Crimping is really popular with new climbers because it requires a lower skill level than dragging—witness the rampant sloper-phobia in any climbing wall. You can pull downward, outward and a little left and right on a crimp. Using the same hold in a drag means you can only pull downward, and it only takes a little outward pull to make it feel insecure. The trick to making slopers work for you lies in careful body positioning, whereas making a crimp more effective is often simply a matter of holding it tighter. Without the skill and familiarity that comes with purposeful sloper use, crimps can easily appear to be more useful holds.
Anxiety is another contributor to habitual crimping as fear encourages cautious movement, resulting in long slow reaches and deep “lock-offs.” These require pulling outward on the locked-off hold as it moves below your shoulder, again encouraging crimping. There are plenty of times when cautious movement is a good idea. However, if it is your habitual style when three feet above a thick pad or safely by the sixth bolt, then you risk fast-tracking finger tweaks.
As a confident climber with years of experience, crimping may have embedded itself in your mind early on and still be a habit even when calm and focused. However, with skillful body positioning and utilization of the core, drag (sloper) grips become far more versatile and attractive to use. With regular use comes the confidence and physical understanding that allows even further use, so crimping habits can be broken before the finger tendons themselves.
Drag Grip Familiarity
Feeling relaxed and comfortable with an open-handed grip is a key skill for all climbers. Without this familiarity the mind will often shy away from opportunities to use this grip, preferring crimp-based grips instead. This drill isn’t meant to represent the easiest way to climb but it fast-tracks drag grip mileage to redress grip habit imbalances. Choose an easy wall and if possible avoid leading on the first few ascents
EXERCISE 15: THE SLOTH
Climb the route using the three-finger drag grip position, where you use only the ring, middle and index fingers. Pinkies and thumbs are banned, half or full crimping is prohibited and wrapping your fingers all the way around jugs is illegal. Think three-toed sloth.
Notice how the sloth drill affects the rest of your body, and answer the following:
—Is there extra tension in your arms, neck or shoulders?
—Are you any more anxious than usual?
—Do you straighten your arms more or less?
—Are your hips closer to the wall or further out?
—Do you use undercling or sidepull holds any differently?
—What are the limitations of this grip type?
Like what you read? Pick up a copy of John Kettle’s Rock Climbing Technique: The Practical Guide to Movement Mastery today!