Holding onto a tiny hold on a steep wall and your fingertips are dying? Well done, you’re crimping! Not sure what we’re talking about?
Then here’s all you need to know about crimping in climbing!
A crimp can mean two different things in rock climbing: it’ll either mean a small edge or hand-hold, or mean the way you grab onto such a hold and the hand position (the crimp grip) you’re using to do so.
So, simply put, a crimp grip is the way your hand is positioned and how your fingers are bent when using a tiny hold.
But there is more than one way to crimp, and this is what we’ll explain here.
In this article, we’ll be talking about all the different crimp grips, how to improve your crimping, and what not to do if you want to keep your fingers strong and healthy for a long time.
What Is Crimping In Climbing?
Crimping is the way you grab onto a small but positive edge, bending your fingers in a specific way. The easiest way to tell if you are using a crimp grip or not is to look at the joint just below your fingernails, the DIP (distal interphalangeal) joint.
If these joints on your fingers are bent outwards, you are not crimping, but using an open hand position. However, if they are bent inwards, your hand is in a crimp grip position. This is called a hyperextension of the first joint.
The other important joint for the crimp grip is the one between the first two bones of the finger – the PIP (proximal interphalangeal) joint. So, when crimping, these joints are fully contracted to put pressure on your fingertips.
Although, note that this joint has limited side to side motion and can easily become stiff after an injury.
Bending your fingers this way allows you to assume an aggressive hand position that is perfect for thin edges, as it builds tension in your hands and channels all your force onto your fingertips.
But this also creates a lot of tension in your finger joints and tendons.
This is why it’s important to use the correct technique and not overdo it on the crimp grip, as it can cause injury to your fingers.
By the way, there are different types of crimp grips and gripping techniques for different holds, and we’ll dive into it more below.
How to Do a Crimp While Climbing
Different Climbing Crimp Positions
There are two main types of crimping in rock climbing: the full-crimp grip and half-crimp. They both focus on putting all your force on your fingertips while bringing the palm of your hand closer to the wall for even more strength.
For both, the DIP joints of your 4 fingers will be flexed inwards, but the position of your thumb varies depending on if you’re doing the half or full-crimp grip.
Note that these two crimp positions differ from the so-called open hand position, where your DIP flexes the other way and generally is easier on your joints and tendons.
Proper Crimping Technique While Climbing
When crimping, it’s important to not forget about the rest of your body. Because this type of hand position creates a lot of tension in your hands, it’s important to support your fingers as much as possible.
Here’s the key:
To avoid over-gripping, make sure to focus on your body position and foot placement as well. Because when you’re crimping and only have small footholds on your route, a good balance and precise footwork will be even more crucial!
Different Climbing Holds Where You Crimp
When you’re imagining a crimpy route, you’re probably thinking about a face climb with little to no holds and a lot of balancing. But the truth is, you can also use a crimp grip on other types of holds, like slopers for example, as it depends on how you bend your DIP joints.
Of course, there are holds where crimping is impossible, like a crack climb or a jug. But otherwise, there are a lot of different holds where you could use crimping as a climbing technique.
While crimping often seems to be the best choice, as it offers you the most security, an open-handed hand position might sometimes be more appropriate.
Thing is, beginners especially tend to use the crimp grip too often, because they find it more difficult to trust in open-handed positions and rely more on friction, like you would with an open-hand. But this is when it’s especially important to use other techniques as well and not over-crimp from the beginning.
Check out this video that explains the difference between a crimp grip and open grip quite well, showing how versatile crimping can be:
Different Hand Positions When Crimping
Like we mentioned above, there are different types of crimp grips, and they differ from each other through the position of the fingers and where pressure is most applied.
The Full-Crimp (Closed Grip) And When to Use It
When doing a full-crimp grip, you’ll have all four fingertips on the hold, bending your first knuckles inward and folding your thumb over your index fingernail.
This is a fully closed position, and by locking the thumb over the top of your fingers, you further create pressure on the hold.
Now, this is the most aggressive out of the three hand positions we will talk about. Meaning, while it offers the most strength and power, it’s also the one with the highest risk of injuring yourself, so it should not be underestimated and only used with care.
Because this grip is very heavy on the joints, try to use the open hand or half-crimp position whenever possible. And there is a risk of developing chronic finger injuries, so this position should only be used when there is no other option available.
When doing fingerboard training at the gym, don’t overdo it on the full-crimp either and take it easy. It’s a grip best used on narrow edges, where only your fingertips fit.
