Training Dynamic Strength on a Hangboard
by Christopher Schafenacker
Dynamic strength is what’s needed to pull long, desperate crux moves on small holds. Before mega lines like Jumbo Love and Silence redefined hard sport climbing, the standard was set by such power test pieces as Ben Moon’s Hubble (8c+/5.14c) and Wolfgang Güllich’s Action Directe (9a/5.14d). Unheard of levels of dynamic strength was needed for both routes, and, in its pursuit, the first ascensionists developed training devices now seen as fundamental: the campus board and the system board. These are where you make camp if you’re looking to get Action Directe strong…or, at least, it’s where you would make camp if a pandemic weren’t standing in the way of you getting to the gym. Luckily, in the absence of access to a such facilities, dynamic strength can be trained on a hangboard. This is good news, whether you’re headed to the Frankenjura post-Covid or, ya know, just trying to crush all your friends the next time you play add-on.
Understanding Dynamic Strength
To train this skill on a hangboard, you need to know a little about your aim. Dynamic strength is not a scientific term. It is climber slang for a combination of abilities that allow you to throw for a far-away hold and stick it when you connect. Doing so involves both explosive power and contact strength, and the latter is the focus of the present piece.
Contact strength is all about getting as many muscle fibers as possible—firing as quickly as possible—when your fingers hit a hold. Achieving this usually means campus boarding, but in a pinch, recruitment hangs are a pretty good substitute—especially for the injury prone, for whom the campus board is more torture than training device.
Recruitment hangs train your brain to recruit more muscle fibers any time you bear down. This means that when you fire for a distance edge, more of your strength comes into play more quickly as you try to latch it. Achieving this means short-interval hangboard training at 100% percent effort. One-arm hangs are the safest way to do this.
Basic Recruitment Training
Dr. Tyler Nelson, a physiologist and climber, recommends those new to recruitment training try the following protocol.
Choose an edge. If you are strong enough to hang off of one arm, opt for an edge you can hang for no more than 5 seconds. If one-armed hangs are not in your repertoire, choose the largest edge available.
Pull with maximum effort on this edge for 3-5 seconds. Your goal is to reach max pulling force after 1-2 seconds and then maintain it for 2 or 3 additional seconds. Make sure not to fully extend your elbow but instead maintain a 120-150-degree bend. Don’t worry about raising your feet off the ground.
Complete 3 hangs (or pulls) with each arm resting 1 to 2 minutes between efforts. Rest 5 minutes between sets. Complete one set of each of the two principle hangboard grips: open hand and half crimp.
Repeat this protocol twice weekly 4 to 6 hours after a climbing session (if you’re still lucky enough to be doing those).
Successful hangboard training requires patience. You won’t feel the satisfying burn of redlining when practicing recruitment pulls, and yet it is important you don’t compromise progress by cluttering your session with additional hangs. After 4 or 5 weeks of practice your brain will have learned to activate as many muscle fibers as possible when bearing down meaning pretty quick any hold you hit, you’ll stick.
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…