Crimping ain’t easy. When I first started rock climbing, everything seemed so intimidating. Going to the gym by myself and being surrounded by incredible climbers left and right. I had to take a deep breath and just go for my V0 project. I always had a blast once I finally got to the gym, but I had to psyche myself out for it!
But above all else, I was terrified of the crimp grip! I’d see the credit card sized crimp on the hangboard and I could barely hold onto it while having all of my weight on my feet! Then to top it off, I’d see climbers hanging on it with dumbells attached to their harness. Mind Blown.
I started progressing through climbing and even got over my fear of heights by top roping and lead climbing! But I still found that any route with crimps and thin edges would totally throw me for a loop. I’d try and use my height to reach past them without using them. But in the back of my mind, I knew I was only hurting my technique in the long run.
So I addressed my fear straight on. I dissected everything there are about crimps and I’ve spent countless hours training my crimp technique. One of the key takeaways I want to share with you is how to prevent injuries when crimping. The idea of putting all of my body weight onto my fingers makes me cringe, but with proper training, technique, and resting, the crimp has turned into one of my favorite climbing holds.
There are actually three different types of grips we can use when crimping: open hand grip, half crimp grip, and full crimp grip. The openness of a crimp grip refers to where our thumb is while crimping, and the angle our fingers and knuckles make while we crimp. In an open hand crimp, the fingers will be laying flat and ergonomically.
One piece of advice I give to climbers starting to work on their crimps is to use the open grip more often than the full crimp grip. We’ll address this in further detail later, but the position of our thumb does put additional stress on our fingers. I like to save the full crimp grip when I’m climbing outdoors or when I’m trying to send my project. Otherwise, I’ll use an open or half crimp grip.
One study has shown that intensive finger training on hangboards and crimping, has led to some signs of early onset osteoarthritis in some children. These climbers were following intensive finger training, like a campus board, for ten years.
Warming up for Crimps
A full crimp grip is going to put a lot of stress on your fingers. One of the most common climbing injuries is straining or rupturing your A2 pulley tendon. This injury can keep you out of climbing for 6-8 weeks. I always say that it’s better to voluntarily take one or two rest days instead of being forced to take 6-8 rest weeks.
Unfortunately, finger injuries seem inevitable in a climbing career. But we can mitigate the change of one and rehab from it properly if we take care of ourselves. What we want to avoid are chronic finger injuries. Long term finger injuries will obliterate all of the progress we have made in our climbing. Always take a few rest days instead of trying to push your body through pain. It will catch up with you eventually and you will have a bigger price to pay.
For my fingers, I have two warmups I do before I start climbing. The first warmup I like to do only requires a pencil!
Pencil Twirl Warmup
Raise your hand up in the air and hold the pencil by only using your fingers, don’t use your thumb. All of your fingers will be bent over and touching your palm. I’ll hold this for 10-20 seconds, making minor adjustments if I feel the pencil start to slip.
Depending on how my fingers feel, I may repeat just the holding for another 10-20 seconds. After that, I will then begin to roll each of my fingers individually over the pencil making the pencil turn in my hand. I have to focus on my fingers while I’m doing this because it’s easy for one finger to do most of the spinning. No slacking!
This exercise can be done with a pencil, pen or tube of chapstick! I’ve even done it with a tiny twig that I picked up at the crag.
Finger Gliding Warmup
This warmup doesn’t require any special tools or writing utensils. Start with your fingers pointing straight up. All we’re going to do is move our fingers through different positions and then back to straight open.
Curl your fingers, so your finger tips are touching the top of your palm. Then take your fingers back to fully extended. Then bend your fingers so the finger tips are at the palm, but don’t make a full fist yet. Take your fingers back to full extension. Finally, make a fully closed fist with your fingers.
The Distal Interphalangel Joint (DIP Joint) is located at the tip of the finger just before the fingernail. These joints are called hinge joints. They don’t move side to side, but they will move up and down, imagine a Y-axis where your finger is the X-axis.
We can look at the angle of our DIP joint to see if we’re in a crimp grip position or not. I used to believe that just the thumb position meant I was
We can look at the angle of our DIP joint to see if we’re in a crimp grip position or not. I used to believe that just the thumb position meant I was crimping or not, but we really need to be looking at the angle of the DIP joint, related to our finger, to determine if we’re putting additional stress on our finger.
Open Hand Grip
The open hand grip is what I tend to use in my day to day climbing. I prefer the open hand because it puts less strain on my fingers but still helps me build strength. The only thing that separates the open hand grip from the other grips is the angle of your fingers.
Usually, it’s easy to tell the difference between an open hand and closed by the position of the thumb, but that isn’t always the case.
The difference is that the open hand grip is going to put the fingers in a natural and ergonomic position. An open hand grip would be like we have our hand on a basketball. Our fingers are lying flat on the ball
The open hand grip will be just like that basketball grip. But we can also look at the angle of our DIP joints in relation to our index finger.
Imagine a straight line extending from your middle knuckle, also known as our Proximal Interphalangeal (PIP) joint, out to infinity through the rock wall. If the bend of our DIP joint creates an angle that looks like it’s bending inward, or down then we are using an open hand grip.
