Monday, May 7, 2012

Dead Hang training on Small Edges: Transgression's 6 mm edge

Versión en español

The day we installed our Transgression, we couldn't help trying the most challenging edge, the 6 mm one.

Dafnis held for 10 seconds with ease, but this wasn't unexpected, given his strengths and the years he has been using the methods I started to develop in 2004, and others that now are included with this hangboard.

I dindn't walk it, but the goods news is that there's still room for improvement and a variety of methods to achieve it.

Speaking of training on small edges

In a study of my own (López-Rivera, E. & González-Badillo, J. J., manuscript in preparation), we found association between the maximum added weight that could be held for 5 seconds while hanging from a 15 mm edge (finger strength test), and the smallest edge upon which the same person could hang for 10 seconds during first training session. These results are in line with Bourne et al. (2011), who found positive significant relation between the maximum force applied on a 12.8 mm edge and the one applied on 7.3 and 5.8 mm.

The above results add up to the fact that in our study (López-Rivera E. & González-Badillo J.J.; 2012), the group that trained 4 weeks using added weight and an 18 mm edge, and then other 4 weeks without added weight on smallest edge possible (a more specific exercise), showed positive significant relation between the relative increment in maximum strength and the maximum time on an 11 mm edge without added weight; and also with the smallest edge held for 10 seconds. All of this has the following implications:

Training with added weight on a medium-sized edge like the 18 mm one, and then using a more specific exercise like is the deadhang on smallest edge possible, we will obtain an improvement in our ability to hold small edges (11 mm) for longer and also to hold smaller edges than before. As we all know, these improvements sometimes can determine the success of a climb.

Practical Aspects of training and climbing on very small or shallow edges

According to Bourne et al. (2011), the force applied on tiny holds, like 4.3 and 2.8 mm, didn't show association with the maximum force applied on 12.5 mm, but did with anthropometric factors like having a bigger volume of flesh between the distal end of the bone (phalanx) and the fingertip. The authors say that this would increase deformation of the fingertip, increasing the skin to rock contact area on very shallow edges, and thus increase the limit of force production. (This paragraph has been corrected on 23 July 2012)
Deformation of my fingertip when hanging from an 8 mm edge.
Yes...I prefer to use open grip instead half crimp on small holds
From my own experience and observations:

- Temperatures below 15º C, make it easier to grab small holds, because the skin is a bit stiffer, and doesn't stretch so much, helping to maintain the angle of the distal phalanx relative to the hold.

- If the skin is not adapted to climbing in general, and to dead hangs on small edges, the deformation will be greater, and, again, it will more difficult to maintain the angle.

Marks left on my skin after a hard deadhang session
- And, conversely, high temperature, air moisture and perspiration, decrease friction and make the skin softer, leading to tearing and ultimately to slip and fall.


-If we perform a maximum repetition on an edge too small for us upon which we can't hold for the stated time with the previously determined effort level (EL), we risk spoiling the training session, because we can end with a cut fingertip or exhausted due to the "record setting" try.

As you have probably noticed if you already tried it, training in small edges causes a deep and localized fatigue. So manage cautiously the shifts from one size to the next, and honor the proposed rest periods between repetitions, sets and sessions.

You've been warned... if you want to make a try until muscular failure, do it in a separate session or as the last repetition of your dead hang training segment.

More articles about finger strength training and JM Climbing & Eva Lopez hangboards here 

Bourne, R., Halaki, M., Vanwanseele, B., Clarke, J. (2011): Measuring Lifting Forces in Rock Climbing: Effect of Hold Size and Fingertip Structure. Journal of Applied Biomechanics, 27, 40-46.

López-Rivera, E. & González-Badillo, J.J. (2012): The effects of two maximum grip strength training methods using the same effort duration and different edge depth on grip endurance in elite climbers, Sports Technology, 5:3-4, 100-110


  1. Hi Eva,
    your fingertips on first picture is from open grip position, not from half crimp. Is half crimp position correct on small edges or you prefer open grip? On a training manual for Transgression you talked about half crimp only. It is little bit mish mash for me. Please, explain.
    thank you

    1. Hi David,

      Yes, you are right! I am using the open grip in that picture It's my favorite position on small holds instead of the half-crimp. Personal taste aside, it's less harmful for pulleys and tendons.

      Personally, I started to use this grip type just after I completely torn my ring finger's A2 pulley (no functional trace of it was left! :-/). I had been climbing only for 2 years by that time, so I got really scared, and I made a decision:
      to work the slope grip for almost every type of hold in order to prevent more injuries. I love to know.

