climbing is about movement. It is about moving with momentum, dynamically flowing in infinite nuance. It is about the subtle timing and coordination of movement from different parts of your body - and integrating them. It is about knowing how to initiate the appropriate movement, and sequences that make up that movement, for a given situation.
Your ability to grip small holds, or better said, finger contact strength, is certainly necessary to climb at a higher level. However this is widely misunderstood by many climbers stuck at an early intermediate, mid-grade level.
Your hand strength allows you to move and position your body underneath the hand holds. Your fingers and lower arms have to be powerful enough to hold on and allow you to generate the needed momentum from you ankles, knees, hips, or other parts of the body that will bring you to the next grip. The common mistake of newer (and some times not so new) climbers is that they try to generate the needed momentum from the hands and lower arms. The incessant gripping and pulling eventually leads to local muscle exhaustion in the lower arms. A climber stuck in this cycle will then complain that they aren’t “strong enough”. They then go and do more pull ups, get a finger board and/or start using a campus board in an effort to increase their strength. At best they develop some additional finger strength, but they still do not move efficiently. And most importantly, their focus for getting better is quite far from first and foremost improving and learning movement.
Usually this leads to an almost pre-programed injury in the fingers, elbows or shoulders because the climber has not learned how to move. I don’t know how many times I have seen this happen. Unfortunately, this is very common when a less experienced climber hooks up with someone who climbs at an higher level then they do, but climbs with poor, inefficient technique and a dominance of initiating movement with pulling through the fingers.
The less experienced yet enthusiastic climber, who is happy to be climbing with a “better” partner, than starts repeating their partners routes on top rope, subconsciously using the same crappy movement patterns that they witnessed while belaying (yes, once again, who you choose to climb with is vitally important), and low and behold, in six weeks they are climbing with tapped fingers, wrists or elbows and soon thereafter taking a three month break due to finger pulley injuries, elbow tendonitis or tears in the rotator cuff.
You may think that people who show up in climbing in the gym with tapped fingers, wrists or elbows (or god forbid that stupid fucking colored Chinese tape) are hardcore. But believe me, they are just misguided. Honestly, if your best red-points are at 6b or 6c and you need tape because your fingers, wrists, elbows, etc. are sore or injured, than you are doing something very wrong. Fix your injuries and soreness with learning how use your body properly to move while climbing, not with tape or other medication.
One may use tape to first and foremost protect or prolong your skin. Use tape to reinforce delicate tendons and pulleys in your fingers when doing campus training at the appropriate time (please don’t even get on a campus board until you are regularly climbing at 7b, but that’s another post). Maybe use tape to cover a small cut or wear spot on the skin, especially if you are trying to red-point something and doing the same move over and over again that has led to the sensitive skin issue.
The Canadian climber Will Gadd has written about his time as a competitive sport climber doing the European sport climbing circuit as a professionally sponsored climber twelve to fifteen years ago. To paraphrase his story, he was by far the “strongest” of all his competitors. He could do many more pull ups, weighted pull ups, one-arm pull ups, front levers, etc. If the competition was about pull ups, he would’ve won everything hands down. But, it was all about climbing and he regularly placed in the mid-twenties or was eliminated in the qualifying rounds. Why? Because he finally relized that he couldn’t move properly while climbing!
The top sport climbers in the competitions (mostly French at that time) were unable to do more than a handful of pull ups at best, however they moved with an element of aesthetic beauty and grace that was far, far ahead of what Gadd could mimic or even imagine at that time.
When Gadd asked his European competitors how they could climb at such a high level at all the comps despite being in his opinion so weak, he was told that they grew up trying to climb with beautiful, artistic movement. They tried to make all the moves and sequences as easy as possible. they tried to solve climbing challenges with movement, positioning, grace and fluidity - never through brute strength. This is an admirable trait that all climbers should strive towards and keep in mind when you come up against a crux in which you think you need to become “stronger” to solve.