Quick Gains: My Experience With 6 Weeks to Stronger Fingers

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I must admit that I went into pro climber Jonathan Siegrist’s new online course, 6 Weeks to Stronger Fingers, with an agenda. About five years into my life as a climber, I was just beginning to see the other side of a long 5.11 redpoint plateau. I wanted to flash 5.11 and begin working 5.12a’s, and this course seemed like the perfect way to leap over this hump.

The author putting in time on the hangboard.

The author putting in time on the hangboard.

6 Weeks to Stronger Fingers, which is available through Aim Adventure U, was created by Siegrist in 2019. Siegrist has sent many of the world’s most difficult climbs, including two 5.15b’s and three V14s. In his video introduction to the course, he credits training protocols like those he created for 6 Weeks to Stronger Fingers as an important factor in his success. He explains how these drills have allowed him to access greater strength on terrible holds, and directly credits stronger fingers with sending the infamously crimpy and powerful Rocky Mountain National Park boulder problem Jade (V14) and his fingery, techy first ascent Mala Leche (5.14d) at the Fins, Idaho. The exercises that Siegrist selected for the course were therefore informed by what’s worked for him—and other climbers he’s coached—over years of consistently pushing his limits, a fact that made it easy for me to trust the quality of the curriculum.

The other factor that reassured me when I enrolled was the attention paid to ensuring I had all the necessary information before I began. Knowing the ways you’ll need to be prepared as well as how to maintain health throughout a training regimen is important, both for maximizing results and preventing injury. Furthermore, my inquisitive nature means I want to understand why I’m doing something, not just how. For these reasons, I found the first two lessons—a course overview, as well as information on necessary equipment and fitness level, injury prevention, and goal setting—indispensable. Siegrist stressed the importance of staying consistent with the training regimen while allowing for the fact that life can sometimes get in the way.

With all this in mind, I felt ready to give 6 Weeks to Stronger Fingers a try. The course follows either track A or B, the first designed for newer hangboarders and the second tailored to more advanced climbers by including weighted hangs. As I had done very little hangboarding and no real climbing training in the past, I choose track A, while my boyfriend, Dustin O’Reilly, decided to follow track B. Although he began climbing five years ago as well, Dustin’s baseline strength has always been greater. Dustin has also placed more emphasis on hangboarding during his gym days and had tried weighted hangs in the past. This made track B seem like the better choice for him.

The author doing her campus workout for the day. Gartner followed Track A of 6 Weeks to Stronger Fingers, and by the end of the course had realized her goal of onsighting 5.11.

The author doing her campus workout for the day. Gartner followed Track A of 6 Weeks to Stronger Fingers, and by the end of the course had realized her goal of onsighting 5.11.

One thing I did not anticipate was how much of a time commitment this training program—or any training program—would be. I started the course at the same time that my work schedule ramped up to a grueling four ten-hour days per week. Although the three-day-weekends were nice, working from 8:00 a.m. until 6:30 p.m. the rest of the week made it difficult to motivate to do 1.5 to 2-hour sessions at the gym. My choices were to either wake up at 5 a.m. and go before work, or go after work and get home around 9 p.m., both of which sounded exhausting. Sticking to the prescribed training regimen was easier for Dustin, whose schedule was more flexible. Still, I did my best to motivate, and though I had to adapt by doing fewer days than those prescribed by Siegrist, I was able to follow the course’s progression over the ensuing weeks. The most important factor in getting myself to the gym was being prepared. On days I went before work, I’d prep my gym bag the night before, while after-work days required me to bring more snacks and all my climbing stuff to work. I would then head straight to my local gym.

Overall, I found the progression of workouts in 6 Weeks to Stronger Fingers to be difficult, yet doable. The warm-ups include a lot of climbing, which made convincing myself to get to the gym easier and the entire experience more fun. I found the first few track A hangboard workouts to be pretty easy, but by the third week I was being pushed hard. All of these workouts were based around repeaters, which involve doing repeating sets alternating between hanging and resting. The amount of time spent on each repeater is prescribed, as is the number of repeaters per set. More than adding extra repeaters to a set, decreasing the rest interval between each hang felt especially difficult. On the final few sets during these workouts, I stopped being able to hold on for the entire time; I also had to adapt by increasing the size of the edges, sometimes to as large as 30 mm versus the 20 mm edges Siegrist suggests. The fact that I hadn’t done much hangboarding in the past, coupled with Siegrist’s consistent reassurance that modifying the drills to avoid injury was the way to go, made me feel good about this performance—it was totally OK to pull back when I felt like I might be pushing too hard.

