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Finger strength is arguably the most important factor for climbers in general, to progress in bouldering you’ll need to get comfortable with a variety of holds. There will come a point in time where you can't rely on your climbing technique. Therefore, specific finger strength training is needed to progress.
I will explain everything you need to know about finger strength in this article.
What is Finger Strength
First of all lets talk about the anatomy and the complexity of the human hand. The human hand consists of 19 joints; 15 of which are located in the fingers. The joints of the hands are surrounded by tendons and ligaments. Tendons connect the muscles to the bones and can withstand a great amount tension. The ligaments are connected to the bones of the hands and provide stability. Tendons and ligaments have a bad blood supply and are less metabolic compared to muscles. Therefore, it takes much more time to strengthen them.
The hand also consist of many muscles that play a major role in strengthening your finger and grip strength. Luckily for us, we don't have to train all those muscles, tendons and ligaments individually. So Finger strength is a combination of strong thick tendons, ligaments and muscles located in the hands and the forearms.
How to improve your Finger Strength
We now know that we have to strengthen our muscles surrounding the hands and the forearms, and especially our finger joints. But how do we actually do that in a proper way without getting injures. In my opinion the best way for gaining finger strength is by using a hangboard.
What is a hangboard
A hangboard is a tool that climbers use aside from bouldering or climbing to strengthen their fingers in a very specific way. The hangboard contains various holds such as: slopers (different degrees), flat edges (small and large), 1 finger pockets, 2 finger pockets, jugs and many more. The holds can also be combined, for example combining a flat edge hold with a 2 finger hold. Combining holds is ideal because you can progress step-by-step. Progressing in small steps is also important to stay injury free.
How to use a hangboard
Before we will jump into the hangboard workouts, it's important to know how to use a hangboard properly.
Here are some points to pay attention to:
- Activate your shoulder blades in a retracted position instead of doing a dead hang when you're hanging. This is because when you're climbing or bouldering the shoulder blades are in a retracted position too (most of the times), so it's a good way to get used to it.
- Don't fully lock your elbow joints, instead have slight bent in your arms.
- Put your fingers all the way into the finger pockets and holds. It's important to use as much space as possible because it will reduce the amount of pressure on the fingers. And therefore the risk of injury.
- You should stop your workout when you feel pain in your fingers. Unlike other workouts pain is no gain on the hangboard, listen to your body's warning system!
- Most of the time you can avoid pain in your fingers by doing a good warm-up. The best way to warm-up is by moving your fingers in all possible directions for a couple of minutes. The purpose of this is to increase to blood flow in your fingers. After that try grabbing the easiest holds on your hangboard for a couple of sets, NEVER SKIP THE WARM-UP.
- Use chalk. It's important to have the best grip as possible to focus purely on gaining finger/grip strength without the fear of slipping away from the hangboard.
Now that we know how to use a hangboard properly it's time for the workout.
The minimum rest workout
This workout mimics boulder routes because the rest period between hanging is less than 6 seconds. I personally prefer this workout because you can experiment with variety of holds.
Pick 3+ different holds that you can hang on to for 7 seconds or more. For example, you picked these 3 holds: the large edge, the large uncut jug and the medium sized edge.
Start with the easiest hold in this case the large uncut jug is the easiest, then the large edge and the hardest is the medium-sized edge.
Perform 5-7 holds of 7-10 seconds and 4-5 seconds quick resting time with a rest period of 2-3 minutes before going to the next hold.
So for example hold the large uncut jug for 10 seconds, rest 5 seconds, repeat it 7 times. Then hold the large edge for 7 seconds, rest 4 seconds, repeat 6 times. Finally, hold the medium-sized edge for 7 seconds, rest 5 seconds, repeat 5 times.
The high endurance workout
Building up endurance in your forearms and fingers is very important in bouldering because it will allow you to extent your climbing sessions. Some boulder routes are pretty lengthy and takes a lot of your energy, so to keep on climbing you'll need muscle endurance.
Pick a hold where you can hang on to for 15-35 seconds (for a couple of sets).
Perform 5-10 sets (holds) with a rest period of 60 seconds between the sets.
For example hold the large incut jug for 25 seconds, then rest 60 seconds, repeat 8 times.
Easy but very effective to increase your muscle endurance.
Which hangboard should I buy?
There are a lot of hangboards to choice from on the internet. To make it a bit more easy, I have found the best hangboards based on: quality, price, sustainability, and personal experience.
1: Metolius Wood Grip Hangboard (compact version)
This hangboard is made of incredibly solid wood and is especially a great board for beginners. It contains jugs, a big sloper, edges and pockets. Also, has a deluxe version which contains way more holds for the price of $99,95. (includes mounting hardware)
2: The Simulator 3D
If you want enough holds to choice from and progress step by step, then this is the hangboard you're looking for. Available in different colors. (includes mounting hardware)
3: Metolius Project Board
The project board has the best price quality relationship in my opinion. Available in different colors. (includes mounting hardware)
The Campus Board
The reason I didn't mention the campus board in the beginning, is because it's a tool for (advanced) climbers.
In my opinion you should only implement a campus board training when you're climbing for 1,5/2 years. With a climbing grade of V4/5 or 6a+,6b minimum. Experts say even a bit higher. The campus board puts immense stress on the fingers and forearms which can lead to injury if you're a beginner in bouldering. Nevertheless, training on a campus board is extremely effective for making progress in bouldering.
What is a campus board
The campus board is a wooden wall, usually 20° degrees from vertical, so the climber is in an overhanging position. The campus board contains various rungs of different sizes. One more difficult than the other. Besides improving finger and arm strength, the campus board is especially great for building up power and reach. Power stands for force multiplied velocity, which essentially means is increasing force and or velocity will increase your power. Good for us, the campus board does it both in a very efficient way.
Campus Board Workout
First of all, do a warm-up before you start training on the campus board. This is even more important than doing a warm-up before a hangboard training. Most climbers, including me, only use the campus board after the climbing session, which is the best warm-up in my opinion.
As the name implies laddering means hand over hand gripping the rungs without skipping any. You can use various rungs (holds) to make the training more effective and fun.
Begin by hanging on the first or 2nd rung with your arms in a bent position and your shoulders in a retracted activation.
Climb up as fast as possible, all the way to the top and jump off.
Rest for 3 minutes and do it over again.
To build up your reach, you have to do some explosive movements on the campus board.
Find a relatively easy hold to hang on to on the campus board.
Just like laddering begin by hanging with your arms slightly bent and activate your shoulders.
Try to reach as high as possible (grabbing a hold)
You can do it with 2 hands at the same time or with one hand. Mix it up for the best results!
Rest days between bouldering sessions
It really depends on whether you're a beginner or an advanced climber. Beginners should take 3 rest days between bouldering sessions, and when you're climbing a bit longer, then 2 days should be good. The most important thing is to listen to your body and give it the rest it needs. If you only did a hangboard workout then you should recover faster (depends on the workout). The same applies to a campus board workout.
Although bouldering regularly will help a lot to improve your finger strength, implementing the hangboard and the campus board into your training schedule will take you to the next level. Remember to listen to your body. And, have fun during training and bouldering sessions. Feel free to share this article if you found it helpful!