It’s obvious to anyone that building strength in the fingers is one of the most important (if not the most important) areas to build strength on the body of a climber.
Regardless of how strong your back, chest, arms and your core is, if you can’t hold onto the wall, then none of those other things mean anything because you can’t climb the route!
A lack of finger strength usually becomes more prominent as climbers advance in skill and general overall strength, their route grade increases and as a result the hand holds become generally smaller. It is then when climbers tend to start to train finger strength using isolated exercises.
In fact, the best time to start training your finger strength is as soon as possible!
Even beginner climbers should start doing some basic exercises to improve finger strength in preparation for when they start to reach the higher grades.
So where do I start with improving my finger strength?
We’ve all seen those videos of the people doing one-finger pull-ups. Needless to say that isn’t the place to start…
The key to building climbing strength in any particular part of the body is to choose an area that is lacking and stick to that one body part. If you are trying to improve a lot of different areas, then you aren’t going to excel in any one particular area at any one time.
As with most strength building for climbing, the best place to start training finger strength is on the wall.
Follow these tips for an easy way to start building strength in your fingers:
1. Make sure to stretch and warm up properly as you would normally before climbing
2. Find a route at your local gym or wall that you find fairly challenging to climb but is still well within your difficulty range (if not slightly below).
3. Make sure that a good majority of the holds are challenging on your fingers and are not big, easy hand holds.
Make sure that you aren’t experiencing any pain when you grip onto them as you can very easily damage the tendons in your fingers which could put you out of action for months.
4. Repeatedly climb this route until you can’t physically hold onto the wall any longer. It can also be an extra challenge to downclimb the route too.
5. Repeat 2-3 times a week
The idea behind finding a low-stress repeatable exercise is that you will slowly build up enough strength in your fingers to be able to move onto the more advanced techniques.
If you do this exercise for around 4-6 weeks you should see a noticeable increase in strength.
Intermediate / Advanced Finger Strength Building for Climbers
Okay, so if you are a more experienced climber or you have built your strength up to a nice level using the technique above you should start looking at more advanced techniques to build the strength in your fingers.
The general advice among climbers is to use a Hangboard. This is good advice. However it is easy to use this advice badly and unfortunately, a lot of climbers do.
Hangboards are generally sold as the one-stop solution to building climbing strength which, unfortunately, isn’t true. Every climber knows that the only way to truly build climbing strength is through climbing regularly.
Obviously, this isn’t a possibility for everyone so hangboards provide a good solution.When looking to buy a hangboard, choose a simple one with a few different handhold sizes. Don’t be fooled into thinking that the fancier looking hangboards are better for your finger strength as this tends to be more a sales gimmick than anything else.
When using a hangboard, there are a few tips to avoiding injury:
1. Due to the intense nature of the workout provided by a hangboard, you should always warm up properly before your main workout. At least 10-15 minutes of exercise such as an easy climb or for at home try simple upper body exercises like push ups or some weights just to get the blood flowing through the arms to the hands and fingers.Remember that the fingers will take the longest to warm up so follow this with some hand exercises such as grippers or wrist curls. Follow this up with some static hangs on a pull up bar or easy hand holds to get the rest of the body warmed up.
2. Make sure to work your way into any finger training steadily and make sure not to rush into anything too difficult straight away as you could injure yourself. For the first few days of training you should aim to just do easy hangs and not stress your fingers at all. Then slowly up the intensity to different positions following these guidelines:
– If you can hold on the position for 10 seconds or more, then that indicates that you aresafe to up the intensity in your workout.
– If you cannot hold on the position for 4 seconds or more, then that indicates you are not safe and you should drop the intensity of your workout or risk injury.
3. Fingers are constructed less of muscle tissue and more of tendons and pulleys so they will take longer to strengthen. Therefore you should allow 4-6 weeks for your workout. After this period of time, you should move on to strengthening another area of the body or you could run the risk of injury.
4. Fatigue is not a good sign. Strength training should not be exhausting, your fingers should not ache and hurt after a strength training session. If they do then you are either training for too long, not taking enough rest between sets or your technique is wrong. Any of these run the risk of injury, so bear this in mind when training.
Hangboard Training Workout: For a good hangboard workout, we are going to list a few different positions for you to try and how to increase or decrease the intensity based on your strength.So there are 4 basic positions for training finger positions:
– Closed hand / Jug. Basically just a normal hand hold. This is the easiest hand hold and is the place to start.
– Full Crimp. Second knuckle is above the fingertips. This is the most powerful position, but is the most damaging to your fingers so make sure you are fully warmed up for this position, take plenty of rest and make sure you are not overdoing the intensity.
– Half Crimp. Second knuckle is even with the fingertip level. This is perhaps the more common hand hold for a lot of climbers and is probably slightly easier for you than the full crimp or open hand.
– Open Hand. Second knuckle is below the fingertips. Used mostly for sloped holds. This is probably the hardest position for you. However, this is the most versatile position and strength building for this position will help your strength for the other positions
The aim of the workout is to hang on each position with straight arms for between 4-10 seconds for about 3 sets each.
Any less than 4 seconds means you need to decrease the intensity of the position by doing one of the following:
– Holding onto a jug or easy hold with one hand to take some of your body weight whilst keeping the other hand on the smaller hold in the more difficult position. Do a set for each hand alternatively.
– If you can raise your feet onto a chair or wall to take some of the weight of your body, then that is a good method to decrease intensity as well.
Alternatively, if you can hold on for over 10 seconds in a position, that is a sign that you need to increase the intensity of your workout by doing one of the following:
– Adding weight to your body is a good way to get more intensity. Try a weight belt if you have one or 2 litre soda bottle with water in is a good way to add weight as the weight can be increased or decreased by adding or pouring water. Try tying two together with string and putting them around your waist or around your neck or in big trouser/shorts pockets.
– If you are a more advanced climber and you are really struggling to feel the intensity when working out your fingers, then try holding on one hand at a time for each grip position and do a set for each hand alternatively.
Take about 30 seconds – 1 minute rest between each set. This may seem a long time but will really allow you to maximize the intensity of your workout and to reduce the risk of injury.
The most important thing to remember is not to overdo the workout and you should not feel tired afterwards. If you feel pain in your fingers after this workout, you need to either drop the intensity or do a more rigorous warm up session.