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The Hangboard Guide

The Hangboard Guide

  • Posted by Kaleigh
  • On April 28, 2020
  • Comments

Most climbers have a similar weak link: finger strength. It doesn’t matter how strong you are or what style you prefer, you can always have stronger fingers. Adding in one or two hangboarding workouts a week will make a noticeable difference in your climbing ability.

But while many climbers are currently on the road to one-arm-pull-ups, we recognize that hangboarding is new to several of you, and we know it can even be a little intimidating. Though it’ll be hard to quit once you start proper sessions because the gains you’ll make are undeniable, and there’s no doubt you’ll be impressed with yourself after a few weeks of steady progress.

To help give the lowdown, we caught up with Front Training Room coach Dan Mirsky. Dan is no stranger to pulling hard: He has put up numerous hard first ascents and has ticked off a number of 5.14, up to .14d. He currently resides in Carbondale, Colorado and has made Rifle his home, but still coaches remotely through The Front. If you want to get really strong, Dan is the guy to talk to. So, when he shares his thoughts about hangboarding, we shut up and listen.

Read on to cover the basics of hangboarding so you can start on your own path to 5.14.

Why should we use a hangboard, anyway?

Hangboarding is the most targeted way to develop finger strength because you as a climber are able to control the environment. Plus, static hanging reduces other variables like movement and focuses on grip positions only.

Where should we set up our hangboard?

This is a personal choice. When deciding where to put it, think about how elaborate you want your home gym setup to be. The simplest method is over a sturdy door frame. If you don’t want to nail it directly to your wall, first attach the board to a piece of plywood, then to your wall.

If you’re in a rented apartment or simply cannot put holes in your wall, then you just need a little ingenuity. A zero-damage method is to attach a hangboard to a doorframe pull-up bar with some duct tape, drill, wood screws and a few other odds and ends. This is a great video on how to go about the build.

Or you can always make your own frame. You’ll need additional materials, but an external frame allows you to move your hangboard inside and outside the house, with no damage to your walls. This is a great page that explains the process in-depth.

Lastly, putting the hangboard in an accessible location is key. If you hang it in a cold or dingy basement or garage, you aren’t likely to use it very much. Instead, try putting it in a doorframe you often walk through, like the one leading into your bedroom, or in a room you’re often chilling in, like your living room. You’re way more likely to crank out a few pullups when going to bed or waking up than if you had to go down a set of stairs into a dark basement every time you wanted to get a quick pump in.

What else do we need for a proper hangboard session?

Chalk and a brush are always helpful, and you’ll definitely want an interval timer (the one on your iPhone works just fine, or a separate interval timer app is good, too!).

If you’re itching to add weight, cutting off the leg loops on an old harness and adding a sling and biner is a fool-proof method for hanging with weighted plates, dumbbells or kettlebells. If you don’t have these laying around the house, simply add some water jugs or books to a backpack – you’re limited only by your own creativity.

Just remember, maintaining control in your training is most valuable. So, just make sure you weigh your DIY weights before hanging so you know how your session and overall performance will be affected.

How should we warm up?

Two words: rice bucket. Go buy a few pound bags of rice and a five-gallon bucket from your local hardware store and wallah – rice bucket! Sticking your hands in bucket of rice works wonders for mobility in your wrists and hands, as well as being a nice tool for injury rehab.

If you prefer to keep rice in your mouth, then generally just moving around works, too. And don’t just warm up your fingers. If your entire body is warm then your fingers will heat up quicker. If you’re unable to go for a light jog, consider getting after a few burpees in your living room. Doing anything you can to elevate your heart rate before hanging will work to your advantage. Once your body is feelin’ warm, tendon glides are a solid place to start for pinpointing your fingers, wrists and hands.

What are the do’s and don’ts of hangboarding?

Most do’s and don’ts of hangboarding have to do with form:

1. DO engage your shoulders
     « Hanging with shoulders in your ears is not good.
2. DO make a proud chest
3. DO keep your arms slightly bent
     « Engage your core, shoulders and elbows.
     « Experimenting with different arm angles is OK when targeting different muscle groups, but arms slightly bent is the most proper form for beginners.

