Training For Climbing

Many people think the key to a professional rock climber’s success is being a well honed muscle machine. Indeed, they are partially correct in their attempt to ascertain. However, there is a set of body parts that are essential to a climber’s success that doesn’t stick out like rock-hard triceps but crucial: Fingers. Imagine yourself 200 feet off the ground with nothing to hold onto but a quarter sized nub of quartz and you will understand why having a firm grip is not optional in the world of climbing! Building up the strength to maintain that grip is quite a different workout than the average gym frequenter may be used to. Here are some good exercises for people looking to turn their normal work out into a climbers workout designed for building hand and finger endurance.

The most useful tool for anyone looking to improve their grip on the wall is a Fingerboard. Not the little plastic skateboard that were all the rage in the early 2000s, one of these.

Fingerboard/Hang Board

Fingerboards are a great multipurpose practice tool for climbers of any skill range. They can be hung in a doorway or on a garage wall and are perfect for endurance workouts as well as finger strengthening routines.

It is important to remember that building finger strength is less about building muscle and more about strengthening ligaments and tendons. These tissues usually take longer to build up than muscles. Tendon and ligaments are also slower to heal than muscles, so be cautious of the amount of stress and load you are putting on them. A torn ligament will put you out of commission for much longer than a pulled muscle!

As with any work out, the best way to prevent injury and promote growth is a good warm up routine. When warming up, go from the largest groups of tissue you’ll be using to the smallest. Start with a basic aerobic warm up. Then move to one to two sets of up pull ups or a 30 second hang from your finger board. Be sure to take breaks in between sets. Follow your warm up with five to ten minutes of stretching and light finger exercises with a hand squeezer. Now you are ready for a proper finger strengthening session!

Gripmaster Hand Strengthener
Gripmaster Hand Strengthener
There are two general types of exercises when it comes to finger workouts: endurance exercises and power building exercises. The nature of the former are exercises that are long in duration and focus on load bearing. The latter are shorter in duration and are primarily designed to help with load carrying or transfer.

The amount of load you should carry and the intensity of your workout depend on your level of skill. Try to pick a load weight that is difficult to hold for the duration of the exercise. If you find yourself having to give up mid hold, try slightly less weight. Load is determined relative to your body weight. To reduce weight, try resting one leg on a chair or stool while letting the other hang freely.

Now for the actual exercises: the following tasks can be mixed and matched with different holds on your finger board.

  • Hangs – Beginners can start with straight armed hangs. As you feel yourself getting stronger, try bending your arms slightly and holding your weight up for as long as possible.
  • Pull-ups – Traditional pull ups are done with the arms parallel. However, offsetting your hands will help build strength in the hand on the higher or more difficult hold. This is helpful if you find that one of your arms is disproportionately dominant over the other.
  • Knee Lifts – Hang from an easy hold and lift your knees to your chest, bending at the knees and waist. This helps improve both your core muscles and finger strength.
  • Shoulder Shrugs – Hang as above and raise and lower your body without bending your elbows. Be careful not to overuse shoulder shrugs as a workout routine. Shoulders are a complicated and delicate joint. Injuring them can cause discomfort for a lifetime.

Some final tips
Before you begin your quest for ninja like grip, remember these last few tips.

Competition Chalk
  • Always make sure you warm up properly. You forget how great your hands are until they aren’t working properly!
  • Avoid using “crimp” grips whenever possible. Crimp grip is when the tips over your fingers are pressed flat against the hold, the first joint in your finger is bent to an obtuse angle, and your second joint is locked in a right angle.
  • Do your best to keep your hold steady. Avoid shifting your finger positions or transferring weight by doing “mini pull ups’ as it can strain ligaments easily.
  • Don’t be afraid to use chalk while practicing. Just remember to clean your finger board after so as to avoid buildup that can lead to slippage.

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