It’s a challenging grip to train. Hangboarding allows your fingers to develop for crimps and slopers, but pinch training appears to offer greater complexity. How can we progress? Is it a grip worth training?
There are three best ways to train pinching. From a strength perspective, weighted-pinch-block training provides the most effective way to improve on pinching isometrics. It allows a climber to modify and record the amount of weight they hope to take up the wall with them.
Where pinch-block-training isolates the forearm, hanging inverted pinches distributes weight across the upper body. Realistically, they both provide effective strategies for most levels of pinch-based climbing. Today we’ll cover both.
Before we begin, it is helpful to see how pinching makes itself useful. Indoors, comfortable pinches describe modern commercial routesetting. The large surface area of the grips make an accessible tool that most any setter can use without fear of hurting their community. While this is all well and good, it seems less useful when you go outside. The edge-dominant style of outdoor climbing makes it a difficult to see why anyone would focus on such a rarely presented hold-type.
While an understandable misconception, how we choose to grip a hold defines its description. An edge is only a crimp if we crimp it. If we decide to throw our thumbs underneath the lip, then it becomes a pinch. The question then becomes one of technique. Why pinch a edge when you could crimp it?
Pinches provide greater stability than crimps. Crimps require you to pull in close to the wall so that you can get under the hold. Even if you hit a crimp from the side, the nature of this grip type asks you to pull directly through the centerline of the hold.
Conversely, a pinch provides greater flexibility. It allows a climber to rotate over the grip and even pull their hips away from the wall. This can make it easier to hit a hold accurately. Instead of having to find balance behind the centre-line of an edge, we can pull past and through a grip to hit a hold with pace from an unconventional direction. By pinching with our lower hand we can even repel the swing by simply holding onto the wall. This has benefits, especially on steep climbs.
For those seeking to increase the isometric loading capacity of their pinch strength, no exercise offers progression as quickly as pinch-block training. At its highest level, the exercise requires a block of wood with an eye-bolt screwed into the side. You then pinch from the side opposite to the eye-bolt. By loading a sling through weights of your choosing, you can attach a carabiner to the sling and begin your lifts.
As you become more advanced, you may find yourself wanting to try one of the many products available on the market. The Tension block has many different grip sizes that allows you to move into progressively more crimped positions. This allows the climber the opportunity to increase their strength on micro-pinches. If you are new to pinch-block training, it is best to start with a large comfortable block.
By creating a vice between your thumb and your fingers, you will squat with a straight back and pull the block to a height that creates tension on the cord. With the the weight still on the ground, you will ensure that your shoulders have been pulled in an active position. With a slight bend in the elbow you will retain your straight back as you lift with your legs. This will isolate the forearm without straining your lower back.
Find your maximum 7- to 10-second weight. This exercise will reflect hangboarding. Increase weight incrementally. Ideally, move at a pace of 2.5 to 5 pounds at a time. You needn’t begin at 0 pounds, but take a conservative approach to increasing weight. You will have time over these next weeks to become proficient at this exercise.
After finding your max weight. Complete 3 to 6 sets of 7-10 second lifts on each arm. Separate each lift by 2 to 4 minutes of rest.
Complete this exercise three days a week with each day separated by at least one rest day.
Attempt to incrementally add weight every three sessions. The first long-term goal should be half of your weight in a lift. Increase goals as you see fit.
Inverted Pinch Hangs
These are arguably less useful, but an extremely fun exercise nonetheless. Inverted pinches are generally wooden blocks or balls screwed upside down, often under hangboards. The goal is to hang them and potentially move between them.
They provide a more athletic approach to pinch training and it is recommended that you pursue them with a degree of caution. These stressful hangs put a lot of pressure on the wrists, but translate well to climbing. The reason they translate so well comes primarily from the necessary distribution of weight. Although the goal is to hang them without compressing, you will likely end up squeezing these blocks to get off the ground. This teaches you how to distribute pressure across your body, but reduces the isometric benefits that may be found in pinch block training.
Try and hang the grips unassisted. Determine how much weight you need to take off to hang the grips.
Thread a resistance band or weight-bearing cord through an eye-bolt under the pinches. You will either step on this band or connect the weight-bearing cord to weigh, through a pulley, and then to your harness so as to reduce the difficulty of hanging the grips. Calibrate for 7- to 10-second hangs.
Complete 3 to 6 sets of 10-second hangs. Separate each set by 2 to 4 minutes of rest.
Complete this exercise three days a week with at least one rest day separating each training day.
Reduce the weight and strive to hang the pinch blocks without assistance. when you can do that, try and hang the blocks with your arms at progressively larger angles.
Finally, we return to the main pillar of all grip and finger trainings. If you do not wish to complete these isometrics, climb on a 40+ degree board. The nature of the climbing style will push your pinch strength. This organic approach has value in that full body athleticism that comes along with it, however, it offers greater opportunity for injury than pinch block training.
Featured image by Dimitris Tosidis