The biggest “don’t” when hangboarding is don’t work out without an intention. Before you start your timer, think about what it is you’re about to be doing and what it is you hope to get out of the exercises. Don’t just hang willy-nilly. Rather, have a plan of attack. Will you crimp with an open or closed hand? Are you hanging for a total of 10 minutes, or 20? What will you do with the time between hangs? Like most things in life, having deliberate, thoughtful actions will bring more value to your sessions.

Should we use an app?

This goes back to the previous note regarding intentions. By identifying what it is you want out of your sessions, you’re better able to find a program that works for you. Most hangboard apps are decent diving boards, but if you want to swim in the deep end then you should really consider working with a coach to maximize your time and get the best workout that is tailored to you specifically.

Every climber has a different body type and ability level, so working with someone who takes time to understand your goals and baseline strength will prove far more effective than working off an app that’s generalized for anyone who downloads it.

Should we train strength or endurance on the hangboard?

Hangboarding is best for training finger strength. Other climbing techniques and training tools are better for endurance and aerobic capacity. It’s all about choosing the right tool for the job.

But if a hangboard is your only tool, you can adopt the 7/3 Repeater Protocol into your workouts. This method can be effective for training endurance. Start the 7/3 by picking three to seven different grip types to train on, ranging from the two-finger pocket and narrow pinch to the jug or sloper – the grip selection will depend on your baseline strength.

Then, start on the sets. Each is comprised of 6-hang-rest intervals consisting of a 7-second hang and 3-second rest. So, prepare for each set to take about one minute. Cycle through each grip type once during a set. Rest one-three minutes between sets, then repeat.

Should we add weight when hanging on bigger holds, or just grab onto smaller holds?

Again, it all depends on your intentions and what it is you want to train specifically. If you don’t have weights to begin with, then body weight hanging is a good challenge and baseline for most people.

If you do get creative with weights in a backpack or a homemade weight belt, just don’t go too crazy and get in over your head. Adding too much weight too quickly will easily result in injuries. Stay conservative with weight additions by keeping the edges big while incrementally adding weight. Listen to your body and be careful as you add weight and decrease hold size.

How much should we rest?

Within the workout, it again depends on what you’re specifically targeting. In general, it’s best not to have a minimum resting time. Obviously, the period you have to get your workout in will limit your max rest, but take as much rest as you need to so you don’t push too hard too fast and get injured.

One fantastic way to approach resting between hangs is to create a pod of workouts after each hang. For example, focusing on a few shoulder stability or core exercises and stretches between your time on the hangboard will ensure you’re getting enough rest while also training other parts of your body.

In any given day, if you’ve completed a successful finger training workout, then make the following day one of rest. And don’t train the same things two days in a row. If you have the ability to train fingers one day, then knock out a ton of pull ups the next, do that. But don’t train your fingers over and over again, because that leads to injury … and getting injured at home is a total fail.

If you’re working from home and have 30 minutes or so between work projects, you can easily get in a quick warm up and a few hangs multiple times throughout the day. This breaks up your workflow and also helps you not stare at a computer for numerous hours at a time. And, it’s way more productive than scrolling through social media or checking the news every chance you get.

What does a sample strength workout look like?

It’s hard to prescribe a blanket starting point because every person is different. But, a very basic, generalized beginner strength workout is approximately eight seconds hanging on an edge that’s somewhere between 15-20mm, or on an edge that’s challenging for you but doable to maintain the half-crimp position for eight seconds with good body and finger form.

The most important way to start is by working from a half-crimp that engages your fingers. If the hold is too big and your fingers aren’t getting worked, then that ruins the whole point of training on a hangboard.

If you’re on an edge you feel is challenging for you and hanging on your bodyweight is easy, then increase resistance in some capacity by finding a sweet spot where an eight second hang is an 8/10 effort. Then, rest a minimum of three minutes while doing your favorite shoulder stability, mobility or core exercises. Complete a minimum of five sets as a general starting point.

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Thanks for your expert insight, Dan!

If any of that information sounded confusing or overwhelming, or if you want to talk more about hangboarding, then you should seriously consider signing up for a one-on-one with Dan Mirsky or any of our other trainers. Consulting with a professional coach will help you more realistically track your progress and hit your climbing goals.