Hangboarding is definitely one of the sport’s special strengths exercises you can do for climbing, aside from climbing itself. The transfer of Hangboarding from off-the-wall training to on-the-wall performance is almost instantaneous, especially considering that the improvement in finger strength will increase both maximum bouldering and exercise class. What is often less clear, what variable climbers should pay attention to when the fingerboard, such as; the size of the hold, the intensity of the hang, and the number of fingers (or arms) used during the training reps. In addition, there are many “methods” used for hangboard sessions such as repeater, max hang or long duration hang-all have their time and place.
At part one From this article, we will guide you through the basics. We will introduce you to every important aspect of hangboard training and explain why. At part two, we will discuss some of the most common exercise sessions, including when and how often you should complete these exercises. Although these articles are not comprehensive for all approaches, they should be a sign for your training, and I must emphasize that per Climbers should take an individual approach to training. Theory and methodology have their place, but must be matched with key factors such as training history, performance goals and resources (time, facilities, budget) available for training.
At Lattice, we have trained some of the strongest, bravest and most talented climbers in the world: Alex Honnold, Hazel Findlay, Will Bosi, and Tommy Caldwell, to name a few. We’re not just bragging about the name, but taking what we’ve learned and applying it to the elite and making it work for passionate amateurs. You might be surprised to know that this megastar is not unlike you and us.
Edge Hangboard Size and Shape
The grip size on your hangboard can vary from a full jug to less than a finger if you have one at home or use a board at the gym. Overall, the size of the hold means the distance from the front of the hold to the back of the “stop point” on the board. It does not take into account the front curved radius of the hold. This is very important, because many manufacturers vary this (usually 3-10mm) and you will find significant differences in difficulty and comfort from one brand to the next. At Lattice, we use a 20mm edge size for most training and research, which has a front radius of 10mm.
The shape of the hold usually indicates the angle at which the loading surface is oriented. A sloper hold will be on the negative side of the vertical mounting angle and continue to incut on the positive side. In some rare cases, you may find that certain boards will have arches designed from side to side.
- The size of the edge will determine how your arm muscles engage and how the tendons and ligaments are loaded. There is a significant difference between single (20mm or less) and double (25mm and more) grip positions.
- For beginners who climb larger boards, practicing on larger ledges may be more beneficial. For intermediate to elite climbers, most recommend 20mm or less.
- The very small “micro” angle limits the total force that we can send to the arm, so this form of training is limited when building maximum muscle strength.
- The larger the hold is used, the more the spread of loading across the soft tissues of the hand. So, this can be an important component in reducing the risk of injury in the first place for some climbers.
Joint Angle and Grip Type
The use of the joint angle or the type of grip is somewhat interchangeable, but in any case it is an important factor that must be taken into account for all climbers. We usually have a choice of a spectrum of grip types or joint angles in more or less any hold size or shape. Use more of the “open” grip when the fingers are the straightest and the joint angle is the largest. In contrast, the most “closed” grip is considered a “full crimp” where the joint angle in all fingers is high and in addition to the thumb is placed on the third finger to provide additional power. Climbers will argue endlessly about the best grip position, but the truth is that there is no preferred method. We think this is due to the fact that the individual finger morphology can affect the biomechanics of grip strength, and also the climber’s training and injury history have a great influence. What seems pretty certain is that the best climbers in the world can use different types of grips.
- Choosing the right grip type for the right grip size and shape is critical. Most climbers will find that certain places only work if they are used in a certain way. An example of this is on Moonboard. Here, half crimp and full crimp will usually yield the highest performance.
- Some grip types are more “active” than others. The most open position – often referred to as “drag” – is extremely useful to rest on the large positive holds where the high contact surface with the hold allows for friction assistance.
- Grip types such as full crimping have an additional risk of injury due to the high joint angle. Climbers should be very careful training this with high loads and know that this grip is very effective, but not without risk.
- Differentiating the angle of your joint can be a great way to fix an injured finger. If the injury causes pain in the full or half crimp position, you may find that you can run in the open position with a lower level of discomfort.
How Many Fingers and Arms?
When you hangboard you can make a variety of training options by varying the number of fingers used in the rep and also how many arms you hang from. The choice of fingers can vary from elite methods such as one-finger mono to standard four-finger opening exercises. Interestingly, when we get the choice of two and three fingers, we have several options – the grouping of these digits can greatly affect the performance results and how we open the soft tissue of the arm and hand. In terms of the number of weapons, there are only one or two options. In climbing training we still refer to the hang as “one arm” even though the other arm uses the help of a rope and adjusting pulley or elastic band.
- Certain shapes such as pockets contain soft tissue in a specific way. In this way, it is often productive to train in a way that reflects the demands of the sport. If you are hanging with two fingers in your project, then it is necessary to be specially prepared through training.
- Reducing the number of fingers in the hang will usually increase the load on the soft tissues and therefore the risk of injury. Isolating finger groups should be used with intent, rather than a scattergun approach.
- A two-arm sling should be considered a staple for most beginner and intermediate climbers because the load is spread across the entire shoulder girdle. It also means less equipment for training.
- One-arm hangs are suitable for advanced climbers who want to build additional training stimulus. It is not a replacement for a two-arm hang, but an additional tool to be used in the right situation.
How long, how hard and how often
Once you decide on the grip size, shape and form, number of arms and fingers, then the last piece of the puzzle is the training load. The easiest way to think about this factor is to break it down into three parts. The first is how long you hang (duration/volume), the second is how hard (intensity), and the last is how often (frequency) you train in the hang. A critical element to understand is that the sum of all three factors affects your training load. Even if you do not adjust the duration or intensity, but increase the frequency of training, the training load increases.
- Training load is one of the most important variables in producing performance. When we put a training load on the body that requires adaptation and adaption, then we will see physical improvements over time.
- This is one of the most common factors for climbers to abuse/neglect and resulting injuries. A large increase in training load is a major risk factor for any disciplinary specialty, age group or gender.
- Climbers who are constantly working out, whether in the gym or outside, but don’t see improvement will often see big jumps if they make adjustments to their load. In our experience, the biggest thing to watch out for is frequency.
With all parts of understanding the hangboard now taken care of, we’ll tackle the “how to” of the exercises in the next article. Remember, none of the points above are the best or secret methods or anything like that. It’s just the components to building a hangboard routine and the best climbers are like seasoned chefs—they know the ingredients and know exactly how they relate to the desired results. You can do exactly the same!
If you want to test your finger strength for free, then we have created an online resource for the climbing community MyFingers, which helps you understand how strong the finger is compared to the global dataset. We have that too Youtube video that shows the form, method and approach of training for strong and healthy fingers here.