Monday, February 27, 2012

Frequently Asked Questions about Progression and Finger Strength Training (II)

Question about Finger Training Methodology
November the 22nd, 2011
By Joaquín

Hi Eva,

I will tell you some details of my experience... Some time ago I started with sport climbing, but I didn't feel committed enough and so I ended up retreating into the gym, without the need of a specific training. A year ago I discovered that I was more comfortable bouldering, and I wanted to make progress... The online-guinea-pig thing looks interesting, so I'll tell you about my training and you'll see what you make of it.
Mi height is 167 cm and my weight 67 kg with 13% body fat. I own an old top30 fingerboard, on which I do the following training:

Sets an rest period: I do 3 sets to exhaustion without added weight: 2 on a 20 mm edge and 1 on a 15 mm edge; the rest between sets is 3'.
Effort duration: on the 20 mm edge I usually reach failure at 30-35'', and 25-30'' for the 15mm one depending on the day.

I also distribute the other weekly contents like this:
Monday: training with weights
Tuesday: at the climbing gym, 4 boulder problems that I am able to do and 2 or 3 that I'm not
Wednesday: the finger training session I described previously
Thursday: gym, similar to Tuesday
Friday: training with weights
Weekend: go out bouldering if I can...

Well, I know that's a handful, thank in advance.

Well, Joaquín, thank you for your confidence in my opinion.

Let's take one aspect of your plan at a time:

Firstly it's been proven that training to "muscular failure" has a similar effect on increasing maximum strength than stopping 1 or more repetitions before total exhaustion (this margin I will expand on later is called Effort Level (EL).
Failure is something we seek when training strength-endurance, but only if we have enough experience with it.

Secondly, using those exertion lengths (15'' or more) has an effect on finger endurance, but not on maximum strength. Furthermore, and according to my research, you will improve your endurance for those edge depths but not for the smaller ones.

So, given your mark of 35'' on 20 mm, I suggest you perform twice a week for 8 weeks (resting at least 48 hours between sessions) the following periodization or combination of methods:

    a) 4 weeks of 3-4-5-5 sets (i.e. 1st week 3 sets,2st week 4 sets... last week 5 sets) of 10-second repetitions with 3' rest between them; the edge depth would be 20 mm and the Effort Level (EL) 3, meaning that you would choose the amount of added weight that would permit you to hang for 13 (10+3) seconds but you hang only for 10 seconds; this is written 10''(3).

    b) 4 weeks of 3-4-5-5 sets of dead hangs on the smallest edge that you can hold for 10''(3) (effort level of 3) and resting 3' between sets. By the way, for the second week this would be expressed like this: 4 x 10''(3) :3'. The figure after the colon denotes the resting time.

The key aspect with the training is controlling and adjusting the training load. This is completely individual and you may have to adjust the training load every day or even set if you wish to progress. I recommend to keep the same EL throughout a period, and to increase/decrease the amount of weight/edge size every day and even every set as your strength and performance changes.
Endless progression in "Convex and Concave" by M. C. Escher

With this methodology, based on the conclusions of my research, you will be able to:

-Increase your maximum time on the 20 mm edge
-Hold from smaller edges than before
-Hold longer to medium (20-15 mm) and small (11 mm or less) edges
-Decrease the delay between grabbing a hold and applying the maximum force on it (to shorten time to peak force), therefore saving on power and duration of the grip, delaying fatigue

The description of this periodization and the study it's based on are in the following (soon to be translated into English) blog entry:

If later on you want to improve your power-endurance over small edges, you could use the intermittent dead hangs method, that can be found in the training guidelines that are included with each Progression or Transgression fingerboard; or in the following video:

Question about Managing the Effort Duration when preparing a Finger Training Periodization
December the 2nd, 2011
By Tato

Hi Eva, how's everything going?
I have the following question:

Why 10 seconds? Wouldn't it be advisable to modify the "time" parameter so you can vary the "edge size" parameter accordingly?

To make myself clear: currently, when performing dead hangs, I only use small edges. I feels it helps me to avoid injuries and the smaller edges are one of my weak points. Changing the edge even in 1 mm steps doesn't look like much, but they are big leaps for me and the process requires time, adaptation and effort.

I can't do 10'' repetitions on 8 mm but I'm able to do 5'' repetitions. I have noticed that, while I was getting better on a given edge, I barely improved on the smaller ones. But in few sessions I have experienced gains in strength by varying the time and size parameters and the number of sets.

I wait for your opinion, and wish you good luck in everything.

