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Gym Climbing

5 Easy-to-follow Hangboard Drills for Stronger Fingers

Time to level up your finger training? This excerpt from Climbing Bible: Practical Exercises will get you started.

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The Climbing Bible: Practical Exercises, by Martin Mobråten and Stian Christophersen, is a collection of easy-to-follow exercises designed to help climbers train technique and strength while not relegating themselves to the dusty weight room in their gym’s corner. 

The book certainly has hangboard and campus protocols—they are of the most useful training tools for the motivated climber—but also outlines wall exercises for improved footwork, body tension, warming up, and much more.

The Climbing Bible begins with a primer on technique, with emphasis on footwork, grip positions, balance, direction of force and dynamics. Then comes a strength and power section—on-the-wall exercises, finger strength and fingerboarding, arm workouts and more. There is even a chapter devoted to coaching children and teenagers, with the specific coaching considerations that such a task necessitates. Authors Mobråten and Christophersen highlight their favorite climbing games, technique exercises, and how to approach strength training for children.

The Climbing Bible houses 200 colorful technique and action photos with frequent asides from the authors and leading Scandinavian climbers to clarify exercises and provide key insights. Below, please find an excerpt from the “Strength and Power” chapter, highlighting several isolated strength exercises.—Ed.

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There are many advantages to training strength on the climbing wall, but some physical properties are so essential that it can be a good idea to complement our training with isolated exercises. This gives us the opportunity to target a select few elements at a time in a controlled fashion, and this might yield better results than if we were to train them in combination with other elements. We recommend isolated exercises for finger, arm and core strength to improve performance on the wall and to reduce the risk of injury.

Different types of finger grips for climbing training.
Four different grip positions for hangboarding. Listed clockwise, beginning upper left: open middle two finger, open front three finger, back three finger, front three finger. (Photo: Climbing Bible: Practical Exercises)

Deadhangs

As we wrote in The Climbing Bible, deadhangs are one of the most specific and controllable methods we have for training finger strength. Previously, specific finger training has been considered very risky with regard to sustaining finger injuries, both for younger and older climbers, but this entirely comes down to the training method and how high the training dosage is. Finger strength training can be done using safe and controlled methods, which, all in all, will put the climber at a lower risk of injury than a regular climbing session. In addition, systematic finger strength training will over time also strengthen muscles, tendons, joints and ligaments, further reducing the risk of injury. What’s important is to conduct the training with proper technique and in control, and focus on the training dosage—as in how much and how hard you train per session, per week, and over a longer period.

Photo of hand gripped small climbing rung to train.
The Climbing Bible recommends defaulting to the half-crimp grip when hangboarding. (Photo: Climbing Bible: Practical Exercises)

In The Climbing Bible we presented a small selection of exercises for finger strength training. Here we present further methods for training different properties, to ensure progression and variation in your finger strength training. If you were to choose to train only one grip position, we recommend training using the half crimp. This is more usable for most holds and is also more specific than the open-handed grip when it comes to using small holds, something which is usually the case when it comes to hard climbing. Still, it’s wise to vary the grip positions so that you also become stronger when using an open-handed grip, and on slopers and pockets. The following exercises can be done using any grip position, but unless another grip position is specifically mentioned we recommend the half crimp as the standard grip position.

 

Unloading

In principle, anyone can train deadhangs, it’s just a question of how much they need to unload from their body weight. For example, a climber weighing 70 kilograms (154 pounds) can unload 35 kilograms (77 pounds) and thereby train at half their body weight. This will allow them to train effectively and with control, focusing on proper technical execution and at a lower risk of injury compared to regular climbing. As you get more comfortable with the hanging position and can do each hang with a slight margin—meaning you can hang significantly longer than the number of seconds described for each exercise—you can gradually decrease the number of deloaded kilograms to ensure you’re training at the correct load. In order to unload some body weight, we recommend using a simple pulley system with a harness and weights, as demonstrated in the photo below.

Female climbers uses a hangboard and pulley system to train for climbing.
Remember to pull your shoulders down and rotate your elbows slightly in towards each other. (Photo: Climbing Bible: Practical Exercises)
Man trains for climbing by hanging for his finger tips.
(Photo: Climbing Bible: Practical Exercises)

Endurance Hangs

The goal for this exercise is to hang for 30–40 seconds per hang. Choose a grip position or an edge depth that only just enables you to hang for 30–40 seconds. If you can hang for more than 40 seconds, use poorer holds. You can start by hanging from a pull-up bar or from jugs and gradually work your way to hanging from poorer holds. Complete four to six hangs with a 2- to 3-minute rest between each hang.

Hang time: 30–40 seconds

Numbers of hangs per set: 1

Number of sets: 4–6

Rest between sets: 2–3 minutes

Margin*: none

* By margin we mean how much longer you could have hung. If we say you should have a 3-second margin for a hang that should last 10 seconds, you should let go after 10 seconds, but have enough margin that you could have hung on for an additional 3 seconds. No margin means hang until exhaustion, meaning you’re unable to hang on any longer.  

Repeaters 1

Choose four or five different grip positions, for example four finger half crimp, sloper, front three open grip, and front three half crimp. Complete the following for each grip position: hang for 7 seconds, rest for 3 seconds, and do seven hangs, so that you’re near exhaustion for the last (seventh) hang. Take a 2- to 3-minute rest and repeat for the remaining grip positions.

Hang time: 7 seconds

Numbers of hangs per set: 3

Number of sets: 7

Rest between sets: 2–3 minutes

Margin: Near exhaustion for the last hang of each set

Repeaters 2

Choose one grip position which you wish to improve and do the following: hang for 10 seconds, rest for 5 seconds, and do four hangs, so that you’re near exhaustion for the last hang. Take a 3-5 minute rest and complete another three sets. This is supposed to be a more challenging exercise than Repeaters 1, so the holds should be poorer, or you should unload less weight from or add more weight to your bodyweight.

Hang time: 10 seconds

Numbers of hangs per set: 5

Number of sets: 4

Rest between sets: 3–5 minutes

Margin: Near exhaustion for the last hang of each set

Man trains for climbing by hanging from a finger board with weights.
(Photo: Climbing Bible: Practical Exercises)

Maximum Weight

Start with a relatively deep edge so that you’re able to add extra weight. Use the half crimp and do the following: hang for 10 seconds, rest for 3 minutes, and do five hangs in total. Keep a margin for 1–3 seconds for each hang, so that you’re able to maintain good grip and body posture throughout the whole hang, and so you can put your feet back on the ground while still in control after 10 seconds. If you’re able to hang for more than 13 seconds you can add more weight.

Hang time: 10 seconds

Numbers of hangs per set: 1

Number of sets: 5

Rest between sets: 3 minutes

Margin: 1–3 seconds

Shallow Edge

Hang using a half crimp grip from the shallowest edges possible. Do the following: hang for 10 seconds, rest for 3 minutes, and do five hangs in total. Keep a margin of 1 to 3 seconds for each hang, so that you’re able to maintain good grip and body posture throughout the whole hang, and so you can put your feet back on the ground while still in control after 10 seconds. If you’re able to hang for more than 13 seconds you can choose an even shallower edge.

Hang time: 10 seconds

Numbers of hangs per set: 1

Number of sets: 5

Rest between sets: 1–3 minutes

Margin: 1–3 seconds


To read more from Climbing Bible: Practical Exercises, you can pick up a paperback copy here.