Indoor bouldering is a thrilling sport that challenges both the body and the mind and relies heavily on the diverse array of holds adorning the climbing walls. These holds, strategically placed to create routes of varying difficulty by expert route setters are the building blocks of every boulder problem. Without them, we’d be staring up at a blank wall and questioning our life choices. In the past, climbing walls were built with holds and features permanently fixed to the wall (remember that school sports hall with the weird bricks that was apparently a climbing wall?).
Since then there’s been an explosion of hold types, design and manufacturing processes, allowing for resin to be cast into silicone moulds, plywood to be screwed together and coated with texture to create volumes and fibreglass laid up inside huge moulds to create those mega Comp Wall macro holds. Understanding the different types of holds and how to use them can significantly enhance your indoor climbing experience, regardless of your skill level. In this exploration, we’ll delve into the modern world of bouldering holds, covering their names, techniques for holding them, and how they contribute to improving your climbing skills.
Indoor climbing holds come in a multitude of shapes and sizes, each designed to test different aspects of a climber’s abilities, and that of the route setter looking to craft the perfect boulder. Common holds include jugs, which are large, easy-to-grip holds perfect for beginners (called jugs because they’re almost form-fitting in the hand, like the handle of a jug), crimps, which offer small edges that challenge finger strength, and slopers, which lack distinct edges, requiring climbers to rely on friction and body positioning to move upwards towards the top of the boulder. Other holds include pinches and pockets, both of which are fairly self-explanatory. And then there are gastons, cracks, and underclings – which the route setters can create with the jugs, slopers, crimps and pockets which require unique techniques to conquer.
That’s pretty much it, with size being the big variable! You can have a tiny “jug” that is harder to hold than a large flat crimp, or a big positive sloper, that although has no edge, is still very secure and easy to pull up on. We mustn’t omit volumes here either! Volumes are add-ons to the wall that can range in all shapes and sizes and generally act to extend the surface of the wall outwards, allowing the route setters to fix holds here, rather than flat on the fall, creating more varied and three-dimensional climbing. On occasion, setters use volumes as holds, either as big pinches or large flat edges to push or pull on. Unless specifically stated otherwise, volumes tend to be “in” for all climbs, so if an orange route has a hold on a volume and a green route passes by, climbers on the green route can use the volume (aside from the orange hold) as they see fit.
How to Hold Different Bouldering Holds:
Obviously, you can hold a hold any which way you like, with some people preferring to crimp on slopers and “drag” on crimps, but here’s the rough idea:
Jugs: Jugs are your best friends, especially when you’re starting out. These large, comfortable holds allow for a solid grip with your entire hand. Jugs are often used atop dynamic problems where the climber must launch themselves upwards – this tends to be more forgiving with an “easier” hold to catch.
Crimps: Crimps require finger strength and precision. Use your fingertips to grip the hold, engaging your thumb over your index for added support in a “full crimp” when you really need that extra pulling power, but be mindful that crimps, especially full crimps are taxing on the fingers and tendons, so warm up and listen to your body. Be mindful of your body position, keeping your weight directly below the hold, or at least perpendicular to its edge to maximize your grip on the edge.
Slopers: Slopers demand a delicate balance and are often friction-dependent. Use an open-hand grip, employing friction by pressing your palm flat against the hold. Shift your body weight and experiment with different angles until you find the right position that allows you to control the sloping surface. You should brush holds before and after you climb, this is especially true with slopers, as any sweat or oils from the skin can make them too slippery to grip.
Pinches: Pinches are wide holds that require a pinching motion between your thumb and fingers. Focus on squeezing the hold tightly while using your body position to maintain balance. Engage your core and legs to take some weight off your hands. Like with slopers, pinches benefit from a fresh brushing and chalky hands.
Pockets: Pockets are small holes in the wall where you can insert your fingers. Different pocket sizes challenge finger strength and dexterity. Some will allow for three or four fingers to go in deeply, whereas some may only allow one or two. Use a combination of crimping and open-hand grips, adjusting your finger positions to fit the pocket size. Make sure you’ve fully warmed up and engaged your fingers thoroughly before you begin pulling on pockets, as these can result in finger, tendon and lumbrical injuries if not careful.
Gastons, Underclings and Cracks: Gaston holds require pushing outward against a hold, engaging your chest and shoulders, these are obvious if the “good” edge of a hold isn’t on top/facing away from you like a normal crip, but is facing you. Underclings involve gripping holds from below, utilizing your strength to pull yourself up. Proper body positioning and balance are crucial when tackling these holds. We could write a whole article on crack climbing and not touch the surface, so we won’t attempt to. Check out this video on crack climbing techniques to get you started.
Improving your climbing skills involves mastering various techniques for using different holds. Experiment with different grip styles, body positions, and movement sequences to become proficient in handling a wide range of holds. Climbing routes of different difficulties will expose you to diverse hold types, allowing you to develop a versatile skill set.
You Can Hold Them, Now What?
In conclusion, understanding the names, techniques, and uses of various bouldering holds is essential for climbers looking to enhance their skills and tackle more challenging routes. Whether you’re a beginner learning the basics or an experienced climber aiming to push your limits, mastering the art of holding and manoeuvring on different holds will significantly contribute to your indoor bouldering journey. To really master these holds and improve your overall climbing ability, consider some coaching, we offer 1:1 sessions for serious detail and improvement, as well as drop-in boulder workshops that pick a set topic and focus on this for the session. We’ll see you at the wall!