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Lattice Training’s Guide to Better Hangboarding: Part 2

These three hangboarding exercises work strength, endurance, and injury prevention, and can be adapted for climbers of all levels.

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In Part 1  of this article, we outlined the most important building blocks of a structured hangboard session, talking about everything from hold size and grip type selection to why increasing training load is not just about increasing the ‘intensity’ of your sessions. If you’re unsure of exactly how you can adjust and manipulate factors like these to your advantage, check out Part 1

Now that you’re ready to get into some hangboard training, let’s look at the three main types of hangboard training methodologies: max hangs, repeaters, and long duration hangs. For each of these, we discuss why they’ll work well for some situations and not so well for others,  how to prepare for the session, the main variables that will change week over week, and what performance scenarios each is best (or not best) for.

Whether we’re training a pro athlete or a weekend warrior who only gets in a couple of sessions a week, we use all of the methods described below at some point. No one solution is the best; neither is any going to fail to work as long as you’re prepared to be consistent, patient, and reflective with your practice and journey. While there are some cutting edge strength approaches out there, 99% of the climbing population is best off concentrating on the basics and getting them right. 

Finally, we should note that not all climbers are suitable for hangboard training. There are other ways to build finger strength if needed. Some people don’t enjoy this form of training; others prefer to spend their time enjoying movement on the wall. But if you do have a suitable level of experience to start hangboarding, want to improve your finger strength and endurance, and are injury-free then let’s dive in. 

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Getting Set Up

Hangboarding is, for the most part, a high intensity form of training—the exception being some of the specific endurance work detailed later in this article. It is also a precise method of training that requires the participant to understand their current maximum strength, which allows them to set the intensity of their session to an exact number. In practice this means two things: (1) you need to warm up correctly to prepare for a high quality session; (2) you need to test yourself to find your maximum (often called your  ‘one rep max’ in weight lifting) so that you can tailor the workouts intensity to your current strength. 

Hangboard Warm Ups

Full warm ups for hangboard sessions should include every part of the body involved with the exercises in your session. For most climbers this will mean everything from your fingers, arms, and shoulders and all the way down through the chain of engagement to the hips and core. Warm ups are not just about injury risk prevention; they are about preparing the body to exercise at the highest quality of work, whether it is high intensity or high volume. 

  • Warm up all parts of the body involved with a hang session, not just the fingers
  • If you’re unsure of how to warm up, we have an introductory video here
(Photo: Lattice Training)

Testing Yourself

Testing should normally be reserved its own session in each training cycle and the aim should always be to understand your maximum strength in relation to the training exercise you intend to use. What this means is that if you’re training two-arm hangs in a half crimp, then your testing should be with two arms and in the same grip type. Similarly for your hang durations: If your training reps are going to be 5 seconds long then your maximum needs to be tested in a short timeframe, e.g. 5 seconds. A much longer 30 second max would cause very different results and consequently recommend a different training session intensity. 

  • Maximum testing, like maximum difficulty bouldering, is stressful on the body, and should only be carried out after a solid warm up, when you’re completely rested from previous climbing sessions, and when you’re uninjured.
  • Maximum strength testing should only be performed once you’re  familiar with hangboarding tools and protocols (see part 1) 
  • Make sure to measure yourself in tests that are relevant to your training sessions. A 10mm edge is not the same as a 20mm edge, neither is a single arm hang perfectly correlated with two arm scores. 
  • Further video guidance on strength testing here

Lattice athlete Will Bosi doing some weighted one-handed hangs (Photo: Lattice Training)
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Max Hangs

This form of hangboarding is mostly about increasing the total force your forearm muscles can generate. Consider it a fine-tuning exercise where the climber is conditioning the muscles and tendons to operate at their full strength potential given the current structural limitations of the soft tissues. Max hang sessions do not focus on building muscle size or endurance. 

Set up: Max hangs are classically prescribed in the 80-95% range of maximum. For example, if you’re a 150 pound climber whose 5 second test score is with 50 pounds added (200 pound total load), then you’re taking 85% of the total load (200 pounds) and training at that level. This would mean completing all training reps with 20 pounds added, for a total adjusted load of 170 pounds.  

  • Intensity should generally be 80-95% of maximum total load (lower end for climbers first trying max hangs).
  • Rep duration should be anything from 5-10 seconds depending on intensity and training goals, with 6-8 reps in total. 
  • Rest between reps is typically 2-3 minutes, but we generally advise people to go longer if they feel they need it. 
  • Most climbers should not hang to failure unless advanced in their training. Stop with a little left in the tank. In other words: end each hang 1-3 seconds before you feel like you have to stop.  

Key variables to change: as you’ll remember from part 1 of this article, there are a number of factors in hangboard training that you can alter through a training cycle. In general, it’s best to fix grip type, hold size/angle, and finger grouping over periods of at least 8-12 weeks. However, it is OK to adjust the intensity, rep duration, and training frequency during that cycle. However, do not adjust more than one of these factors at once; for instance, if you increase the intensity, do not also increase the hang time. Never adjust before successfully completing a prescribed session at least two times in a row. Never adjust weight by more than a couple of pounds per week.

What max hangs work for

  • Gains in maximum force 
  • Increasing boulder grade and limit sport grade
  • Increasing force transfer across muscle-tendon unit
  • Increasing strength while limiting increased muscle size

What they’re less useful for

  • Increases in endurance or power endurance
  • Inexperienced fingerboarders unless training at the lower range of intensity spectrum
  • Hanging very small edges or isolating finger groups (except for advanced climbers)
  • Rehab protocols, as intensity is generally too high
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As the name suggests, this form of training is all about repeated efforts of hanging, linked together with very little rest. Repeaters mimic the exact demand of climbing upon our forearms, in that we grab a hold, hold it for a period of high intensity, and then quickly release to catch the next hold or have a quick shake out. Most climbers should see repeaters as their go-to exercise for building strength endurance or endurance on a hangboard. It can also be used as a strength building exercise if intensity is high enough and hang durations short enough. Introductory hangboarders should be careful to not overdo this form of training as the total load (volume plus intensity) is often higher than max hangs. 

