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Thread: Hangboard training

  1. #1
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    Default Hangboard training

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    I'm a 35-year-old rock climber with about a year of experience in my sport. I've decided to add barbell training both for the general benefits of strength and to improve my climbing ability.

    Many climbers claim that weight training is counterproductive because it will cause you to gain weight. Because I heard this, I've previously focused primarily on pull-ups and related exercises, and basically done nothing but running for legs. The idea was that I would pack strength only into the muscles I need for climbing, thereby gaining the strength I need while keeping my weight as low as possible.

    I no longer think this is the right approach, but I can see why people are concerned that weight gain will hurt them: When you're unable to complete a difficult climb, it is almost always because of insufficient finger strength or endurance (or bad technique, of course). It seems to me that I can become a better climber by gaining general strength as long as I can get my finger strength growth to track (or hopefully exceed) my rate of weight gain.

    The common implement that is used for improving finger strength among climbers is the hangboard. (Sorry if I'm telling you stuff you already know.) This consists of small horizontal edges that you put the fingertips on while holding the proximal interphalangeal joints at 90 degrees of flexion and then doing a dead hang.

    But the common way hangboard training is programmed (generally progressing by switching to smaller edges, using only three or two fingers, or doing more sets, taking shorter breaks, hanging longer, etc.) doesn't seem ideal for gaining strength. It seems it would be better to do weighted hangs and increase the weight slowly along with the rest of the training program.

    I'm wondering if anyone has experience with programming the hangboard in this way, or has insights regarding finger strength adaptation. Since there is a great deal of slow-adapting tissue involved (tendons, finger pulleys, etc.) it seems like moving slowly is a good idea. But I'm not sure how many times a week would be optimal, or how long to rest between reps and sets, or what safe jumps look like.

    Any thoughts or insight you have would be greatly appreciated.

  2. #2
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    I have always wondered what happens to finger strength as the deadlift goes from untrained to 375.

  3. #3
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    Old head here. If I were you, I would seperate the two things. You get better at climbing by climbing. You get stronger by lifting progressively heavier weights. When I climbed regularly I had no idea about related training, so I just climbed more and got better. I used to do finger jam pull ups, but, had I known what a barbell was, then I would have figured that greater than body weight grip strength training would have been the way forward. Then, if I had known that, then perhaps I would have concluded that barbell training might be a more useful focus than climbing prowess.

    I can still clamber up an easy rock climb today without having to practice. The problem solving, move solutions are just as tricky to my less practised older self, than they were for my more skilled younger self, but then I'm not climbing to that previous standard. However, the feel of the rock and the environment of a nice day out on a sun warmed crag are exactly the same. If you get what Im saying ? Stronger is just better, the potential negatives are massively outweighed by the positives.

  4. #4
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    I did a test at the gym to see where my grip strength on the barbell is at present after training today. I started with 45s on the bar and then lifted that with a neutral wrist with one hand. For both left and right, that was relatively easy. I added 25s, and I could just barely get that up for a short period of time with my right hand. That weight opened up my left hand, and I couldn't lift it.

    So I would certainly need a stronger grip to execute a set at 375 with a double overhand grip, but my deadlift is starting out at only 275. It seems like it might be a while before my deadlift is heavy enough to cause much strength adaptation in my fingers. Doesn't it seem like some supplemental grip work could keep my grip progressing? At my current weight, I already perceive my grip strength (along with technique) as my main limitation in climbing.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by Climber84 View Post
    Doesn't it seem like some supplemental grip work could keep my grip progressing?
    Faster than getting your deadlift up 100 pounds? Absolutely not. Nothing makes your hands stronger faster than the deadlift. Do all the warmups with a double-overhand grip, and your work sets too if you can.

  6. #6
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    Ok, I'll give it a shot, and I'll keep everything double overhand. I'll get my deadlift up to 375, and report back on its impact on my climbing. Thanks for your time.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Climber84 View Post
    Many climbers claim that weight training is counterproductive because it will cause you to gain weight. Because I heard this, I've previously focused primarily on pull-ups and related exercises, and basically done nothing but running for legs. The idea was that I would pack strength only into the muscles I need for climbing, thereby gaining the strength I need while keeping my weight as low as possible.
    I'm confused as to how you got this idea in your head. I only have a little bit of experience in climbing, but right from the beginning I was told by instructors to climb with my legs and not my arms (which strikes me as an intuitive notion regardless). Who is telling people that you don't need leg muscles to climb?

  8. #8
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    I used to climb back in my 20s.
    Was pretty good too.
    I am 1.90 m tall (about 6.2" I think) and back then I weighed about 73 kg. Skinny AF.
    I weigh more than 100 kg now and I don't climb anymore, just lift.
    Climbing is a very particular sport and very special in terms of bodyweight.
    Even lean mass (even more muscle) is a burden if you weigh a lot more than you can handle on the rock. There are technical movements that just can't be performed otherwise.
    You need to be strong yes, but not heavy.
    The short, timed hangs the OP mentioned are the equivalent of 1RM max efforts and give you the necessary hanging strength.
    If you look at the top climbers they are all lanky or skinny with big forearms and extreme hanging strength.
    You must train strength neurally if that makes sense, and ideally not gain weight.
    If you are serious about the sport that is.
    If it's a hobby, running an LP and leaning out after could be beneficial if you lack strength and muscle completely.

    All the above is just an opinion, maybe the coaches here have trained climbers and they definitely know better.
    There's been a long time since I climbed and maybe things have changed.
    Last edited by Kostas Theodorakis; 10-12-2019 at 04:37 PM.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by MWM View Post
    I'm confused as to how you got this idea in your head. I only have a little bit of experience in climbing, but right from the beginning I was told by instructors to climb with my legs and not my arms (which strikes me as an intuitive notion regardless). Who is telling people that you don't need leg muscles to climb?
    Depends on the grade. Arms are usually the limiting factor once it gets technical, at lower grades it's better to search for toe holds so you don't tire the arms out, so the advice you got was good. Higher grades require a smearing friction grip with the feet to keep balance whilst the arms do the rest. Overhangs are virtually all arms/back.

  10. #10
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    starting strength coach development program
    Quote Originally Posted by MWM View Post
    I'm confused as to how you got this idea in your head. I only have a little bit of experience in climbing, but right from the beginning I was told by instructors to climb with my legs and not my arms (which strikes me as an intuitive notion regardless). Who is telling people that you don't need leg muscles to climb?
    Footwork is very important, and any time you can get yourself up the wall with your legs you do. But if you have sufficient leg strength to do a pistol squat, that's the maximum effort you'll ever exert. The only rare time where you might have your legs fail, it's always your calves. For example, one route I did was a 650-foot granite slab (meaning it's a bit less than vertical). There were very few hand holds and the feet were pretty small in some places, so you basically walk up the thing balanced on your big toes. There were a few times when my legs were getting shaky, but they never failed. Your grip is almost always the weakest link in the chain, so it's where you fail.

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