Have you ever noticed that you end up climbing the kind of routes that you’re already good at? Instead of working on our weaknesses we spend most of our time on routes we’re already better at climbing. I’m a 6' 3" and fairly heavily built, so I end up climbing overhangs with long reaches and big holds, my partner is small and flexible, so she spends her time on slabs, balancing on one toe holding onto pockets with just her pinkies. We all know what we should be doing, that I should be balanced on one toe on that slab and she should be sandbagging up the overhang, but doing what I’m already good at is sooo much more satisfying.
That’s why my New Year’s resolution has been to improve on my biggest weakness - slopers.
If you check out this video with our buddy Chris Wilson, speaking at The Crag climbing gym in Nashville, you can hear his advice about how to use the Porta-Hang with the sloper holds attached in order to improve your sloper strength. He recommends gradually upping the difficulty and by using one jug to begin with then using the sloper holds on alternate sides, so you don’t overload your hands.
But there are other things we can do to get better at slopers as well as improving our grip strength. First off, remember are keep your hips low and close to the wall and tuck your elbows in tight, just below the hold. This is good advice for any climber at any point as staying tight in against the wall reduces the weight going through our hands and will help improve your climbing form.
Counterintuitively its often better to put more weight on a sloper and not less. I remember one route I couldn’t do, no matter how hard I tried, until someone suggested I cut my legs loose, which put more weight on my hands and helped me stay on the wall. You don’t need to cut loose though, often we can simply flag a leg which has a similar effect.
Consider your body position in relation to the direction you’re pulling on the hold. According to this great article on climbing.com we should
“Imagine a line going from that direction of pull through your hips to one of your lower extremities. Use this line to orient your body so that you’re maximizing opposition against the hold”
In other words, think about the direction you’re pulling and keep your body, especially your hips, in that line. This will keep out center of gravity in the right place, making it as easy as possible to stay on the wall.
The final aspect, which this article in Rock and Ice emphasis, is to get as much of your skin against the hold as possible. Nothing is off limits, we should be pinching with our thumbs, using the tops of our palms, smearing with the heel of our hands, whatever we can do to increase surface contact, and then using our abs to make sure we move slowly and with control.
The reality is that good advice for slopers is good advice for climbing generally, as it’s a type of hold that it’s hard to just power through, you need good technique and skill. That’s why people like me, people who are used to powering through without worrying about technique, struggle on them. Instead of power I should be working on my technique and moving with control.
So, no excuses not to practice then?