I’m a strong proponent of hangboarding for increasing finger strength for rock climbing. I’ve tried many different methods, and IME, hangboarding is the most effective. For basic instructions on how to go about hangboarding, check out “The Making of a Rockprodigy”, a training plan my brother Mike & I developed many years ago. I get a lot of questions about the specifics of hangboarding, and it seems like many of the same questions come up over and over, so I will be adressing common questions in a series of Hangboard FAQs.
I get some form of this question all the time, and I usually refer people to The Making of A Rockprodigy. However, that is a bit of a long read, and I assume that most people are, like me, too lazy to read through the entire thing, so here is the Cliff Notes version of a “basic” hangboard routine (note, “basic” does not mean “easy”, it means “uncomplicated”). Keep in mind that a hangboard can be used a myriad of different ways, for different purposes. This is one way that has shown excellent results for increasing finger strength. If you want to know the ‘why’ behind this routine, refer to the above linked article.
First of all, this routine only involves “dead hangs”, which means hanging straight-armed (with a slight bend in the elbows) throughout the entire workout. No pull-ups, no lock offs. Additionaly, this routine is designed to be used with two hands on the hangboard for every repetition (no one-arm hangs). Hangboard workouts should only be done after a THOROUGH warmup. I recommend at least 20 minutes of climbing, starting out easy and getting progressively more difficult, working through all the grip positions that will be used during the workout.
The first step in tailoring this routine to fit you is to select a set of “exercises”. These equate to grip positions, so an example of four “exercises” would be: Open Crimp, Two-Finger Pocket (Middle/Ring Fingers), Wide Pinch, Sloper. Conduct these exercises in an order that makes sense. In my experience, you will get the most bang for your buck if you limit the number of exercises to around 7 or less. Much more than that and it becomes difficult to maintain the appropriate level of intensity throughout the routine.
For each exercise, complete 3 “sets” of “repetitions”. These should be done in a “pyramid” fashion, meaning the first set will involve relatively less resistance but high repetitions, and the third set will have relatively high resistance and low repetitions. The ‘Rockprodigy’ routine calls for 7 reps in set #1, 6 in set #2 and 5 in set #3. Rest 2-4 minutes between each set in the workout (I recommend 3 minutes). Complete all three sets of one exercise before moving to the next exercise.
A repetition is a dead-hang of a relatively short, timed duration, followed by a brief, timed rest period. For example, a 10-second hang followed by 5 seconds of rest (a good “beginner” rep) or 7-second hang followed by 3 seconds rest (a good “advanced” rep). So to roll it all up, the third set of a given exercise for a “beginner” would last 70 seconds and transpire as shown:
0:00 – 0:10 Exercise 1, Set #3, Deadhang Rep #1
0:10 – 0:15 Rest
0:15 – 0:25 Deadhang Rep #2
0:25 – 0:30 Rest
0:30 – 0:40 Deadhang Rep #3
0:40 – 0:45 Rest
0:45 – 0:55 Deadhang Rep #4
0:55 – 1:00 Rest
1:00 – 1:10 Deadhang Rep #5
1:10 – 4:10 Rest for Exercise #2, Set #1…
An example 3rd “set” of the Middle-Ring 2-finger pocket “Exercise” of an Advanced Hangboard Routine.
Finally, the key to this routine is the “resistance”. That is, the amount of weight hanging from your fingers during each set. This varies greatly from athlete to athlete, so you will have to figure it out yourself through trial and error. A big hint: start out with much less resistance than you think you should. There are basically no consequences to using too little resistance, but potentially devastating consequences to using too much. For many people the resistance will be LESS than bodyweight, which means you will need to rig up a simple pulley system to REMOVE weight. You can get a pulley kit here, or assemble your own. Hangboard FAQ #2 addresses the “resistance” issue in a lot more detail, and explains how to rig a pulley system for removing weight. And while you’re at it, you might as well read Hangboard FAQ #1, which is mostly useless drivel.
As stated above, you will want to gradually ramp up the resistance between sets (and between workouts). I generally add 10 lbs. between each set of a given exercise, and I strive to add 5 lbs. between each workout (assuming I succeed in executing the previous workout as planned).
A properly-executed hangboard routine may not feel exhausting, but will thoroughly exhaust your fingers. I strongly recommend against any additional climbing or other finger training, and suggest a relatively long rest-period after completion. I rest two full days (~70 hours) after each hangboard workout. Complete 6-10 such workouts, then move on to the next phase in your periodized training cycle (ideally, maximum recruitment training).
Confused? Good, you’re several years ahead of where I was when I started!