Fingerboarding 101 | GUIDE

Climber Ted Kingsnorth takes us through a detailed account of his recovery from injury and some of the training methods he is undertaking in order to return to climbing at full strength. This guide focuses on footless training using a fingerboard and a variety of techniques including repeaters, one arm hangs, and max hangs, with Ted detailing a few fingerboarding regimes. This could be useful to those returning from a foot injury themselves or any climbers looking for a strength boost!


Ted’s home training setup

Fingerboarding 101 By Ted Kingsnorth

Having broken my talus bone (part of the heel) in a fall from West Side Story at Burbage West in early December and with a lengthy recovery period prescribed by the fracture clinic, I was keen to fully explore all the options available for footless training.

Since having purchased a Beastmaker 2000 to supplement my own homemade fingerboard 2 years ago, I have been a convert to regular fingerboarding. While in no way professing to be any kind of training guru, I have learnt a few things over the last 2 years which I am keen to share with anybody interested in investing effort into this important training tool. In order to train strength, you will need access to a fingerboard or small edge (either at your local wall or at home). For dynamic exercises focusing on power, access to a campus board would be required. Due to shortness of space, campusing, which is a large subject in itself, will not be covered in this article.

“This training comes into its own for the rock warrior who has perhaps not seen his or her boulder grade increase for several years and needs a bit of a strength boost! “

Fingerboarding is very intense on the fingers, muscles and tendons so be warned. As a rule, try and avoid the full crimp position. Open handed or half crimp is the way to go to avoid injury. If in doubt, stop immediately and rest. Fingerboard training should not be undertaken by beginners or climbers who have not yet bouldered much – gains are likely to be more quickly achieved just by pure climbing and focusing on technique. This training comes into its own for the rock warrior who has perhaps not seen his or her boulder grade increase for several years and needs a bit of a strength boost!

True North 8c on Kilnsey’s North Buttress in Yorkshire by Sam Pratt

I will not delve too deeply into what constitutes strength vs power, which is in itself a large topic, suffice to say that within the context of climbing, the strength of muscles is their ability to contract to their maximum capacity when gripping a hold. Power is a muscle’s ability to contract at speed in order to generate force in order to move between holds.

Whilst not impossible to train stamina on a fingerboard it is likely to very boring and involve things like having your foot on a chair whilst hanging, which is perhaps not the best use of your time. My own opinion is that if you are going to invest any effort into a fingerboard, you may as well use it for what it was intended for, i.e. to train pure finger strength. (If you are on a ship or something and need to keep fit, please ignore this!)

There are several categories which different exercises can be grouped into, depending on the training aim desired. Within the category of strength training, broadly speaking, two subdivisions can be made:

Blueband V9 at Raven Tor by Sam Pratt

Muscle Hypertrophy (Exercises that increase the size of muscles)

Muscle hypertrophy is achieved through multiple contractions of a muscle in a short space of time in an anaerobic environment (as opposed to an aerobic environment where stamina training would come into play). These contractions should be some degree below a climber’s ‘one rep maximum’. On a fingerboard, this would constitute a hang on either:

a) a hold sufficiently small; or

b) a larger hold with sufficient added weight

that the climber can only hang it once for say a 12 second period and which he/she could not then repeat without a substantial rest. A popular exercise to achieve hypertrophy is:

Repeaters

After a thorough warm-up, a hold that the climber finds challenging (i.e not a jug!) is hung for the following durations:

  • 7 second hang 1st HANG
  • 3 second rest

—————-

  • 7 second hang 2ND HANG
  • 3 second rest

—————-

  • 7 second hang 3RD HANG
  • 3 second rest

—————-

  • 7 second hang 4TH HANG
  • 3 second rest

—————-

  • 7 second hang 5TH HANG
  • 3 second rest

—————-

  • 7 second hang 6TH HANG
  • 3 second rest

 

TOTAL HANG TIME = 1 minute

6 hangs together form one set. Repeaters are commonly carried out with both arms held straight (a slight bend should be allowed at the elbows to prevent injury). Make sure to properly engage the shoulder muscles too. I have personally found that your arms are worked more by adding in the following hang positions by way of a variation:

Hang number                                   Arm Position

1st HANG                                                        EXTENDED

2ND HANG                                                        HALF LOCK

3RD HANG                                                        FULL LOCK

4TH HANG                                                        EXTENDED

5TH HANG                                                        HALF LOCK

6TH HANG                                                        FULL LOCK

In my experience, these different lock positions give your arms more of a workout rather than just hanging straight and injects some variety.

5 sets of repeaters using 5 different holds should be performed with 3 minutes rest in-between each set. A second ‘macro set’ of 5 more sets may be completed after 10 – 15 minutes’ rest. The aim is for you to nearly fail (but not quite) on the 6th hang of each set. For me, I find I can do a full set of repeaters on a hold at roughly 50% of my max hang weight. I try and cycle between different hold types within each macro set, for example:

Hang number                                   Hold Type

1st HANG                                                        4 FINGER CRIMP

2ND HANG                                                        SLOPER

3RD HANG                                                        FRONT 2 POCKET

4TH HANG                                                        MIDDLE 2 POCKET

5TH HANG                                                        BACK 3 CRIMP

6TH HANG                                                        MONO

2 macro sets should be enough for most people within one session, if not then maybe it was too easy!

Muscle recruitment (Exercises that better recruit the fibres of existing muscles)

Exercises under this heading should be carried out at very low reps (usually only one). The aim is to push the muscles close to their limit during one contraction.

