If you consider slopers a weakness, then join just about every other climber on the planet. Nobody prefers downward-facing pieces of nothing and it’s easy to see how sloper-phobia can creep in. But slopers make up the crux of many five-star routes and problems so if you shy away from them, you can’t climb the best stuff and you won’t get better.
If you’re keen to get stronger on slopers, climb on them. More than any other style of climbing, slopers seem to succumb to “magic- trick” beta and moves can go from feeling impossible one minute to a cruise as soon as you apply some subtle technique. So keep an open mind and use the tips below to help you stay in contact.
1. Take a Bearing
Slopers are often difficult to grab just right and hard to see. When you’re scoping the problem from below, try to identify the most positive part of each hold and take visual reference points to help you line up with it. For example use a blemish in the rock or a bolt hole or a different-colored hold when indoors. If the sloper has a small incut section, consider crimping, especially if this is your strongest grip; otherwise, drag the pads of your fingers onto the good part to create as much friction as possible.
With compression problems, heels and toes must invariably be placed blind on arêtes and features, so preview the problem whenever you can.
WALK OR CROUCH into the position you’ll be in when climbing (with your feet still on the ground) and then visualize where your heel and toe hooks will go. If you’re keen to flash the problem, you can even practice locating your heels and toes while still on the ground, bearing in mind that the angle of your body will be slightly different on the rock.
EXPERIMENT with different heel positions. For example, rotating your toe outward and rolling onto the side of the heel may help lock it into position. It’s usually best to reach dynamically, rather than risk your heels or toes popping if you’re too static. However, with subsequent attempts you may be able to go statically. A common error is to focus too much on gaining a handhold and lose crucial tension in the toe, heel or torso.
AVOID getting too stretched out. Try also to avoid getting out of synch—and hence out of balance, for example, by having your left hand and foot too close together and your right hand and foot too far apart.
AIM to create opposition, for example, between the right heel (or toe) and the left arm. On steep problems, avoid cutting loose.
2. Use the Thumb
Look for ways to involve your thumb in the grip. If there isn’t an obvious thumb catch, then try placing your thumb to the side or underneath the hold and get a little leverage that way.
3. Hang Straight
Try to keep your center of gravity straight below the handholds. Imagine your hips are a weight suspended from a plumb line. This visualization will help you find the optimum body position and minimize hip swing as you move. When you’re reaching for a sloper off to the side, steer the hips toward it before weighting it.
4. Sloper Footwork
Avoid using two footholds at a similar height, especially if they’re both high, as this position can force your hips too far out and tip you off. Instead, take one foot off and flag the lower leg to counterbalance. Heel hooking is also a key technique. We all tend to look down for footholds, yet on slopey problems the best foothold can be a high handhold. Similarly, a toe hook around the arête of a boulder can make the worst slopers suddenly feel like jugs.
For those who are new to this style of climbing, the main difference when it comes to heel hooking and toe hooking on slopers as opposed to incut holds is that you often need to use compression forces and squeeze to maintain contact. Beginners usually learn to heel hook on jugs where the heel will stay on passively, but on slopers you will need to tense your hamstrings to maintain contact and may even need to pull with them to make progress.
5. Generate Engrams
When working hard sloper problems, you might want to start by just pulling on and holding the positions. This way your body can generate engrams and you’ll have a psychological advantage by knowing it’s possible to hold on.
Be wary of slapping for the same sloper repeatedly, as this places a lot of strain on the wrists. Take good rests between attempts and be prepared to move on and come back to intractable problems when you are fresh.
The best training for compression problems is simply to try them, but if you lack upper-body strength or wish to take your bouldering up a notch, then cycle in some supportive training. Do the following exercises three times a week for up to six weeks at a time, and then take a week break. You can either do the exercises at the end of a climbing session or on a rest day, provided you’re not planning compression climbing the following day.
Chest flies are the best exercise for developing compression strength. Place your toes on a bench, rings positioned at bench level, and hold the rings in a plank position—straight arms. Then lower by bringing the arms out to the sides. The arms remain straight throughout. Lower then bring the arms together and return to plank position for a rep. Do a warm-up set resting your knees on a bench, then do three sets to failure (the point where your form starts to slip). A second choice is to do push- ups with arms as wide apart as possible.
There are numerous floor exercises for developing core strength, but the best one is probably the crucifix. Go down into a push-up or plank position, then walk your hands and feet as far out to the sides as you can, so that your body makes a cross. Hold the position and move your hips slowly up and down until your form starts to diminish. The exercise can be made easier by performing a kneeling version, or made more difficult by balancing on one foot.
This article appeared in Rock and Ice 232