But the best crimp holds are the ones that are squarely cut and have a slight recess to dig your fingertips into, and these are often found on granite routes or limestone cliffs.
The Half-Crimp and When to Use It
The half-crimp is similar to the full crimp, but the position of the thumb is different.
For this, you also bend the DIP joints of your four fingers inwards and press your fingertips down onto the hold, but your thumb is on the side of your hand and not on top of your index finger.
Now, this grip also creates hypertension in the joints, but it’s more comfortable and ergonomic. Without the added pressure from the thumb, it’s less stressful on the finger joints than the full grip, but also a bit weaker.
It’s recommended to use the half-crimp whenever possible, as it also helps to build hand and forearm strength on a variety of holds. It’s a grip that works best on narrow, small fingertip handholds that don’t require a super aggressive technique like the full-crimp grip.
Full Crimp Grip vs Half Crimp Grip
The easiest way to differentiate between these two holds is to look at the position of your thumb.
If the thumb is not on top of the index finger, but presses onto its side like you’re trying to squeeze a piece of paper between your index finger and thumb, then you’re doing a half crimp, not a full crimp.
Depending on your thumb length, your thumb might be below your index fingertip.
Open Hand Crimp and When to Use It
This hand position is a bit more natural, with your DIP and PIP joints both bent “outwards”. This creates less tension on your tendons and finger joints and has a lower risk of injury.
And when using this position, you can improve your stability by either using friction or hooking. So, for example, you can use the palm of your hand to create friction on a sloper hold, or assume a “hooking” position with your fingers, forming an upside down J, to grab onto a jug.
Half Crimp vs Open Hand Grip
Really, the main difference between these two hand positions is the flexion of the DIP joints. While they flex inwards in the half-crimp position on the right, they are curved outwards in a more natural and less intense position in the open hand on the left.
Which Climbing Crimp Should I Use?
The ‘best’ type of crimp or hand position will depend on many different factors on your route. How tired are you? What is the hold like? How strong are your fingers?
While crimping gives you a lot of power to hold onto a hold, using a full-crimp all the time might not always be the best idea. It can lead to over-gripping, waste of power, and even create the risk of an injury, when you could have been fine with a half-crimp or open hand!
Beginners tend to use crimps too often because it makes them feel safer, especially when they don’t quite trust a sloper hold yet.
Crimp Climbing Injuries
Here are some details you should know:
Your fingers are made up of three bones that are connected by ligaments, which stabilizes them.
The tendons connect the muscles to the bones and transfer the muscle force acted on the bone. And the tendons connecting your forearm muscles to your fingers are what allows you to bend your fingers and crimp while climbing. These are known as the flexor tendons.
Climbing injuries in your fingers usually involve these tendons and connecting tissues and ligaments.
Traumatic and Chronic Injuries
The overuse of muscles and tendons in your hands and fingers can lead to injuries over time. In this case, these are non-traumatic injuries from chronic overuse that most often occur in the fingers, hands, wrists and elbows, as these joints take on most of the weight of the climber.
Traumatic injuries can come from a fall or a big movement on a tiny crimp with poor footwork and body position, where your fingers just can’t take.
To recover from such injuries, it’s important to rest the damaged body parts and slowly gain back its flexibility, as injured finger joints especially tend to get stiff when injured.
You should stop climbing until there’s no residual pain left. But first, go see a doctor or physio to properly assess the injury and help you gain your strength back.
How to Prevent Injury While Crimping
Okay, the best prevention for injury is to prepare well for your climb, which means: a good warm up, a static stretch at the end of your session, and using good technique while climbing to reduce the impact on your body. We’ve covered this in length in a whole other article about how to warm up and stretch properly for climbing.
Avoid overuse by not pushing your limits every time you climb, and use a less aggressive hand position when possible. The full-crimp grip should only be used occasionally to reduce the stress on your fingers.
Also, proper technique and avoiding intense, dynamic movements will decrease the risk of traumatic injuries while climbing, as it reduces over-gripping or shock loading the fingers.
Of course, using tape and specifically training finger strength can also reduce the risk of hurting yourself – by strengthening the muscles supporting your fingers or by giving it some extra support with the tape.
How Crimp Oil Helps Your Climbing
To help your fingers recover quicker from crimping, you can use crimp oil to give them a nice massage, which will help relax your muscles, tendons, and prevent injuries, too.
This oil is especially made for climbers and should be applied several times a day in case of pain, particularly after a climbing session.