Set up: Repeaters can be completed across a wide range of rep intensities all the way from 30% of maximum when training long endurance to roughly 90%  when engaged in shorter strength-endurance exercise sets. Similar to max hangs, all training cycles should be initiated with a testing session to calculate maximum capacity, after which intensity can be controlled accurately. Most climbers will find that once they’ve done the math, they’ll need to take weight off during hangs of 60% or less. This will require a pulley-and-rope set up, which we’ve detailed in this video here

  • Reps are generally 5 to 10 seconds in duration while and rests are 3 to 10 second periods. For example, the most common repeater setup is using seven seconds of hanging followed by three seconds resting and subsequently repeated until the total set time is completed. 
  • Total set time (combined repeater reps of hang + rest) is determined by hang intensity, training experience, and performance goals. 
  • For endurance training, intensity should be the 30-45% range and total set duration of 4-10 minutes. 
  • For strength endurance training (also known as power endurance), intensity is generally in the 50-70% range, with total set durations of 1-4 minutes. 
  • For forearm hypertrophy (increased muscle size) and strength training, intensity should be in the 75-90% range, with total durations between 30 and 90 seconds.
  • The total number of sets per session can range from one to eight, with the high number only being applicable in situations where the set duration is short (one minute or less). 
  • Going to failure thanks to high levels of fatigue can be achieved on some sessions, but exercise with caution. 

Key variables to change: due to the fact that repeater training methods will stress the metabolic function of the muscle, our best tool for progression is changing the volume/duration variable. If you set your endurance training cycle up as 40% repeaters then aim to slowly increase the total set duration over time, e.g. week one consists of two sets of 4-minute repeaters at 40% intensity, but by week eight you’ve increased to two sets of 5-minute repeaters. It is also possible to adjust intensity and training frequency for additional stimulus, but in general we recommend this only for fully experienced hangboarders or for climbers working with a trained coach. 

What repeaters work for

  • Gains in strength endurance and endurance  
  • Increasing sport grade onsight and redpoint grade
  • Improving performance on long boulder problems
  • Increasing muscle size and strength in beginner and intermediate climbers

What they’re less useful for

  • Increases in maximum force
  • Hanging very small edges or isolating finger groups (except for advanced climbers)
  • Rehab protocols unless intensity and volume is set low. 
(Photo: Lattice Training)
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Long Duration Hangs

A form of training that was popular in the 80s and 90s, this hang protocol initially made a comeback in the 2000s when the company Zlagboard created a leaderboard of pro climbers’ to-failure long duration hangs. Multiple World Championship winner Ramón Julián Puigblanqué even held the world record for some time, lending more credence to the validity of the hang. However at Lattice, we spent a couple of years collecting data on this particular method of hanging and its correlation to performance and found little to no relevance. This is not to say that long duration hangs are without merit. In fact, we see huge benefits in terms of rehab loading protocols, introducing new hangboard specifics to newer hangboarders, and even approaches in making certain injury-prone fingers robust to injury risk. 

Set up: we define long-duration hangs as anything over 30 seconds of continuous hanging at 30-70% of maximum intensity. As with max hangs and repeaters, all sessions should be preceded by an initial testing day to determine maximum capacity. 

  • Reps are typically 30-60 seconds in duration and repeated for 4-8 sets depending on the individual. 
  • We generally recommend doing all long-duration hangs in a two arm position, with many introductory or intermediate hangboarders needing a pulley-and-rope for assistance. 
  • Rehab protocols should always be under the guidance of a professional who understands your training and injury history. 
  • Shorter 15-30 second timeframes may be used in climbers wishing to condition themselves to new grip positions or isolated finger groups. When doing unfamiliar hangs, climbers should revert to using a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) scale rather than testing to maximum. 

What long duration hangs work for

  • Gains in work capacity at a given intensity   
  • Initial conditioning for isolated finger group hangs if intensity is set fairly low (RPE values of 5-7)
  • Improving performance on long boulder problems
  • Increasing strength in beginner and intermediate climbers
  • Rehab protocols when combined with the correct low intensity

What they’re less useful for

  • Increases in maximum force
  • Increasing muscle size unless session load (volume + intensity) is set high
  • High intensity small edge work
  • Increasing contact strength
When done correctly (at the right intensity) long-duration hangs are great for safely introducing new grip positions. (Photo: Lattice Training)

With these three popular and broadly applicable methods of hangboard training you should be set for a productive training season ahead. Remember that this knowledge must be combined with use of the key variables in part 1 of the article because no session will ever likely be successful without a strong consistency in your choice of grip type, edge size, hang position, and load selection. 

Over the past decade we’ve trained and advised national teams, pro climbers, and weekend warriors, and we’ve found that successful strength training comes down to just a few things: Intention, consistency, and alignment with training history. Your training must have a thought-out purpose; you should aim for consistency and long-term adherence to your sessions; and all of this should be done with a keen eye on what your body is likely to be able to handle. The best training plan in the world is the worst one if you can’t follow it. 

If you’re interested in testing your own finger strength, we have built a free  online resource for the climbing community called MyFingers, which helps you understand how strong your fingers are compared to a global dataset. We also have a vast offering of YouTube videos which demonstrate form, method, and training approaches for strong and healthy fingers.