Hangboard Resistance Data Analysis

As promised, here is some hangboard resistance data from my recently concluded Strength Phase.  This was my first full phase using the Rock Prodigy Training Center.  I thought it would take a while to get the loads dialed in correctly but I was able to get pretty close to the right resistance during the first workout.

RPTC Grip Identification

I trained the following grips, in the order listed below, performing 3 sets of reps (7 reps for the first set of each grip, then 6 reps, then 5), except where noted.

Grip Order Table

The below chart shows the resistance added to body weight during the final set of each grip (the Large VDER is omitted since this is a warmup grip and the resistance rarely changes). 

This chart shows the resistance added (to body weight) for the third set of each grip, for each workout.

This chart shows the resistance added (to body weight) for the third set of each grip, for each workout.

If I complete every rep of all 3 sets for a given grip, I add 5 lbs (to each set) during the next workout.  For example, during the first workout, MR 2-finger resistance was:

 -10 lb. for the 1st set,
    0 for the 2nd set and
+10 for the 3rd set.

During the first workout, I completed all reps of each set of that grip, so for the next workout the goal resistance was:

   -5 lb for the 1st set,
  +5 lb for the 2nd set and
+15 for the 3rd set. 

So you can infer from the above chart that if the 3rd-set-resistance increased between workouts n and n+1, then I succeeded in completing the prescribed sets (at the prescribed resistance) during workout n.  If the 3rd-set-resistance did not increase, you can infer that I failed to complete all reps during workout n.  I almost always complete the first two sets of each grip, so one can further infer that if I failed to progress, I failed on the third set.

Some interesting “conclusions” can be drawn from this data. 

  • You can see where I started to plateau, between the 6th and 7th workout.  After the 7th workout I struggled to make progress between workouts on most grips.  I’ve experimented with trying to burst through this plateau by performing more and more workouts, but it never seems to work.  Usually by the 10th workout or so I won’t see any more improvement (I’ve done as many as 12 workouts in a phase)                          
  • The earlier grips in the workout progressed much more than the later grips.  The most improvement over the course of the phase was seen in the Mono, Thin Crimp, and MR 2 Finger (the first 3 grips completed).  The least improvement was seen in the Pinch, IM 2 Finger and Small VDER (the last 3 grips).  This is typical in my experience, and this is why I suggest working the most “important” grips early in your hangboard workouts.  Here is another way to look at this phenomenon:
This chart shows the total improvement in Third-Set-Resistance over the course of my Strength Phase.  The grips are shown in the order performed.  As you can see, for the most part the grips performed early in the workout improved the most, and the grips performed at the end improved the least.

This chart shows the total improvement in Third-Set-Resistance over the course of my Strength Phase. The grips are shown in the order performed. As you can see, for the most part the grips performed early in the workout improved the most, and the grips performed at the end improved the least.

  • The Pinch grip was a disaster!  After the second workout I flatlined, then after the 6th workout I actually got worse! This is somewhat exaggerated because after the 6th workout (and several straight workouts of failing on the third set), I purposely reduced the resistance in the hopes of jump starting this grip.  That worked once (workout 7), but then I plateaued at a lower level.  Part of this is because this is the last grip of the workout.  However, you might expect that I would at least get better at managing fatigue, and thus would show some improvement.  You certainly would not expect that I would regress.  So what is going on here?  Each workout is a little bit harder (overall) than the preceding workout.  This is because initially the loads applied are conservative, so early in the Strength Phase many sets are completed with relative ease, leaving more energy for the later grips in the workout.  Later in the Phase, the loads applied are much closer to my limit, and I really have to scratch and claw to complete each set of every grip.  Thus I’m much more tired when I arrive at the last few grips of a given workout.  The amplitude of this effect increases each workout within a phase.  So while the loads applied in this example are more or less constant, the apparent difficulty of completing three sets at those loads is increasing each workout.  A question worth asking is, does training this grip improve my pinch strength, or would I be better off ending my workout after 5 grips?  I don’t know the answer to that question, but I think it does make me stronger (or at least better at managing fatigue), even though the accumulating fatigue prevents me from capturing that improvement “on paper”.

