You rely on your upper body strength, power, and endurance to complete ascents. This is true whether you have just started climbing in a gym or you have led routes up sheer granite walls. It is the same no matter the skill level.
If you want to get better, one of the most effective ways is to develop those physical attributes through exercise. While it is true that you can use standard exercises like push-ups and pull-ups to gain upper body strength, no traditional exercise targets climbing specific muscles as well as hangboard training.
If you are new to climbing, you may wonder what a hangboard is. Hangboards, sometimes called fingerboards, are usually made of wood or a cast material like plastic and have a variety of finger and hand holds from which you hang. Specifically, hangboards build hand, finger, and arm muscles so that at the end of a four-hour climb, you have the strength to stick to the rock without falling off. The best place to mount them is over a doorway so that you can freely hang, but your aren't so high off the floor that can't put your feet down when you get tired.
Here is a quick guide on using a hangboard to help you get started.
Warm-up Before Training
Like any exercise regimen, the warm-up period is crucial to injury prevention. Cold, stiff muscles and tendons can become strained or even seriously damaged if you proceed directly to an intense hangboard session. Start with a light jog or some other dynamic warm-up like a stationary bike or jump rope. Once you break a small sweat, do two sets of 10 to 15 push-ups and two sets of 10 to 15 pull-ups.
Pay Attention To Your Hangboard Form
As with any weight training, good form makes hard exercises more effective and keeps you from hurting yourself. When using a hangboard, employ a slight bend in your elbows and keep you shoulder blades back. Use an open grip and do not straighten your arms or hunch your shoulders. To visualize the proper technique, think about a quarter pull-up with your chest rising slightly towards the bar.
The Hangboard Program
Now that you are warmed-up and understand the proper form, it's time to exercise. Start by locating identical holds on the right and left side of the board. Using all four fingers on both hands and the form described above, hang for 10 to 15 seconds. If you can hang longer than that, use a more shallow hold and repeat. If you have trouble making it that long, try to find a deeper hold and repeat.
You should take a break between each hang for about a minute. Repeat the hanging exercise four times for one set. If you are fatiguing, stop after two sets. If not, do four sets of the hanging routine with a five-minute break in between. Try using different holds for each set, but for now, only use holds with room for four fingers.
After three to four weeks, or when you can comfortably complete four sets, start using smaller holds that force you to use fewer fingers and that you can hold for only five to eight seconds. Once you reach the point where you can comfortably complete four sets on smaller holds, you have started truly making gains in grip strength. Continue to mix up the holds during each set to ramp up the intensity. If you are able, try hanging with even fewer fingers.
Hangboard training is not easy, but it pays dividends if you commit to it. Board training develops you into a stronger more powerful climber and will help you endure to the end of hard climbs. It allows you to finish more technical routes on bigger walls. Make it a part of your training regimen, and you will become a better climber.
Are You Ready for More Training Tips?
Are you ready to take your climbing to the next level? If so, be sure to visit our previous article on climbing nutrition by Butora athlete Harmony Calhoun.