Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Why progression®?

I am going to keep on informing you about the fingerboard that I presented in the previous post, for those of you who are interested or have questions about it.

As I do it, I will provide background about the process that ended with the creation of this hangboard and its associated methodology.

Justification of  progression®

This fingerboard, and the training methodology I propose for it, have their origin in the following facts:

o The key physical performance factor in sport climbing is maximum finger strength

o The specific exercise for improving finger strength and endurance is the dead hang.

o The most representative grip used in sport climbing is the half-crimp, because is the most common on the small holds frequently found on difficult climbs; and the representative hold is the edge.

o We measure maximum finger strength with two related methods:
  • By the maximum added weight that we can hold for 5 seconds when hanging from an edge of a certain depth.
  • By the smallest edge that we can hold our body weight from for 5 seconds.
o We measure finger endurance by the maximum time we can hang off an edge of a certain depth.

o In my research, I found that increasing maximum finger strength also increases finger endurance without performing finger endurance training. Also, that this gain is bigger than the one obtained by training only finger endurance without previously having developed a high enough level of maximum finger strength.  Also, for climbers with a lower level of maximum strength who want to train specifically their finger strength-endurance, the gains in the latter -as measured by a test of maximum time on an 11 mm edge- will be greater if they first improve their finger maximum strength than if they start training their finger strength-endurance right away (unpublished data, manuscript in preparation). (Edited 2012-07-26 because previous paragraph was incomplete and ambiguous-->Thank you very much to my attentive readers ;-))

o An effective training is the one that meets the principles of specificity, overload and individuality, and to achieve these it's fundamental to control and adjust the training load.

o The most important variables for the training load that we need to control in order to develop maximum finger strength are, for a given duration of the effort:
  • The Size or depth of the edge
  • The % of Body Mass or amount of Added Weight when hanging from a given edge
o Climbers with a low or medium level of finger strength, and/or those who haven't previously undergone intensive finger training, get significant results using medium intensity methods without the need of using added weight, because their body weight is enough to provide the load needed to induce positive adaptation.

o Persistence and motivation are key for improving performance in the long run, and they stem from enjoying what you do, choosing when to do it, and working day by day focusing on self-improvement, effort and continuous learning.
These scientifically tested facts mean that a reliable and consistent fingerboard needs to have a set of characteristics, like precision. The maximum error in edge depth is ±0.3 mm, in order to make the training experience consistent across boards.

In the meantime I will try to answer your questions in this blog or in FAQ entries that will be available soon.

Thank you for your interest.
More articles here 


  1. so, what specific exercises are you suggesting? Dead hang for five seconds, how many repetitions@

    1. Welcome anonymous! Yours is the first comment in this blog, hehe

      I mention the 5-second dead hangs with maximum added weight or minimum edge size for the purpose of measuring finger strength, Ok? That's just a test, I am not referring to training in that paragraph.

      Regarding repetitions, I will tell you in detail in the next entries, Ok?

  2. looking forward to it... I like the website and on-line training concept!

  3. Hi,
    First thanks for this blog. I want to ask why 5 sec. or not 8 or 3.

    1. Hi, Dr Electro

      Thank you for your appreciation and for a really good question!

      There is a lag between the moment we start applying force and the moment when we reach our maximum force; this is called activation time and takes around 3-4 seconds. If a person can hold a load for 5 seconds, it means that he or she is at about 97% of the maximum force, which seemed to us like a good compromise.

      The reason not to go down to 3 sec. is that the scientific literature warns us against the use of 100% loads because of the risk of injury. It would have also meant using smaller edges, that is potentially bad for your skin, and bigger added weight, that can lead to lower back pain. This would interfere in the normal course of the training plan.

      8 seconds corresponds to an intensity lower than 95%, and as such less representative of isometric maximum force.


  4. Hi,

    I would like to know how do you deal with different hand sizes? Doesn't it interfers at least on the tests to see if the board suits my strength?
    Congratulations on your new blog, and thank you for sharing some of the interesting results from your research!

    Looking forward to see more,
    Pedro Blois.

    1. Thank you, Pedro

      The issue you raise was in my mind when the time came to design one of my studies (2005, not published). So I measured the length of the middle finger, more precisely that of the distal phalanx, of every individual, and then correlated it with the tests for maximum time on edges of depths 6, 8, 10, 12, and 14 mm. No correlation was found between them.

      Recently there has been a really interesting study by Bourne et al. (2011) that adds some findings that you will like: he did not find correlation between the force applied on very small edges (4.3 and 2.8 mm) and the maximum force applied on a 12.5-mm one. But he did find correlation with anthropometric factors like the distance between the end of the bone (distal phalanx) and the fingertip: the volume of the fingertip pulp.

      The variety of hand and finger sizes among climbers was taken into account, however, when designing the fingerboards; tests and samplings were carried out. The result is most noticeable in the overhanging profile and the vertical separation between edges. It's such that there is room for big fingers, but they are close enough that your knuckles will touch the board if you do a full crimp (which I strongly discourage), warning or penalizing those who try ;)

      Thank you for your question, answering it has been very enriching.