      Because of that, when I pull on small holds, I intuitively apply the open grip.

      If you read carefully the poster, you will notice that in the 1st line, 3rd column, I recommend the following:

      "Grip type used: starting with the half crimp or open crimp position and proceeding to training with the open hand crimp"

      So...half crimp is correct on small edges, but depending on the relative length of your fingers, specially of your pinkie (I think this fact affects the choice or tendency to use one grip type or other) and your objectives, you can train the half crimp or the open grip. But I strongly recommend you to try to get used to the open grip.

      Good luck!
      Eva López

    2. Ops...David related to this photo in the above post.

    3. Hi Eva,
      I just ask, because I normally use everywhere open grip only. I really miss half crimp strength somewhere, on some moves, which you can´t use with open grip and it is limited me very much. I will work on half crimp, my open grip is excellent:)That was a reason to start with transgression.


    4. Great, David

      Your reasoning is solid.

      In that case, I recommend you start training the open grip for getting acquainted with my methodology, and then training the half crimp

      Have a good training!

  2. muy muy interesante Eva, como siempre!!!
    muchas gracias!!!

  3. Eva. If I were to follow your standard methodology of 4 weeks on 1.5cm with weight 10(3) and then 4 weeks no weight on smaller edge 10(3) - how many weeks has your research shown this to last before going back into another training cycle? In other words, how long can I go climb without training this before I can start a new cycle? is there any advantage / disadvantage to starting to early or waiting too long?


    1. I´m afraid I didn't make myself clear enough regarding this.
      The "standard methodology" consists of:
      - 4 weeks on 18 mm with added weight 10(3)
      - And then 4 weeks without added weight on smaller edges 10(3)
      The 15 mm edge was used only for the strength test, not for training, ok?

      In my research, we observed that finger strength and endurance improved a lot after 4 weeks, but only a bit more in week 10, 2 weeks after the end of training in week 8; this shows us the importance of rest and/or tapering in strength training.

      However, in week 12, or 4 weeks later the last deadhang session, all gains in finger strength and endurance were lost.
      Anyway... I guess that if during a prolongued resting time you climb very bouldery routes, with cruxes requiring finger strength... maybe you won't lose as much strength

      In summary:
      It's Ok if you rest for 2 weeks after doing that standard planning. Alternatively, you can rest your fingers for 4 weeks. Keep in mind that the election will depend on your sport level, training experience, objectives, and... where you have been climbing during your rest from deadhang training.
      Anyway, be careful. The fact that one methodology has proven useful, doesn't mean that you have to use it over and over... for the whole season! From time to time, It's important to rest from this type of training, because it's very intensive and specific, and tissues may be overloaded. A healthy rest period will almost certainly diminish your strength, but sometimes... it's really worth. it

      Think about it

      Best regards,

  4. Dear Eva,I have been reading your blog with interest! I also believe that applying a scientific approach to training (or anything!) is the way forward. A rational examination of evidence should be the basis for any decision making including climbing training methods! The difficulty I have found in the past is that there aren't many good, scientifically based, studies/reports about climbing training around.
    I look forward to reading about more of your research and the resulting training recommendations!


    1. Bruno, thank you very much!

      I am glad that you and me share the same approach ;-)

  5. I also have a specific question.

    So that you have some context, I climb ~8b+ sport climbing and ~8a boulder (max! this is a v hard boulder for me).

    I don't believe that I have especially strong fingers and think this is an area that I can definitely improve and I do quite a lot of dead-hanging to work on this.

    I recently tried some of your suggestions and found that I could easily hang for 15s on a 10mm edge (wooden). I wanted to do the weighted training that you suggest as a first phase but found that I could do 5 sets of 10"(3") with 3min rests in between on a 10mm edge with 18kg weight-belt (you suggest an 18-20mm edge for this).

    What do you suggest? It seems that I am already using quite a small edge and quite large weight. For the weighted training should I carry on with this size edge and use smaller for unweighted e.g. 6mm or do you suggest I should use more weight and maybe bigger edge?
    Also any suggestions regarding the hanging time?

    I appreciate your suggestions.


    1. Well, I understand that it's more attractive, and apparently even more logical to train on smaller edges, using even added weight, than to train on bigger edges with added weight.

      But that reminds me of the main aim of my first research: Was it more effective to do dead-hangs on the smallest possible edge without added weight, or on a bigger edge with added weight?