Crimp Oil Original is made of 100 % essential oils and is geared towards climbers recovering from injuries in their hands and fingers. It helps to ease pain from sore tendons and joints, and also preps the skin on your fingers for your next crimping session.
Crimp Climbing Training
Here’s how to improve your crimping: work on building strength in your hands, arms, back and core muscles.
Like we said above, crimping relies not only on your fingers and hands, but also on your whole body positioning and footwork, too. So make sure to follow a holistic training regime that doesn’t neglect anything.
But there are some more specific tips on how to improve your finger, hand and forearm strength to up your crimping game. However, if you’re very new to climbing, just climb as much as possible and this will give you the best results to start with.
Very important note! Avoid getting on the hangboard too soon and possibly causing unnecessary strain on your tendons and finger joints.
Training with Hangboards
You’ll find hangboards or fingerboards in every climbing gym, and they can be one of the easiest ways to increase your finger strength.
However, you should start small and with short intervals on the hangboard, to give your hands time to get used to the new exercise. Make sure you’re well warmed up before starting on the fingerboard, so do at least 30 minutes of easy bouldering or climbing beforehand, and slowly increasing the intensity and difficulty of the routes.
So, when training on a hangboard, you’ll usually start by holding a static position, the “dead hang”, with different hand positions like full-crimp, half-crimp and open hand.
For beginners, it is recommended to do 2-3 sessions a week and do 10 sets of five hangs on a variety of holds with an open hand position. Only use the full-crimp on the smallest hold, but ideally, only experienced climbers should assume this position as it has the highest risk of causing an injury.
Remember to listen to your body and stop if you feel any pain in your fingers or wrist while hangboarding.
Training With Grip Strengtheners
Another option is to use additional gear like grip strengtheners that specifically help you train your hands and/or forearms.
These tools improve your grip strength, which will help you for a variety of different climbing techniques, and not just crimping. There are different grip trainers, from grip donuts to more advanced looking finger strengtheners, so just try what works best for you.
To learn more about these training equipment, here’s a whole article about the best gear to use to improve your grip!
Should you train full crimp on a finger board?
- Only experienced climbers should train the full-crimp on a fingerboard, as there is a high risk of overdoing it as a beginner and injuring yourself. If you want to train on a finger board, use a variety of different holds with an open hand position to improve grip strength.
Which is more dangerous: full-crimp or half-crimp?
- A full crimp has a higher risk of causing injuries to your hands and fingers. It’s a very aggressive hand position which puts a lot of pressure on your tendons and joints.
Why is it bad to do a full-crimp?
- The added pressure of your thumb pushing down on top of your index knuckle increases the stress on your DIP joints and can cause injuries through overuse, or even a traumatic injury when doing a dynamic move off a small crimp hold.
Can you climb without crimping?
- This entirely depends on the route. If you are crack climbing, there might not be any horizontal crimp holds on your route. But whatever route you are on, there are often different hand positions you can use, so you should always try to avoid a full-crimp and only use it occasionally.
What to do if your finger hurts when crimping?
- Pain while crimping can be a sign that you are developing a chronic injury in your fingers. Try to reduce the pressure on your fingers by assuming a different hand position like a half-crimp or open hand position.
- Warming up your fingers properly and focusing more on your body position and footwork can also help reduce the stress on your fingers, and you can improve finger strength through specific training and using supportive tape.
Where do you put pressure when crimping while climbing?
- There is a lot of pressure on the first joint of your fingers, the DIP joint. This is because of the way the fingers are bent and the way you transmit all your force and weight on a really small surface on your fingertips.
Is it dangerous to crimp too hard when rock climbing?
- Over-gripping, poor technique, and using full-crimps all the time can lead to injuries over time, or even a traumatic injury during a dynamic move. This is because you are shock loading the tendons and joints in your fingers or causing continuous stress through over-gripping.
How do I get better at crimping?
To improve your crimping, work on building strength in your hands, arms, back and core muscles. You can do specific training using grip strengtheners or hangboards.
If you want to improve your home gym setup and achieve stronger hands, you might want to get a fingerboard yourself! Here is a review of the best fingerboards out there to make things easier for you.
To get stronger arms, hands and fingers, the best training is to just climb loads! Here are some beginner guides to climbing to answer all your questions.
Hi there, I am Mirjam and have recently discovered rock climbing for me while backpacking in Colombia. Originally from Switzerland I currently live in Venezuela and work as a freelance writer and translator. I have always loved being in nature and the mountains and am stoked to explore more of the world’s best climbing in the years to come!
You can find me at @mirigoesround or www.bosstranslations.com