Friday, September 7, 2012

Published Research Article, and a Summary of the Guidelines on finger strength Methodology described in this Blog

Versión en español

A while ago I informed you that my first study had been submitted to a peer-reviewed scientific journal for review and publication. Those who follow me in facebook already know it, but to those who don't, I'm glad to announce that it was finally accepted and is published online under this title:

View abstract on Taylor & Francis Online
As many of you know, that research was the first I conducted on the topic of finger strength, and consisted of comparing the effects and order of two dead-hang training methods to answer the question
¿Is it more effective for high level climbers to train first on the smallest possible edge without added weight and then on a medium-sized edge with added weight, or the other way around?
I was lucky enough to present this research at the International Rock Climbing Research Congress that took place at Canterbury University (New Zealand), November, 2011
From this study's results, and from two other that will also be in the thesis I'm currently writing, and from the years I've been able to devote to training for climbing, stem the methods and ideas for finger strength that you are already familiar with through this blog, and that are incorporated into the Progression and Transgression boards.
The main characteristic of these boards is that they have edges of different depths to allow for progression. Nevertheless, this methodology can also be used with other hangboards if they have edges with the adequate size, or you can even build yourselves a device that I have been using for years. Instructions can be found in this entry.

The "Regletómetro", an "open source training tool" 
Now, I'd like to take this opportunity to review some guidelines that have been published along several entries in this same blog. Making them clear could save us injuries and stalled performance, and even allow for a proper, long-term finger strength development. I thought it would be useful to assemble them into one entry, so here they are:

In general, ¿When is it advisable to start training Dead-Hangs?
As it has already been stated, it would be better to start without added weight, and also to fulfill the following requisites:
  • Having more than 2 years of systematic (3-4 days/week) climbing and training experience. The reason for this is that, even though muscles only take weeks or months to adapt themselves to training, other structures like tendons, capsules ligaments and cartilages take years to reach the structural adaptations (thickness, tensile strength, etc.) needed to withstand the loads of this exercise, and that means years of progressive and deliberate practice. Also, a beginner should focus on technical-tactical aspects, and on developing a general muscle base, rather than using such specific methods.
  • Being able to hang for  more than 15 seconds off a 24mm edge.
  • Being older than 16.
  • Being free of injuries or conditions that make inadvisable this exercise, or being fully recovered if there has been a recent injury. In some cases it will mean about 2 months of rest, in others it can take 6 months or even years.
¿When can someone start training Dead-Hangs with Added Weight?
  • After having completed one or more cycles of non-weighed dead hangs without pain or other problems that make this method inadvisable.
  • If you have been training and climbing systematically for 4 years (at least 4 days/week).
  • If you are 18+.
  • If you can hang  more than 40 seconds off a 20mm edge and more than 15 seconds from a 10mm one.

General precautions regarding the finger strength Methodology described in this blog
1- The study that I refer to at the beginning of this entry and that was the base for all further research and training, was conducted on a sample of climbers with an average climbing level of 8a+/b (from 8a to 8c+) and a high level of finger strength. The combination of 4 weeks training with added weight and then training on the smallest possible edge was the most effective for this population, but keep in mind that such planning, and using added weight in general, is better suited for climbers of such level.
2- As I observed in another study that I will try to get published in the future, climbers with a low or medium level of finger strength, and/or those who haven't previously undergone intensive finger training, get significant results performing only the small edge method without the need of using added weight, because their body weight is enough to provide the load needed to induce positive adaptation.
3- It is desirable to use the easiest intensity, volume, pause and method that still provoke improvement. It is more effective, when starting some training, to slowly progress in method, intensity, etc. than increasing sharply the difficulty, because the long-term performance will be higher and there will be less risk of injury.
4- Maximum finger strength, even though it's the nº 1 physical factor in climbing, is not the only one that determines performance. There are also the technical-tactical and psychological aspects, as well as physical ones like endurance, strength-endurance, boulder, etc. Do not forget working them in all your training sessions and climbing in rock as much as possible if you want to improve as a climber.
5- The best training plan is an individualized one. So my approach is to explain here the effects that the methods and planning styles that I know have over people of different level, objectives, age, etc.; but a) all the possible methods are not listed here, and b) it would be ideal if you, after reading all the information, including other sources (blogs, books, articles), would decide for yourselves what method and planning is best for you. So I recommend you study all the available information and choose the approach that better suits your objectives, needs and qualities. 
6- It is not recommended for younger people, with less than 18-20 years of age, to train campus board or weighed dead-hangs (Morrison and Schöffl, 2007). The reason is that while growth is still going on, the epiphyseal plates (the place were bone growth takes place) are not closed, and the use of high loads, that in an adult can injure ligaments, capsules or tendons, in a teenager can lead to stress fractures, a far more severe condition. And this is because the plate tissue is 2-5 times weaker than the rest. More information here.

