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Fingerboard Exercising for Training

Today’s the day. You’re starting a new training routine. So, you’re warmed up and ready to get on the fingerboard. To begin the session, I will mention exercises one can do during it to help your grip and fingers get stronger.

Just Hanging Around

We’ll start with the deadhang, the most basic of hangs.

Deadhang on the hangboard
  1. According to Climbing Magazine, using an open-handed grip, grab a matched pair of holds, using all four fingers. Hang for 10 to 15 seconds. If you can hang for more than 15 seconds, use smaller holds; if less, use bigger holds. Remember, you don’t want to crimp.
  2. Rest one minute after each hang, and then hang again. Four hangs equal one set.
  3. Rest five minutes and do another set of hangs on the same holds or ones of a similar challenge. Do four sets in all.
  4. After three weeks, increase the intensity by choosing holds you can only grip for between five and eight seconds. This spot is where you’ll build strength; now that your body had adjusted to the stress of the hang, attempt to do every workout in this zone. (If you can’t hold on for a minimum five-second count, use bigger holds or else risk injury.) As you become comfortable with the demanding nature of the smaller grips and shorter hang time, incorporate different holds into each set.

The training guide that came with my hangboard mentions other exercises you can do plus build upon in your training, and I’d like to share them with you.

Attempting an offset hang on the hangboard Offset Hang
This exercise begins to develop one-arm power. Begin as with the two-arm dead hang but choose a lower and/or worse hold with the assisting hand. Center your weight under the arm to be loaded and perform the hang giving yourself just enough help with the other side to complete the exercise. A variation that is good for training lock-off strength is to take two similar holds at the same height, but at least shoulder width apart.
Pull up part way and lock-off as in a bent-arm hang. Shift your weight all the way to one side and hold a contraction. Shift it laterally, all the way to the other side, without lowering your body and hold an equal contraction. Repeat. Vary the angle of your lock-off, the duration of your lock-off, and the number of repetitions.
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Who knew you could do pull-ups on a training board? Try to be as smooth as possible. Don’t jerk, swing, or otherwise cheat. Keep your lower body quiet. Don’t lock your elbows entirely at the bottom. Focus on maintaining perfect form, and don’t worry about the number of repetitions.
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Offset Pull-up
The first step to one-arm pull-ups. Position yourself with your weight centered under one arm, as if to do a one-arm pull-up. Choose a lower hold with the other hand and give yourself just enough assistance to complete the exercise.

One-arm Pull-up
Now you have some power! Follow the same guidelines as for pull-ups but rotate your body inward to center your weight under the arm you’re using. If you’re getting close but can’t quite do one-arms, do an offset pull-up, but perform the negative contraction (lower yourself) as a pure one-arm. The potential for injury is very high, so it’s critical to be smooth. Don’t bounce!

Keeping the Fingers Strong

After your training session, you should do a warm-down session to prevent injury and speed up recovery. The warm down should be easier than the warm-up. It should feel as if you’re doing almost nothing. The idea is to keep the blood flowing for 15 or 20 minutes after the high-intensity part of your workout.

To maximize your gains and prevent injury, you should recover well before a training session. Not resting enough between workouts will soon lead to a plateau, quickly followed by injury and burnout. If it takes you longer than usual to feel warmed up, or if you haven’t noticed any improvement in three or four sessions, you probably need more rest. Listen to your body and be flexible with your training schedule.

A word of caution from climber, coach, and author Eric J. Hörst: misuse of the fingerboard has contributed to finger (tendon) and shoulder injuries in countless climbers. Intensive fingerboard training should be limited to just two days per week—three at most, if you are doing no other climbing—and, ideally, as a supplement to climbing rather than a replacement for actual climbing.

Hangboarding puts a lot of stress on small muscles and tendons—that’s the point—and this requires that you listen to your body as you progress through the workouts. If you can’t finish a set, end the workout. If your fingers or elbows become sore, take a week off, reevaluate your dead hang form, and ease back into your next training session.

I’ve wanted a hangboard for a while and am excited about finally having one. I’m looking forward to training with it, which isn’t something you’ll typically hear from me. It gives me an incentive to keep up with my routine and hopefully get better at it as well. Until next time, happy bouldering and training!