Have you ever fallen off a hold because you simply could not hold on? Sure you have. All of us have. Now there are a plethora (I just LOVE using that word) of reasons why you may have fallen. Maybe it was positioning or technique. Maybe you were pumping out. Perhaps the hold was just too greasy or your hands too sweaty. And then there is my all time favorite: ‘it just wasn’t my style of climb’.
Whatever your excuse, one thing is true: the stronger your fingers are, the less likely you are to peel off that little pebble regardless of the other factors involved.
You just can’t get around it. Finger strength is king when it comes to moving in the vertical world. So how do you transform those tiny appendages into death grippers?
The first thing to do if you are new to climbing is to just climb. The more you use them, the stronger they will get . . . up to a point. The problem, as we all know all too well, is that at some point, just climbing in and of itself is not enough.
Enter the hang board (or finger board if you prefer). Back in the 80’s (think K.I.S.S., big hair and Ronald Reagan), this climber dude named Rob Canderlaria came up with the brilliant idea of strengthening his fingers by drilling holes and slots in an old kitchen cutting board and then hanging it on his wall to hang off of (always ask your mother first before desecrating her kitchen utensils).
Now there are myriads (another word I love) of variations on Rob’s prototype. They all, however, pretty much work the same. The general idea is to put your fingers inside of one of the slots and, you guessed it genius, hang!
Sadly, that is all most people do. They hang on an edge, maybe for a few seconds or maybe for minutes. Nice effort, but probably not going to help a whole lot.
So how do you use a finger board to turn you into the next sending phenom? I’m so glad you finally asked.
First off, find the holds that you want to work on. I would start with a ledge, a sloper and maybe a pinch. Next we need to discover how good/poor of a hold we need. Bliss has multiple hang boards, so experiment. Find a hold that you can hang off of for a good 10 seconds. At the end of the 10 seconds, it should feel like you are just about to peel off. If you fall in 5 seconds, it’s too hard, if you can hold it for 20 seconds, it is probably too easy. Another option is to either add weight (hanging weights on your harness) or remove weight (using our pulley system to help pull you up).
Once you know your starting point you are ready for a hang board workout. Always make sure you are warmed up before hand. Do a good 15-20 minutes of easy to moderate climbing to prepare your tendons for the stress and stay very hydrated. Find the hold you are using and set a circuit timer (I recommend ‘Seconds’ in the app store). Set your timer for 10 seconds of hanging followed by a 10 second rest and repeat 5-6 times. Then take a 3-4 minute break (don’t do ANYTHING DURING THE REST except shake out, you want to be back to 100% when you start again). Repeat the same interval and same rest as above for 4-6 sets. If you want more, do the same all over again with a different hold (or you can alternate holds between sets).
There you have it. At the end, you should feel spent. If not, it was not hard enough. Remember to use an open handed technique (no full crimps) and slightly bent elbows to avoid too much stress to your shoulders. Finish with a couple sets of wrist extensors to work your antagonists.
Hang board workouts should be done 2-3 times per week for no more than 4 weeks, and if at anytime tendons or fingers are hurting, take a break. A training buddy really helps to pass the time during rests and offer encouragement as these are extremely tedious and boring, but if you stick with it, you will see significant gains in finger strength. Who knows, you might even quit whining about how ‘bad” the holds are :O .
Climb hard and Follow Your Bliss,