Hi Tato,

It's true that the time parameter can be adjusted, it is the equivalent of doing more or less repetitions in other exercises like weight lifting or pull-ups.
Remember that the first periodization that I proposed time ago, consisted of just 8 weeks doing 10-second repetitions, and that is fine to begin. But clearly we don't want to keep repeating that kind of load time and again because we wouldn't progress.
Of course, the parameters have to be changed. And after playing with the EL (explained above) we can vary the duration of the effort. Congratulations, you have worked out by yourself the appropriate planning strategy ;)

The type of periodization that you have chosen, with shorter effort duration on smaller edges (or with more added weight) is precisely the one that I propose in the training guidelines for the Transgression fingerboard. I will give more details about it in a future entry.

Anyway, if you look at the poster that comes with Progression, in the suggested training plan I first advise to lower the EL from (5) to (3), and gradually go from 15 to 12 and finally 10'' because this is the most advisable path for the potential users of Progression or those who start training in a systematic way.

Progression in our gym. And besides it the poster with the training guidelines
In the poster that accompanies Transgression, I show periodizations where the EL goes from (3) to (1), and the effort duration from 10" to 8" and then 5''. There's also mention of an advanced variant that would consist of 3-second repetitions, for short periods of 2-4 weeks maximum.

The same goes for intermittent dead hangs for developing strength-endurance, where I even give the possibility of using added weight (3-5x4-6x10"-5":3"-5"/1').

Now regarding the use of methods without added weight: they are indicated for lower and medium level climbers, and I guess for you too, because you still don't reach the 8-second mark on a 10 mm edge. With them you can certainly improve a lot, and they are what's used during the first phases of training on Progression.

My pupil Nacho Sánchez in Entropía, 8C. Castillo de Bayuela (Toledo). Photo by Raúl Santano
But once you have consolidated the basics (more than 35-40'' on 20 mm or 15-20'' on 10 mm), I suggest you use added weight and edges of 20 or 18 mm, because according to my investigations this is more effective and has less danger of injuries, allowing you to hold smaller edges for longer, and to apply the maximum force faster. A possible explanation of this being more effective than training without added weight on small edges is that with the added weight the muscular activation is greater. It would be interesting to test whether hanging from really small edges is associated to improvements in maximum strength through an increased coordination, or if there are neural developments that allow us to maintain the level of precision needed to optimize the small contact area of the fingers with the edge, apart from others that are mentioned in the study by Bourne et col. (2011).

My pupil Luis Alfonso Félix sending Black Block, 9a+ . Cuenca. Photo by Javipec
To summarize, if your 10-second training edge is 10-9 mm and you feel you have a lot of room for improvement, keep using the small edges method, because your body weight and the edge depth are still enough to produce enough muscular activation and hence gains in strength. You can try this:

-10 seconds for 4 to 8 weeks
-8 seconds in a 4-week cycle
-a last cycle of 5 seconds for 2 to 4 weeks

Once you have achieved a certain level, though, training first with added weight and then without it is more effective regarding my research. Both for developing maximum strength and strength-endurance on small edges.
More articles here 


  1. Hi Eva, brilliant work and very interesting articles, thanks for sharing! To maintain "Effort Level (EL) 3" throughout a period, do you suggest increasing the amount of weight/decreasing size of edge as strength and performance increases? Or should these factors be kept the same for the full period? Thanks, Simon.

    1. Hi Simon

      Thank you!
      This is the basic issue of absolute load (edge size or amount of added weight) versus relative load (EL).
      I suggest to keep constant the relative load or EL for the full period and to increase/decrease the absolute load (edge size or amount of added weight) accordingly as performance changes.

      If we used always the same weight/edge (absolute load), we would be changing the relative load or EL(perhaps from 3 to 5 seconds) and thus lowering the training load.

      The EL is fundamental to my methodology. It allows us to keep a consistent training load. If we respect it, we will increase our absolute load if we feel strong, so we will get enough stimulus to obtain gains; when we feel not so strong, or we are tired, it will advise us to lower the absolute load to avoid overtraining or injury.


  2. Hi Eva,

    Thanks for sharing your experience. The training articles are impressive and very interesting.
    I like the analytical approach.
    I haven't had chance to try the new boards yet though.

    I wonder, in general do you use a training diary/log in your training? If you do, could you share some details, how you manage and use such log?


    1. Hi Mat,

      Thank you!

