Saturday, March 12, 2011

How strong are your fingertips?

How strong are your fingertips? This is not a question we usually ponder. How much can you bench press? What's your best time in a 10K? These are the questions we ask. But as I was dangling from my fingers suspended high above the ground, my fingertip strength was in question.

Rock climbing is unlike any other sport I've ever tried. It's not fast. It's not heart-pumping gonna make you sweat. Instead, it's a strategic journey in which the climber maps his/her path up a puzzle that runs perpendicular to the ground. Each body movement needs to be measured and precise. And yes, most of the work seems to be done by your fingers and your forearms. Of course, a seasoned climber might disagree with me; however, on my last trip up and down the climbing wall it was my fingers that I kept cursing for slipping or being too weak to hold me until I had positioned my body.

A range of hand/foot holds to get up the wall
So let's talk about positioning. On my first week the best advice I received from the instructor (and again from my climbing mates this week) was to lean back from the wall, arms straight out, fingers gripping the hold, while contemplating the next move. The instructor also advised me to suck my hips into the wall and look at my body position - are you shaped like a triangle? In the picture of me on this page, I'm about to move, so I'm positioned more like a square. But my arms are gripping the holds in the most energy efficient way possible. The closer you are to the wall, the more work your arms and body have to do keep you there.

On a climbing wall you choose your route. As you can see best by the coloured tape at my feet, I was on an easier 5.8 pink route (I think they go up to around 5.15 at the gym I was at). Some of the holds were fantastic - big, rounded, and easy to hold onto. Others were like over-sized thumbtacks that didn't do much for me except help me balance out before making my next move. The other photo on the page shows there are a lot of different types of holds that climbing walls use. The bigger ones make climbing easier because there's more to step on or hold. As climbs increase in difficulty, the holds get smaller and/or more awkward.

Although it's not fast-paced, as I moved to tougher climbs I did find myself sweating. And my poor little fingers couldn't always keep me on the wall. I actually turned down hand chalk, which is used to get a better grip on awkward holds. Oh the arrogance of the naive! Next week, there will be chalk. And yes, I've been pumping iron with my fingers (well... punching keys while typing words. It's gotta help).


  1. eat some spinach for those fingers! i love this blog by the way :)

  2. Did not know spinach was the key to strong fingers. Thanks for the tip! And thanks for reading it!!!

  3. I watched an interesting segment on MythBusters, if those guys in action movies can *really* hang on to a cliff edge with only their finger tips. The answer, not surprisingly, is no =)
    Although they had a trained stunt-double try it and he was able to remain suspended over the edge of a building for close to 10 seconds, using only the tippy-tips of his fingers. Way longer then any of the MythBusters...