When should i start training with a fingerboard or hangboard?

When Should I Start With Fingerboard Training or Hangboard Training?

Regular training is important when training for bouldering or climbing. A lot of people are not really sure if they should do some dedicated finger strength training, and I’ve been in the same situation. In the end, I decided to postpone dedicated fingerboard training for a while, but I also think it’s a good idea to write about my experience and how I came to a conclusion.

So, when should you start with fingerboard training? Short answer: When you stop to improve steadily by just climbing, then you can begin to work on more finger strength. This is usually after 1-2 years of regular climbing training. As a novice climber, finger strength exercises will not do you a big favor, as you are improving quite fast anyway. The incurred risk of injuring your fingers is high, and it’s not worth the risk.

When to Include Fingerboard and Finger Strength Training

Once you stop to progress from regular climbing training, you can think about finger strength training. For most people, this time is after they have been training 1-2 years continuously. Even after this time, there are many people who still improve regularly from simple climbing training without any special focus on finger strength.

The same principle applies to physical fitness: If your general level of fitness is really low, build a foundation first, before you work on climbing-specific fitness.

Only when you’re physically fit and have a climbing routine, think about introducing a finger strength regime – or any sport-specific training for that matter. Once you reach this level, you should be able to climb routes of 6b+ in the lead and spend 2 weeks acquainting with fingerboard training before you start a regular fingerboard training regimen. 

And there is a good reason to wait: Hangboarding is incredibly powerful to build finger strength. But it is not climbing-specific training, and climbing includes many more aspects than just finger strength. You need to work on foot and leg technique, body balance, route reading, mental training, and other aspects like grip technique. And anytime you spend in your basement hanging on a board will take time away from actual climbing.

And it’s not just about the time spent hanging – if you train on a hangboard, your fingers need rest. While they rest and rebuild, you cannot climb. Well, you can, but then you increase the risk of injury BIG TIME. If you are a beginner, chances are high your finger tendons are not used to the stress of climbing, and then hangboard training can even cause injuries.

Finger injuries take longer to heal, and while you heal, there won’t be ANY climbing at all. So given these arguments, I’d say: Wait with fingerboard training until you have been climbing for 2 years. Then include it if you want.

If you’re a beginner in climbing or bouldering, you will improve more than enough from plain and simple climbing and bouldering. You don’t need anything else. Take advantage of other training later on!

Always Include General Fitness Training In Your Climbing and Bouldering Training

In order to become familiar with fingerboard training, you can find some good information and protocols in this guide and on this subreddit.

And if you wonder, some general strength training with barbells and bodyweight exercises is ALWAYS good for climbers of any skill level. Shoulder, hips, knees, and back as well as abdominal muscles, all benefit from training. If you climb regularly, these areas need special focus, and you should train antagonists with extra care. Antagonist’s muscles are opposites, and this means when you train push exercises for a muscle group, you must include a pull exercise for the same muscle group too!

Having a balanced, healthy, and strong body is probably the most important tool you can have to unlock improvements in any climbing or bouldering related activity! It also helps to prevent injuries and health problems in the long run.

Why You Should Make Your Own Training Plan

You can buy a training plan in many places online. There are tons of protocols and premade programs available. But these things are not the key to become a better climber. You are the key, and you need to understand the principles behind these programs.

When you understand the scientific principles, you can use any program, adapt it, and still have the desired outcome. On the other hand, if you don’t understand the principles and blindly follow a program, you might never achieve your goals – because your individual situation might need changes to the program. Lack of understanding makes you blind to these changes needed, and you will just waste time training stuff that is ultimately not bringing you near the goals you had.

So do this: Don’t ask for training plans and programs. Go out, research the training methods and principles and understand WHY they work. Then design your own plan to let you achieve your goals, and post it here as a comment or on Reddit or show them an experienced climber.

Keep these things in mind when you make the plan:

  • What are your goals? Quantify them, i.e., “Want to climb a 7c route.”
  • How is your climbing and training history?
  • What was the hardest redpoint attempt you successfully did?

