In part two of this mini-series Ned Feehally looks at advanced fingerboard training to improve strength and stamina.
This article is aimed at those of you who have done a bit of fingerboarding before, or are simply dead strong and want some ideas about how to make a new fingerboard training plan for maximum gains.
Rather than offering example training plans, this will simply offer advice and ideas about various fingerboarding exercise and how they can be used and built up into a fingerboard workout. It is presumed that you will have read the previous article and maybe even done some of the exercises. If there is anything you don't understand, the chances are it will be explained there.
The idea with fingerboarding is to place a load on the fingers, to which your body will respond by making the fingers stronger. Finger strength is climbing. Without it you will not climb hard. It's that simple.
Back in the days of lycra, fingerboarding generally consisted of doing maximum 1 armed hangs off an edge. This is great and played a part in forming some of the strongest sets of fingers the world has ever seen (Malcolm Smith, Jerry Moffatt, Ben Moon etc.) however more recently a few new ideas are floating about.
The idea of training the hand as groups of fingers, rather than a whole hand is seldom practiced, but I think it is incredibly useful. Dan Varian wrote an excellent article about this "3,2,1 theory" which can be found on the Beastmaker website (http://www.beastmaker.co.uk/Grip-article.htm). Basically it suggests to train the fingers in groups. Start training them in a 4, then remove a finger - so your hanging off the front 3 or back 3 fingers. When this gets too easy, remove another finger, and train on front 2, middle 2 and back 2. Eventually you're down to hanging on one finger, effectively training them one at a time ("but at least the others get plenty of rest...").
This technique allows you to identify weaknesses in your fingers, and train them specifically (i.e. a lot of people have a very weak "back 2" and find that their overall hand strength increases alarmingly when their "back 2" strength begins to catch up with the strength of their front 2.
This same logic can be applied (albeit a bit more dangerously) to crimping. First you hang on 4 fingers, crimped. They you move on to hanging front 3 and back 3 etc. However you will probably stop before graduating onto the 1 finger crimps as by then you will find climbing far too easy and will have retired in order to give everyone else a chance to catch up.
Below are the main exercises that can be done on a fingerboard. It is worth experimenting with these to find a combination of exercise that suits you and your goals, and allows for most rapid progress. The idea is not to create a training plan for you, but to give the tools to create one for yourself, that is tailored exactly to your goals.
These exercises can be done on any combination of numbers of fingers. Taking off fingers is an excellent way of increasing difficulty. Do be careful though...
Hang for a set time, rest for a set time. Repeat. These are very effective and will leave you feeling beaten, but are perhaps more geared towards the power endurance end of things. This however does mean that you make faster gains with this than the more maximum strength based exercises. Repeaters can be altered almost infinitely to change their difficulty:
I have had a lot of success training with repeaters over the years. They seem like the best way to leave you feeling like you have had a proper workout, and that can't be a bad thing!
Very old school but very good. Basically hang off a hold until you can't any more. Aim to hang for a minimum of 3 seconds and a maximum of 8. This type of fingerboarding can lead to very rapid gains at first (mostly neuromuscular) as your muscles "learn" how to contract in sync, but over time progress will slow down. Don't let this get you down though,try to measure progress in terms of months rather than weeks and days. You're bound to have the odd bad session here and there. You will not improve consistently session on session for weeks on end - however if you do, please let me know what you're doing/taking...
You want to be failing because your fingers are letting go, not because your arms are giving out, but it is presumed that if you are keen enough to be reading this article you have done a bit of training before and can probably lock off on 1 arm anyway.
Aim to do the hangs with arms at different angles of lock. Don't hang straight armed on anything as it can but stress on your shoulders and elbows and can lead to injury.
As mentioned in the previous article, these can all be applied to almost all fingerboard exercises. You can use them in combination or on their own to vary the intensity of each exercise allowing a lot of adjustment to the difficulty. This helps you to avoid getting stuck on a training plateau. When progress slows down, mix it up and try something different. The chances are this will shock your body in to improving again.
To make the exercises harder you can:
To make exercises easier you can:
Quality over quantity
Remember, as with any strength training exercises the emphasis should be on quality over quantity. As soon as you get too tired to perform near your maximum you should stop. I find that it is better to split a days training into 2 session rather than do it in one. For example, have a short open handing session in the morning, and a short crimping session in the evening, rather than trying to do it all at once which will probably lead to boredom and tiredness preventing you from doing the exercises properly. Alternatively you could do 2 short sessions over 2 days, rather than doing it all in one day.
You will probably find that at first you make very rapid improvements, but over time these will slow down. This is mainly as in the first few sessions your muscles adapt and "learn" how to perform that particular exercise, so your performance will improve rapidly. After this it will slow down, but stick with it. Be patient and measure progress over months rather than weeks. If you put in the time and effort you will improve but it might take longer than it feels like it should! Just keep it up.
Mix it up
If you are using fingerboarding to supplement other forms of training then plan it around these so you can get the most out of each individual session. A simple example would be that if you are training endurance, as well as maximum finger strength for a route project, fingerboard first (on day 1, or session 1) then train endurance on the 2nd session. Another example is that you could fingerboard on the first session, concentrating on open handing, then climb on a board on the 2nd session, concentrating on crimping. It is possible to fit in a lot of training as long as you keep it mixed up. As long as you vary what you train, you can get more training done in the time you have available, so ultimately improve more rapidly.
I tend to mix up my fingerboarding a lot. I do 4 to 6 weeks on a particular set off exercises, then I change so I am doing something different for the next 4 to 6 week block. An example is:
4-6wks of repeaters on pockets (front 2, middle 2 and back 2) and 4 finger, half crimp repeaters on small edges.
4-6 wks of maximum hangs on 3 fingers (open) and 4 fingers (half crimped) - doing a combination of 1 and 2 armed hangs.
4-6 weeks off fingerboarding - mainly climbing on a steep board, making sure to work the body as much as the fingers (long moves, wide moves, undercuts etc).
Training pinches is very hard. Usually the best advice is "climb on pinches" or "do pull ups on some beams". Unfortunately there are never enough pinches around when you need them, and when hanging on parallel beams you tend to use a lot of compression in your arms, rather than thumb strength to hang them.
To remedy this situation I made a pinch training device. Device is perhaps a bit of a strong word for a block of wood on a string, but it works! (see video)
This totally isolates your pinching "muscles" as you cant use anything else but thumb opposition to hold it. As with fingerboarding the difficulty is altered by changing the weight attached to the block. I do a combination of repeaters and maximum "lifts" which seem to work well.
Motivation comes from having goals which you want to work towards. Have short term (within the next few months), medium term (within the next few years) and life long goals. Each of these will help you to focus your training, keeping you motivated for endless hours hanging off a piece of wood.
So that's it. I hope this has provided you with at least one bit of useful information.
Video produced by Ned Feehally and James Blay
All Images - Dave MacFarlane.
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