So, going back to the opening of this blog post, i hope that the mentioned article will be interesting and useful to you, because this is really the ultimate reason for publishing. Thank you for all your support.



  1. Hi Eva,
    I start with transgression in May. I never use half crimp so gains are really big. But gains are stop now for last month. I can hang on 7 mm for 10 seconds so results on small edges are really good and there is no big space to improve. But on 18 mm I train with 24 kg and there are no improvements. What is next step? Continue with scheduled training and it will getting better? How long the plateau will be?

    thank you


    1. Hi Chris,

      We need to look at two different aspects:
      a) unfortunately, performance gains are not linear, but mor of a stepped profile, with occasional plateaus or even losses, that in occasions can be (and have to) reversed by resting or changing to a different stimulus.
      b) when starting some training, initial improvement tends to be greatear, more so if we start from a lower level, and they are usually smaller for higher level athletes.
      In these phases when it 'seems' that we are stuck, sometimes there are other kind of improvements taking place, things that are less obvious, like being more comfortable while holding for the same amount of time, or improving the Peak force and rate of force development during isometric contraction... in a way that, after a number of cycles, lets us switch to another edge or added weight.

      With this in mind, you can just follow the planning that is suggested in the poster, and be patient; or you can vary on your own ONE of the following parameters: EL (from 3, then to 2, to 1), effort time (10, then 8, 5 seconds) or, in a more advance phase, go for a smaller edge when using added weight (from 18 to 14 mm, etc.)

      Good luck

  2. Hi Eva,
    good answer.
    It is all about motivation and I just needed to listen something like that.

    thanks again


  3. Hi Eva,

    I asked some questions regarding open grip vs half crimp in "". I just re-post here in case you haven't seen the question, as I see you have answered here more recently. I am still confused, and eager to start training!

    //Jonas Löfling

  4. Hi Eva,
    I train on transgression board from April and have very good results on 18mm edge on half crimp. I start with about 8kg and now I´m able to train with 30kg on 10´. Past 4 finger half crimp on 18mm edge I train 3 finger half crimp on 18mm edge for special project. I start in April also with 0kg and finish now with 6 kg - so result on this type of grip is very poor. This means that pinky finger holds most of the load on half crimp with four fingers? In my case with 30kg with 4 fingers half crimp it is 24 kg on pinkie? How can I improve 3 fingers half crimp, which is crucial for my project?
    Also want to say thank you Eva, Transgression board is just a great tool for finger strength.


    1. Hi Peter,

      Thank you for your words on Transgression ;-)

      Your evolution with the half crimp is certainly good. However, we already know that the initial gains with a new training method, especially if you have never trained your finger strength so specifically, are usually very good. Later, they are slower and more difficult to obtain.
      You have achieved good improvements on your three-finger half crimp as well. 6 kg may not seem much in absolute terms, but you have to take into account that you started with no added weight and then had to cross a threshold to begin using it.

      Your question about the role of the pinkie leads to interesting reflections. There are studies that look at the amount of load that each finger bears when using the closed crimp. Fuss and Niegl (2006), found that the pinkie was accountable for 14,6%, while Quaine et al. (2003), measured it at 12%. The same pattern of the pinkie bearing less load than the other fingers was found across all climbing levels and a variety of grip types.
      This is apparently at odds with your experience of the pinkie having a great impact on performance, but it doesn't mean that all the added weight that you had to remove when switching grip types was supported by your pinkies. There's the influence of a "new grip" that you have to get used to, and there are biomechanical factors that can compromise the ability of the other fingers to maintain the angles of their joints. According to Li et al. (1988), the ring finger has a part in compensating for the torque along the longitudinal axis of the hand. Along the same lines, perhaps the little finger plays some supporting role for the ring finger in turn, and the lack of its stabilizing influence can be responsible for your performance going down.
      [demicosecha]You can picture the pins in a carabineer's gate: they are not so strong by themselves, but the maximum load of the device goes down by 10kN when the gate is not properly closed.

      Anyway, it would be interesting to analyze whether factors like the relative length of your fingers, their individual positions, or aspects related to the learning process have any influence. No matter what, training separately that grip type is a good idea.
      Finally, in case your project's hold was a shallow three-finger pocket, have you considered using the slope grip instead of the half crimp? It could very well be more effective.

      Regards, and good luck


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