Strength Training: Pinch It Real Good!

A few weeks ago we finished a strength-focused climbing month, which means we added 2 hangboard sessions per week to our climbing schedule. We also changed up our hangboard routine from what we’ve done in the past (you can read about those here and here) and brought in a new, highly sophisticated piece of training equipment…. a small piece of 2×4 🙂

We were pretty happy with this new routine and thought we would share it.

Our Strength-Focused Schedule:

  • One lead climbing session per week: Working on leading harder grades and improving technique (footwork, fast clipping, on-sighting, etc.)
  • One bouldering session per week: Working on bouldering harder grades and focusing on maximum strength moves
  • One general conditioning session per week: Incorporating exercises to improve functional movement and increase core and upper-body strength
  • Two hangboard sessions per week: Maximum strength dead-hangs plus pull-ups

Hangboard Routine:

The modifications we made to our old hangboard routine were as follows:

  • Choose 6 or 7 finger/grip positions to train. This time around, we included three different pinch grips using a 2 x 4 (cut to a length of 5-inches)
  • For each finger grip / position, find the weight you need to add / remove in order to just hold tension for 6 seconds + 1 pull-up
  • For each finger grip / position, complete 3 sets of the “6-second hang + 1 pull-up”), resting for 90 seconds in between each set | Strength training mono-pullup

We loved this new routine for two reasons:

  1. It was quick! We could finish the hangboard routine in less than 45 minutes (this was, of course, after a very good warm-up at the climbing gym).
  2. It incorporated movement (the pull-up) off of a finger grip position, which we feel is more beneficial to climbing.

Pinch it Real Good:

We also started using a 2×4, cut to a length of 5 inches, to work on improving our narrow, medium and wide pinch grip.

  • Start with your weakest grip (for us, it was the widest, 5-inch width of the block)
  • End with your strongest grip (for us, it was the narrow, 2-inch width of the block)
  • We used a sling around the block, attached to our weights. It seemed to work! | Strength training pinch-grip

For these maximum-strength exercises, you need to find out what weight you need to add (via a weight vest) or remove (via a pulley-system) so that you can just complete one 6 second hang / hold followed by 1 pull-up. This might take a session or two to figure out exactly where you lie.

Make sure you record your weights and grip positions, so you can track your progress over the week, and know what weights to start on, when you return to the hangboard training months from now.

Happy Strength Training!

Training for Climbing: Hangboard and Strength Training Module

This weekend we transitioned into the Strength Phase of our climbing schedule, which focuses on increasing your finger strength (using a hangboard set-up) and full-body strength (by way of supplemental exercises).

If you want to catch up on what we’re doing, you can read about the training program we’re following, starting with the Base Fitness Phase.

Finger strength cannot be obtained overnight; it takes months and years of work to strengthen the small muscles and tendons in your fingers. For certain finger grips, it has taken us years to see any type of strength gain, so it’s a slow and steady process, for sure!

Hangboard Portion

This specific hangboard program uses a weight-and-pulley system to help strengthen various finger-grip positions (i.e. two-finger pockets, pinches, slopers, crimps). While the book includes sample routines for the beginner, intermediate and advanced hangboarders, it also recommends you tailor your specific routine towards the types of holds on your goal-routes (i.e. if a goal route is full of small edges, you should make sure some of your routine mimics those holds). Also, if you’ve never done any serious hangboard training, you should definitely start with a beginner routine (bigger edges, more fingers on the edge, etc.) to reduce any chance of injury and consider skipping the 2-finger variants until your confidence grows.

For this phase, you will need the following equipment:

  • Hangboard: Ours is the Metolius Simulator board.
  • Fan: Position so that it blows over your hands during the routine (nothing is worse than worrying about sweaty fingers slipping out of holds).
  • Stopwatch or timer: Jonty wrote an interval-training timer program, so we can set the duration of our hangs and rests, and just listen for the timer “beep” instead of looking at a clock. If you use Linux, feel free to download the program here.
  • Chalk and a brush: Place these close to your set-up, for quick chalking during the rests.
  • Harness: You will use the load-bearing belay loop to remove weight to your body.
  • Pulley system: Used to remove weight from your body. Our system uses a pulley, two carabiners, ~6 feet of 7mm static cord, and a long screw with a washer and bolt on the end that we can place our free weights onto.
  • Weights: We use both free-weight plates (to remove weight from your body) and a weight vest (to add weight to your body).

