by Christopher Schafenacker
This past year, climbers have had to get pretty inventive with their hangboard routines. After all, for many it has been the only training implement accessible while stuck home. As a result, folks discovered that hangboards are more than just tools for training finger strength, but in a pinch can be used to train power, prevent injury, and even boost endurance.
While no substitute for a climbing gym or home woody, the following three workouts are enough to keep you fighting fit…even if you’re trapped in the desert with nothing but a crash pad and a camp stove (and a hangboard, of course).
1. Recruitment Pulls for Power
Recruitment pulls, as described by Dr. Tyler Nelson, aim not only to maximize the force you can generate through your fingers but through your entire pulling apparatus. To do them, begin by selecting an edge from which you can hang with one arm bent at a 120-degree angle for 3 to five seconds. If you cannot hang with one arm, simply select the biggest edge on your board. A wooden hangboard with radiused holds is recommended in order to protect your pulleys from the extreme force of the exercise.
Recruitment pulls are not about hanging but pulling down vertically with all of the muscles of your upper extremity. The goal of the exercise is to gradually develop force over the course of 1 to 2 seconds until you are bearing down as hard as possible for the remaining 3 to 4 seconds. With each pull, you should aim to lift your body off the ground even if you cannot, actually, do so.
If recruitment pulls are new to your hangboard routine, perform 1 set of 3 repetitions per hand twice per week. Rest 90 seconds between repetitions. As you grow stronger, increase the number of repetitions to 4 or 5 and, eventually, perform 2 sets per session twice per week.
2. Density Hangs to Prevent Injury
Another innovative hangboard workout designed by Dr. Nelson are density hangs. Here, the objective is to increase connective tissue density in the fingers and upper extremity by hanging statically for an extended period. Start by identifying two different types holds (say, a crimp and a sloper) from which you can hang with two arms for 20 to 40 seconds (but not more). If you are new to the protocol, complete 1 set of 2 repetitions per hold resting 3 to five minutes between efforts. As you advance, you can eventually add a second set to each of your sessions.
Nelson recommends beginners perform density hangs after recruitments pulls and complete two workouts per week. For those at an advanced level, he recommends doing density hangs once per week and as an independent hangboard workout.
It is important that density hangs be performed to failure and so if you’re not fighting with all your might after 30 seconds on your second hang, drop down to a smaller hold. As your tendons stretch while placed under such extended strain, Nelson explains that the chemical bonds attaching the tendon fibers are disrupted, forcing the development of more bonds and, over time, denser tissue. In turn, fingers not only gain the ability to generate more force, but become more resistant to injury.
3. Endurance Repeaters
Density hangs will increase your endurance by virtue of giving you tendons and finger flexor muscles better able to bear the strains of climbing, but that alone won’t give you what you need to pull through 150 feet of pumpy climbing. For that, you need what Dr. Jędrzej Banaszczyk calls “Forearm Aerobic Endurance Hangboard Routine” (his PhD is in engineering, not poetry). This is a variation on the classic 7/3 repeaters with the load dropped to just 30% to 40% of your maximum voluntary contraction (MVC), or max. hang ability (which Banaszczyk explains how to calculate in his article).
Banaszczyk is meticulous in explaining the science behind why these hangs are a great pre-season tool after a winter of crushing it on your home woody, or an excellent workout for climbers looking to maintain endurance while traveling. Too long to read? Do the following:
Beginners should hang at 25% to 30% of their MVC; advanced climbers can up it to 40% to 60%.
Choose between 2 and 4 grips and hang on each for 7 seconds and rest for 3 seconds, repeating until failure.
Aim to complete between 60 and 120 hangs per set.
Rest 10 to 30 minutes between sets.
Complete 1 set per grip.
Banaszczyk suggests completing this endurance hangboard routine 3 times per week over a 6-week cycle.
Each of these hangboard routines can be performed simultaneously, but unless you have no access to climbing (and therefore are not tiring yourself out in other ways), are better performed cyclically in the same way you would train power, power endurance, and endurance in macro- or micro-cycles.
Featured Climbing Training Gear
*NEW* The Rocketeer Wall: our free-standing adjustable solution for those who can’t mount a hangboard anywhere in their home or apartment—or who are limited on space. The Rocketeer gives climbers the additional option to set specific climbing holds. Recreate the crux holds of your proj and get ready to send, bruh.
The Rocket Wall: Available in 6’ and 8’ widths, it’s been tough for us to keep up with the demand for this innovative home climbing wall solution. Slightly overhanging, the Rocket Wall is big enough to set routes on, or to build a systems board.
The Rock-Stah: Our handcrafted version of a traditional hangboard, with curving crimp rails to help alleviate unnecessary strain on your pulleys. Because ain’t no one got time for a finger injury…
Heyman, E., De Geus, B. A. S., Mertens, I., & Meeusen, R. (2009). Effects of four recovery methods on repeated maximal rock climbing performance. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 41(6), 1303-1310.
Watts, P.B., Daggett, M., Gallagher, P., Wilkins B., Metabolic Response During Sport Rock Climbing and the Effects of Active Versus Passive Recovery (2000). Int J Sports Med, 21:185– 190.
Wilson, J. M., Marin, P. J., Rhea, M. R., Wilson, S. M., Loenneke, J. P., & Anderson, J. C. (2012). Concurrent training: a meta-analysis examining interference of aerobic and resistance exercises. The Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, 26(8), 2293-2307.
Augste, C., Winkler, M., Künzell, S. Entwicklung einer wissenschaftlich fundierten Leistungs-diagnostik im Sportklettern (2020). Augsburg University.