Moving on, the first chart I posted illustrates only the load applied during the third set of each grip.  There are many other ways to slice the data.  During each set, I strive to perform a certain number of 7-second dead hang repetitions (7 for the first set, 6 for the second set, 5 for the third set).  Often I reach the end of the third set, having completed each rep without failing.  In these situations I usually try to perform a 6th rep at the end of the third set (in rare instances I will add extra reps to the second set, but only if it feels really easy).  On the other hand, often I fail to complete all of the prescribed reps.  For example, I might complete the first 4 reps of the third set of a given grip, but my fingers fail 5 seconds in to the 5th rep.  Capturing these variations and plotting them provides slightly more fidelity into apparent plateaus:

This chart shows the total "Time Under Tension" (TUT) for the 2nd and 3rd sets of the Pinch grip for workouts 2-6 (I omitted the 1st set TUT because it was a constant 49 seconds for each workout).  The load applied (-5 lbs for the 2nd set, +5 lbs for the 3rd set) was constant for these five workouts.

This chart shows the total “Time Under Tension” (TUT) for the 2nd and 3rd sets of the Pinch grip for workouts 2-6 (I omitted the 1st set TUT because it was a constant 49 seconds for each workout). The load applied (-5 lbs for the 2nd set, +5 lbs for the 3rd set) was constant for these five workouts.

The TUT for each workout in the above chart “should be” 42 seconds for the 2nd set (6 reps times 7 seconds per rep) and 35 seconds for the third set.  As you can see, there was a good deal of variation between workouts despite a constant applied load.  The problem with looking at the data in this manner is that it only works when the load applied is constant.  Another option is to look at the “Volume” of a given set.  Qualitatively, Volume = Intensity x Duration.  However, coming up with a practical quantitative Volume formula can be challenging. 

The most simplistic method is to simply multiple the hang duration (TUT) for a given set by the load applied.  However, the load applied is only a fraction of the load on your fingers.  It makes sense to add body weight into the formula (so Volume = (Body Weight + Load Applied) x Duration.  The below chart shows this data for the 3rd sets of the IM 2 Finger grip.

This chart shows Volume, defined as Volume = (Body Weight + Load Applied) x Duration, for the 3rd set of the IM 2 Finger grip for the entire Strength Phase.

This chart shows Volume, defined as Volume = (Body Weight + Load Applied) x Duration, for the 3rd set of the IM 2 Finger grip for the entire Strength Phase.

The problem with the above metric is that it “values” duration much more than load.  It’s easy to achieve a high Volume figure by using lower loads and performing extra reps.  For example, during the first 5 workouts of this phase, I managed to complete all 5 reps of each 3rd set, and then at least attempted a 6th rep.  During the last five workouts I only completed the 5th rep once and never attempted a 6th rep.  As a result, the “Volume” on the left side of the chart (the first five workouts) is greater than the Volume on the right half.  This is not what we want to strive for as athletes.  We want to strive for higher loads, more so than extra reps, so it would be nice to use a Volume formula that “rewards” higher loads.  Another option is to consider the Volume of the entire grip, not just the Volume of the 3rd set.  This method gives you “credit” for the extra load used later in the phase in the first two sets of each grip.

This chart shows the sum of the Volume for each set of the IM 2 Finger grip.  The formula for this chart is Total Grip Volume = [(Body Weight + Set 1 Load Applied) x Set 1 Duration] + [(Body Weight + Set 2 Load Applied) x Set 2 Duration] + [(Body Weight + Set 2 Load Applied) x Set 2 Duration].

This chart shows the sum of the Volume for each set of the IM 2 Finger grip. The formula for this chart is Total Grip Volume = [(Body Weight + Set 1 Load Applied) x Set 1 Duration] + [(Body Weight + Set 2 Load Applied) x Set 2 Duration] + [(Body Weight + Set 2 Load Applied) x Set 2 Duration].

The Total Grip Volume method of calculation is an improvement.  The Volume for workouts 7-10 is greater than that of workouts 1-3, but it still implies that my workout 5 performance of 5 reps of 7 seconds and 1 rep of 6 seconds at +30 lbs. is “superior” to my workout 10 performance of 4 reps of 7 seconds and 1 rep of 4 seconds at +40 lbs.  Maybe it is, but I can tell you the latter seems much more difficult to do, and it would be nice if the “Volume” calculation captured that.  So there is room for an improved Volume formula.

