How to Learn Rock Climbing Holds

Whether you’re rock climbing indoors or outdoors, it’s important to recognize the various types of holds you will encounter. Holds come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and you’ll need to learn how to identify each kind so that you can grip it correctly. Once you know the basic hold types, take some time to learn how to use them.


[Edit]Recognizing the Types of Holds

  1. Look for an easy grip to spot jugs. Jugs are holds that you can easily wrap your fingers around. They have a large “positive” (easy to grab) area on top, and are usually wide enough that you can hold them with all 4 of your fingers. Jugs are widely considered to be the easiest hold, and they are the type you will encounter most frequently on beginner climbs.[1]
    Learn Rock Climbing Holds Step 1 Version 2.jpg
  2. Identify undercuts by their downward-facing edges. Undercuts are similar to jugs, except that the positive area is oriented downward.[2] They are also known as underclings.[3]
    Learn Rock Climbing Holds Step 2 Version 2.jpg
    • Undercuts look like upside-down jugs when viewed from below. They tend to have strong positive edges that are easy to grab onto.
  3. Check for a sideways-facing edge to identify sidepulls and gastons. Sidepulls are also similar to jugs, but they are oriented perpendicular to the floor, with the positive grip facing away from you.[4] When the hold is oriented like a sidepull but the positive grip faces toward you, it is called a gaston.[5]
    Learn Rock Climbing Holds Step 3 Version 2.jpg
    • Some sidepulls or gastons have relatively small positive edges, making them more like sideways crimps than jugs.
  4. Recognize crimps by their narrow positive edges. A crimp is a small hold, shaped similarly to a jug but with a much smaller positive edge. It’s impossible to fully wrap your fingers around a crimp—the positive edge is so narrow that you can fit only your fingertips on top of it. They are named for the specialized crimp technique that you must use to grab onto them.[6]
    Learn Rock Climbing Holds Step 4 Version 2.jpg
    • Crimps vary in size and shape, with some providing a better gripping surface than others.
  5. Identify a pinch by its paired gripping surfaces. As the name suggests, pinches are holds that are designed to be grasped between your fingers and thumb. They have edges on both sides that you can grip onto.[7]
    Learn Rock Climbing Holds Step 5 Version 2.jpg
    • Pinches can be angled in any direction, so you may have to get creative when using them.
  6. Spot a pocket by looking for holes. Pockets are holds with holes in them that you can insert your fingers into. The holes vary in size and depth, with some of them allowing you to fit all your fingers into the hole and others accommodating only 1 or 2 fingers.[8]
    Learn Rock Climbing Holds Step 6 Version 2.jpg
    • A pocket that only has enough room to hold a single finger is sometimes called a mono.[9]
  7. Check for a rounded surface to identify a sloper. Slopers are some of the most difficult climbing holds because of their lack of lips or edges. They can come in a variety of sizes and shapes, but are typically rounded, with only a rough surface to provide purchase.[10]
    Learn Rock Climbing Holds Step 7 Version 2.jpg
    • While many climbers dislike slopers because they’re so hard to grip, others are quite comfortable with them. Your preferences will depend on your personal climbing style.[11]
  8. Look for a large, angular shape to identify a volume. Volumes are smooth-sided, angular protrusions in a rock-climbing wall. They are considered a type of hold in themselves, but often have other holds bolted to them.[12]
    Learn Rock Climbing Holds Step 8 Version 2.jpg
    • Volumes are typically roughly triangular in shape, but they can come in other shapes as well (such as diamonds or trapezoids).

