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Digit Dialing

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Any serious climber knows the value of training. And when it comes to tenuous pocket holds, it’s especially important to prep the muscles and tendons that run through your fingers, hands, and forearms. Dave Wahl, a strength and conditioning coach in Denver, believes that a proper training program is crucial for developing strength. We asked Wahl to give us a three-month training program for building your finger brawn. These exercises’ intensity increases gradually over 12 weeks. “Having a slow, progressive training program can help avoid injuries,” Wahl says. The program was built for beginner to intermediate climbers. Advanced climbers can adapt it by using only one finger per exercise, rather than using finger teams (see explanation at bottom of this page). Most climbers will find improvements by doing these exercises twice per week, in concert with climbing workouts.


1. Finger Board/Campus Board/Systems Board

You can choose one or all three systems for this dead-hang exercise. When hanging, keep a slight bend in your elbows, pull your shoulder blades down and back, and use an openhanded grip—no crimping. Body tension should be high.

2. Dynamic Webbing Curl

Girth-hitch a piece of webbing around the necessary weight (see sidebar below chart). Cycling through finger teams, slowly bend your fingers to “pick up” the weights, similar to how a bicep curl works. See chart for reps.

3. Levering

This exercise increases wrist and finger strength together. Begin with your forearm resting on your knee and your hand wrapped around the base of a lever (small sledgehammers work great, but anything with extra weight on one end works). The closer your hand to the base, the harder the workout. Rotate your wrist 180 degrees, left to right, for the number of reps specified in the chart.

***Terms from chart:

Finger/Team: “Team” refers to pairs of fingers to use at the same time. Team 1: index/middle Team 2: ring/middle Team 3: ring/pinky (This technique should be utilized by beginner and intermediate climbers). “1 finger” employs just one finger at a time, and is meant for advanced climbers. Beginner climbers should start with one set per “team” for the first month, then three sets per team for months two and three (resting indicated on chart). More advanced climbers can start with three to five sets per team in month one.

R/r: Uppercase “R” indicates resting for the remaining minute. Lowercase “r” indicates resting for 10 seconds after each exercise.

1 Pad/2 Pads: Use your judgment when deciding how deep a training hold or campus rung to use. One pad will provide a harder workout, while two pads is easier and safer for those just starting out.

Percentage of RM: This indicates a percentage of the heaviest weight with which you can do one repetition. For example, if your maximum weight for 1 rep is 20 pounds, and the chart calls for doing 8-12 pulls with 55% of RM, do 8-12 reps with 11 pounds.