Rock climbing is littered with jargon. A language and culture have been created and it’s all centered around using our hands and feet to make our way up a wall. When I first started climbing, I always felt a little silly using the jargon of the sport. But language evolves to help us humans communicate efficiently with each other.
Having our own language for all of the different climbing holds is extremely beneficial. We can say one word and every climber will instantly have the same understanding of what we’re communicating. Language is an extremely powerful technology!
Learning the names of the holds will accelerate your rock climbing and help you get more comfortable with the sport. We’re going to go over the names of the holds and how to use them effectively.
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Jugs are one of my favorite climbing holds. They’re usually found at rest positions, near bolts, or when you’re about to tag the chains. Jugs got their names from a “jug handle”, carrying a gallon of milk is easy thanks to the jug handle. And I’m able to get all of my fingers on a firm grip when I’m holding on to a jug. When you’re at a jug, you have a second to keep your arms straight, chalk up, and shake out. Resting is a crucial technique for sport climbing.
Thankfully, it seems like there is always a jug just before you’re topping out! The climber on the left was able to grab the top out jug before topping out over Juliet’s Balcony at Great Falls Park!
When I first started rock climbing, I thought that holding on to a crimp would be an impossible task. Crimps are small climbing holds and there are a few different types of crimp grip: open crimp, half crimp, and full crimp.
The difference between a half crimp and full crimp is our thumb positioning. In a half crimp, our thumb comes up towards our fingers, but does not go on top. In a full crimp, our thumb will actually come on top of our index finger and push down on it. This will look like a closed grip compared to the open hand grip.
Crimps require some training and they will usually be found on more advanced climbing routes. If you’re struggling with crimps, try and find some at the ground level at your climbing gym and get used to how they feel. You’ll find that you can adjust your body position to help make the hold feel better.
Slopers and climbers have a long history together. This climbing hold is probably one of my least favorite, but I have been trying to incorporate slopers into my regular climbing training. A sloper is a hold that looks like its name.
The sloper hold just looks like a big round ski slope. You may be able to find a little bit of a positive edge on these holds, but your best bet is to rely on friction. You can use your entire palm or even parts of your forearms on slopers. The more surface area means more friction between you and the hold.
That means you need to pay close attention to your body and good technique when you’re climbing on slopers. When I am on slopers, I really have to think about my body and hips and how they relate to the wall.
The gaston is the only climbing hold that is named after someone, it’s named after the French climber Gaston Rébuffat. This move is best described like you’re standing in front of a pair of elevator doors and you’re pulling apart the doors. Put your hands up in front of you like you’re pulling the door apart.
Watch your right hand pull sideways to the left is pulling in the Gaston motion. Gaston came up with this name after he came up with an offwidth climbing technique, where you just pulled the offwidth apart.
A pocket is a climbing hold that has a hole in the middle and usually has no exterior edges. Different sizes of pockets exist, there can be a one finger pockets, two finger pockets, and three finger pockets. In a two finger pocket, usually your middle and ring finger are the two fingers that will go in since those have the most power. A one finger pocket will generally only be for your middle finger.
Fitting your fingers inside of pockets feels very weird at first, and it’s actually one of the few holds I tend to avoid when I’m at climbing gyms. I make sure that my fingers are warmed up and if I feel any pain I hop off the wall to prevent further injury. You can train pockets with a hangboard. Many hangboards are designed to train your ring fingers in pockets. Different hangboards will come with pockets that can fit one or two fingers inside.
A side pull is like a reverse gaston, it’s a hold where its name perfectly describes what the hold is. A side pull has positive edges that will be facing away from our body. We will be able to pull on the edge to help us stay on the wall.
In the image on the left, notice how the side pull and the gaston are just mirror images of each other. If there was a climber to the right of both of these holds, they would be able to use each one. Their left hand would have to make the elevator door movement on the gaston. If they rotated their left hand so their fingers were facing to the left, they’d be able to pull on the edge of the side pull.
An edge is kind of like a crimp, but we can get more of our fingers or even our entire hand on the hold. In outdoor climbing, I’ve come across a huge ledge where the only way up was to pull myself up an over the edge.
If you’ve been to a climbing gym and seen a top out boulder, some route setters will incorporate parts of the climbing wall as a hand hold. Like in the picture on the left, that entire top out is one huge edge.
Pinchers are one of the most fun climbing holds. A pinch will usually be a narrow and vertical hold that we can grab on both sides. Our thumb will be on one side, and the rest of our fingers will grip it on the other side. In outdoor climbing, a tufa is an incredible looking hold that we can pinch.
An undercling is like a big upside down jug. The orientation of an undercling makes it so that we can’t pull down on the hold, but we can only pull up. You have to turn your hands over so your palm faces the sky, and grab the hold in this position. This forces our body into a position where we have a lot of tension where we’re trying to stand up while still using the hold to stay on the wall.
Frequently Asked Questions
An incut climbing hold is a climbing hold that has been cut into and allows our fingers to pull down and outward from the climbing walls. Incut holds can be a large jug or a tiny crimp.
A positive climbing hold has a strong edge that we are able to hold on to. These are the types of holds that we feel secure on since we can grab the hold with our fingers.
Climbers use chalk to improve their grip while climbing. Climbing chalk helps remove sweat and moisture from our hands and to improve our friction when grabbing a hold. But too much chalk isn’t a good thing, it can actually make holds slippery and require us to brush the chalk off.
Bouldering, trad climbing, sport climbing, and top roping are the most common styles of rock climbing. Each one has its own equipment, styles, and unique characteristics that make it different from the other styles. But there is overlap between all of the sports and training for one style will also help you improve in a different style.
Hand holds in rock climbing have a variety of different names depending on the type of hold. But calling it a hold is the most generic term.
Free climbing uses only the climber’s hands and feet to ascend up a rock wall, climbers still use ropes and other equipment for protection in the event of a fall.
Indoor climbing holds are made of polyurethane. Polyurethane is a strong plastic material that can be made rigid or flexible.