Types of Holds and How to Use Them

I never thought I’d see the day when a joke article would get fewer up votes than a real one, especially in this club. So, back to actual advice it is…

In the previous articles, I’ve used terms to discuss holds and moves, but didn’t explain them, so this time I thought I’d go through them, and hopefully get people using them more efficiently.

Types of holds


These are the big things that you can hang off all day, no bother. If you can’t get up a route of these, get out. Depending on the terrain, route and skill of the climber, these can be anything from a ‘sinker jug’ (one you can get your whole hand over and hang off), to a tiny sloper on a gritstone slab, to a fist jam in a desert splitter crack, it’s all relative. These are the sort of thing to look for to make clips, place gear and get a rest. I can’t really think of any tips of these, just hold them, and you probably won’t come off.


Most people are scared of these when they start, since they’re often small and require a great deal of trust in your fingers to use. They’re basically just edges that you cling onto for dear life. They can vary in size from only a few mm up to about two pads (joints), and can be positive or awful, depending (again) on the terrain, route, and skill of the climber. In terms of the best way of using them, you need to start by trusting that your fingers can actually hold them. I know this seems like a tall order when you start, but it’s a lot more doable than you think, especially if use your feet well, and don’t just try to hang off them (at least in the beginning…). There are three main grips to use on holds, but mostly the differences affect crimps: open hand, where your fingers are fully extended, which usually involves only having three fingers on crimps; full crimp, where you curl your fingers all the way up, so that you can get your thumb over the first joint of you index finger, which adds a remarkable amount of holding power; and half crimp, which is midway between the other two, ie. fingers partially curled. You will often find yourself getting very pumped using the open hand grip since it uses your muscles and tendons in unfamiliar ways, but if you train it, your full crimp strength will increase (but not vice versa). It is also good for preventing injuries as it is hard to overload your tendons this way, unlike full or even half crimp, but it takes a lot of effort to get to point where you can use it effectively for a long period of time.


These are often large-ish holds, but have nothing in particular to hold onto, just the friction between your hand and the hold. The best way of using them is just try to try and get as much contact area between yourself and the hold a possible, and try not to fall off. Routes which comprise mostly of these tend to be pumpy and delicate, an odd combination which will conspire to make you fall. Repeatedly. They’re also most useful when you are below them, and tend to get worse the higher you are on them.


A pinch is just something that you can squeeze with your thumb. Pretty much any hold can be pinched, to varying degrees of usefulness.


Note that holds can, and often are, a mixture of these basic types. For instance, crimps can be (or at least feel like) juggy, or can be the worst of everything and be the horrific slimper: a slopey crimp.


Incutness, Profile and Positivity

The degree to which a hold is incut is essentially the distance between the top of the ‘outside’ edge of the hold to the ‘inside’ edge.

|        ____   _ _
|      /         |     |
|    /           |     | Incutness
|  /             |     |
|/               |  _|_
|______ |
|<____ >|
|  Profile   |

Thought of like this, jugs are massively incut with a deep profile, and slopers have negative incutness, but often a large profile. A hold with little or no incut is often referred to as ‘neutral’.

I’m not using ‘positivity’ in the hippy/upper management (they share an oddly large amount of language…) way, but as a way of evaluating how good a hold is. So, an incut jug is incredibly positive, while a slimper really isn’t. As with most things in climbing, positivity is relative, and depends on the terrain, route, and, you guessed it, skill of the climber. So, on a slab, a sloper can be super positive, but on an overhang, you might not even recognise it as a hold.


Hold Positions

I’ll just run through these, since they’re too hard to explain without pictures, and I’m tired.


A sidepull is a hold which is oriented in such a way that the best/only way to use it is to pull in on it from the side, unsurprisingly. Sidepulls are often compressed with the hands, and opposed with feet.


A gaston is a sidpull, but in a position where you need to pull/push out on it. Eg. A crimp at your chest for your right hand that ‘faces’ to the left. Two of these together for the hands is usually referred to as an ‘elevator’ move, since it looks like you’re trying to open lift doors, and America has butchered our language.


Holds that you are best off gripping underneath, such as an upside down jug. These are fairly useless when they’re above your head, but are increasingly uselful as you get higher on them.


I was planning on writing a section on body positions, but that should probably be another article, so I’ll leave that til next time… Also, I need some more sleep/food/coffee/beer for that.

I hope this vague overview of holds is comprehensible to anyone other than me, but I suspect not. And, as always, and requests/suggestions will be thought about, and potentially not disregarded.

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