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How to Train for Rock Climbing with a Hangboard

It may come a moment in your climbing career when your inability to grip small holds or edges the size of a dime becomes the most significant stumbling block to sending a route. That's a fantastic opportunity to practice gripping slopers, pockets, pinches, and other holds with your fingertips. For climbing and bouldering, there are a variety of training tools available to improve hand and finger strength. One of the most popular is a hangboard, also called a fingerboard. They're composed of plastic or wood and come with a variety of grips to hang on to.

When to Hangboard and Why

Before you start a workout routine, ask yourself why you want to strengthen your fingers. If you're a beginner climber, you may not need to use a hangboard to improve if you can improve your technique or simply climb more. If you're an experienced climber who has reached a plateau and wants to squeeze more energy and productivity from your fingers to make a route easier, hangboard training can help. If the capacity to hold on to a few more crimps makes the difference between sending or not sending a route, for example, you could probably benefit from focused hangboard sessions.

Getting Started With Hangboard Training

Before beginning any training plan, check in with your doctor or certified training professional.

Hangboard training is best done as part of a bigger training program that includes time spent climbing and time spent improving your overall fitness and endurance. As you begin your training, keep the following points in mind:

  • Have a goal or a project in mind that you wish to send. Think about the grips and hand postures you're having trouble with.

  • Keep it simple to start

  • To minimize stressing your hands and tendons, take at least a full day or two off between hangboard training sessions.

  • Remember that whether you climb at the gym or at the crag, you're continuously working on finger strength, so restrict your hangboard training sessions to three or four weeks—or until you feel confident in your ability to complete the project you set out to do.

  • Listen to your body.

Tips for Proper Hangboard Technique

Using the proper form while hanging will help you avoid injuries. Here are some tips:

  • Make sure you don't have to jump to get to the hangboard.

  • Avoid locking your elbows or shrugging your shoulders.

  • Keep your shoulder blades engaged and your shoulders away from your ears.

  • Modify the hang time and rest time as you progress. As your strength improves, increase the time you hang and decrease the time you rest.

Hangboard Grip Positions

The beauty of any training session is that you can customise it to your goals and the shortcomings you want to tackle. Concentrate on the holds you need to improve the most. You won't have to worry about slopers or pinches if you're mostly climbing limestone pockets. Try to keep an open hand with all of these grips and avoid hanging with a full-closed crimp, where your thumb closes around your index fingers, as this can lead to further injuries.

Jug: These are the easiest holds and are great for warming up. There’s not much to them. Get your hand around them and hang in a comfortable position.

Slopers: Use your hand to hold on it as much as possible and push down on it.

Pockets: Use one to four fingers in the holes, as well as training with different sets of fingers out of the hold, you can vary the intensity. You could, for example, hold with your pointer, middle, and ring fingers, or train with your middle, ring, and pinky. Keep in mind that your middle finger is the strongest. Avoid curling your fingers into a crimp by keeping your hand open.

Pinches: If your hangboard includes pinch holds, grab one with your thumb and the other with your fingers. Wider pinches are harder. As an alternative, use a pinch block, which is a basic block (made of wood, polyurethane, or other materials) from which you hang weights to strengthen your pinch grasp.

Edges: The depth of the edges varies from deep to really shallow (more difficult). Use the position with your hands open. Visualize slapping your palm against a window and dragging it down until your fingertips are on the edge. Close your thumb over your index fingers (as in a full crimp).

Sample Hangboard Workout

There are numerous hangboard training programs available, as well as numerous schools of thought on how to execute it. Some training programs are tailored to particular boards, while others provide training apps.

Here's an example of a routine. You should decide which grips you wish to improve and customize your training regimen accordingly. Begin with the biggest holds and work your way down to the smaller ones.

  • You'll hang for 7 to 10 seconds in each grip position with slightly bent elbows. Then take a 5-second break. Repeat that sequence a total of 6 times.

  • Between each set, take a 3-minute break.

  • Stop as soon as you feel discomfort or twinges in your fingertips.

Warm Up: Before you begin hanging, it's important to warm up first. On a climbing wall, do around 20 to 30 minutes of easy climbing, bouldering, or low traversing. If you can't get to a climbing gym, warm up with a few sets of pull-ups and 20- or 30-second "dead hangs" (hanging on the heaviest holds, usually at the top of the board).

(Source: Rei Expert, 2021)]

Credit to: Zac Camerlin

Edited by: Joey Tai

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