Hangboarding 101

hangboard

Hard climbing requires strong fingers, no two ways about it. Used properly, a hangboard(aka fingerboard) is the straightest path towards a stronger grip and staving off finger injuries.

Who is it For

Hangboards aren’t for everyone. If you’ve just started climbing in the last few months or if you’re not climbing at least 2 times a week, climbing more often will do you much more good than hanging off a piece of plastic.

Ideal hangboard users are those who have climbed regularly for a while and are weak at a certain grip type. If on the other hand, you’re falling on routes regardless of the hold type, it indicates your time would be better spent climbing to improve movement skills, technique and endurance.

Another good reason to use a hangboard is if you simply don’t have the time to get out to the gym as often as possible. A hangboard, in this case, can be a good way to keep fit in the mean time.

The Protocol

Hangs from a hangboard need to be done with the shoulder blades engaged to prevent shoulder injury. Elbows should be kept slightly bent, not fully locked out.

There are 2 main grips to work on a hangboard:

The Drag(aka open hand)

drag

The drag, sometimes referred to as open-hand, is one where the finger joints are all bending in the normal, natural way inwards, and you have maximum skin contact with a hold. This is the way you hold a baseball bat, a milk jug, or palm a basketball(if your hands are big enough!)

The drag is a grip used on not one type of hold but many: Jugs, slopers, and medium edges are all often suitable for “dragging”.

Beginners are often a bit weak on this grip, whereas veterans who have injured a pulley may have a very strong drag.

The Crimp

While the drag is versatile, hard climbing requires some degree of crimping, especially outdoors where holds are not always finger-friendly.

A crimp is not strictly a single grip, but any grip where the first joint of the finger is hyperextended(bending the “wrong” way).

A crimp can be a full crimp, or a half crimp, aka open crimp.

fullcrimp

A full crimp(aka closed crimp) is when the first joint is severely hyperextended and the 2nd joint is at a sharp angle, forming a kind of triangular structure to the hand. The full crimp is structurally supported to a significant extent by the soft tissues of the finger, especially the injury-prone pullies, which is why it’s often cited as a “dangerous” grip to use.

While the tiny edges outside on the rock force us to use the full crimp outside sometimes, there is an alternative crimp grip which is safer to use for training purposes indoors.

halfcrimp

A half crimp is where the 2nd joint of the finger is at a 90 degree angle and the 1st joint is straight or slightly hyperextended. This grip is useful for smaller edges, as well as moving off slopers.

A half crimp has similar benefits to a full crimp and works the same muscles, but is much kinder on the joints, ligaments and pulleys than a full crimp. A half crimp is also known as an open crimp.

The half crimp is an active grip because it is actively supported by the forearm muscles and simply collapses into a drag position when those muscles tire. This means it’s better training wise since it puts more stress on the muscle(the same muscles used for a full crimp), and also safer since tiring on a half crimp just collapses it into a relatively safe drag grip.

For safety and training reasons we never train crimp strength with a full crimp, but only with a a half crimp. Since finger lengths vary, make sure your most crimped finger is not exceeding 90 degrees for training purposes. If you have to crimp more than 90 degrees to hold a grip – it means you’re not ready for it and should cheat(see below) until you get stronger

Warm Up

Hangboarding is obviously very tough on the fingers. Warm up the hands and the upper body properly. Pushups, pullups and stretching is good. Before going into harder grips make sure to warm up on a variety of easier grips first. A few pullups on large open hand and crimp grips  with stretching in between is a good simple warmup.

Repeaters

Repeaters are the standard and most conservative fingerboard workout. On holds which you can deadhang for over 20 seconds, hang full intensity for 6-8 seconds, off for 3 seconds and then on again, repeating 6 to 7 times. Beastmaker recommends  7 seconds on, 3 seconds off, 6 times.

Deadhangs

Deadhangs are the most basic workout. Simply use your preferred hold, grip with proper form and hang with your feet off the ground.

For safety reasons, hangs should be longer than 5 seconds, otherwise you’re not ready for this grip and you should either cheat or move to an easier hold.

For training reasons, hangs shouldn’t exceed 20 seconds, otherwise you’re training forearm endurance, not finger strength. If you can hold a hold longer than 15 or 20 seconds, you can either try doing repeaters on the same grip, or make things harder by using a smaller hold or adding weight. Deadhangs are pure strength workouts and you should never feel pumped.

Cheating

Don’t worry you’re not being judged, cheating is highly encouraged when hangboarding. Especially if your hangboard has less holds, you may find you may want to train a certain hold, but dont have the strength to use it properly yet.

In this case you can cheat. A foot on the ground is the easiest way. Over time you’ll get stronger and need to take less weight off — progress!

Structuring Workouts

Start off with 1 fingerboard workout a week. If you climb a lot , this could be all you need. If you only climb on the weekends, you could up this to 2 or 3 sessions during the week.

Hangboard workouts are strength workouts, not endurance, so you should stop well before you feel physically tired. Rest well(2 minutes or more) between sets, you’re not aiming to get pumped.

Hangboarding shouldn’t be done in a vacuum but with consideration of  your climbing and adapted accordingly. If you’ve been doing especially crimpy climbing, say you hit up BCC this weekend, you may consider skipping your next weekly fingerboard session or  work on your drag– you won’t need to work your crimp and doing so may cause an overuse injury.  If you’ve been jug hauling at Xinyi and Neihu Sports center on the other hand, a half crimp repeater session could do you a lot of good.

The day after a good hangboard session it’s common to have some soreness deep in the forearm muscles. Some slight stiffness in the fingers upon waking up which quickly goes away is common as well.  Any pain, swelling, or lingering stiffness is a sign to back off.

References

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