Climbing up a sheer cliff or just climbing up the wall of your local climbing gym both require one thing that is the same. This is the fingers of your hand being able to grip impossibly small things while bearing the full weight of your body. You might then wonder how this will affect your own hands in the long term.
Your hands will become thicker, the tendons stronger, and the arm muscles bigger as you continue to rock climb. The entire experience will always continue to increase the size of your hands, with most experienced climbers having hands that are significantly stronger and larger than most other people.
Many people are not aware that the hobby and passion of rock climbing will affect their hands, usually becoming afraid when their hands increase in size. You will need to know many things about how your hands will change and be affected by climbing constantly.
Your hands are the main tools that you use while climbing, which means that you need to know how they will be challenged.
Why do rock climbers have thick fingers?
Hands are some of the most complex and often overlooked body parts. They are so complicated that almost no technology can even get close to becoming as versatile. We know a few of the basic structures of what makes hands so amazing, and understanding how these are affected when you are rock climbing will make a big difference.
When you are rock climbing, you will be tearing and sometimes breaking some of your tendons. It will not always be painful or even noticeable. The flexing, breaking, and exercising of tendons or bones in your hands will make them larger and stronger. This is the process that all rock climbers go through until their hands are strong enough to easily hold most or all of their weight with ease.
The process of rock climbing does more than just increasing the tendon’s size; usually increasing muscle strength as well. The muscles in your forearms and biceps will constantly be exercised when you are properly training, with most hobby climbers that only go over the weekends, reaching a plateau of strength relatively quickly.
How do you strengthen your fingers for rock climbing?
There are many ways you can increase your grip strength in preparation for climbing; you can either exercise or simply do finger curls with a weight. Many people also exercise their arms a lot to increase the strength of the muscles that affect grip strength; however, this is limiting and can cause your weight to increase too much.
The only way to effectively strengthen your fingers for rock climbing is by constantly taking part in the hobby. This naturally trains your grip strength through repeated tasks, and by putting stress on your hands and arms in a natural way, you will use them while climbing. Like many other sports, there is no easy shortcut to getting proper grip strength; you will have to practice.
Many beginner climbers quickly become aware that most of their body has not even begun feeling tired when their fingers already feel like falling off. This is why you will have to start slow until your hands are capable of going for a long time without even noticing that you are actively using them to hang off the side of cliffs.
What are the risks for your hands while rock climbing?
While training your fingers to easily handle the weight of your body, you will quickly realize that several things can cause your hands to hurt for weeks afterward. This is because too much training too soon, wrong kinds of stress, or just accidents can cause a lot of damage to your hands.
Knowing the dangers of rock climbing for your hands will mean that you can easily avoid causing long-term, permanent damage to your body.
- Osteoarthritis: The most common type of arthritis is also the most common long terms damage that active rock climbers suffer in their old age. This arthritis is the wearing out of the cushioning between your bones, which means that your bones start rubbing on each other directly. Over time, this becomes more and more painful until you cannot use the bone anymore.
- Long Term Damage: There are more dangers than just arthritis. You can also damage your hands permanently when you damage them and do not allow them to heal properly. This is usually when people break a bone, tendon, or get a bruise and then refuse to rest properly. Understanding when to stop is the difference between doing something until you physically cannot anymore and enjoying it for your whole life.
- Broken Tendons: The most common thing and the one that you will experience a lot is breaking a few tendons while rock climbing. This can be extremely painful when you do it and will affect how your hands operate throughout the day. However, it also means that the tendon will grow back slightly stronger and allow you to grip a lot harder while climbing up a vertical wall.
- Scratches: The hidden danger that some rock climbers learn through a lot of pain can be a lot more dangerous than they seem. These are unlikely to happen while you are climbing in a gyp because most sharp corners are removed. However, while climbing in the wild, your hands will be scratched by rocks and many other things. This affects the calluses that grow but can also cause infections if you do not keep them clean.
- Wounds: Wounds are not the same as scratches. Usually, only a few bruised hands or knees and are a lot less likely to cause long term damage. However, your first-day rock climbing will be followed by a week break as your body recovers from all the new bruises and wounds you’ve picked up.
Would gloves help to lessen the strain?
Many first-time rock climbers mistakenly think that gloves are the way to go and that all rock climbers want to use them. However, this can not be further from the truth. When you enter the community and ask for help, they will actively tell you not to wear gloves.
Gloves affect the feel you have for the grips you are trying to get on rocks and holds. They also negatively affect the calluses you need to grow. Gloves are only used if they are fingerless and used on very special occasions, usually in competitions where some impossible grips or bends are required for climbers to conquer.
If you are still learning, it may be a lot more painful, but you should not use gloves, and gloves will not lessen the most long-term injuries you can get. If you want to have the best possible tool to climb up a vertical cliff face, you will have to ensure that your hands are always in the best possible condition.
Becoming the best rock climber means that you are aware of all the dangers that face your hands, ensuring that you do not damage them by using the wrong techniques or not caring properly after a long climb. Your hands will grow in size and become larger as your rock-climbing experiences continue to grow, usually reaching a size limit if you never grow much heavier than you are while rock climbing.
Just be sure not to accidentally climb a cliff with a backpack filled with all the water in the world; you’ll find that can be impossibly heavy!
Check out our post on whether you can rock climb every day here.