18 November 2010
In the comments of my last post, John asked about how to avoid crimping all the time and hence reduce the build up of stress and microscopic damage that leads to pulley tears.
Of course there is the short answer of ‘just openhand everything’ and you’ll get better at it. When it comes down to it, that’s what you have to do. It’s not easy to take the temporary drop in climbing grade while you gain openhanded strength. Most climbers who’ve not had pulley injuries yet are miserably weak at openhanding and really have to take a hit. But it’s your choice - it’s only your ego you have to beat.
I’ll make a very detailed case in Rock ‘til you drop not only for why you must do it, but all the ways you can make it easier on yourself. However, since you’ll have to wait a little longer for that, here are a few headlines for now:
- ‘It’s just training’. The biggest enemy of changing habits like crimping is that climbers are always trying to compete, even in training. When you go to the climbing wall, you cannot bear to do something differently to normal because you’ll have to take a grade hit for a while. And maybe your training isn’t going perfect anyway so you are trying extra hard to the standard you’ve become accustomed to. There is only one way around it; stand back and realise that you are just training. You are just pulling on plastic blobs. Who cares what the number is? If you think other people do, you’re kidding yourself. Sure it’s ok to compete once in a while. Climb openhanded most of the time, and allow yourself to crimp when it really matters. If you don’t, you’ll only have to later when your broken pulleys won’t let you do anything else.
- Get off the starting blocks. If your openhanded strength really is that spectacularly rubbish in comparison to your crimp strength, you could get yourself off the starting blocks by a little supplementary fingerboard work with a 4 finger and 3 finger openhanded grip. Use the protocol I described in 9 out of 10. After 10 or 20 sessions you shouldn’t have to take such an ego hammering blow when you climb for real with an openhanded grip. But don’t forget that the subtleties of the movement are realy quite different than when crimping; getting comfortable with openhanded needs both the strength part as well as actually learning how to climb with it on real moves.
- Know the score. A lot of people I’ve coached reckon they just aren’t cut out for climbing openhanded. They usually invent a reason like the shape of their hands or the length of their fingers. Rubbish. If it feels weak, it’s only because you’re weak. And the only reason you’re weak on this grip is because you don’t do it. I challenge anyone to climb solely openhanded for 20 sessions or more and still tell me it doesn’t work for them.
- Do it on easy routes first. Very experienced or expert climbers have a disadvantage in that their habits are very set and egos expect very consistent performance. But the advantage they have is that a lot of the movement decisions are quite automatic. Someone who climbs 8a+ can probably do a 7c while having conversation. So there is room on easier routes during warm-up or mileage climbs to concentrate on learning a new technique like openhanding.
Crimp everything and you will suffer for it down the line. Don’t worry about it too much - most people have to learn to openhand the hard way (post-injury). But injury is arguably the most wonderful motivator for changing the way you climb. That’s what happened to me. At 17 I scoffed at openhanded climbing. 5 years of constant pulley injuries later I couldn’t believe how much better it is than crimping on the vast majority of holds.