Max Hangs

As mentioned above, a commonly used benchmark is the ‘max hang’. A good intro is Dave Mason’s video produced for Moon Climbing, it’s well worth a watch. Typically a single hang would be of 10 seconds’ duration. It is important to note that a max hang should ideally not end in failure as I understand this is not beneficial and deliberately ending a hang in control on the 10 second mark will yield better results long term. Once you have worked out the weight to be added to your 12 second absolute max hang on a certain hold (typically a 2cm edge) then a 10 second hang may be ended in control 2 seconds before failure.

These hangs are very demanding and the utmost care should be taken to ensure that you hang with your shoulders properly engaged as tremendous strain is put on the muscles and tendons. Once warmed up and having undertaken 3 or 4 hangs adding progressively more weight with each hang, you should then undertake up to 5 max hangs of 10 seconds within one session. Don’t overdo it!

One Arm Hangs

For those climbers who are finding repeaters not sufficiently challenging even on the smallest holds or for whom max hangs require the addition of large, unwieldy weights of over 30kg (quite a small subset I would imagine!), one arms hangs should prove sufficiently absorbing. Even hanging from one arm on a bar may prove impossible for many so one arm hangs from a 20mm edge may not be achievable for all but the elite level climber. Happily, there is a way to ameliorate this and the use of a pulley rope with added weight fixed alongside the fingerboard (to be held in the free hand) can ensure a hang from any given edge is of the desired duration.

Chris Webb Parsons produced a highly influential video a few years back and I can do no better than advise to watch this closely. The only variation I have added to my workout is to use a pulley system for assistance rather than a hanging rope but there are different schools of thought as to the benefits of each.

If doing this for the first time, you will rapidly notice a propensity to twist during each hang, even if you can support your body weight on a particular hold. This is due to shoulder instability. You should be able to eliminate this via your pulley system or hanging rope. As with most things, practice makes perfect and after a couple of months, most will notice significant gains in strength. I do my hangs with the following arm positions: straight arm (with a very slight bend), ¾ lock and ½ lock on each arm with 3 hangs in each position. Each hang should be of at least 5 seconds and up to 10 seconds (depending on your preference):

ONE ARM HANG WORKOUT as per Chris Webb Parsons

(30 Minutes in total)

 
                               LEFT ARM                                RIGHT ARM
Hang number             Arm Position                            Arm Position
1st HANG                      STRAIGHT                                 STRAIGHT        
                                       ——————— 3 Minute rest ————————
2ND HANG                      3/4 LOCK                                  3/4 LOCK
                                       ——————— 3 Minute rest ————————
3RD HANG                      1/2 LOCK                                  1/2 LOCK
                                       ——————— 3 Minute rest ————————
4th HANG                      STRAIGHT                                 STRAIGHT        
                                       ——————— 3 Minute rest ————————
5th HANG                      3/4 LOCK                                  3/4 LOCK
                                       ——————— 3 Minute rest ————————
6th HANG                      1/2 LOCK                                  1/2 LOCK
                                       ——————— 3 Minute rest ————————
7th HANG                      STRAIGHT                                 STRAIGHT        
                                       ——————— 3 Minute rest ————————
8th HANG                      3/4 LOCK                                  3/4 LOCK
                                       ——————— 3 Minute rest ————————
9th HANG                      1/2 LOCK                                  1/2 LOCK

Evolution 8c+ at Raven Tor by Sam Pratt

My training over the last 8 weeks

While not able to climb, I have been pretty much simultaneously cycling between repeaters, one arms hangs, max hangs and campusing, training 5 days each week. I guess my approach has been akin to what is known as a non-linear periodised regime where different exercises are performed on different days but simultaneously within the same training block. This is different to a periodised approach where different exercises are trained individually in blocks for periods of time. I understand the jury is still out as to the efficacy of a non-linear as opposed to a periodised approach in terms of getting an athlete ready for a peak in performance. Perhaps periodisation allows a greater peak to be generated but it means dropping some training aspects in favour of focusing on one area. I was willing to take a slight hit on the max performance in any one area in favour of seeing what overall gains I could achieve in each area.

“It is strange how training gains feed through in unexpected ways!”

Over the last 8 weeks, in each week I have been trying to fit in 1 or 2 repeater sessions, 1 or 2 max hang sessions and 2 or 3 campus sessions over 5 climbing days. I find that the explosiveness required for campusing has greatly benefitted my fingerboarding performance in general, even within the same session. Also, it has paid not to read too much into what number of days on you’ve had on for any given session. Often my best sessions have been on my 3rd day on. It seems to be more important how long ago your last session of any particular exercise was (e.g. you are more likely to have a good repeater session if your last session was a week ago rather than 2 days ago). It is strange how training gains feed through in unexpected ways!

Raven Tor by Luke Dawson

Personally, since starting to exclusively train footless 8 weeks ago, I have seen my repeaters performance go up noticeably. For example, I am now adding up to 5kg of weight on front 2 and sloper repeater hangs where I could not complete a single set 8 weeks ago. I have managed to improve my 10 second max hang weight on the Beastmaker 2000 lower outside (15mm) edges by over 50%. A lot of this is probably due to me not having previously tried max hangs before. With any new exercise, gains will be rapid with a new stimulus. On the one arm hangs, I recently managed a full 10 second hang on my right arm from the lower Beastmaker 2000 central slot (with full nestling unfortunately!). My previous best was 7 seconds. The left arm is not quite so good, sometimes we can’t have everything.

This has been a great opportunity to fully focus on strength training when bouldering or routes would normally take a significant chunk of effort away. I’m not sure whether a lack of proper climbing will negate any gains made, let me get back to you on that!


Words by Ted Kingsnorth see his profile on the Scarpa Team pages. All photography is by Ted, Sam Pratt and Luke Dawson.

For more training tips see this article on Indoor Wall Training by Alasdair Kennedy.

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