[Edit]Learning to Use Holds

  1. Grab a jug by wrapping your fingers around it. Climbing on jugs is pretty straightforward. Simply curl your 4 fingers around the positive edge of the jug, allowing your thumb to relax. Use as little energy as possible when grabbing the jug so that you can save your strength for harder holds.[13]
    Learn Rock Climbing Holds Step 9 Version 2.jpg
    • On more difficult climbs, jugs offer a good opportunity to stop and rest, shake out your wrists, or adjust your gear.
    • To minimize wear and tear on your hands, try to resist readjusting your grip after you grab a jug.[14]
  2. Pull downwards instead of upwards to use an undercut. Despite their easy gripping surface, undercuts or underclings are challenging because they require a lot of biceps strength. You’ll need to get a strong, open-handed grip on the hold and pull down with your arms at the same time that you push up with your feet.[15]
    Learn Rock Climbing Holds Step 10 Version 2.jpg
    • Body position is important when using an undercut. They work best if the hold is positioned at chest level and your feet are planted solidly and relatively close to your upper body.
  3. Execute a sideways pull on a sidepull or gaston. Sidepulls and gastons require you to grip the hold from the side and pull horizontally. The difference is in the orientation of the positive edge. To use one of these holds:
    Learn Rock Climbing Holds Step 11 Version 2.jpg
    • Keep your arm straight and lean away from a sidepull while using your feet to push in the opposite direction. This will keep you balanced while you reach for the next hold.[16]
    • Hold a gaston with your thumb facing downward and push against it as if you were opening a sliding door. Use your feet to oppose the motion and propel you toward your next hold.[17]
  4. Use your fingertips to hold a crimp. Crimps are challenging because of their small positive surface. To use a crimp, you’ll need to place the pads of your fingers firmly on the edge and pull up, with your fingers slightly bent. There are 3 basic crimping techniques:[18]
    Learn Rock Climbing Holds Step 12 Version 2.jpg
    • For the open crimp, place your finger pads on the edge of the crimp and keep your fingers extended as much as possible, with your thumb completely relaxed. This crimp is the easiest on your hands, but does not provide much purchase.[19]
    • To perform a half crimp, place your fingertips on the edge and bend your fingers 90° at the second knuckle. This will help you get a better grip, but it also puts slightly more strain on your fingers than an open crimp.
    • To do a full crimp, put your fingertips on the edge of the crimp and bend your knuckles, then position your thumb on top of your fingers. This is the strongest crimp, but it can also place a lot of strain on your hands.
  5. Maximize your surface contact to use a sloper. Since you can’t wrap your fingers around a sloper, you have to rely on friction to use them. Place the palms of your hands on the sloper with your fingers close together and following the curve of the surface. Lean in so your forearms are close to the rock and keep your arms straight, then pull yourself up while pushing with your feet.[20]
    Learn Rock Climbing Holds Step 13 Version 2.jpg
    • Try to keep your feet spread out and firmly planted while you’re using a sloper.
    • If possible, chalk up your hands before grabbing at a sloper. If your hands are slippery, you’ll have a hard time getting the friction you need.
  6. Grip pinches with your thumb and fingers. To use a pinch, squeeze the hold on both sides with your fingers and thumb. The use of the thumb will make your grip more secure. The pinch grip should feel similar to the act of picking up a book by the spine.[21]
    Learn Rock Climbing Holds Step 14 Version 2.jpg
    • The way you use the pinch will depend on how the hold is oriented.[22] For example, if it’s horizontal, you can use it much like a jug or crimp. If the pinch is vertical, use it more like a sidepull.
  7. Insert your middle and ring fingers into a pocket. Monos and pockets typically require you to pull yourself up using a small number of fingers (e.g., 1 or 2). Because of this, you risk putting strain on the tendons in your hands.[23] You can minimize the strain by using your strongest fingers, which are the middle and ring fingers for many people.[24]
    Learn Rock Climbing Holds Step 15 Version 2.jpg
    • Try to fit as many fingers into the pocket as you can. You may be able to squeeze more fingers in by stacking one finger on top of another instead of fitting them in side-by-side.
  8. Analyze the route before you climb. If you have some idea of what to expect before you begin to climb, it’s easier to plan which holds and grips you will use. Take a look at the climb and try to identify some of the holds that you see. Consider how you’ll use them to complete the climb.[25]
    Learn Rock Climbing Holds Step 16 Version 2.jpg
    • For example, if you know ahead of time that your climb will involve an undercut, you can look for good footholds and handholds beneath and above the undercut to help you navigate past this challenging hold.


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