Types of Holds and How to Use Them

"How did that happen?!"

Have you ever made this face after falling off of a problem? Don’t worry, we’ve all been there. While climbing holds may look simple enough, understanding the nuances of each type of hold is an essential part of climbing; and a lot harder than it looks!

While there are only a couple of types of holds in the climbing gym, they come in thousands of shapes and sizes which affects the way you are going to use them when climbing.

The best grip on a climbing hold is always going to be the grip that maximizes contact with the hold. More contact = more friction. And more friction = feeling more secure on the hold. This rule applies to all types of climbing holds: jugs, crimps, pockets, pinches, and slopers. While there are techniques that apply to specific holds, maximizing contact with the hold will always be the number one priority.

So Let’s Dive into the Types of Holds and How to Use Them!

Jugs: Everybody’s BFF

Buckets, jugs, hero holds, baskets, ladder rungs, whatever you want to call them. Whether you are a beginner or an old crag veteran, you recognize jugs as hot commodity both indoors and out. As problems get more difficult, we often times see the jugs disappear for smaller, far worse holds. But nearly every beginner route will be chalk and chock full of them!

It is tempting to grab at these holds as they are familiar and feel the most secure, but doing so will likely leave your hands red, blistery, and ultimately unable to climb. This is because it is easy to maximize contact with jugs so moving off of them creates a great deal of friction that can really hurt your hands. In order to escape this problem, avoid readjusting your grip once you have made contact with the hold. You likely have enough contact on the first go so when you readjust all you are doing is shredding more skin off.

Jug

Crimps: Let’s Crimp It Out

Crimps are some of the most common holds you’ll find in climbing, both indoor and out. One key element to understand about crimps is that “crimp” can refer to the actual hold OR the way in which you use the hold. This rings true for other types of holds (such as pinches) as well. Crimps are small edges of rock or plastic that are only big enough to fit your finger tips. Crimps may vary from larger edges fitting several finger pads to tiny “credit card” crimps that may only have room enough for a thin sliver of your finger tips. While there are many intricacies to crimping that we could get into, let’s talk about the three basic ways to hold a crimp: open crimp, half crimp, and close crimp.

Open Crimp

To open crimp, place a single finger pad on the hold and extend the knuckles as far as possible. This provides very little contact with the hold and therefore is the weakest way to crimp. However, open crimping is also the healthiest for your fingers as it causes the least amount of stress on your tendons. I suggest open crimping for any training but it is not entirely practical on the wall.

Half Crimp

To half crimp, increase contact with the hold by bending 90 degrees at the middle knuckle. Half crimping stresses the fingers more than open crimping, but you will find that it is a much stronger grip. Unless you are really pulling on that project, I suggest half crimping for the majority of your crimps.
Note: The thumb does not come up and over for a half crimp, it must remain down.

Full Crimp

Last we have the number one cause of finger injuries: the full crimp. To full crimp, place as if you are going to half crimp but wrap the thumb over top and bring the palm in toward the hold slightly. Full crimping maximizes your contact with the hold, but it places enormous stress on your tendons. This grip is not recommended for beginners and even advanced climbers tend to shy away from it.

Pockets: “Which fingers do I use?”

Pockets are small holes in the rock wherein you can only fit 1-3 fingers. The first question is, “Which fingers do I use?” You almost always want to use your middle and ring finger in a pocket. This is because:

1) They are attached the furthest back and closest together on your flexor digitorum profundus (forearm muscle).
2) They are generally the longest fingers and therefore fit most comfortably.
3) As the middle two fingers, they stabilize the hand better than any other two.

Another key component of pockets is to center your gravity beneath them and pull straight down (as pictured). This increases the surface contact which, as we know, makes the grip stronger!

Pocket

Slopers: The Hardest Climbing Hold?

Ask every climber and they may tell you something different. I, for one, despise crimps and find myself quite at home on slopers. I’ve also met plenty of climbers that think the opposite! Regardless of your favorite hold, slopers are tricky, rounded holds that come in all shapes and sizes. The key attribute of a sloper is the lack of any lip or edge to gain purchase on. For this reason, gripping a sloper relies entirely on surface contact.

This grip attempts to increase contact by pressing the palm to the hold and arching the fingers to match the shape of the hold. The key here is to get as much friction as possible. It is also crucial to, much like pockets, center your gravity beneath the hold. You do not so much pull on a sloper as you do press into.

This grip, often referred to as Meat Hook, aims to maximize surface contact by pressing the forearm and wrist into the hold. While this grip will feel more secure than a normal sloper grip, it is not always optimal and will leave your forearms chewed up! Experiment with slopers and use these tips to find which grips work for you!

