Why do climbing professional use less than 5 fingers on some holds?

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From https://www.lagrimpe.com/abc/le-mono-ou-bi-doigt/

I mean, why don't they put the other fingers, even if they don't quite fit, to reduce by a few grams the corresponding tension on the other fingers. Adding more fingers would reduce the global tension in the other fingers that are hardly used: why not?


4 Answers 4


Every time a climber finds a way to place more fingers on a hold, he/she will. If he/she is not using all fingers, it's because:

  1. They're training their fingers to get stronger,
  2. It's impossible to place more fingers on the hold,
  3. They have injured fingers they do not want to use and worsen,
  4. They're careless because the route is too easy for them.
  • 4
    Great list. I'd add that sometimes people with particularly short 5th fingers might exclude that one, since using it forces you to pull harder on the other 3.
    – jhch
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 14:15
  • 2
    It can be possible to place more fingers on a hold, but the hold is worse with that finger combination -- e.g. when dropping a pinky allows you to use remaining three fingers on a bigger part of the hold. Also sometimes three-finger drag allows you to rely more on friction rather than finger strength, allowing for more recovery. Commented Mar 15, 2021 at 14:37

I think it is easiest to understand if you think about a small pocket where you can fit a single finger in deeply and securely or jam two fingers in poorly. While it is always nice to distribute the weight between two fingers instead of one finger, sometimes the grip you get on a hold is much better with one finger than with two fingers.

For the hold shown in the question, the two fingers both likely have access to a little incut in the back of the hold. Adding a third finger would result in the two outside fingers not having as good a grip, and the grip of the middle finger might even be reduced if there is a ridge in the middle of the pocket. Climbers tend to grab a hold, especially if they are familiar with it and in control when they are grabbing it, in the most efficient manner possible (unless training or injury dictates otherwise). More fingers is not always more efficient.


A few things not otherwise mentioned in other answers:

Grip depends on how much pressure you can exert via your fingers. Often times it is not advantageous to just get as much skin on there as you can. A good example is the occasional sloper - if you try to smear your whole hand on it it's much harder to not slip off versus just driving your tips down like a crimp.

On single/double finger pockets (aka mono doigt or bi doigt), you can often get really good pad pressure from just a finger or two versus trying to cram all 5 fingers in there. The pictured hold, in particular, often has a jug-like shape inside the hold, so you can really get two fingers deep in there and really hook in.

Hand anatomy matters as well... you can pull really hard on fingers that are crimped properly. If you scrunch up your fingers in a weird way that the hold doesn't accommodate, you can put your hands in weirder, more injury prone positions that don't afford as firm of a grip, or increase hand fatigue as you hold on and pull.

  • Could you cite some evidence for "increasing the contact area actually reduces the overall friction on the hold?"
    – jhch
    Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 16:16
  • @JohnHughes If I can find it. There's a great read on how smaller fingers grip better in climbing because of the amount of fingertip fat that's involved. Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 16:53
  • @JohnHughes climbing.com/news/… I am gonna edit my answer as I was misremembering this study, lol. Still a neat article, though. Commented Aug 19, 2019 at 17:00

Another thing to consider with professional climbers is that they constantly train finger strength, meaning, doing a two finger pull-up is very common and much easier for them than the average climbers. Its kind of like holding a really good hold. A 'good' hold is relative to the climber, and a crimp or a pocket that may be 'bad' for us may be really good for someone who climbs grades they do.

Another consideration would be to match, or plan to match. Some moves require you to match on a small hold, so using only part of you hand would leave room to match with your other hands' fingers.

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