Conversely—and perhaps surprisingly—I found the campus boarding to be easier than hangboarding. Here, I increased the difficulty by moving my feet high on the kicker plate or by removing the one foot entirely while keeping the other on. Scattered throughout the training were indoor and outdoor climbing days. Because I was taking the course in the middle of the summer-autumn climbing season, I substituted most of my indoor climbing days for outdoor days.

Dustin struggled less with the track B hangboard workouts, finding it necessary to increase difficulty by moving to smaller edges. His experience with the other aspects of the training were more aligned with my own. He found it necessary to make the campus boarding more difficult, and, as my primary climbing partner, was heading outdoors on all the same days as me, so we were able to synch up our schedules.

Dustin O’Reilly doing weighted fingerboard hangs as part of Track B of 6 Weeks to Stronger Fingers.

Dustin O’Reilly doing weighted fingerboard hangs as part of Track B of 6 Weeks to Stronger Fingers.

About four weeks into the course, Dustin and I both began to notice improvements in our performance. We were going to Rifle Mountain Park in Colorado almost every weekend. I began working Choss Family Robinson, a 5.11d that had long intimated me, and found myself able to one-hang it after just two weekends, while Dustin was able to send his longtime project Pinchfest, a neighboring 5.12b. When attempting other 5.12a’s and 5.12b’s in the canyon, Dustin was sending after just a few weekends of working each project and flashing every hard 5.11 he got on. In the past, it would take him a few attempts to get 5.11c’s and 5.11d’s, and 5.12 projects could go on for long periods. Meanwhile, I was finding I could get on old projects, fumble the beta, and still save the send. As Siegrist had promised, holds felt bigger and better for both of us, and we were both climbing the hardest we ever had.

A week after finishing this course, I finally flashed 5.11a, achieving a primary goal I’d had with the course. Yay! Later that day I high-pointed on Choss, just below the crux. At the end of that weekend I was feeling great, like my project was about to go and that I was truly leveling up. Then, the next weekend out at Rifle, we decided to warm up on a 5.11c with a low crux that everyone else pulled through to get to the fun 5.10 climbing above. Wanting to test my newfound strength, I went for the crux free instead of pulling through. Moving through this low, crimpy crux was quite the challenge, but I gave it my all. Positioned on the last crimp before the easier climbing, I crimped down hard then “Pop!”, my right ring finger made a noise no climber wants to hear. I managed to keep it together and finish the climb, but when I got down it was clear that my finger wasn’t right and that that was the first and last climb I’d be doing all weekend.

I was lucky and only suffered a slight sprain—fortunately not a tendon or pulley injury—and was able to ease back into climbing the following weekend, but it could have been worse; I could have been sidelined for the season. This experience cemented something that Siegrist said again and again throughout 6 Weeks to Stronger Fingers—make sure to warm up properly. I cannot stress how important this is, especially when you’re making gains. It’s easy to push your newfound strength, to feel like you’re indestructible because you’re suddenly stronger, but this makes pacing yourself all the more important. Because, as I saw, you can still get injured whatever your level is, especially if you neglect key concepts like warming up properly or not repeatedly grabbing holds that feel tweaky.

Dustin O’Reilly, who followed Track B of 6 Weeks to Stronger Fingers, getting after it on the campus board. He saw his level rise to include quick ticks of 5.12s at Rifle, as well as onsights of hard 5.11, whereas previously hard 5.11s were projects and 5.12s were often campaigns.

Dustin O’Reilly, who followed Track B of 6 Weeks to Stronger Fingers, getting after it on the campus board. He saw his level rise to include quick ticks of 5.12s at Rifle, as well as onsights of hard 5.11, whereas previously hard 5.11s were projects and 5.12s were often campaigns.

Overall, both Dustin and I found 6 Weeks to Stronger Fingers to be enjoyable and highly effective. We both made clear progress by the end and recommend this program to anyone who asks about it. The only thing I would change in the future is that I wouldn’t synch up taking on a training regimen like this with either a busy period at work or while trying a project-level climb outside more than once a week—at times, I felt like I had too many balls in the air, when it would have been better to just focus on the course. With that in mind, I plan on retaking 6 Weeks to Stronger Fingers this winter, to see what sort of bump I’ll get in my spring season.