Monday, March 12, 2012

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

version en español
source: www.

Question about How to Adjust the Load when doing Dead Hangs with Added Weight 
December the 2nd, 2011
By Jorge:

Hi Eva, I have read some of your entries about finger training and I'm not sure of how to apply some of the criteria. I have been a climber for 3 years now, my time on a 20 mm edge is 38'' and this is what I am currently doing:
Twice a week, dead hangs on an edge upon which I can hang for 10''. Gradually, on a weekly basis, if I can hang for more than 10'' off the edge, then I use added weight so my time is 10 seconds again. This goes for 4 weeks, 3 to 5 sets each session. Then I rest for a week and start training without added weight, but this time I use progressively smaller edges to stay within the desired 10 seconds.

As I said, I'm not sure this is the right way to do it.
Thank you for helping self-taught people like me, who sometimes feel a bit lost in the field of training.

I'm afraid you haven't fully understood how to use the added weight yo adjust the load. Don't worry, this is normal, this method is very different from the usual ones. The same concept of adjusting the load is not very common and hard to grasp at first, but once you get it and practice it during a few sessions, you will surely become an expert.

Practice makes perfect. Source:

In your case, when using added weight you don't have to start with an edge where you can hold for 10 seconds and add weight as you gain strength; the edge depth is fixed: 20 mm (a size suitable for people who are just starting to train with added weight). Then you add weight so your maximum time is of 13'' but you hang for just 10'' (remember, this is 10''(3) from the previous entry). More experience climbers will eventually progress to 18 or even 14 mm, but they will use the same procedure to choose the extra weight.

This methodology implies a minute and constant control of the training load, such that every day -and even for every set- the added weight (or the edge size in other phases) must be adjusted.
I will end with the following example:
If some day you feel stronger and it seems like you could do 15''(3) instead of 10''(3) with the added 10 kg you used the last session, then you will have to add more kilos so your effort duration is 10''(3) again. Likewise, you would remove some kilos if that day you didn't feel as strong as the last ones.

Question about the most suitable method to Start Training Finger Strength on a Fingerboard
November th 18th, 2011
By Ángel

Hi Eva,

Congratulations on your blog. I read it a lot and I find it very interesting because you are always investigating and your answers are up to date, so here is my question.

I have been climbing assiduously for 2 years (not stopping for more than a week), and usually climb 2 days in the gym and 1 or two on rock.
My maximum boulder grade is 7a+/b, my weight 73-75 kg and I'm 182 cm tall.

Now I've decided to train a bit more, and for the past two months my training is more organized. I have started with the fingerboard and I wanted to know what the best way is to start working on it. Up until now I've been performing the "contratos method which consists of sets of pull-ups and dead hangs utilizing different grips, with varying degrees of flexion of the arms, in groups of 10-20 exercises with incomplete, or no rest period between them (similar to what they call "repeaters" in another countries:example 1, example 2...). What do you think?

Thanks a lot!

Thank you, Ángel

Your profile allows you to start training with the methods for finger maximum strength that I propose, because you have 2 years of systematic and continuous practice. The methods are described in the poster for the Progression hangboard and in this previous entry.

The most effective for you is to choose a maximum strength method that according to my studies also improves finger strength-endurance on small and medium edges. This could be explained by the fact that by increasing maximum strength, body mass represents a lower load, so there are more motor units that don't need to be recruited and can be used later. Among other things, this delays the intervention of type II fibers and the buildup of lactate, thus extending the time until fatigue.
When our maximum strength goes up, our body weight is less of a burden to our fingers, and so whe can hold for longer. Is like "Hardy transforming into Laurel".
So, in my opinion you should first develop your maximum strength, and once you reached certain level, start specifically working your strength-endurance, because it's been already tested as the most effective way to do it.
On the contrary, performing methods for strength-endurance without a well-developed maximum strength base does not have as much effect over the former, and even less over the latter.
The method you are currently following, the famous "contratos" training (similar to what they call "repeaters" in other countries) has as a main effect the increase of strength-endurance of fingers and arms, etc. This is due to the long duration of each dead hang, the high number of exercise for every group or set and the incomplete pause between them.

I must add that I don't have a very positive view of this method, because this hodgepodge of exercises, types of contraction, articular angles, types of grip, rest periods... can result in some of the effects counteracting the others. Moreover, the complexity and the high number of variables that are at play at the same time make for a really problematic control of the load, and even worse, of your own training process over time.

There are, though, some good things about it; it's really engaging and enjoyable, precisely because of that variety, and may have a general effect on pulling and grabbing strength endurance, albeit lower than if the load could be adjusted for each person and exercise. 

More detailed criticism:
Regarding one parameter that defines the load: the pause between exercises is arbitrary, because it depends on the amount of time that it takes you to complete them, with no appreciation of your capacity to perform each exercise. (In this method, you perform 1-minute sets, where you hang for some seconds, and then, rest for what is left of the minute)
Each athlete in their charge is unique. Athletes have different physiological characteristics, tolerances to environmental and training loads, rates of recovery from training stimuli, lifestyles and social pressures, psychological traits and training and competition goals  (Cross and Ellis, 2005).