Start here or with my other article, to find a good program to orient!

How To Mount A Hangboard When It’s Time For Hangboard Training

Simply follow the instructions on the hangboards manual. Most brands come with very good instructions. But you can also follow my other article here, where I explain a very good and cheap setup. The nice thing about my setup: You won’t need to drill any holes in your walls, and the setup is completely portable. You can even throw it in your trunk and bring it with you on business trips!

Should I Climb Everything Statically To Become Stronger Fast?

Most certainly not. While climbing statically, i.e., without dynamic swinging, requires lots of strength and thus trains you to become stronger, it’s not a magic bullet. Yes, holding your body in awkward angles and positions will put the load on different muscles and muscle groups, so you will become stronger in that way.

But it also costs a lot of energy, and if you only climb statically, you will end up burning out on many routes that are easy to climb with a dynamic move at the crux. Fact is: Many bouldering gyms and climbing gyms as well as outside sport climbing routes include dynamic moves today. And you need to be able to climb these moves dynamically, or you will have a hard time finishing these routes.

Dynamic moves are often very energy-saving, and after all, climbing is also about efficiency. A good climber uses as little energy as possible to climb a route, and there’s a good reason for this:

At  a certain level, climbing becomes a tactical sport. You need to allocate your body’s resources, which is energy spent, to a problem or route. Ultimately your resources a limited, and if you waste energy on moves, you limit your capability at the end of the climb – there simply won’t be any gas in the tank, so to speak.

If you know how to climb sections dynamically, you can bypass lock-offs and energy exhausting holds, saving the energy for later. In the long run, you want to become a better climber.

Spend time learning to climb both dynamically and statically. If you are unsure whether to climb statically or dynamically, these three steps help you:

  1. When you encounter new sections, try to climb them both statically and dynamically
  2. Take mental note how the sections feel, maybe even log the difference to a notebook
  3. See which way feels better, and then use this method in the future

How to Work On Weaknesses?

If you find yourself having a hard time on a route or bouldering problem, take a break from it. Sit down, take a breath, and reflect:

  • Be open and honest, which issue caused you to fail? Where you burnt out? Did you have the wrong momentum? Maybe a specific angle, balance, or body position felt weird.
  • Or maybe you had a mental failure, and you were afraid to commit fully.
  • Maybe you even-paced or breathed wrong, spent too much time in exhausting energy holds, or didn’t rest when you should have rested.
  • Talk to friends and others who climbed this route, maybe you are following the wrong beta for your body? Watch how they do it!
  • Video is a great tool too, have your friends film you.
  • Write down your troubles in a logbook; it will help you to sort it out for future climbs. For example, you might notice that you have regular problems with overclimbing boulder problems at heights of 20 feet plus. Given that you have solid movement and condition, then this suggests that you have a mental barrier and should work on mental training.
  • A climbing logbook will help you to work on the right key aspect and weakness!

How To Start With Hangboard Training

There are many good hang boarding introductions, like this article here. This video here is good too:

I also put together the very fundamental exercise here to make it extra easy.

Most important: The Static Deadhang

If you don’t do any other hangboard exercise than this, you are still fine. This is the most useful exercise, and you just grab the hangboard and hang from a hold with straight arms for a fixed duration. Take some rest (1-3 minutes) then repeat. Do 4-6 sets. Finished, you don’t need more than this.

Variations of the Deadhang

You can vary the classic Deadhang with some of these exercises:

  • One arm hangs
  • Lock offs at different positions and angles
  • Pullups on the hangboard
  • Combine these with each other

Work on These Grip Types When Hangboard Training

Keep this picture in mind when we discuss the exercises later. These are your very basic gripping types. They come with certain advantages and disadvantages.

  • A: Open Crimp – You open your index finger, and only crimp your middle fingers – Hard to hold, but least injury-prone of all crimps 
  • B: Half Crimp – All the fingers are bent at around a 90-degree angle – Medium power exertion, a good combination for many situations
  • C: Full Crimp – All your fingers are bent with angles less than 90 degrees, your thumb locks your grip – This grip puts a lot of load on your joints and can cause injuries if you’re not used to it! This grip can hold the most weight, but should not be overused!

