Climbing Series: Building Finger Strength by Rich Lee

[Rich Lee is a programmer at SAS and a coach at Triangle Rock Club. Rich is currently enrolled in the Athletic Lab Coach Apprenticseship Program]

trcThe Problem

The “problem” in the climbing world is figuring out how to get from point A to point B.  How the climber solves this problem varies from person to person.   In general, climbers traverse the problem on a given route.  The routes vary on degrees of difficulty based on numerous factors, including types of holds, size of hold, or just plain lack of holds (just to name a few).  Regardless of how hard the route is rated, all climbers need a base conditioning that allows them to solve problems without getting injured.   This climbing series will address issues related to the sport of climbing and how to train to help avoid injuries.

Why It Matters

Building finger strength is generally the first thing a wannabe climber needs to do. Even advanced climbers should spend some time “training for finger strength” at the start of the climbing s  Whether you are grappling with crimps, pinches, slopers, pockets, jugs or volumes, finger strength plays a big role in keeping you on the wall and enabling you to progress to more difficult climbs.

The problem is, building finger strength is not intuitive.  What’s more, being overly enthusiastic can cause tendon injuries that can sideline your climbing entirely for weeks or more. A good way to build finger strength, aside from just putting in lots of time on the climbing wall, is to train using a hangboard, finger board or training board.

Whatever you call them, they are instrumental for improving your climbing and bouldering ability.

For a great comparison of hangboards featuring ranking by price and explanations of different features, check out 99boulders. 

Tackle The Problem

First, let’s talk about safety.  Hangboards are one of the most misused pieces of climbing training equipment in any gym.  It is very easy to injure your fingers by being too aggressive, shock loading your fingers by “dyno” jumping up for the hangboard or abruptly dropping off.  Shoulders can be injured if you don’t hang using bent elbows and then engaging your core.  Check out Hangboarding 101 at for a great illustration of proper form for your “hang.”

Avoid injury from the start by assessing your overall readiness for hangboard training. If you cannot do a pull up, you should consider “removing” some of your body weight until you build up strength. You can do this either by using foot rungs or holds to support part of your weight, use an assistance band, or wear a climbing harness and use a pulley system to reduce your weight to make your hangboard training easier. The Rock Prodigy Training Center has a great video showing a pulley system set up.

If you can do several pull ups, you will probably be okay to gently ease into hangboard training. And if you are an experienced climber who can pump out pull-ups, you may want to add weight in order to make the exercises more challenging.

Regardless of whether you are a newbie or a crux crusher, you should warm up for 10 to 15 minutes before any hangboard workout.

Developing a hangboard training plan from scratch can be intimidating—and most online plans are designed for experienced climbers.  A beginner workout should include one set of a broad range of the grip positions on the hangboard. Also, check out the video Fingerboard Training for Beginners with Ned Freehally. (Ignore the one armed part that comes a little later in your development).

An intermediate workout should feature two or more sets of fewer but more difficult grip positions on the hangboard. Metolius offers an entry, intermediate and advanced hangboard training plans.

An advanced workout will feature three or more sets of specifically chosen holds that represent the climber’s Achilles heel or simulate a project route he is working on. Note, even advanced climbers may want to do a broad range of hangboard grips at the start of the climbing season or after taking a break.

Variations for our workouts: 

Repeater Drills: To do a “rep,” hang from a grip for 3 to 5 seconds and then rest for 5 seconds. Repeat this “rep” X number of times according your plan. Rest for 3 minutes. Then go on to the next grip position in your plan and begin that set of reps. (A set is a block of reps of the same grips.) Continue this until you have progressed through all the grip positions in your plan.

Pyramids: A pyramid involves seven “hangs” on the same grip, but you vary the length of time, followed by a brief rest. This represents one set. The “hang” progression is as follows: 4 seconds, 6 seconds, 8 seconds, 10 seconds, 8 seconds, 6 seconds, and 4 seconds. You repeat this process on each of the grips in your plan.  Check out the Nicros blog article titled Effective Hangboard Training – Part 1.

Moving Hangs: Begin moving your hands around the hangboard changing grip positions every 3 to 5 seconds. You’ll need to pause every minute or two, find an “active rest” position and shake out each arm to reduce the “pump.” Then continue moving your hands to different grips, again taking an active rest break periodically. Work in this fashion for up to five to ten minutes total on the board. This constitutes one set. Rest for about ten minutes before a second or third set.  Not for the faint of heart. Note – you need to use some footholds to help support your feet for this exercise. (See references Conditioning for Climbers by Eric Horst.)

How often you train depends on several variables. This is a very intense workout for your fingers—you must have sufficient rest between hangboard workouts. Anderson and Anderson recommend at least 70 hours between these workouts (roughly every three days). Be diligent about resting longer between sessions if you begin to feel pain in your fingers or shoulders. Also, use tape to protect your skin as needed.


  • The Rock Climber’s Training Manual by Michael and Mark Anderson
  • Mark and Mike Anderson’s Guide to Hangboard Training, Training Beta Blog,
    Conditioning for Climbers by Eric Horst
  •, Hangboarding 101
  • Wild Country Climbing, Fingerboard Training for Beginners with Ned Freehally at
  • Nicros blog article titled Effective Hangboard Training – Part 1
  • Video: Using the Rock Prodigy Training Center by Trango
    Metolius website, Training Guide – 10 minute Sequences, URL


By |2017-04-12T19:35:23+00:00March 15th, 2016|Training Info|0 Comments

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