It’s recognized as a bent-armed, elbow-out position with the hand gripping the holds thumb-down. Instead of pulling towards the body, one pulls away from it on the hold. Picture pulling two sliding doors away from each other at the same time. If one were to come across a right-facing vertical edge in-front of themselves, they should grab it with the left hand with the thumb down then pull outward to the left. This move is hard on the shoulders, so proceed with care.

Stretch to Left Foot Yellow

Just as important as figuring out what to grab onto next is thinking where one’s feet are going too. The hands and feet should work together to maintain balance and stay on the holds. Sometimes there isn’t a good handhold, but an awesome foothold nearby that will allow one to move upward. Let’s talk about using your feet next time. Until then, happy bouldering!