The Importance of Hands (In Climbing)

If you have been in the gym for more than 5 minutes, you have probably heard me yelling at some one to use their feet either better or at all. I hear gumby-esque people telling it to their new friends and long time climbers screaming at their partners alike. So much easier said than done, right?!

Every climber starts off trying to pull themselves up the wall with their minuscule arms. Most people have teeny tiny arms compared to their legs. We usually stand and walk around on our legs, not our arms. Our leg muscles are just bigger, so why do we always want to pull with the weak biceps? There is a switch in our brain that tells you “If I am going up I need to use my arms to pull myself up because they are higher!” Makes sense right? But you would be WRONG!

Does that mean we should not ever use our arms and biceps to pull? Not even a little bit. We need to and should do it all the time. Even I have to admit the importance of arms and hands. We should be using them both in conjunction. So how do we get better with our arms and hands? Do we just start holding on to small stuff and campus around like the mutant kids we see at the national competitions? I don’t know about you but my fingers would break the moment I try to do that stuff, I’m just not that young or strong anymore. ::sniffle::

New climbers want to get their fingers strong to pull their way through the move they are struggling on. More than finger strength you probably need to learn to lean on the hold you are using and stop bending your arms on every move all the time. You need to figure out which way is the best way to hold a grip or hold type. Is the hold better if you lean to the left? Would it be better if you were directly under the hold and hanging low? It depends. If the hold is a side pull it makes little sense to try and pull yourself up through the move. Instead, learn to lean on the hold and use your feet and legs to move you through to the next hold.

By learning to relax your arms and shoulders and figuring out how to rest on holds, by leaning in the way that makes them the most positive, will help build finger strength a little more naturally. But doesn’t that take time? Yes it does. But would you rather get stronger in a way that your body accepts, or pop a tendon and be done for the next 6-9 months because you wanted to be super bad ass in front of that special someone? In the end, it is your choice.

I am not a huge fan of newer climbers just going up to the hang boards and doing training programs when they first enter our world. I am more than certain it would have a positive effect, but more than trying to build the connections in your hands I believe you have to build some strength naturally through climbing. Technique will give you more gains in the short and long term than trying to do front levers or pull ups on your pinkie finger. After a few years then I am all for finger board training programs. GET STRONG STUD! GET BUFF!

At some point your fingers’ ability to use bad holds will become a limiting factor for you, but not at the outset. Technique will get you a long way in climbing. But it isn’t everything. Flexibility, strength, power, finger strength you’re own body’s make up and wear and tear (missing a toe, arthritis, torn shoulder or knee ligaments) are all things that make you the climber you are and things you need to work on to become mas more better good.

Be a Better Climber for Life!


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