“I don’t think that’s even possible,” you tell yourself, sighing at another one of those tiny crimps. I’m not going to lie to you, those minuscule holds have ruined my day more than once.
If you end up stuck in a climbing rut with that long plateau in front of you, then looking into training your grip strength can do wonders for your climbing.
Making sure you have adequate grip strength is absolutely vital for any good climber.
Your Wooden Best friends
So, if you’re a climber, you will have at least heard of a hangboard. If you haven’t, it’s basically a wooden board with various finger-sized holes in.
Now, sometimes, these boards are made of plastic but my experience tells me all the best ones are wooden.
Hangboards are an amazing way to help you push yourself onto the next grade, or get that tricky nemesis you have been working on for weeks… You know the one I’m talking about.
Put your fingers in and hang. It sounds so simple, but attempting to hangboard without proper guidance is just asking for trouble, injuries and downtime.
If you are going to consider training your strength using this tool, I would make sure that you can’t just improve your grip strength by climbing your current grades.
I have seen too many climbers abuse these boards before they are ready, sometimes resulting in wrist injuries that can take weeks to recover from.
So, How do I Get Started?
So, after reading that you’re probably wondering “how you get started?”
To minimize the chance of injury, you are going to want to get warmed up and stretch out your fingers before any attempts on the board.
When using the board, you need to keep your grip open-handed and not in a crimp position.
Good form on the board is having your shoulders back and your arms slightly bent. Imagine a diamond forming from your bent arms with the board being the top.
As a newbie, you then want to be in the sweet spot of taking your weight, but not pulling it upwards.
For complete beginners, I would recommend starting easy and pick the largest and deepest pockets. You are going to want to use all your fingers, with the goal of hanging for 10-15 seconds.
Don’t worry if you only get half of that; you can work up to it over a few weeks. However, when starting out I would leave 48-72 hours in between hangboard sessions – you don’t want to put too much pressure on your fingers.
How many sets you do on the board is going to depend on how strong you are. The first week I hangboarded, I could only manage two, fifteen-second sets or three, ten-second ones. But in my experience, when beginning to hang board it’s best to try for 2-4.
You can increase this after a month or two.
If you are a boulderer, I would recommend doing longer reps on the hangboard with fewer sets. This is because bouldering is much more power focused than climbing.
This way, you will be able to power through those crimpy moves.
Now, rope/lead climbers are going to want to do the complete opposite and aim for more sets and shorter reps. When you’re climbing, you spend so much more time on the wall, so it’s really important to factor this into your training.
When training with a hangboard there is a basic principle to keep in mind, called “progressive overload.” This basically means you always want to try and increase your reps and sets, instead of sticking to the same routine for months or years.
This is because muscles grow best when challenged, increasing your times or reps spent on the hang board gradually, will give you the best results!
Please make sure you don’t take this advice the wrong way. You want to gradually increase your reps and sets.
It’s far too easy to injure yourself on hangboards, so make sure you have kept with your current routine for a few weeks or a month or two before adding more to the mix. This is especially true for beginners.
So, hangboards are pretty much the tried and proven method.
When researching, I couldn’t find any training methods that are just as effective.
However, you might not know this, but most of your grip comes from what is known as “isometric forearm strength.” This is one of the main reasons hangboarding is top dog for climbing training – it trains not only finger strength but also isometric forearm strength.
What this means is if you don’t have a hang board, or can’t get to a climbing center with one, you can look into different methods to train your forearms, as these bad boys are the driving forces behind your grip.