Pinches: Do I Have to Use My Thumb When I Pinch?

Yes! Otherwise, you are not pinching! Pinches are holds with edges on either side that allow you to position your thumb opposite your other digits. Sometimes pinches will be too wide to fit around if you have small hands or too small to get your thumb on if you have big hands, but most every time you see a pinch you want to try and get your thumb around it. Why? Because it maximizes that ever important surface contact! Not only that, but the thumb adds an opposing force (the squeeze) and engages differently from other holds so you will almost always feel more secure with the thumb on.

Pinch

While I have provided you with solid footing for understanding climbing holds, the best way to get to know these holds is to go out and use them! Play around with different holds.  See which ones you gravitate towards and which you want to avoid at all costs.  And spend more time on those you don’t like! You’ll find that as you learn the intricacies of each type of hold, you will start to feel more comfortable on those pesky crimps or lousy pinches that have been giving you trouble.

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Year you started climbing?
2010

Year you started working at Sportrock?
2014

Favorite climbing spot?
New River Gorge, WV

Most memorable climbing experience?
Splurging on a cabin at the New and getting to soak in a hot tub every night after climbing. Not so much the having to sleep on the couch after.

What roles have you had as a Sportrock employee?
Summer Camp instructor, Belay instructor, Front Desk staff, Marketing Manager, Brand Manager.

Passions in life?
My family, all animals (especially my two cats), design, and popcorn.

How would your family or friends describe you in 3 words?
Creative, loud, and obsessed-with-animals.

What would surprise us to learn about you?
Surprisingly, there are still people at Sportrock who don’t know I have an identical twin sister...even though we climb together. Also that I’m originally from California and married to my high school sweetheart.

If you could be any animal in the world - what would you be and why?
Definitely a cat. I love naps in warm, cozy places.

Lillian Chao-Quinlan
Lillian Chao-Quinlan

President

Year you started climbing? 1999

Year you started working at Sportrock? 2000

Favorite climbing spot? Kalymnos, Greece.

Most memorable climbing experience? Too many and all memorable for different reasons - sending a hard climb, being in a beautiful place, climbing with my husband and friends...

What roles have you had as a Sportrock employee? Instructor, Investor, President.

Passions in life? Creating opportunities in the climbing community that support people in discovering their potential!

How would your family or friends describe you in 3 words? Passionate, driven, reliable.

What would surprise us to learn about you? I LOVE M&Ms (dark chocolate specifically!).

If you could be any animal in the world - what would you be and why? Grizzly bear because I love the great outdoors, eating fish and scaring campers!

Andrew Kozak
Andrew Kozak

Senior Director | Director of SR Sterling

Year you started climbing? 1999

Year you started working at Sportrock? 2002

Favorite climbing spot? Red Rocks, NV.

Most memorable climbing experience? The Great Arch in Stone Mountain, NC.

What roles have you had as a Sportrock employee? I’ve done them all.

Passions in life? Family.

How would your family or friends describe you in 3 words? Caring, Committed, Clean.

What would surprise us to learn about you? On hard, crimpy boulder problems, I only climb with 9 fingers.

If you could be any animal in the world - what would you be and why? A pet panda for my daughter because she LOVES them.

Sean Taft-Morales
Sean Taft-Morales

Director of SR Alexandria & Outdoor Programs

Year you started climbing? 2001

Year you started working at Sportrock? 2010

Favorite climbing spot? Yosemite in early spring.

Most memorable climbing experience? One of my most memorable moments came at the end of the first day of my first big-wall climb. I was hating life, had been belaying on a 6 inch ledge for hours, was cold, hungry, and had forgotten my headlamp in the bottom of the haul bag. I was just about ready to give up on climbing forever when the sun started to set, and a cloud of a thousand swifts started feeding all around me. Climbing to me is all about stepping back to find beauty in these extreme environments and experiences. You have to get out of your head and recognize that it's a pretty cool planet.

What roles have you had as a Sportrock employee? Outdoor guide, Desk staff, Closing manager, Basic Skills instructor, Camp Director, Director of Alexandria, Director of Outdoor Programs.

Passions in life? Aside from climbing, I love baking bread, sailing, and playing dungeons and dragons.

How would your family or friends describe you in 3 words? Evidence-based, Glittery, Color-coordinated.

What would surprise us to learn about you? I once hitchhiked over 2,000 miles in 8 months around the southwest US climbing. I also started climbing after attending a Sportrock birthday party.

If you could be any animal in the world - what would you be and why? I would be a blue whale - it's the most alien landscape and fundamentally different experience I could imagine.