Finally, for the “fun” of it, below is the Total Workout Volume (the sum of the above volume calculation for each grip):

This chart shows Total Workout Volume = [((BW + S1AL) x S1D) + ((BW + S2AL) x S2D) + ((BW + S3AL) x S3D)]Grip 1 + [((BW + S1AL) x S1D) + ((BW + S2AL) x S2D) + ((BW + S3AL) x S3D)]Grip 2 + ... + [((BW + S1AL) x S1D) + ((BW + S2AL) x S2D) + ((BW + S3AL) x S3D)]Grip n.

This chart shows Total Workout Volume = [((BW + S1AL) x S1D) + ((BW + S2AL) x S2D) + ((BW + S3AL) x S3D)]Grip 1 + [((BW + S1AL) x S1D) + ((BW + S2AL) x S2D) + ((BW + S3AL) x S3D)]Grip 2 + … + [((BW + S1AL) x S1D) + ((BW + S2AL) x S2D) + ((BW + S3AL) x S3D)]Grip n.

At least it seems the Volume is more or less increasing each workout, and this shows some indication of a plateau appearing around the 9th workout.

I know I’m not the only spreadsheet nerd out there, so if you have a novel way of analyzing your training data, please share in a comment below!

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13 thoughts on “Hangboard Resistance Data Analysis

  1. Thanks for sharing your data and insights. I have two quick questions, for the pinch grip do you keep finger tips in the flat or do they hang over the upper edge? After my fourth session I had to keep the tips on the edge in order to keep increasing weight (so far I am on three more sessions with incremental weight, but I feel another plateau coming). Also, which grip do you use for shallow three-finger pocket is it the IM three slot on the bottom outer?

    • Rui,

      I avoid letting my fingertips touch the flat surface. I wanted to put some barrier there to prevent that, but it would have made the board very difficult to release from the mold during manufacturing. It definitely makes the grip easier. Ergonomically it should be fine to “cheat” onto the flat surface if you prefer to use it that way.

      I don;t train a 3-finger pocket anymore. However, I intended the outer pocket to be fore IMR, and the inner pocket to be for MRP (the inside part of each Edge Rail can also be used for MRP). So depending on the 3-finger combination you are training, I would select one of those.
      Mark

  2. Hey, awesome article and blog!
    I too have noticed that the first trained grip gets the best gains.
    i have a question regarding incrementing weights on a cycle to cycle and annual time frame. As an example, your thin crimp went from -10 lbs to +25 lbs over 10 sessions in a single cycle. You mention using about 3 cycles per year. The goal is to get that last session max higher than in the previous cycle. So at what weight would you hope to start the next cycle and what might a total net gain for a year look like? I’d imagine that in that example of the thin crimp, 15 lbs for the year would be decent?
    When you take 1.5-2 months off the hangboarding, you tend to lose that max hang strength to some extent. Do you ever consider doing ‘maintenance’ weekly/biweekly short sessions to maintain the gains?

    • Chris,

      Thanks for the compliments! These are great questions, and would be a good subject for a Hangboard FAQ, but I’ll try to give you a quick answer. I will determine the starting resistance for a season based on how the previous season started. For example, let’s say last season I started at +0, but then I easily completed every set and stepped up by 10 lbs between the first and second workout. If +10 feels right for the second workout, then it would seem I should have used +5 for the first workout. So at the start of the next season, I will use at least +5. If I feel like things went well on that grip in the last season (I generally progressed through out the season, didn’t plateau early or anything) I’ll be aggressive, and start at +10, or maybe +15 (that would be rare). Generally I like to start out conservatively. Its really easy to step up by 10 lbs between workouts, or even increase the resistance within a workout if you undershoot the resistance. Overdoing it can be demoralizing, reduces the effectiveness of the workout (because you can’t complete sets) and can cause injury in the worst case. Weather is another factor. I know I can do more resistance in the winter than in the summer, because its colder when I’m hangboarding.