Maximum Strength vs. Endurance Hangboard Training

Hangboarding is a form of physical training. As such, all the principles from other strength and energy training systems can be applied to it.

  • If you want to work on maximum strength, you need short, high-intensity sets of 5-10 second duration.
  • For strength-endurance, you want to include medium intensity sets of 20-60 seconds.
  •  Endurance, you need very low intensity sets longer than 60 seconds.

When doing long sets, you can break them up into many sets of 5-10 seconds with short rest periods of 3-10 seconds, a principle we call repeater.

If you do very short but heavy hangs, these are called max hangs. What you do will influence what skill you train: Endurance or maximum power.

Some Tips For Hangboard Training Beginners

If you are younger than 16 years, do your bones and joints a favor and wait with hangboard training. If you only climb for less than 2 years and/or climb at a level of less than 5.11 or V4/5 or 6b+, then I recommend against hangboarding!

Stay away from hangboarding if you:

  • Are younger than 16 years
  • Climb or boulder  less than 2 years
  • Climb or boulder below 6b+ / 5.11 /  V4/5

Climbing is so much more than finger strength at this level, and the increased risk from hangboarding is just too high to outweigh the benefits. Just work on proper route reading, movement automation, and footwork until you reach higher climbing grades.

But if you fulfill the upper requirements, start with a low intensity hangboarding training regiment. That way, your fingers, and tendons can adapt, and you can learn the correct technique. You will also have a chance to see how your body reacts to the hangboard training. Follow these three steps:

  1. Follow a light program for 2 weeks.
  2. If all goes well, switch to a moderate 2x/week consistently for another 4-8 weeks.
  3. Then transition to a more intense program of 3x/week or more frequently!

Some Good Hangboard Training Programs as a Foundation

Like I said above, don’t follow programs blindly. There is no single best hangboard training program. But there are some proven and working methods and programs you can use to orient yourself. Some of these are:

The most important thing to keep in mind when choosing a hangboard training program:

Finger strength is built over long time periods. There is no way to build finger strength within 2-4 weeks, without risking serious injuries. If you commit to a hangboard training regime, do it for the long term benefits. Otherwise, it won’t do you any good!

Common Terms and Notation For Hangboard Training Programs

There is a common notation found in most training programs. It’s useful to know this notation, and it’s derived from the Eva Lopez program.

{Sets} x {HangTime}({EffortLevel}) {x Reps/Set*} :{SetRest}{/ RepRest*}

How to read this:

  • Setsmeans the total number of sets
  • HangTime The duration of each hang in seconds
  • EffortLevel The difference in seconds between the duration you could have maximally held the hang and the duration you held it for
  • Reps/Set How often you repeat a motion for a set, if left out, it’s assumed to be one
  • SetRest The resting period between sets in minutes
  • RepRest Resting period between reps in seconds

Here are two simple examples with a detailed explanation:

  • 4 x 8"(4) :4'
    • Perform 4 sets of 8 second hangs with an effort level of 4 (meaning the hangs should have so much weight that you could hold for 12 seconds maximally but only hold 8 seconds) and rest for 4 minutes between sets
    • This is a maximum strength routine
  • 4 x 10"(2) x 10 :2'/3"
    • Perform 4 sets of 10 reps of 10-second hangs, with an effort level of 2, and rest 3 seconds between the reps and 2 minutes between the sets
    • This is a strength endurance routine

Effort level (EL): This is lower when your effort is higher. Makes sense, right? If you hold for 10 seconds and could have held for 11 seconds, which makes an EL of 1, this is way harder than holding for 5 seconds if you could have held 10 seconds (EL of 5)

Knowing this notation will help you to read MOST hangboard training programs available online, even if there are slight changes in the exact descriptions!

When to Add Weight to My Hangboard Training?

Adding weight is a variable with which you control the intensity, or Effort Level (see above for a description of this) of your hangs.