This is our general set-up:

For an intermediate hangboard routine, the book suggests choosing 5 or 6 grip positions and performing two sets on each position with a 3-minute rest in between sets. Here are a few examples of grip positions:

  • Warm-up jug (just perform 1 set)
  • Large open-hand edge
  • Middle-Ring finger shallow 2-finger pocket
  • Small half-crimp edge
  • Index-Middle-Ring finger deep 3-finger pocket
  • Wide pinch
  • Sloper
  • Narrow pinch

Again, the specifics of your grip positions will be tailored to your finger strength capabilities and goals, so be adaptive. For example, I can do a half-crimp edge on medium edges with a little bit of weight added to myself. Jonty, who has been training on the hangboard longer than me, can do a half-crimp edge on thin edges with a lot of weight added.

Before you complete a hangboard routine, it is very important that you properly warm up your fingers. We do about 25 minutes of continuous climbing at the gym and warm up each of the finger grip-positions we will be training on at home.

The routine is as follows. For each grip position:

  • Set #1: Hang for 7 seconds, rest for 3 seconds
  • Set #1: Repeat 7x (hang/rest (=1), hang/rest (=2), hang/rest (=3), etc.)
  • Set #1: Rest for 3 minutes

Repeat this grip-position again, with 10 lb added weight

  • Set #2: Hang for 7 seconds, rest for 3 seconds
  • Set #2: Repeat 6x (hang/rest (=1), hang/rest (=2), hang/rest (=3), etc.)
  • Set #2: Rest for 3 minutes

Move onto your next grip position

This routine will take you about 50 minutes to complete, and you will feel absolutely bagged by the end!

We keep a log of our exercises and weights used, which acts as a good reminder of what we did last time and how much we’ve progressed. We record our body weight for that day (with harness on), the grip position used, the weight we added (or removed), and any personal comments on our progress.

The first time we did this, we had to figure out how much weight we needed to add or remove to ourselves for each finger grip position.

Word of the wise: unless you have done this before, start by removing tons of weight. It’s better to go light initially in order to avoid injury. Like, for the 2-finger pockets, I start by removing 45 lbs from my body weight!!

Your ideal weight choice (added or removed) for a grip position should leave you just barely able to hang on by the 6th rep of the 2nd set. Figuring out these numbers may take a bit of time. As you get stronger, you should be able to add more weight to yourself.

Supplemental Strength Exercises

The book then recommends to do supplemental strength exercises after your hangboard routine. These exercises focus on whole-body strength and include training for the pulling muscles, pushing muscles, upper arm and shoulder muscles, and core muscles.

We deviate from this model, as it takes a lot time to travel between the climbing gym (for warm-up) and home (for hangboard), so we do all of our supplemental exercises once a week before we go to work (and we do this year-round). We have a personal trainer who comes up with the craziest exercises for us to do, focused almost exclusively on core and antagonist muscles. We’ve been with her for over a year, and her exercises have been unbelievably beneficial to us! Oh, and yeah, you get great abs 🙂

So, after finishing any of these hangboard sessions, you should be absolutely, completely and utterly spent! But the good news is you get two days off before you have to go through it again! 🙂

Your off-days can include some optional light aerobic exercise (cycling, running, etc.) or optional light climbing. On the days you are doing the strength building exercises, you should be giving it 110%, so should also make sure you give your body ample time to recover.

So this is how our next few weeks will be looking:

This is a very general idea of what we’re doing for this section. If you’re interested in trying this yourself, I would recommend you get your hands on a copy of this book, as it covers so much more than what I’m including here. The authors also know way more about it than I do, too 😉