      As you probably know already... the method that used a deeper edge with added weight was shown to be more effective on improving finger maximum strength and endurance, than using the smallest edge method. We suggested as a possible explanation of this that the use of added weight provoked major muscular activation and recruitment of motor units, which in turn causes a bigger increase in grip strength when compared to the other method. This coincides with studies showing that there is higher muscular activation and recruitment of motor units when training with added weight(Sale, 1988; Hakkinen et al., 1985).

      Now that we agree on the virtues of added weight, let's tackle the edge size question. From the previous point we can infer that absolute load counts; on a deeper edge you can put more additional weight on, achieving the mentioned higher muscular activation. This is the reason I suggest you use the bigger (but not "easier" in this case) 18mm edge.
      We could hypothesize that it would be more effective for you to train for 4 weeks on the 18mm edge with extra weight (hanging time of 10 seconds) and the following 4 weeks on the smallest edge... than to start training on 10mm with added weight from the get go.

    2. Thanks Eva. I could probably hang with +40 kg at least for 10s on 18mm edge. Are you using weights that large?

    3. Not bad ;-) That's about the average added weight for 10s on 18mm edge by male climbers of your level (8b-9a)
      How much do you weigh? As I suggest in Trasgression's poster, when your added weight nears 70% of your body weight, then it will be time to begin training with added weight on a smaller edge in order to prevent damage to your lower back. So, you can use a 14mm edge and, perhaps after a lot of time, a 12mm one.

      Best regards, and good training

  6. Hi Eva,

    I would like to have your opinion about one arm dead hangs. do you think it's better to do one arm dead hangs or two arm dead hangs with a lot of added weight?



    1. Hi Adrien,

      You can find some of my thougths about it in a previous comment

      I can add a couple of cases where they could be of use:

      - For people with pain in their elbows caused by overuse of their pronator muscles, that as you know have their insertions in the elbow. By doing one-hand deadhangs we switch to a neutral position of the forearm, where the palm is facing us instead of facing away from us. This way we release some of the stress on these muscles.

      - For working our strength with the open hand type of grip, on holds 30-40 mm deep, or specific one-hand maximum strength, especially for bouldering.

      - Taking advantage of the fact that this position is unstable in nature, so we can work our body tension along with our fingers but, as I comment in the link above, only for the most experienced climbers.

      As you can see, there are several uses to one-handed deadhangs, but beware, one of the drawbacks of performing them is that you must at all times watch your shoulder for signs of fatigue or over-extension, because it is the weak link in this exercise.

  7. Hi Eva,
    You blog is very interesting, this analytic approach keeps me motivated cause I feel that I understand what I'm doing.

    What I not very clear to me is when you suggested, 5 x 10''(3) :3' , what is the rest between reps; 3' is clear between sets.

    The goal is to improve maximum strength (be able to hold small holds) not focus on endurance so much.


    1. Hi Remus,

      Thank you for your comment.

      In this case, we indistinctly speak of "reps" and "sets". You can choose between saying 3 "sets" (of 1 reps of 10 seconds with 0 seconds between reps) and 3 minutes between sets; or (1 set of )3 "reps" of 10 seconds with 3 minutes between them.

      Regarding what's the objective of that training method...exactly: it is to improve maximum strength.


    2. Thank you for fast reply!
      So one training should look like this, starting from time 0, hang 10", rest 3',hang 10", rest 3', hang 10", rest 3?
      Does this sequence need a repeat?


    3. Exactly.

      No, that sequence don't need a repeat! :-D
      That's all. Because this is a maximum strength method.

      The 2nd week you will do 4 sets, the next one 5, and the last week, 5.

      I think that you have too long been accustomed to do repeaters and strength-endurance methods...

      Regards and good training.

    4. Yes, you are right, I trained repeaters so far :)
      Since now I do just bouldering, no more rope climbing, max strength with this method looks better to me.
      Thanks for advice!

  8. Hi Eva,

    First of all: thanks for a great blog! Very interesting to read about your research and training tips.

    I think it would be interesting to hear your thoughts on developing pinch strength. The training of this grip is not too often adressed but in practive I find it is a very important grip type. The strength of the thumb is not developed using the "standard" finger training exercises (dead hangs, campusing etc.). What would you recommend for increasing the strength of the pinch grip?

    Best regards!

    1. Hi Ragge,

      Thank you!

      You're right, I agree with you. That's why I have been meaning to talk about this topic for a time now ;-)

      So, if you are not in a big hurry, I'll work on an entry about it sometime in the near future; come back in a while and tell me if your questions are answered by that post or not. Are you oh with it?

      Thank you for your comment


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