    2. Thank you very much for the attention and congratulations on the seriousness of your research! I love explanations with experimental background.
      I have a campus board and it is a little hard to keep track of the time past while doing the exercises because of the lack of a chronometer nearby. Have you thought of selling a customized chronometer for training (especific for climbing) purpose?
      One where you can set the # of repetitions, time of each dead hang, time of rest etc.?

      Pedro Blois.

    3. I forgot to say that the idea would be it to come embedded with your boards.

      Pedro Blois.

    4. Yes, Pedro, that is certainly a good idea! We could -perhaps in the near future- include these gadgets (chronometer, little abacus, brush...) in our hangboards ;-)

      Thank you!

  5. Eva,
    Thanks for the blog! Looking forward to increasing my training knowledge. I am in desperate need of a work out that doesn't involve climbing (??!!). All I have are rock rings and free weights, no rock gym :(
    So it is good to hear that dead hangs will increase my finger strength, just curious if I need to couple this with actual climbing.
    Thanks so much!!

    1. Hi Micah,

      I understand you... it's too bad you can't go to a climbing gym. Perhaps you could try to install a tiny panel with holds at home, or in a storage room, etc. Would it be possible?

      If not, then you need to be aware that if you stay away from rock or the climbing gym for a long time, you won't be working the climbing-specific gestures, and so your performance will be impaired.

      Moreover, even if we say that finger strength is the key physical aspect in sport climbing, this doesn't mean it's the only one. We would be misled if we thought that doing dead hangs and pull-ups is enough.

      Performance in rock climbing is determined also by psychological, technical, tactical and physical factors, such as power endurance, stamina, or boulder... that you know can't be worked on without actually climbing.

      That said, if you train your arms and fingers, work body tension, stretch, imagery, study videos, etc., it would be better than nothing... but not nearly enough.

      It is always mandatory to actually practice the sport we are training for, which is climbing.

      Cheer up, do your best and good luck!

  6. I was curious: are your dead hangs performed with two hands or one arm? whats your oppinion about this? Great Post by the way!

    1. Hi, thanks for your participation! All your questions are really interesting

      I usually perform my dead hangs with two hands, and that is the position I propose here.

      Nevertheless ,one-handed dead hangs can be adequate for those with a very high level of maximum finger strength (who "unfortunately" need to use added weight representing more than 70% of their body mass, or have to use edges less than 6 mm-deep). Going one-handed for them would represent using no or little added weight (good for their lower back) or choosing bigger edges (good for their skin). But this change in the style implies a less stable posture that can be difficult to master. In fact, when hanging off one arm we no longer can focus on holding from the edge and avoid swinging when lifting our feet off the ground; we have also to fight the tendency of the body to rotate, and keep our elbow slightly flexed to put less strain on it and on the shoulder/neck.

      Testing would be needed to see if this can be useful to climbers with a less demanding profile, but anyway I'll tell you that I usually don't recommend training schedules with a steep and fast progression. I tend to first use the easiest methods and loads that promote adaptation in the body, and slowly increase the load and difficulty in a process that can take years. This allows us to enjoy greater long-term improvement and to reduce the risk of injuries.


    2. Hello
      When i do deadhangs I always try to pull my body up a bit at the shoulders. To not hang completely in the shoulder joint but instead put the load on muscles. Is this a good idea? Or is there no (or low) risk of shoulder injury/overuse in the long run?

    3. Hello,

      That's perfect ;-) It is almost always a good idea not to loosen your joints while you are hanging off them.
      In addition, I would like to take this opportunity for suggesting that If you tense your abdominal and gluteal muscles (pelvic tilt) just when you take your feet off the floor, apart from working your pelvic control, you will get to prevent swinging and low back injuries in case you are working with added weight.

  7. do you have any advice for a climber who has had cervical fusion and strength training exercises that can put less strain on the neck?

    1. Let's begin by making clear that I am not a physician or a physical therapist, and so what I can suggest here is the point of view of a personal trainer who likes to research the literature about sport injuries and their recovery; you should take it with a grain of salt and always seek the opinion of your M.D. before doing anything on your own. All right?

      The prognosis and re-training after an injury differ from person to person. They depend on several factors: when did you undergo the surgery, if the fusion was one- or two-level, if it was anterior or posterior, your rehabilitation, your physical fitness before the surgery...
      Just suppose that your fusion is at one level, that you rested the three compulsory months to let the incision heal, that your neck mobility and strength are enough to attend to your daily chores (including lifting weights overhead). In this hypothetical situation, your subsequent training should include:

      - Posture education during sitting, moving, and sleeping: avoiding forward head posture, or holding the neck too long in poor alignment while you are typing, reading, belaying... (check this web)
      - Proprioceptive and stabilization upper body exercises: Chin tuck, scapular retraction with theraband, shoulder shrugs, cervical active range of movement (Not passive!), core strengthening...
      - Progressive strength training: first cervical isometrics, then resistance exercises (biceps, triceps, chest) that don't involve overhead actions, proceeding to free weight shoulder strengthening, and easy weight training as tolerated until you can do pull ups, etc
      - Stretching of pectoral muscles, upper body, hamstrings and gluteus, and other muscles whose tension can lead to neck pain.

