Indoor Rock Climbing holds
Rock climbers often use the terms "open grip" and "closed grip" when talking about climbing technique. Closed grip and open grip refer to the ways of holding onto different types of climbing holds. These terms do not describe the holds themselves, but rather their use. This is a very important distinction, because you'll never hear anyone say, "reach for that open grip!" Instead you'll hear, "reach for that jug" or "use an open grip!"
It is a daunting but worthwhile task for beginner climbers to pick up the climbing lingo. Making an attempt to learn the vocabulary early will help new climbers identify different techniques and improve their climbing rapidly. Similarly, talking with experienced climbers is one of the best things beginners can do. And it certainly helps to be able to understand them!
If you'd like to learn more about the names and different types of climbing holds, be sure to check out:
What is an Open Grip?
An open grip is the type of grip you use when you palm a basketball or hang from the monkey-bars. The defining characteristic of an open grip is having all the joints bend naturally inward. It does not matter whether the bends are all very slight (like palming a ball) or very sharp (like hanging from monkey-bars).
Open grips allow climbers to stay on the wall using two mechanisms: friction and hooks. Climbing holds can require either one or both of these mechanisms depending on the hold itself.
Friction is achieved by getting maximum surface area of the hand on the climbing hold. This technique is primarily used on slopers.
Hooking is achieved by curving your hand into an upside-down "J" shape and wrapping your fingers around a climbing hold. Doing this climbing technique allows your bodyweight to hang from your knuckles. Hooking is commonly used on jugs and mini-jugs.
The hybrid grip involves creating more of an upside-down "L" shape with your hand. You are still partially hanging off your curved knuckles, but significant friction is required since you are on top of the hold. This method is often used on edges.
Open grips are nice because they put very little stress on your joints. Because your hand is curving naturally, hand injury is unlikely.
What is a Closed Grip?
Closed grips do not have any use in daily life; they will seldom be used outside of rock climbing. The defining characteristic of a closed is the hyper-extension of the first knuckle. While the hand has the natural ability to bend inward, a closed grip requires an upward push on the fingertips to bend the knuckles in the opposite direction. Closed grips are often explained as hanging off the bone of your fingertips rather than the skin.
Closed grips are absolutely necessary for some holds, while other times they are optional. Crimps are very small holds that do not provide enough surface area to use an open grip. On these holds, a closed grip is the only option.
For edges and some slopers, a closed grip can also be used. Rather than simply hanging off the hold, a climber can dig his fingertips into the top of the hold.
It is important not to overuse or over-train with closed grips. This method puts a huge amount of stress on the joints and tendons. One of the most common rock climbing injuries is popping a tendon. Strengthen your hands slowly to reduce the chances of injury.
So Which Climbing Grip Should I Use?
As with most things in life, the correct answer is: "it depends!" There is no single better choice between closed grip or open grip. Instead, each move you make will require individual analysis. The two main things to consider are the type of climbing hold and the type of movement being completed.
Some holds will almost always be one type of grip. Jugs use open grips by definition, and crimps use closed grips. On these occasions, you will know exactly what to do as you approach and move past a climbing hold.
Other holds such as edges, slopers, and oddball holds will require a bit more consideration. Many new climbers will attempt to use a closed grip first. They feel more secure and connected to the rock due to the bone contact. This is not good practice, as closed grips are much more likely to cause injury and thus should not be overused.
Instead, the deciding factor should be the type of movement you will be performing. Open grips on these types of climbing holds are much more suited to hanging from the hold. For example, a sloper would only be useful if you were pulling straight down on it with an open grip. Closed grips, on the other hand, are much more useful if you are pulling up on a hold or climbing past it. As you climb higher, it is more difficult to keep the surface area on a hold so digging the fingertips in can be more advantageous.
Climb Hard, Climb Safe
So now with your new knowledge, get out and try these techniques! Using open grips on edges and closed grips on tiny holds is a great place to start. Some of the methods might require a bit of practice before they begin to feel comfortable, but they are absolutely necessary as you climb harder.