The individualization of load training, one fundamental principle of a good training plan, is really impaired by the fact that you only get to choose the level in which you can complete all the exercises, no matter if some of them are harder or easier for you.

During each session you mix traction strength with finger strength, different types of grip and types of contraction... with disregard for your level on each aspect, so that if you can't finish a pull-up you won't be able yo discern if it was due to a lack of pulling strength or endurance, or because your fingers are just too tired to grab the holds. It can be the case that one of the first exercises (types of handhold/grip types) is too easy for you and then you are not really getting much work out of it, but one of the last is too hard (because hold depth or grip type), and you end up with an undesirable muscular failure that will impair strength development).

Also, the process for incrementing the load is based on doing longer dead hangs of more pull-ups while shortening the rest periods... which is a way of altering two parameters at the same time (duration of effort and rest), which in turn changes something called "workout density". This is inadvisable for those with a lower or medium level, or at least for people who don't have experience changing only one parameter at a time.

The list could go on and on... it could be mentioned that making someone perform slowly part of an exercise like pull-ups is against our interest, because it's not specific of our sport and can lead to injuries; same goes for maintaining a fixed angle of the elbow until exhaustion no matter the experience or the physical condition of the athlete... but let's drop the subject here.
In short, my main objection is that in it's current form, it is impossible to control the load and the effects of training. 

Now it's my turn to ask you: If you can't measure the effects of your training, if you don't manage it, then what's the use of it? Perhaps as an entertainment? If this is what you seek, then everything' fine.

But if your goal is to improve, and organize and optimize the time you devote to your trainig... now it's time to look for other ways of achieving it.


  1. Hello
    Maybe a bit oftopic here, but do you have any thoughts about training endurance on a hangboard? Have plans to do a 24 pitches route this summer and have been thinking about doing tabata intervals on the board (that is 20" hanging and then 10" rest x 8)

    1. Hi Magnus

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

    2. Hi again Magnus,

      As you can see here , I have developed a method for finger endurance training on a fingerboard. I've called it "intermittent dead-hangs".

      But when it comes to working climbing endurance, or climbing stamina, the hangboard will hardly be the ideal tool, in contrast with the climbing gym or the rock itself. Real climbing -outdoor and indoor- is key for an activity like the one you mention, together with cardiovascular exercises like running or cycling to improve your aerobic endurance.

      Regarding the method you mention, the effort and rest intervals that it proposes are coincidentally similar (althoug a bit longer) to those that occur in the normal action of grabbing-releasing during climbing... and so they are similar to the ones I propose. But in my opinion this shouldn't be called Tabata intervals when applied to dead hangs. Why? Because it was conceived originally to work aerobic power, and so it involves performing a more general exercise like running, swimming or cycling that induce a notable raise on one parameter that is used to measure said qualities: oxygen consumption (VO2). This parameter also serves as control for the intensity and VO2max (maximal oxygen consumption) the test itself.

      The difference here is that we can't use VO2 as a measure to control the work load because, being the target muscles involved so small and the contraction isometric, it hardly goes up at all. In our case, the control parameter and the quality we seek to work is the local strength and power endurance of the forearm muscles.

      Best regards and good luck!

  2. Hi Eva,

    When asked about mixing bouldering with maximum strength training you indicated it might be OK if bouldering days follow strength training with adequate rest to be recovered for subsequent strength training. What to you think about similarly mixing in sport climbing sessions - maintenance level vs working anerobic endurance, etc.? By doing so can strength gains still be maximized as long as sessions are set up such that recovery is adequate? Thanks!

    1. Yes! In a similar fashion, you can work your maximum strength on days when you are not climbing in rock, leaving at least 48 hours between strength sessions. Alternatively, if that is not possible, you can do an early maximum strength session, rest for a couple of hours, and then go out climbing the same day.

      In truth, when you only climb in rock you are mostly working your endurance and power endurance; if you don't devote some days to climb a low volume of short and bouldery routes, with a complete rest between attempts... you will lose maximum strength with time (in 2 weeks).

      So it would be advisable to insert maximum strength cycles from time to time, or better yet, 2 strength sessions/week and 2-3 days of rock climbing each week.

      Best regards

  3. I have really enjoyed your blog posts - I especially appreciate that you don't tell people only what to do or what not to do, but that you also give reasons which helps us go much farther in understanding our training. In that vein, I'm wondering if you can elaborate on why "perform slowly part of an exercise like pull-ups is against our interest" or "same goes for maintaining a fixed angle of the elbow until exhaustion" might be bad. It seems I've heard of so many climbers see positive benefits from slow negatives and lock-offs in improving pulling strength.

    Thanks again for your excellent posts!

    1. Hi Randy,

      Thank you!

      I will answer in a few days, ok?

    2. Great - look forward to it.