With that in mind, most fingerboard training programs that add weight are using max hangs or repeaters, and the weight is used to achieve the desired effort level.

If you do max hangs, you increase added weight to ensure that you are failing at maybe 15 seconds, then actually hanging for 10 seconds. This provides a buffer of 5 seconds.

When doing repeaters, the added weight is used to make sure that you fail at the final set.

An individual set of hangs should not exceed 10 seconds unless you want to train endurance or strength endurance. If you exceed 10 seconds of hanging duration regularly, you will suffer from a strong arm pump as your forearm muscles will be put under too much tension and occlude. Even when training longer duration endurance hangs, it’s always better to take very short 3-5 second rests between reps to have some blood flow!

If you can hold a hang for 20 seconds, it’s a smart move to change your grip to a worse hold or add some weight to come down to the 10 seconds/rep region!

Keep in mind that the buffer and hang times cited above are just for examples. If you reduce the hang time by increasing added weight, this will increase intensity. But it also increases the risk of hand injuries if you are not used to the weight, so use common sense and don’t overdo it with the additional weight!

Will Hangboard Training let me Climb XY Grade in 6 Months of Time?

It will most certainly not. There are a lot of factors to include that govern how high of a grade you can climb, finger strength being only one variable. Different body types, levels of mental and physical fitness will govern how high of a grade you climb. You will also need good route reading skills and find the right beta to climb a route. All the factors are playing a role, so it’s not really possible to answer a question like that.

But this data here, taken from this good article on Reddit, gives an estimation for an average climber with a good training regimen. Take it as an approximation of what is realistically possible under good but not perfect circumstances for an individual with average to above-average talent.

  • 1-2 months  from V0-2

  • 3-4 months  from V0-4

  • 4-12 months from V0-6

  • 9-24 months  from V0-7

  • 18-42 months from V0-8

  • 30-60 months  from V0-9

  • 48-84 months from V0-10

  • 72-120 months from V0-11

The first few grades of development are very fast, as your gains are quite high while you still learn the basics. After that, the gains start to slow. The rate of adaption is obviously influenced by your genetic predisposition to climbing too!

A new climber can reach V6 in one year of training, and might then need another year to reach V8. But she or he will reach a plateau at some point, as the progress becomes slower and slower while nearing his or her potential genetic limit.

A Good Analogy How Fast You Can Progress

If you imagine a race, with 1000 people starting at a line, and the goal is 100 yards away, we should ask: How long does it take for each individual to reach the 100-yard line. 100 yards being, of course, representative of V10 grade climbing.

Now, we could time everyone and then calculate the average time. But actually, we would need to adjust the starting line if we talked about climbing.

  • Everyone under 20 needs to run 10 yards less, so move up 10 yards
  • BMI between 18 and 22? Move up another 10 yards
  • Living in an area with many climbing spots and good climbers? Another 10 yards up, please
  • Everyone with enough money and a job that allows them to take time off to climb whenever conditions are good? That’s another 10 yards
  • Everyone with strong tendon insertion points, aka they are strong but won’t need a lot of muscles because of their body geometry moves up 25 yards

Now you have a starting field of people where some start 100 yards away and some only 35 yards. Even if there is not a single unmotivated runner, of course, the people closest to the finish post will be faster. And the ones starting without any advantages will take the longest time on average.

The only way to answer the question for you is actually to go out and try. Best to completely ignore the finish post for a while, focus on a good system for training, and have fun climbing. And try to become a better climber, step by step, grade by grade.

Conclusion: Don’t Rush Into Fingerboard and Hangboard Training and Have a Plan

On average, most people become better at climbing faster when they spend more time climbing. And you can spend more time climbing if you are not injured and have fun at climbing. Relax and take it easy for the first two years; you are less likely to injure your fingers that way.

Once you are a decent climber, think about fingerboard training. But don’t rush into it! Follow a Program or better: Develop your own program with common sense.

More Reading Material:

My guide on climbing training when you have a full-time career and family

My hangboard setup guide

Best climbing shoes for 2020