      Your question could be a good topic for a future entry. Meanwhile...yes, of course! Using a training log is very important for me. I'm always writting a lot of things up on it.

      Using a training log help us to develop awareness about some points that otherwise we overlook. According to the scientific literature, those who practice sel-analysis and self-knowledge, are on their way to obtain the control and direction of their own process of improvement.

      Some examples of details that you could write up: feelings during each repetition and rest period when working a power endurance route in the gym, kgs added or weight/size edges used in every set; weaknesses and strengths; stressor or distractor thoughts that come up during training session or redpointing, etc.

      Best regards

    2. Eva,

      Thank you for your reply and the very good hints. Looking forward to reading about training diary/log ideas here in future :)


  3. Eva,
    I was curious what benchmark number of sets and repetitions you would say a climber of the 8a routes/7c boulder should have - and what it would take to progress to 8b routes / 8a boulder using your training methodology. I really enjoy and appreciate your perspective and thank you for sharing what seems like a secretive art of climbing training!

    I have a hard time imagining hanging 4 or 5 times and making any progress so maybe I dont understand your 'sets' - I would think it would require hanging many many times - but youre the expert - can you explain it to me since im a 'dummy'? thanks so much

    1. Hi,

      Wow, very interesting questions!

      Answer #1:
      I'm not in favor of using only the climbing level to recommend a certain training schedule, I'd need to take in to consideration other relevant individual factors. I know 7a+ climbers who score really high on maximum finger strength tests, and others who climb 8a+ and have average values. As you know, there are lots of people who train a lot but seldom go to climb in rock; and others who climb a lot and can climb 8b without an extraordinary level of finger strength.
      The explanation to this is that even though finger strength is the key physical factor, it's not the only one. Also climbing needs technique, tactics and psychological factors... not to mention endurance, boulder or power endurance.
      So, to begin training your finger strength, the right starting point is to perform the initial test to assess your level, and then choosing the Progression methodology, or the Transgression one if your strength comes out as high.

      Regarding how much you can improve by following the finger methodology that I suggest in these entries... that will depend on personal factors. To give you a general view of the issue, according to a study I carried out with a group of 30 people ranging from 7a to 9a, that trained for 4 weeks with added weight (3-5 sets x10'' :3'), and then for another 4 weeks without added weight (3-5 sets x10'' :3'), the average gain in maximum strength was 33% (tested by the maximum added weight held for 5 seconds off a 15-mm edge) and 57% for strength-endurance (maximum hanging time off an 11-mm edge). In another study, with a group of 8a climbers, the average maximum strength increase was 9'6%, and 19'95% for strength-endurance.

    2. Answer #2:

      So you think doing 3-5 sets of 10'' is a bit short for a strength workout... don't worry, you're not alone! This is a really popular myth. It's easy to conclude that the more you train, the more you gain. But, when it comes to maximum strength, this is not necessarily true. Experimental investigations tend to show that the results are not better when you are able to increase your training volume. In one of the few studies that look at this issue, González Badillo et al. (2006) concluded that moderate volumes of strength training with relative high intensities demonstrate greater improvements in performance in experienced participants compared to high or low volumes of equal intensity.
      Also, in a meta-analysis of 140 studies by Rhea et col (2006), it was found that, both for trained and untrained people, the greatest increases in maximum strength were achieved with an average of 4 sets for each muscular group.
      From this it can be inferred that during the initial stages of training it's advisable to use the lowest possible stimulus that gives some results, which means doing 1-2 sets for every exercise, and on the mid-long term, progressing to 4-5 sets when you are very experienced.

      Best regards

  4. Hi Eva,

    you started a very nice blog.

    I would like to ask you something. What is the earliest age, you would recommand to start with fingerboard training?

    The reason behind my question: I am 14 years old, go climbing since 9 years. The last 5 years on a regular base, 2-3x times a week. My currend redpoint level is around 8a/+.

    Do I have to wait until my fingers are fully developed (18?) or can I start with a carefull training this days?

    Thanks for a short answer.



    PS: Translating your blog into german language, helps my school english a lot :-)))

  5. Hi Flo,

    My answer is based on evidence presented in an excelent review that I recommend to you: "Physiological responses to rock climbing in young climbers" (Morrison & Schöffl, 2011):

    - Climbers under 16 should not undertake intensive finger strength training.

    The reason is that a force that can produce a ligamentous tear in an adult is likely to incur more damage in a growing youngster (7-17 years) as the physis on their epiphyseal plates is two to five times weaker than the surrounding connective fibrous tissue. Pubescence is known to be a time associated with an increased risk of injuries and stress fractures.