The open hand grip also passes the sniff test, if it looks ergonomic and doesn’t feel outrageously uncomfortable, then it’s probably an ope
Half Crimp Grip
A half crimp is halfway between the open and full crimp. I use my thumb as the measuring stick to see where I’m at in a half crimp. In open grips, my thumb will feel relaxed and is peacefully dangling off to the side. But when I engage my thumb and it begins to move up closer to my fingers, I start to enter the half crimp.
The thumb is just a way to easily visualize our hand position and the angles of our fingers.
Closed Grip or Full Crimp Grip
The closed grip, or full full crimp grip, has a few different things going on. For starters, the angle of our DIP joint is going to be bending up or outward. The upward push of our finger tips on the crimp makes the bend happen.
Event though this photo is showing a closed crimp, you can see the angles of the knuckles begin to go upward.
In this photo, the index finger is coming downwards to the hold and then the tip is coming up where it makes contact with the hold. The second part in the full crimp is what our thumb is doing. Your thumb will come on top of your fingers and press down, this locking mechanism gives the full crimp grip its other name of the closed grip. But you can still full crimp without completely locking the thumb on top of your other fingers.
Full crimping puts a lot of stress on your fingers, so be aware of finger pain and don’t push it if you start to feel pain.
How to crimp while climbing
- Find a hold that is big enough for your finger tips, but small enough that you can’t fit your entire hand on the hold
- Place as many fingers as you can fit on the hold and pull down. Keep your palm down and close to the wall. This is an open hand position for crimping.
- Slowly bring your thumb up and down to your fingers. Notice how your hand position moves. You’ll also see your fingers bent. You’re now moving between a a half crimp and nearing the closed grip.
- Place your thumb on top of your index finger, or which ever finger is closest to your thumb. This thumb lock secures you in a closed grip
Crimping while rock climbing comes more easily than you might expect. I tried to avoid the tiny credit card sized holds when I first started climbing, but it’s actually possible to use crimping grips on other holds, like slopers and pinches. Even in hand cracks, my fingers have felt tired from pushing against the side of the wall.
Earlier in the article, we talked about how holding a basketball naturally would be our open grip. In rock climbing, we have our own basketball shaped holds… slopers. It is possible to hold slopers with a full crimp. Since the crimp is determined by the bend of our finger, we could modify our hand position so we could crimp a sloper. And surprisingly, many beginners default to a half crimp grip when grabbing slopers.
Full crimps get us a lot of extra power, but at the cost of additional stress. Take note of your hand positions while you’re climbing and see if you can modify your sloper grip between the various crimp grips.
Pinches are another hold that has a lot of surface area for our fingers to crimp on. Just because our thumb is separated from the rest of our entire hand, doesn’t mean we can’t crimp on the hold. Again, it’s the angle of our fingers and knuckles that we are concerned about. Just because we can’t use a thumb lock doesn’t mean we can’t crimp.
Beginner Crimping Tips
- Use the open grip: Avoid closed and full crimp grips when first starting out. It takes time for your finger tendons to build strength.
- Rest: Stop climbing if you feel any pain while crimping. Your finger strength will come eventually, but a long period of rest due to an injury will hurt your climbing progress.
- Keep your weight on your feet: Take some of the strain off of your finger joints and tendons by changing your body position while climbing. Placing more weight on your feet will help you on crimps.
The Best Training Plan for Crimping
A lot of climbing forums say to stay away from the finger board until you’ve been climbing for at least two years. The rationale is that after two years of climbing, your tendons and finger joints have been strengthened just from using crimp grips in your day to day climbing. Also, hangboarding isn’t going to skyrocket you to higher grades. If you have poor climbing technique then finger strength alone will only get you so far. Focusing on climbing techniques is one of the best training plans you can do when you’re first starting out.
If you do want to start improving your crimp grips on a hangboard, I’d recommend following a pre-created training plan. Dave Macleod has put a ton of time, effort, and research into his training plans.
Read through everything that Macleod has to say about hangboarding. My best piece of advice is to be aware of how your fingers are feeling and don’t push it. Warm up by doing the exercises we covered above and by easy climbing on the types of holds you’ll be using on the board.
Readers also asked
I personally only full crimp when I’m attempting to send a project or when I’m outdoor climbing. This is way to help build finger strength and to prevent injuries. The open grip doesn’t have as much pulling power as the closed grip, but I can work on my strength while I’m training at the climbing gym.
Crimps exist all over outdoor climbing walls! It’s an incredible feeling to find small edges on real rock walls. The same principles from indoor climbing technique apply to outdoor climbing. Think about body positioning and try to keep your weight on your feet. Just a slight adjustment with your lower body can do wonders for how a hand hold feels.
All hangboards and fingerboards will have crimp holds for you to train on. I’m personally a fan of the Metolious Rock Prodigy because it has multiple size crimps, pockets, and slopers. I can train one, two, or three finger crimps of all different sizes. The Rock Prodigy also comes with jugs for warming up.