James Anastasion
James Anastasion

Director of Membership

Year you started climbing? 1994

Year you started working at Sportrock? 2003

Favorite climbing spot? Chattanooga, TN.

Most memorable climbing experience? Leading my wife up Old Ladies at Seneca Rocks to propose on the south summit.

What roles have you had as a Sportrock employee? I started as a routesetter and continued with that part-time through most of my Sportrock career. I was also the SR Rockville Gym Director, Operations Director, Instructor, IT Department, Cleaner, Builder, Repairman, Purchaser, Installer, etc. And I continue to do many of these roles while also working as the Director of Membership.

Passions in life? My family is always at the top of my list. A recent and strong passion of mine though has become obstacle course racing. If I'm not spending time on either of those things, then you will probably find me in the shop fixing or building something.

How would your family or friends describe you in 3 words? Sarcastic (from my wife), Strong (from my daughter), Blank stare (from my son).

What would surprise us to learn about you? I can add poop and fart lyrics to most Disney tunes, especially Frozen and Descendants. If you want to get your daughter laughing, just sing “let it go, let it go, can’t hold it back anymore.”

If you could be any animal in the world - what would you be and why? Okapi. It is rarely seen and rarely heard of. However, when it finally comes to light you can only think that Prometheus’s children got a hold of the clay one day.

Molly Donelan

Director of Programs & Events

Year you started climbing? 2004

Year you started working at Sportrock? 2007

Favorite climbing spot? Echo Cliffs or Red River Gorge.

Most memorable climbing experience? Deep water soloing in Mallorca, Spain.

What roles have you had as a Sportrock employee? Yoga Instructor, Climbing Instructor, Front Desk Staff, Outdoor Instructor, Lead Manager, Assistant Director, Director of Alexandria, Director of Programs & Events.

Passions in life? My family, jigsaw puzzles, my dogs, camping, climbing, running, baking, neurobiology, and eating.

How would your family or friends describe you in 3 words? Passionate, Crazy, Independent.

What would surprise us to learn about you? I used to run my own catering baking business, DC Treats, which served to over 15 bars/restaurants in the DC area, including Good Stuff Eatery and Sticky Rice.

If you could be any animal in the world - what would you be and why? An elephant because they are strong, intelligent, loyal to the group, and unstoppable.

Leah Thomas
Leah Thomas

Assistant Director of SR Alexandria

Year you started climbing? 2010

Year you started working at Sportrock? 2010

Favorite climbing spot? Red River Gorge and Reeds Creek.

Most memorable climbing experience? The Red River Gorge was my first outdoor trip ever. I knew nothing and went with experts! It was my first lead belay and the first time I cleaned a route. I fell in love. And the experience reminded me that I was improving, growing, and getting over my fear of heights every day.

What roles have you had as a Sportrock employee? Birthday Party Instructor, Front Desk Staff, Front Desk Manager, Instructor, Retail Manager, Assistant Director of Alexandria.

Passions in life? My passion in life is helping others work for and achieve goals. Every personality test I’ve taken led me to the same common theme: helping, teaching, and motivating others. Currently, I want to share the love of climbing with those who may not have the opportunity to do so and introduce a new mental and physical challenge into their lives.

How would your family or friends describe you in 3 words? Loyal, Enthusiastic, Supportive.

What would surprise us to learn about you? Other than being absolutely afraid of heights...I love love love the sound of lawnmowers because it reminds me of warmer weather and free time. It's the sound of summer! I played soccer since I was 2 years old, was a Middle School PE teacher, and completed a 500 mile hike. I also lived in Istanbul, Turkey for six months and scored free tea and coffee almost daily for three of them!

If you could be any animal in the world - what would you be and why? Golden Retriever - The extroverted, loyal cuddler that loves to play and meet new people. They are energetic, active, and they love and want to play with everyone. They also like meeting new people, going on long hikes and adventures, and sharing hugs and treats.

Gray O'Reilly
Gray O'Reilly

Marketing Manager

Year you started climbing? 2012

Year you started working at Sportrock? 2014

Favorite climbing spot? Leavenworth, WA.

Most memorable climbing experience? Freezing temps. 50-degree sleeping bags. Car stuck in the mud. Unable to start a fire. Finally start a fire. Snow. Fire goes out. Car still stuck in mud. Start another fire. Survive the night on body heat and sheer force of will. Climb at Endless Wall the next day!

What roles have you had as a Sportrock employee? Belay bot for parties and open climb; Summer Camp instructor; Private Lesson instructor; Head Camp Coordinator; Marketing Manager.