    So, I recommend you to wait until you are 17 before starting to train fingerboard and campus board.

    Take care!

  6. Eva, youre the best! Is there a way you can provide links to the 'posters' in various languages for those of us who dont have access to them? I know in the US it might be a while before we can actually buy your board but it would be great to have one of the training posters / programs to study and try before we can buy a board.

    1. :-D Thank you!

      Currently, the posters are not available online, or sold separated from the hangboards for which they were created. The hangboards and their training guidelines currently form an inseparable set, and this has been this way since their inception; without one, the other wouldn't have made sense to me.

      Best regards

      Don't worry because we are on the verge to find a distributor in the U.S.

  7. Since you so easily entertain all my questions I will ask another seemingly unrelated question that I think in some strange way applies to your studies and training.

    I have noticed that most programs mention warm-ups, but on the other hand there are a few notable climbers who seem to jump straight onto difficult boulders and routes with no apparent warm up. Infact (not sure if you know who he is but...) boon speed of pusher developed a hangboard years ago after noticing that he was stronger from doing short hard hangs randomly (sounds a lot like your training) with no real training warm up just throughout the day hang for a few seconds and go on with your day... which seemed to work for him in sending his 8c(+) route project. To make a short story long - is there any evidence that warm ups may or may not be necessary in this type of training? it seems very curious

  8. hello Eva,

    First of all I want to thank you for sharing your training knowledge with us.
    I have got a question regarding finger position. If I read it all right than you suggested do train only open grip position. Why?

    1. Hi Mike,

      I will answer in a few days, ok? It has been a very busy time lately...

    2. Hi Mike,

      Thank you!
      With all due respect, I don't suggest to train only open grip position.

      In this comment, and this one you will find some explications:

      I hope that you have found the answer to your question.
      All the best

  9. Hi Eva.
    Thank you for your thoughtful work towards climbing and training.

    I respectfully disagree with your advice of 1 less rep than max as being equal to (or better) than failure. I only know of a few studies that suggest this and (I think) these studies are from untrained athletes. Heck, any exercise is effective on that population.

    It is my opinion that full failure is more effective on trained athletes because:
    1) It is better training on inhibiting the golgi tendon reflex. Especially in the fingers.
    2) Provides better anabolic response
    3) Is more quantitative because the "end point" is know, as opposed to "well, I think I might be able to do 1 or 2 more seconds (or reps)".

    Kyle Roseborrough

    1. Hi Kyle,

      Interesting question, I will answer in a few days, ok? It has been a very busy time lately...

    2. Hi Kyle,

      Excuse me for the delay in answering, the reason it took me so long is that I liked so much your question that I decided to make it into a blog post. But I didn't get around to doing it either, because I'm short of time.

      As you say, training to failure has a greater effect over:
      - Hypertrophy (or anabolic response)
      - Local endurance
      And these are not opinions, but scientifically proved facts.

      Now, when talking about maximum strength (with emphasis on neural adaptations), and power, this is no longer true. About the latter, it has been shown that it is significantly more effective doing repetitions at the maximum possible speed (or intent to contract as quickly as possible), but leaving a number of reps before exhaustion. In one of the most known -and valid- studies to this moment (Izquierdo, Gonzalez-Badillo, Kraemer, Hakkinen, and col (2006) which looked at trained athletes, it was observed that the gains were not significantly higher training to failure than not to failure. Other authors have come to the same conclusion with trained athletes. Also, here you have a link to an article commenting that study.

      Given the previous arguments, and that training to failure is related to an increased risk of injury, I prefer not to train to failure, but rather to take advantage of reductions in the margin or effort level throughout the season and between seasons. As an exception, and based on the recommendation of some authors, I sometimes train to failure, for 1-2 weeks or in the last set of a couple of sessions, with the objective of assessing the current level.

      Regarding the comparatively ease of load adjustment when training to failure, I don't see how this is necessarily true. Self-knowledge and learning -and honesty- about one's capacities and about the training process is part of an athlete's education, and an inherent skill of successful athletes. This said, in my experience it takes just 2-3 sessions to develop the ability of guessing how many seconds you have left. You can even perform a test session to determine the load:
      You can try to find the added weight or edge depth with which you reach failure in a given amount of time; this time would be the sum of the desired effort duration plus the effort level (for example, if you want to do 3x10"(3):3', the time to use in this failure test would be 10+3=13 seconds). Once the edge or weight has been determined, in the next [real training] session you will use it, but this time you will hang "only" for the stated 10''. From there on it's just a matter of adjusting the load for each set according to how much you feel your effort is diverging from the initial one.

