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Contact Technique: Hands and holds

How do you know when you have acquired a skill? If you have a skill you can reproduce it - in other words performing it wasn't a fluke. You need to be able to do it quickly and minimise the amount of energy required to achieve the outcome. 
The movement techniques or skills used in climbing minimise effort by ensuring balance while the maximum amount of weight is carried on your feet. Contact skills -- how you grab the holds -- are the foundations for climbing movement. Good contact skills ensure that moves are performed as efficiently as possible, essential if you want to climb well. 
Contact skills relating to the hands can be divided into two categories: crack climbing skills (jambing) and face climbing skills. Jambing is far more technical than face climbing when it comes to the hands; a different, relatively complex, technique is needed for each size of crack. However, because most people these days climb faces, this is what were going to look at. 
To remain in contact with the wall efficiently, it is necessary to consider two aspects of each hold you use: shape and orientation. The shape of the hold determines how you hang onto it and the orientation of the hold will determine the technique you use to progress past it. A good way to learn this quickly, if you're a beginner, is to memorise the terminology associated with both. 
Generally speaking, there are five different shapes of hold encountered while climbing: jugs (or buckets), edges, pockets, slopers and pinches. 
The Jug or bucket : As the name suggests this is a large hold. When you're hanging onto it, it fells like your hanging on the side of a bucket or jug. Hanging off this one generally come naturally to most people - all four fingers sit over the edge. The four other shapes require a bit more technique. 
Edges : Small edges can be held in two ways: you can either hang them or crimp them. Hanging on an edge, as the name suggests, is using an open-hand grip. The alternative is to crimp it. This is more stressful on the joints but has the advantage that it allows you to hold smaller edges as you're hanging off bone as well and muscle and the thumb is involved in strengthening the grip. So, you may hang the edges up to a crux to preserve your joints but when you get to the smallest edges at the crux ... crimp those suckers! Sometimes a small edge may be referred to as a crimp? 
Pockets: Pockets are rounded enclosed holds. It is generally best to hang pockets since it's not possible to crimp them, unless they are very shallow. It's not really how you hang onto a pocket but which fingers you use to hang onto them. If it's a one-finger pocket you`re going to use your strongest finger (unless you're an idiot!). This will be your index or middle finger. Interestingly, if it's a two-finger pocket, it's usually best to use your middle and ring finger. As these two fingers are usually close to the same length, and sit closer to the centre of your hand, they seem to handle the stresses of hanging a pocket better than the index and middle finger. If it's a three-finger pocket leave out the smallest - unless it's a weird shape and using the pinky feels better. Experiment and make a conscious note of how each combination feels.
Experienced climbers usually love slopers as they are user friendly? to train on - there are no sharp edges to hurt your fingers. Beginners, on the other hand, usually hate them and only see them as foot holds particularly if they are sweating more than usual. It's generally best to hang slopers as this maximises the amount of skin in contact with the hold. You can crimp them but this doesn't usually help. While resting, the farther you can hang below a sloper, straight-armed, the better. As you start to move past them they become harder to hold. 
Pinches: As the name suggests pinching is squeezing a hold between the thumb and the fingers. It uses more thumb strength than the other shapes. The use of plastic holds in climbing gyms has meant that pinching holds is quite common. Even on large, slopey holds you can often find a pinch by sticking your thumb in the bolt hole! Some serious boulderers frown at this practice but, nonetheless, pinching can get you through some desperate problems. 
Strangely enough, you will find you get very good at hanging on the shapes you hang onto the most. 

There are several directions in which a setter can orient a hand hold. When the best side of the hold is at the top it's usually referred to by its' shape - for example it may be a sloper, edge or pocket. If the best side of a hole is on the side and you're pulling on it it's called a sidepull or a layaway. If the best side of the hold is on the side and you're pushing away from it it's called a gaston some people describe this as using a layaway with the wrong hand. Finally if the best part of the hold is at the bottom it's called an undercling. 
It's best to think of learning a new skill as a number of steps. First, you get shown the new movement or skill. Next, you try to repeat it with someone guiding you through it. The third step is being able to repeat the new activity without prompting. However, you haven't really completely learnt the new skill or technique until you can recognise the appropriate place to use it in an unrehearsed situation, such as on a climb you haven't tried before. If you are aware of these steps, it can help speed the learning process. 
The time it takes to progress for one step to the next increases exponentially, particularly for complex movement skills. Its important to be patient and persevere. The first learning step when it comes to using hand holds is remembering the terminology.



Open hand


2-finger pocket