Passions in life? School is and always will be one of my great passions. If I could professionally collect degrees in various fields, I would. Also, publishing a novel is a lifelong dream of mine. So I would say, besides climbing: learning, writing, music, environmentalism...and climbing.

How would your family or friends describe you in 3 words? Follows directions.

What would surprise us to learn about you? I was NOT in a fraternity in college. But I was in an all-male acapella group.

If you could be any animal in the world - what would you be and why? Humpback Whale. No natural predators, meals swim into my mouth, and people travel from around the world to watch me belly flop? Yes, please.

Jeremy Hardin
Jeremy Hardin

Senior Director | Director of Routesetting (L5)

Year you started climbing? 2002

Year you started setting? 2004

Year you started working at Sportrock? 2002

How many comps have you set for? 100+ including multiple World Cup and National Championships.

What is your goal when setting? For gym setting, I try to make every climb consistent in grade, with respect to height and reach, with flow and memorable sequences or movement. For comp setting, the goal is to create fun and fair routes or problems to separate the field of competitors. We try to test all abilities and styles for the overall "best" climber of the event.

How do you come up with route names? That's the hardest part of my day. Normally it comes down to the first two words I can rhyme that are appropriate.

Favorite route name? One Crazy Hooker.

What inspires you to stay constantly creative? My reputation.

Setting pet peeves? When climbers do a sequence or move incorrectly or harder than what is obvious and then complain the movement was "awkward"... sometimes it's not the climb that’s awkward, it's the climber.

Words of advice to climbers who get stumped on your routes? Try harder.

Passions in life? My wife and son, cars and trucks, fixing stuff.

How would your family or friends describe you in 3 words? He’s a Workhorse.

What would surprise us to learn about you? I train and compete in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu.

If you could be any animal in the world - what would you be and why? A Lion, because he’s the king of the jungle!

Stephen Meinhold
Stephen Meinhold

Head Routesetter (L4)

Year you started climbing? 1996

Year you started setting? 2001

Year you started working at Sportrock? 2017

How many comps have you set for? 32

Why did you start setting? Early on I was more focused on competing than setting. I competed in ABS & USA Climbing National events, UBC Pro Tour events, Mammut Bouldering Championships, Dark Horse Series, Portland Boulder Rally, 24 Hours of Horseshoe Hell, and even an Ice Climbing comp. I thought comps started to neglect the competitor for "world cup" style problems so I started to focus on setting to better understand this style. I have been head setter for a few different gyms in NC, PA, and OR over the years, and I have set multiple USA Climbing National events.

What is your goal when setting? To force you to do whatever I want you to do.

How do you come up with route names? I stare at the computer screen and mumble until I come up with something.

Favorite route name? Manilla Vanure.

What inspires you to stay constantly creative? Coffee and pastries.

Setting pet peeves? Metric bolts.

Words of advice to climbers who get stumped on your routes? Seek out beta or work it out with a friend. Sometimes I can set very contrived with a specific sequence, so if you can't figure it out maybe someone else can. Just like outside, learning how to project routes can help with the redpoint process. More pull-ups always help.

Passions in life? My wife and baby boy... and cookies, all of them.

How would your family or friends describe you in 3 words? Slow-motion Train Wreck.

What would surprise us to learn about you? Before getting back in the gym I was a High School Chemistry/Physics/Math teacher. I have horrible balance. I am a huge fan of rap and hip-hop.

If you could be any animal in the world - what would you be and why? Gorilla, it’s my spirit animal.

JD Cantrell
JD Cantrell

Routesetter (L2)

Year you started climbing? 2005

Year you started setting? 2009

Year you started working at Sportrock? 2012

How many comps have you set for? Dozens.

Why did you start setting? I would skip class to go climb at Virginia Beach Rock Gym while my friends, Scott Johns and Tommy Morrison, were setting and they kind of took me under their wing.

What is your goal when setting? To force the movement, duh...

How do you come up with route names? I keep an ongoing list in my phone of things and phrases that I think would make good route names. There’s lots of pop culture references.

Favorite route name? All my favorite route names are NSFW.

What inspires you to stay constantly creative? The bills don't pay themselves.

Setting pet peeves? Not having enough coffee.

Words of advice to climbers who get stumped on your routes? Trade beta for baked goods.

Passions in life? Rock climbing, yoga, art, building things.

How would your family or friends describe you in 3 words? Doesn't follow instructions well.

What would surprise us to learn about you? I’m a bit of a neat freak.

If you could be any animal in the world - what would you be and why? A pug, everybody likes pugs.

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