I can’t tell you how many people I know who have hangboards but don’t really use them. Even I had mine for over a year before I really started reaping benefits from it. Then I was introduced to a hangboard routine that stuck. Taken largely from The Anderson Brothers (thank you!), this workout is great for intermediate to pro climbers who want to increase their finger strength. If you’ve been climbing for less than 2 or so years you may want to hold off on handboarding and let your fingers build up strength from climbing alone. Before beginning this workout warm up well by stretching your shoulders, forearms, and fingers and doing some pull ups. And as with any workout, listen to your body and know the difference between pushing it and pushing it too far.
- Hangboard (duh) – There are lots of options out there, but I tend to like a wooden hangboard because they are a bit gentler on your skin.
- Pulley system – Yes, this seems like a lot to set up just for a hangboard workout, but trust me, it’s worth it! It allows you to fine-tune your workout and systematically keep track of your progress. This video explains the basic setup and you can even buy a pulley system kit.
- Additional weights or a weight vest – The pulley system allows you to take weight off of the system (aka your body) but for some grips you may need to add weight to your body via weights clipped to your harness or by wearing a weight vest.
- Timer – Try one on an iPad or laptop so that you can see it while you’re hanging.
Identify 6 grips that you want to work on. Here are the ones I’ve been working:
- Open handed medium edge
- Middle and ring 2 finger pocket
- Open handed smallest edge
- Rear 3 finger edge
- Closed crimp on smallest edge
For each grip do 3 sets of dead hangs and for all sets hold the grip for 7 seconds, release for 3 seconds, hold for 7, release for 3, etc. The total number of reps per set decreases from the first to third set. Here’s what I mean:
- Set 1/Grip 1: Starting at zero seconds you will repeat the 7 on, 3 off pattern 7 times until the timer is at 1 minute and 7 seconds
- Rest 2 minutes
- Set 2/Grip 1: Repeat the 7 on, 3 off pattern 6 times until the timer is at 57 seconds
- Rest 2 minutes
- Set 3/Grip 1: Repeat the 7 on, 3 off pattern 5 times until the timer is at 47 second
- Rest 2 minutes
- Repeat this process for all 6 grips.
Now let’s talk about adding and removing weight from the system. For each grip you will start with some amount of weight added to yourself (by wearing a weight vest or clipping weight to your harness) or removed from you (by using the pulley system) and for each set you will increase the weight by 10 pounds. As you move from set 1 to set 3 you will progressively add weight to the system, so while the length of each set decreases (from 67 seconds to 47 seconds) the difficulty will increase due to added weight. Here are specific examples from my routine:
Grip 1: Open handed medium edge
Set 1: Add 20 lbs. via weight vest or clipping weight to harness
Set 2: Add 30 lbs. via weight vest or clipping weight to harness
Set 3: Add 40 lbs. via weight vest or clipping weight to harness
Grip 2: Middle and ring 2 finger pocket
Set 1: Remove 20 lbs. via pulley system
Set 2: Remove 10 lbs. via pulley system
Set 3: No weight added or removed, only use body weight
If you complete all 3 sets of a given grip without failing, the next time you do your hangboard session you should add 5 pounds to each set. For example, if I successfully made it through all sets of Grip 2 above I would do -15, -5, and +5, for each set respectively, on my next workout. This allows you to easily see your progress and give you something to “beat” during each session.
So how do you choose your starting weight? This can be tricky and will take some fine tuning at first. The idea is to choose weights that likely have you fail late in set 2 or 3, but you don’t want them to be so difficult that you fail very early in any set.
Here are a few other ground rules:
- If you fail to complete a set stop the set. Meaning that if you come off at 45 seconds in set 2, the set is over. Stop, rest your 2 minutes, and move on to set 3 for that grip.
- Try to have a rest day before hangboarding.
- Complete this workout once or twice a week. Any more and you may risk tendon injury.
- Record everything. Keeping track of your performance will help you to monitor progress and plateaus.
Phew! Now go put that dusty hangboard to good use and build up that finger strength. Always remember to be smart and safe with your fingers, and stop if you feel pain.