By Nick Hollander, Instructor
There are many resources available about hangboard protocols – ranging from very simple to really complex. However, at the end of the day, the thing that makes a hangboard so valuable is its tractability. Your muscles get stronger when they go through progressive overload. This is the process of increasing the resistance applied to a muscle each time it is used. Weightlifters, for example, get stronger using progressive overload – making it easy for them to track their progress by simply using the next weight up.
In climbing, it can be a lot harder to quantify the loads you are putting on your body. This is why hangboarding is so valuable. It gives you data points to track and allows you to fine tune the force on your finger, ensuring you achieve progressive overload of the forearm muscles in every session. You can do this by changing the amount of weight applied to your fingers on a specific hold, either by adding weight attached to a harness or using a pulley system to reduce weight. This weight can then be tracked and changed session to session.
My Hangboard Routine
At the beginning of a hangboard cycle (typically 6-8 sessions over 4 weeks), I will select 3 or 4 specific holds that I want to train that season. These holds will be based on goal routes or address specific weaknesses. One is always a crimp, one is always a sloped hold, and the other two can be various pinches or pockets.
On the first session of a hangboard cycle, my goal is to establish a baseline for each of my holds. My baseline is the maximum amount of weight I can hang on a certain hold consistently. This is an amount that feels hard but won’t make me fall off. I can then add to that baseline in my latter sessions.
I always take special care to warm up before I hangboard, first with cardio, then with upper body range of motion exercises, and finally with some light climbing (when available). When hangboarding, I use a version of a max hang protocol. Basically, this means I hang on the board for 7 seconds then rest for a minute before my next hang. I do that three times each for every hold I am training. This usually takes me 20 to 30 minutes.
Hangboarding should be hard!
I have sustained several finger and shoulder injuries over the course of my climbing career, so hangboarding is an incredibly valuable tool. It is a place where I can push my fingers hard with a much lower risk of injury than Limit Bouldering on problems with small holds. I also love the data it provides. I have written down all of my hangboard sessions and can look back years to objectively measure improvement.
If you’re like me, being stuck at home without climbing has been very challenging. I have found that continuing to train towards my climbing goals, despite not having a gym, has helped me stay sane in quarantine. I hope this helps you build your own hangboard routines and continue to improve your climbing!
I can’t wait to see you all when this is over and we can pull on some plastic together again. In the meantime, let’s keep our fingers strong and keep the stoke high!