Slopers may be the most feared holds in climbing, and plenty among us simply avoid problems or routes with slopers. On one hand, it’s easy to convince yourself that you don’t need to be good at slopers because they are less relevant to your chosen climbing discipline, yet on the other, it really doesn’t’ make sense to allow a major weakness to develop. Practicing slopers helps you develop more versatile grip-strength, meaning you can grip edges and pinches at a broader range of angles. Climbing on slopers also provides spin-off benefits to other valuable areas of technique, such as dynamic movement and maintaining core tension and balance. So if slopers are your nemesis then don’t hold back any longer.
Slopers – gripping technique
When bouldering, inspect the hold from the ground first. Look for the best and most in-cut part, but also consider how body position will affect things. It may be that you’re better off using a more sloping part of the hold if it is easier to reach or correlates with a more stable or balanced body position. Once you’ve decided where to aim for, stand below and take a visual reference point, so you will know where to aim when climbing. If climbing a route onsight, make a guess where the best part will be located rather than reaching straight to it and fumbling around. If you find an in-cut depression then consider crimping it or if it’s a pure sloper, drag your finger pads and, if possible, drag your palm over the hold to maximize friction. Focus on keeping your wrist stiff. Use the thumb to pinch and consider different positions for the thumb, such as below and to the side of the hold. This is particularly important on steep problems, when you’re likely to cut loose, as pinching will help you hold the swing.
Slopers – movement and body-position
When climbing on slopers, it’s all about keeping your hips in a balanced position and moving stealthily. Try to suspend the hips vertically below and centrally between both handholds to prevent them from swinging when you make each reach. Be aware that twisting in and can sometimes cause a rotation in your body that can unwind you from the hold, and that usually it’s best simply to keep your hips parallel. A key tip is to avoid getting both feet up high as this will force your hips outward and cause you to lose traction. If you have the option of two high footholds then simply use one of them and keep the other foot lower. It is often necessary to reach dynamically between the holds and when doing this, be aware of the fine balance between over-powering it (which can create instability and cause your hands or feet to skate off) and under-powering, meaning that you won’t reach the target.
Maintain constant core tension as you move and on small footholds, drill the toes into the wall. On steep problems, keep a constant look out for heel-hooks and toe-hooks to lighten the load. If it’s a traverse along a slopey rail then track your heel-hook along with you as you go. Avoid reaching too far and getting too stretched out as this will mean that you end up cutting loose and swinging off.
When bouldering, brush the holds regularly— this is as much to help you learn their nuances as to maximize friction. Keep an open mind and try alternative beta. It’s all about those micro-adjustments and slopey problems can go from feeling impossible to straightforward at the flick of a switch. Keep a watchful eye on your skin, especially when climbing on sandstone or granite or when using new holds at the gym or holds that have just been washed. It’s always better to stop before a fingertip wears through. A final point of safety. Avoid slapping repeatedly for the same sloper as this can place a lot of strain on the wrist. Give it a few tries then switch to another move or change problems.
Supportive training for slopers
A wholistic approach is the way to go if you want to improve at slopers. In the first instance it’s about technique, but you will also need to work on supportive grip strength, as well as strength in the wrists, shoulders and core. This is a brief summary only.
The value of hangboarding (deadhanging) on slopers is often questioned. Sometimes it feels like it relies purely on friction and that hanging from a sloper takes a special knack, that doesn’t feel similar to climbing, yet sloper training is more than worthwhile. Use max-hang protocols and add weight or switch to a more sloping sloper once you can hang for more than 12 seconds. A further way to build finger strength for slopers is to hang on flat edges using your back three fingers (middle, ring and pinky) with a half-crimp grip. The ring and pinky fingers take much of the load when using slopers, so this exercise builds translatable strength.
Half-round campus balls—think softballs sawed in half—provide a fantastic method for building grip strength for slopers in combination with upper body power, and they will also improve your ability to latch slopers at speed. However, the element of core tension is notably missing when campusing, so regard campusing on half-balls as a supplement to bouldering.
Wrist curls (static and dynamic)
If your wrists are weak then you can never hope to be strong on slopers, so for many climbers, wrist curls are a great exercise. For sloper strength, the most important orientation is with the palms facing up, but you can also do palms down and to the side to develop a broader range of strength. It is worth experimenting with isometric (static) contractions and holding the wrist at three different angles for four to six seconds, as well as doing standard dynamic reps. Do three or four sets per wrist angle, two to three times a week for good results.
When you climb on slopers, a great number of muscles need to be recruited within the entire body to keep our posture stable. General advice is to do an overall strength conditioning routine. Suspension straps are superb because they place high emphasis on the shoulders and core, and they also fire up many of the supportive stabilizing muscles, which are required for maintaining controlled movement.
Neil Gresham has been working with the Climbing Team as a training author since 1999. He offers personalised training programs at www.neilgresham.com