Using The Hands

The hands can be placed on the rock in many ways. Exactly how and where to position the hands and arms depends on what holds are available, and what configuration will best support the current stance as well as the movement to the next stance. Selecting handholds between waist and shoulder level helps in different ways. Circulation in the arms and hands is best when the arms are kept low. Secondly, the climber has less tendency to "hang" on his arms when the handholds are at shoulder level and below. Both of these contribute to a relaxed stance and reduce fatigue in the hands and arms.

a. As the individual climbs, he continually repositions his hands and arms to keep the body in balance, with the weight centered over the feet. On lower-angled rock, he may simply need to place the hands up against the rock and extend the arm to maintain balance; just like using an ice ax as a third point of contact in mountain walking. Sometimes, he will be able to push directly down on a large hold with the palm of the hand. More often though, he will need to "grip" the rock in some fashion and then push or pull against the hold to maintain balance.

b. As stated earlier, the beginner will undoubtedly place too much weight on the hands and arms. If we think of ourselves climbing a ladder, our body weight is on our legs. Our hands grip, and our arms pull on each rung only enough to maintain our balance and footing on the ladder. Ideally, this is the amount of grip and pull that should be used in climbing. Of course, as the size and availability of holds decreases, and the steepness of the rock approaches the vertical, the grip must be stronger and more weight might be placed on the arms and handholds for brief moments. The key is to move quickly from the smaller, intermediate holds to the larger holds where the weight can be placed back on the feet allowing the hands and arms to relax. The following describes some of the basic handholds and how the hand can be positioned to maximize grip on smaller holds.

(1) Push Holds. Push holds rely on the friction created when the hand is pushed against the rock. Most often a climber will use a push hold by applying "downward pressure" on a ledge or nubbin. This is fine, and works well; however, the climber should not limit his use of push holds to the application of down pressure. Pushing sideways, and on occasion, even upward on less obvious holds can prove quite secure. Push holds often work best when used in combination with other holds. Pushing in opposite directions and "push-pull" combinations are excellent techniques. (Figure 6-8 shows examples of push holds.)

(a) An effective push hold does not necessarily require the use of the entire hand. On smaller holds, the side of the palm, the fingers, or the thumb may be all that is needed to support the stance. Some holds may not feel secure when the hand is initially placed on them. The hold may improve or weaken during the movement. The key is to try and select a hold that will improve as the climber moves past it.

(b) Most push holds do not require much grip; however, friction might be increased by taking advantage of any rough surfaces or irregularities in the rock. Sometimes the strength of the hold can be increased by squeezing, or "pinching," the rock between the thumb and fingers (see paragraph on pinch holds).

Figure 6-8. Examples of push holds.

(2) Pull Holds. Pull holds, also called "cling holds," which are grasped and pulled upon, are probably the most widely used holds in climbing. Grip plays more of a role in a pull hold, and, therefore, it normally feels more secure to the climber than a push hold. Because of this increased feeling of security, pull holds are often overworked. These are the holds the climber has a tendency to hang from. Most pull holds do not require great strength, just good technique. Avoid the "death grip" syndrome by climbing with the feet. (Figure 6-9, page 6-16, shows examples of pull holds.)

(a) Like push holds, pressure on a pull hold can be applied straight down, sideways, or upward. Again, these are the holds the climber tends to stretch and reach for, creating an unbalanced stance. Remember to try and keep the hands between waist and shoulder level, making use of intermediate holds instead of reaching for those above the head.

(b) Pulling sideways on vertical cracks can be very secure. There is less tendency to hang from "side-clings" and the hands naturally remain lower. The thumb can often push against one side of the crack, in opposition to the pull by the fingers, creating a stronger hold. Both hands can also be placed in the same crack, with the hands pulling in opposite directions. The number of possible combinations is limited only by the imagination and experience of the climber.

Figure 6-9. Examples of pull holds.

(c) Friction and strength of a pull hold can be increased by the way the hand grips the rock. Normally, the grip is stronger when the fingers are closed together; however, sometimes more friction is obtained by spreading the fingers apart and placing them between irregularities on the rock surface. On small holds, grip can often be improved by bending the fingers upward, forcing the palm of the hand to push against the rock. This helps to hold the finger tips in place and reduces muscle strain in the hand. Keeping the forearm up against the rock also allows the arm and hand muscles to relax more.

(d) Another technique that helps to strengthen a cling hold for a downward pull is to press the thumb against the side of the index finger, or place it on top of the index finger and press down. This hand configuration, known as a "ring grip," works well on smaller holds.

(3) Pinch Holds. Sometimes a small nubbin or protrusion in the rock can be "squeezed" between the thumb and fingers. This technique is called a pinch hold. Friction is applied by increasing the grip on the rock. Pinch holds are often overlooked by the novice climber because they feel insecure at first and cannot be relied upon to support much body weight. If the climber has his weight over his feet properly, the pinch hold will work well in providing balance. The pinch hold can also be used as a gripping technique for push holds and pull holds. (Figure 6-10 shows examples of pinch holds.)

Figure 6-10. Examples of pinch holds.

(4) Jam Holds. Like foot jams, the fingers and hands can be wedged or cammed into a crack so they resist a downward or outward pull. Jamming with the fingers and hands can be painful and may cause minor cuts and abrasions to tender skin. Cotton tape can be used to protect the fingertips, knuckles, and the back of the hand; however, prolonged jamming technique requiring hand taping should be avoided. Tape also adds friction to the hand in jammed position. (Figure 6-11, page 6-18, shows examples ofjam holds.)

(a) The hand can be placed in a crack a number of ways. Sometimes an open hand can be inserted and wedged into a narrower portion of the crack. Other times a clenched fist will provide the necessary grip. Friction can be created by applying cross pressure between the fingers and the back of the hand. Another technique for vertical cracks is to place the hand in the crack with the thumb pointed either up or down. The hand is then clenched as much as possible. When the arm is straightened, it will twist the hand and tend to cam it into place. This combination of clenching and camming usually produces the most friction, and the most secure hand jam in vertical cracks.

(b) In smaller cracks, only the fingers will fit. Use as many fingers as the crack will allow. The fingers can sometimes be stacked in some configuration to increase friction. The thumb is usually kept outside the crack in finger jams and pressed against the rock to increase friction or create cross pressure. In vertical cracks it is best to insert the fingers with the thumb pointing down to make use of the natural camming action of the fingers that occurs when the arm is twisted towards a normal position.

(c) Jamming technique for large cracks, or "off widths," requiring the use of arm, leg, and body jams, is another technique. To jam or cam an arm, leg, or body into an off width, the principle is the same as for fingers, hands, or feet—you are making the jammed appendage "fatter" by folding or twisting it inside the crack. For off widths, you may place your entire arm inside the crack with the arm folded and the palm pointing outward. The leg can be used, from the calf to the thigh, and flexed to fit the crack. Routes requiring this type of climbing should be avoided as the equipment normally used for protection might not be large enough to protect larger cracks and openings. However, sometimes a narrower section may be deeper in the crack allowing the use of "normal" size protection.

Figure 6-11. Examples of jam holds.
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