      Thank you for your interesting comment

  10. hi eva

    i'd like to know what do you think about the micro and expsecially meso-cycle foer a medium-advanced climber. and why not also for a beginner. I'm usinig now the suggestions from "training for cliimbing" by J.Horst. he suggests a 3-2-1 mesocycle, that as you can know means 3 weeks of maximum strenght, 2 weeks of anaerobic endurance and the last week rest from any training but climbing.
    I'm climbing from 3 years now, but very continously didn't have noticable injuries.
    I'm sorry if i ask in the middle of an other post but i didn't find any other way than this.
    And i'm really sorry for my english, but i'm italian:)

    thank you

    1. Hi Stefano,

      I'm sorry but I don't think it's a good idea to start a new theme in the comments section. Perhaps someday I will publish an entry about periodization, and then will be the time to discuss the training plan you comment.
      Anyway, here you have a comment with a plan suggestion that could be interesting in the meantime.

      Thank you for your understanding

  11. Hi Eva,

    thanks for posting on your findings. I still am confused about the grip type. First of all, looking at the progression poster, I can't really tell what the difference is between half open crimp and open grip.

    Secondly, I see that you stated "I strongly recommend you to try to get used to the open grip." But on the poster, if I understood it correctly, the phases says the training should be done with half crimp.

    Also, the grip type for the tests on the different edges are either not stated, or said to be with half crimp when reading your blog posts and comments.

    The reason I ask is because when I hang on the 10 mm edge, I can do about 10-15" in half crimp, but more than 20" with open hand (I think so, but it might be open crimp...). What prevents me from hanging longer time is not really strength failure, but the skin starting to hurt. Would I be ok for the Transgression, or should I still go with Progression? And what grip type should I use for the training?

    //Jonas Löfling

  12. Sorry, a clarification, I always thought you have either closed crimp, or open crimp, and open grip. You have provided pictures on the poster (IIRC) of half-crimp, open crimp and open grip. This is what has made me confused.

    1. Hi Fling,

      Sorry for taking so long to answer you, I didn't find the time to do it before going on holidays. This is the 4th comment ( here, here, and here). I get regarding this issue, an indication that I probably will have to revise the posters and publish an entry to clear it all. But for now:

      - For a given person grabbing an edge of a certain small size (<18-20mm), the main difference between their open crimp or open grip and their half-crimp will be in the amount of flexion in the proximal interphalangical joints (the ones between the first and second phalanges); in the open grip there will be less flexion (<90º), and the index and little fingers will probably be almost extended. This can be seen as an attempt of performing open hand on a small edge (less than 22-24mm) while keeping all four fingers in contact with the edge. Being the little one as short as it usually is, this forces us to flex the longer ones (normally the middle and ring fingers) to maintain the ergonomics of the grip. As a result, the latter adopt a half-crimp position, while the shorter ones (index and little finger)look more like open hand.

      If we wanted to work an "strict" open hand on small edges (<18-20mm), that is, with a low (around 30º) flexion of the proximal interphalangical joints and flexion of the distal ones, we should have to leave the little finger out, using only the three longer fingers

      - Which of them use with the hangboard? As I said in previous answers: take your pick. That's why the poster has a figure labelled "OK grip types". The full or closed crimp is struck through because it is more prone to injury, and I don't recommend it for training dead-hangs. However, I haven't implied that the training "should only be done with the half-crimp". It was used throughout all the training examples, though, and perhaps that's been the source of the confusion. If you read carefully the poster, you will notice that under "Training Methodology" I recommend the following:
      "Grip type used: starting with the half crimp or open crimp position and proceeding to training with the open hand".
      The conclusion is that you can use this planning and methodology with whatever grip type you favor at a given time.

      - What kind of grip, then, should you use to test yourself for self- evaluation or when deciding which board to buy? The one that you are going to use, because you want to improve it or because it's what you have been training already. It's your choice. If you are training or plan to train with the open grip, that's what you will use for your tests. The same goes for the rest of grip types.

      - Lastly, it's true that with the open hand and open crimp or open grip the role of friction is bigger than it is for the half crimp when compared to the amount of strength needed. This entails a greater risk of abrasions or cuts on the skin. Once again, it's up to each one to weigh the options and decide.

      I hope to have clarified your doubts sufficiently.

      Best regards