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Photos copyright Laurence Gouault
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Sunday, 5 February 2012

Fingers, by Stevie ‘two fingers’ Haston.

Future 9a climber examinating his crimp and the size of his forearm..

When Big Malc Smith was asked about what training to do for climbing, the answer was always going to be short given his taciturn Scottish nature. What came out was the almost lyrical ‘Fingers, fingers, fingers’, next line according to me, ‘Hubble at eighteen’, and then ‘never been seen’ last line. Just my little joke you understand. But really, try the Joker problem at Stanage, in England, and you might understand the word Fingers, and their importance. ‘Fingers’, is not the entire story of course which everybody conveniently forgets, because they want the simple ‘three word’ answer. Anyway lets stick with just fingers shall we, cos I aint getting paid much. Fingers end at the knuckles, and if you really only trained fingers you would nay get up nuffing, ok!
Full crimp without thumb

Full crimp with thumb, much much stronger.

Fingers are moved by a very complex series of muscles and tendons in the forearm, which also can combine, and some times hinder each other. It gets worse! The position of the fingers are also subject to the mechanics of levers, in a simple way it is much harder to pull on smaller holds with the last phalange of the fingers than the one closest to the knuckle. Lastly and most importantly the tip of the finger can hyper extend past its joints straight point to form in climbing what we call the crimp. This last point is of tremendous importance to climbers as the soft tissues called pulleys which allow this to happen will not take very great forces and will snap. By hyper-extending and crimping there are three advantages for the climber. The first finger pad conforms more to a sloping hold, and will thus take advantage of more adherence. Second the first two joints are effectively acting as one, and there magically becomes less of a leverage problem. Third and most overlooked, is you are much closer to the next hold, this is particularly important to midgets, who are often the most likely, because of their low weight to be able to use nasty crimps.
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Half crimp fairly safe.

I help train people and I really shy away from the crimp, because it is very dangerous. Tears in the pulleys are ridiculously common with climbers. Complete ruptures have happened to many of the Worlds best climbers. In fact this injury is now called the climbers injury amoung the surgeons who perform operations to mend their mangled fingers. My career, such as it has been, has largely been dictated to by the mechanics of the crimp, I have often been injured in the fingers and have had ruptures of both A2 pulleys and damage to others. However having said all this, my climbing has improved over the years by shying away from the crimp and compensating by having more normal and bio-mechanically safe finger strength. It has to be said that, ‘a good crimper on certain rock types will never ever be out climbed by a master open hand strength person’. A certain amount of good crimp strength, is not only necessary, it is essential. The important thing for you is to understand, the inherent danger of the crimp, and make due allowances in your training and aspirations.
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Open hang, very safe.
Two fingers open hand. For people with middle two of equal length.

The most common way to rupture, or tear the pulley, is to fast load it. In climbing a foot popping off a foothold while you are fully crimping your tips might do it. In training, reverse campus boarding is almost a sure fire way. Signs of a fully ruptured pulley, are an initial pop or bang, this can be very loud. Then there will be a certain amount of localised pain. Third sign, which sometimes is not that obvious in certain individuals, is a bowing of the tendon, as it is now not confined next to the finger, and takes the shortest distance across. You should seek medical attention, but most doctors wont be that good in understanding your problem. Pulleys can self heal tears, and do, but they are often weaker. Full pops can also self heal, but in Europe operations, have been done more. I know of three 9a climbers who have had ops.

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Finger stack on thumb, very good on crystals and nubbins.

Prevention is defiantly better than cure, so be careful. I am so paranoid about crimps that I will just fall off, if I have the slightest problem with a hold. When On sighting the pressure to succeed can be very great, and in comps it is greater, this can also be a time to take care. An old treatment of climbers is taping the fingers to reinforce the pulleys. It is done unfortunately after you already have a problem, and on tests on cadavers, it was thought not to be of any use. Anecdotal opinion from climbers is that it does work. I certainly think it helps.
Fingers on edge, chiseled, painful.

If you must train crimp, and of course you must, you must do it with caution. The more caution you use and the more luck you have could prolong your career and eventually increase your standard.

Train the crimp first in your session after a total proper warm up. You train it first, so you can have the most sense of what is happening to it, pay great attention. Training it at the end of a session when you are tired and distracted is stupid. If you are training power endurance you must set a circuit that is basically open fingered grip, because the more tired you are, the more chance something will give and if your body sags back the crimp will over load. The catch 22 of this of course is that by doing this you will never maximise your training in the crimp grip, but hey so be it.

I can offer you a poor silver lining. There seems to be a a training benefit seen in different grips when you train within a few degrees of them. Thus full crimp, gets some benefit from half crimp. Another tip is simple, just never go near your max crimp in training, have a rule, be firm with your self.

On a personal level I can say I have enjoyed more climbing because of my fear of the crimp. I haven’t enjoyed climbing more, I have enjoyed more climbing, think about it.