I’m not much of a show off. That one guy at the gym who takes off his shirt as soon as it gets above freezing and screams when doing a big move to make sure everyone at the center knows it, drives me crazy. But after I’ve worked hard at a skill and improved, it’s still nice to show off just a little how much better I am than I used to be. Who doesn’t want that? But it’s not the reaction at some crazy bat-hang or massive cave I remember the most but showing a friend who was new to climbing a crimpy route I’d just done, she measured one of the holds against her finger and looked me dead in the eye and said “it’s not physically possible for a human being to do what you just did. That’s amazing”. I was so proud.
I was proud because crimps (holds the width of one finger pad or smaller) are tricky and tough on your fingers - it takes time and practice to get good on them. But before I get into anything else, check out this video with our buddy Chris Wilson, speaking at The Crag climbing gym in Nashville, you can hear his advice about how to use the Porta-Hang with the crimp holds attached without getting hurt.
Something Chris emphasizes is how careful you need to be when using the crimp position as all of your weight is going through just a couple of tendons on your fingers, meaning it’s easy to get one of climbing’s most feared injuries: a pulley tear, where you tear the muscle that holds your tendon to your finger in two. I don’t have the space to get into the details here, but let’s just say that tearing a finger pulley is incredibly painful and will stop you climbing for a few months if you’re lucky.
But if you want to climb any route that’s above a beginner you’re going to run into crimps, so how can we climb them safely?
Tip #1 If things start to hurt then stop and rest. Trust your body, I know it’s annoying to stop a session after just 30 minutes but it’s a lot more annoying to not be able to climb for 3 months. Go and do that ab workout you skipped instead.
Tip #2 If possible, use an open hand or half crimp instead of full crimp. You can see here pictures of the different crimp positions, the open and half crimp puts a lot less pressure on your tendons, keeping you safer.
Tip #3 Use a hangboard to improve tendon strength. By carefully and gradually increasing your tendon strength you will be stronger and less likely to hurt yourself
Tip #4 Don’t swing or bounce in a crimp position. According to this paper we’re already putting three times the weight we normally do on our fingers when we crimp and if you swing or bounce that will go up a lot. Try to move smoothly and with control, slips and jerks will increase your chances of snapping that tendon.
Crimping is a powerful tool in the climber’s toolbelt, but with great power comes great responsibility. No single other technique is more likely to injury you, but you will not get above a basic level of climbing without using it. Be sensible, be cautious, don’t overuse it and crimping will be your friend.