      The second question is more complicated. I think it really depends on how “well-trained” you are. I’ve been hangboarding forever, so if I improve 10lbs on a grip in a year, I feel like it was a good year. A beginner could probably improve much more than that in a year. This below chart shows some of my data. I improved about 10 lbs per grip over the course of a year (note you want to compare like seasons, winter-to winter, for example, since temperature is a big factor).
      null

      As for your last question, I agree with your premise. I have considered doing maintenance sessions, but I choose not to. I think if you are bouldering correctly, you can maintain (and in fact improve) your practical finger strength for several weeks. Your strength really starts to wane when you start climbing outside exclusively and working routes that aren’t especially powerful. At that point you don’t need max strength anymore (you need fitness), assuming you’ve ordered your objectives logically (if you continue to climb powerful routes, your strength will not diminish nearly as much). To maintain my practical finger strength, I begin every indoor session during my PE/Performance Phases with an hour or so of Limit Bouldering (then I do my interval workout, if I intend to do one). I think energy spent on strength maintenance via hangboarding would be better used gaining fitness or recovering for performance opportunities. I really like the hangboard, but its a specialized tool that neglects important aspects of ability like contact strength and movement training. If I can get close to the same thing with an activity that trains movement and power, I will favor that during performance phases.

      Either way, you cannot maintain peak fitness of any kind indefinitely. Eventually you will burnout or hurt yourself. Better to manipulate your fitness to suit your needs than let the tail wag the dog.

      • Mark,
        Thanks for the response, that makes good sense.
        Here’s another question, that I suspect you’ve addressed somewhere in your articles but I didn’t see…
        A different protocol for fingerboarding is to do 2-4 sets of only 1 rep, to failure or almost in 7-10 seconds, as opposed to 2-3 sets of 7-5 reps with 3 seconds between reps.
        Do you prefer the higher volume way because it incorporates some power endurance, or do you just feel that it’s a better way to get strength gains?
        Thanks for any info…

      • Chris,

        I think a proper answer to that question will require a dedicated post, so I’ll add that to my topic list. We also address this in The Rock Climber’s Training Manual. The short answer is: I recommend a hangboard to train Strength. I recommend Limit Bouldering and campusing to train Power. A 1 rep set is (at best) a power exercise, not a strength exercise.
        Mark

  3. Hi Mark,
    I have a hangboard training question that is specific to me but the general idea should be helpful to lots of people. Some quick background, I’ve been climbing for 10+ years and have climbed a good number of 5.13 sport routes of lots of styles. However, I’m much weaker relative to other grips on open hand edges. So the training question is: Is it more beneficial to work larger holds (ie LVDER) with more added weight or smaller holds (SVDER) with less weight added? The same question could be asked for pockets (MR deep and shallow). Thanks for the advice!
    Jim

  4. Just a quick thought on graphing volume, for my volume calculation I do weight x % of goal TUT, so if my goal TUT for a particular grip is 42 seconds and I come off 3 seconds early on my last rep I would multiply the weight by .93. I know that this isn’t technically volume, but it allows me to track progress by both weight and TUT in a single graph and it doesn’t favor TUT like simply multiplying weight and TUT together.

  5. Hello,

    First I must say that this website, and your book has been invaluable to my training in more ways than any other source. I really appreciate the time you put in and it really shows.

    All that aside, I am curious how to switch to single arm hangs in the routine. On the one hand (hehe), the four finger, and MR 2 finger grip have always seemed important and have therefore remained the meat-and-potatoes of my workouts, but because of the size of the edges that are available to me, I am adding a lot of weight compared to my own, around 65%, which is uncomfortable. I’ve experimented with one-handers before, but never on a 7/3 schedule. Do you have any tips to make it work? I am guessing resting one minute between hands and then maybe an extra minute at the end to help recover. Do you think its worth it?

    • Andrew,

      I really hate doing one-arm hangs, but I think they can be useful when the weight really gets out of hand (I see your pun and raise you). Check out the routine on page 148. We describe one option for working one-handed hangs in with two-armed hangs. This is how I’ve done and worked out well (although you need to be organized because there isn’t a lot of time between sets).

      The real trick is managing the rest, but as long as you are resting in a consistent manner from workout to workout you can do it just about any way you want.

      Another thing to consider is that you may be better off down-sizing your holds, as opposed to adding more and more weight until your arms are torn from your body 🙂

      • Thanks for the reply,

        I’m surprised I never noticed that workout in the book, go figure the answer was there all along, thanks for humoring me! I will certainly try to find a smaller edge. I guess this will be my chance to grab the training center, as I now have ammunition to explain another purchase to my wife.

        Cheers

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