      In general, pay attention to the clues your body sends you. If doing a particular exercise seems easy and you feel no stress in your neck and shoulders, consider increasing the weight or number of repetitions. But if you experiencing mild pain or discomfort, discontinue that exercise for a while and tell your doctor.

      Further information can be found here , and here

      Take care!

  8. How old is too old for vigorous finger strength exercises??? Can someone in there forties, for example, experience significant strength gains without injury??? Thank you for your time and blog.

    1. Just for the record: I'm 41 ;-) I started training a long time ago, and year by year my strength and endurance keep on improving, and also the way I use them: technique. My friends and pupils can tell similar stories.

      A different issue is the recovery from training loads, or the likelihood of suffering an injury, that tend to go -in theory- down after the age of 30 due to collagen degeneration, tendinous stiffness, collagen cross-linking on the fascias and tendons, etc. In this regard the correct application of the loads and rest periods has to be even more careful than before.

      But If we focus on the pace and amount of improvement that the training brings, they don't vary significantly across ages. That is, the gains obtained from a certain training program and environment will be almost identical for a 20-years old climber than for a 35 or 45 one. After a 1 to 2-month maximum strength training program, the improvement is about 10-30% depending on the level of the climber.

      Other aspect of this question is the absolute level that one can reach in theory. As an example, someone who started training at age 14-15, could obtain his or her maximum performance right in the time that the body has completed its development, at the age of 25. And, in theory, will reach a higher absolute level than someone who started training at 35.

      In conclusion, up to the age of 50 there are no significant differences regarding the amount of improvement in maximum strength or strength-endurance for people who train systematically and with enough intensity. For those who don't train, the natural tendency of the body is to lose bone and muscular mass (3-4% / decade), and in consequence to lose performance. This means that from age 30 to 50 it's the physical activity, and not the age, that determines the aging process.

      The moral of this story can't be more optimistic: "Our only weapon against aging is training"


  9. hi eva,
    thanks for your effort with board and blog!
    In your blog and on the poster you use various short forms for the protocol, something like >>4 x 10''(3) :3'<< or
    >>3-5xdhang hcrimp weight 18-14mmx 10''-5'' (1-3):3'<< I believe I understand the principle of EL and your criticism of repeaters/sequence training.
    my question: what is the appropriate rest period a) btw. repetitions and b) btw. sets?
    in other words what is the ideal rest btw near max hangs, what does the 3' refer to?
    thanks again, keep crushing, Georg

    1. Hi Georg,

      The correct rest period for the finger maximum strength method that can be seen in that picture, whose major effects are neural, is of 3' between each of those 4 sets that you have chosen for your example; 4 x 10'' (3) :3' can be read as follows: perform 4 sets (4x) of 10 seconds each (10''), but adjust the intensity (added weight or edge depth) so that you could hang for 3 seconds more if you wanted to (EL of (3)), and rest for 3 minutes between sets (:3').

      Thank you!
      Best regards

  10. Hello Miss Lopez, I'm one more anonymous named Kia. I know someone, that asks where he can buy your book, your finger board, and finally, if you can train him by 'email'. How can we contact in a private way?

    1. Hi Kia,

      I am grateful to you for saying your name ;-)

      Well, I'm glad to hear that you or your friends are interested in my books...but, I have to tell you that I haven't published any. :-D But I promise to let you know when I do, ok?

      Your friend can purchase our fingerboards via email, or web. You can take a look to the links on the side on my blog.

      Finally, I'm afraid I don't coach by "email". Perhaps in the next future, I will offer on-line consulting. But not for now...my schedule is absolutely full.

      Anyway, if you or your friend need something very specific and shorth, you can contact me via private message at facebook

      Best regards

  11. Hi! Where can I buy it in Sweden?


    1. Hi Joel,

      You can write at: scandinavia@jmclimbing.com

      Thank you for your interest!

    2. Thanks! :) I have another quest, I'm going to alicante for some climbing in sep. Do you have any tips of routes?

  12. Hi Eva,
    your blog is really inspiring, I like it very much. I've got one question:
    I have a Progression since two months. Now I have done the first phase 1 of training corresponding to your poster and results are visible :). After the holidays I want to continue the training. On the poster you say, that if someone can do 20mm edges 40", phase 3 can get started. After the phase 1, I'm able to hold the 20mm more than 40". Is it correct, to continue with phase 3, without doing phase 2?
    Thank you!!!

    1. Hi Andy,

      Thank you.
      I'm glad you have experienced positive results!

      It's true that, according to the test, you could go straight to phase 3. I, however, usually recommend you go slowly, because long-term improvement is greater this way, and also you build a base during each stage that allows for your adapatations to last longer. In the end, it's up to you to decide, once you have the relevant information.


  13. Eva,

    I bought the board with smaller rungs from Fina at Camping El Puente, and it came with directions. But regretfully, I don't speak Spanish. Is there an English translation of the large sheet that comes with the board?