Hangboarding. The bane of every climbers’ training existence. My hangboarding journey first began first in 2018 when I sent my very first 5.13. after a solid 5 days of attempts and around 15 tries. The route (Timber, Planet X), at the time, felt like the very limit of my ability. It was, however, very much in my wheelhouse as a technical endurance test piece. I’ve always been pretty good at hanging out for long periods of time, pumping off of small holds in vertical terrain. What I was not good at was anything even slightly overhanging, or any kind of power endurance sequences.
First… the data. I’ll get to the details of what exactly I did below, but here is my progression using max hangs from October 2019 until April 2020
At the time, back in 2018, I felt empowered by this first 5.13a. I felt pretty strong overall, despite overcoming some shoulder injury in 2017. I had taken a lattice assessment and done a 6-month training cycle provided by them in 2017.
The assessment at the time (February 2017) was actually rather dire, particularly in hindsight. I had always thought of myself as having good finger strength, but as it turns out, it was actually quite poor.
Shockingly, even shortly after sending Timber (5.13a) in 2018, my scores on the crimpd app were arguably even more dire. A maximal hang test showed a maximum finger strength score of only around +14kg (30lb) added weight on my training edge (15mm). If you believe anything Lattice has to say, this is probably barely even sufficient to achieve a 7b/5.12b level. On paper, clearly my fingers were not nearly as strong as I thought.
Looking back, I thought I was doing pretty good at that point, even sending a fairly hard 5.12d up at Acephale a few weeks later called “Icebox of Broken Dreams”. At the time, however, I really had no point of comparison for my finger strength. Sure I could do maximal hangs with around 30lb on my small 15mm edge, but I really had no clue how that translated to actual climbing.
Stepping Stone, the 5.13b Dream
In 2019, I was emboldened by a long winter season of indoor climbing and the stoke of having sent my two hardest routes the year before. I did a finger strength test on the crimpd app on my 15mm wood training rung, and managed a score of +18kg added weight, or 125% of body weight held for 7 seconds.
I set my eyes on my first 5.13b route, The Stepping Stone up at Echo Canyon. This route is near perfection for 8a in the rockies. Hard, resistant moves, technical, and still relatively short at only about ~22 meters tall.
The route, at first, was damn near impossible for me. I don’t think I even did half the moves until probably around 15+ tries in. It starts with an easy 5.10+ intro to a no-hands rest. Then a 5.12a sequence leads to a poor rest, and the first crux… a difficult triple bump and a desperate sideways dead point to another poor rest, followed by resistant and difficult climbing to the chains.
I made poor progress until May, when I unfortunately injured a ring finger pulley in cold conditions. Good timing I suppose, as it was off to Squamish to attempt a bouldering and trad climbing trip. The trip was successful, I managed to send many V4’s and V5’s, and my first 5.12a trad route, and many 5.10-5.11 cracks. Not quite the big multi-pitch trad routes I had hoped, but still very happy with the results given my tweaky finger injury.
Back in the Valley
With the Squamish chapter coming to a close in August, it was time to hop back on Stepping Stone, to see if I could make some progress. Over several days, I was finally able to improve my links until on the last weekend before the snow in September, I finally made it through the first crux from the ground, and fell off the very last hard move twice. So close, but not enough to do it.
Time to change some things..
After a summer of failing on Stepping Stone, it was time to up the ante. It was around this time, in early September that I came across a Hangboarding video by Dave Macleod where he said something that changed my entire perspective on training…
Certainly for me, it was a revelation for me when I started doing proper, organized fingerboarding on a regular basis. My level was about 8b (5.13c) red-point on sport, or about Font 7c+/8a (V10/11) in bouldering. For several years I had plateaued, and when I started fingerboarding 6 days a week for a whole summer, that same winter I went to 8c (5.14b) and Font 8b (V13) and the following year I went to Font 8b+ (V14) and French 9a. So, it really propelled my level in climbing. It was one of the biggest lessons I learned.Dave Macleod – How to Hangboard
This single paragraph was, consequently, a revelation for me as well. I said to myself… “I need to change something, and this is it. Maybe I can’t hangboard 6 days a week, but I can definitely hangboard 3-4 days a week consistently, and increase the load.
The Hangboarding Training Protocol
My training protocol was simple.
- 3-5 days per week, no more than 2 days in a row.
- 20 minute warmup consisting of some easy static hangs on jugs, and progressive pullups on increasingly smaller holds.
- 1 Maximal hang set consisting of six 10 second hangs, with a 2 minute rest between each.
- I started at 25lb and every time I completed 2 max hang sessions without failing, I added 2.5lb or so.
This was without a doubt the hardest training regiment I had ever done. I find max hangs to be boring and difficult at the best of times, but setting aside an hour every other day to suffer on a little 15mm strip of wood was truly a new level for me.
Slow and Steady
It took around 4 weeks of consistently training and adapting to see any real results. The first 4 weeks were awful, but suddenly things felt just a tiny bit easier. I managed to consistently add around 2.5lb per week or so, as I had expected.
Late in December, I messed up… I did a long bouldering session after hang boarding at lunch, and the day before, and tweaked the DIP joint in my middle finger. My stoke got the best of me once again, and I overtrained myself into a finger injury.
Fortunately it was Christmas, just in time to take a little time off. I finished the 2019 year off with a max hang weight of 45lb/20kg or 128% bodyweight. I didn’t do a max finger test at the time, but my last “max strength test” on November 1, 2019 yielded a score of +65lb/30kg or 141% of body weight held. A significant improvement over my previous score of 128% in September.
The Results of Hangboarding…
Finally, after easing back into climbing in January and February 2020, I started getting back to hangboarding. I started back a little bit at 40lb/18kg but quickly progressed back up to 45lb and then SHOT past my old records into April.
On April 1, 2020 I did another finger strength test with astonishing (for me) results. I hit a new personal record at 75lb/34kg or 147% of body weight. An April 14th test and subsequent April 30th test yielded 80lb/36kg or 150% BW and then an absolute WHOPPING 90lb/41.2KG or 157% of Bodyweight respectively!
Hitting 157% BW held on my little 15mm training edge is far more than I ever could have fathomed. According to Lattice Training’s “My Fingers” assessment, I went from being 8% too weak to send 7b/5.12b to being in the “expected range” for 8b+ or 5.14a.
Training works. Hangboarding works. What else is there to say? There is definitely more to climbing than just finger strength, but there’s no question that a 6-8 month period of pure, progressive fingerboarding / hangboarding pays off exponentially, especially if you already have a solid base of climbing and bouldering to build on.
In total I did around 80 max hang hangboarding sessions over 7 months. Approximately 3-4 sessions per week. From humble beginnings in 2018 at only 118% of BW held, to a MASSIVE increase to 157% BW on the same hold, you could say I far exceeded my training expectations.
What’s the real proof though? in 2020, I finally managed to send my first 5.13b – The Stepping Stone, pretty early in the season. I then managed to complete another two 5.13a’s, 3 different 5.12d’s, and numerous 5.12a-5.12c routes in only 2-3 tries each.
All that’s left now is to take all this training and hard work outdoors, build up my endurance again, and send my projects.