The Hangboard Protocol That Worked for Me

Hangboarding is one of those training tools that is extremely effective, but it is tricky to get right in terms of intensity, frequency, and balance with other forms of training and climbing.

When I first started hangboarding, I had just sent my first 5.13 which at the time felt like the absolute limit of my ability. It was very much in my wheelhouse as a technical endurance test piece, which is kind of my jam as a bit of a “weaker” climber. I’m pretty good on my feet, finding sneaky rests, and generally doing everything in my power to avoid having to be powerful.

What I was not good at was anything even slightly overhanging, or any kind of strength or power endurance sequences.

So first, the results of the work… which were substantial. Throughout around 90 sessions over 6 months starting in October 2019 and ending around April 2020, I went from a max hang strength test (7 seconds on 20mm edge) of ~120% up to around 157% (a true weight of around 25lb added up to close to 90lb).

Max Hang Progression (115% -> ~144%)
Actual Finger test (120% -> 157%)

At the time in 2018, I felt pretty strong and empowered after sending Timber (first 5.13), 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 results of the original assessment in 2017 was pretty bad. I had always thought of myself as having good finger strength, but as it turns out, it was actually not really sufficient for the goals I had.

Shockingly, even shortly after sending 5.13 in 2018, my scores were arguably even more dire. A maximal hang test showed a maximum finger strength score of only around 125% added weight on my training edge (20mm). If you believe anything Lattice has to say, this is probably barely even sufficient to achieve a 7b/5.12b level. On paper, my fingers were not nearly as strong as the grades I was climbing might lead you to believe.

There’s also something to be said here for climbing way above your “fingers”, and that perhaps you don’t need to be all that strong to climb pretty hard. It’s not impossible to overcome strength deficiencies with good technique and a ton of time and effort just climbing.

Eugene on Icebox of Broken Dreams, 5.12d

Progressing to 5.13b… and my weak fingers catching up to me

In 2019, after success the season before, I decided it was time to try something harder. I chose The Stepping Stone up at Echo Canyon. This route is near perfection for 13b/8a in the Rockies. Hard, powerful, resistant moves, technical, and still relatively short at only about ~22 meters tall.

The route felt near impossible for me for a long time. I don’t think I even did half the moves until a few days into projecting it. The route starts out ok with a 5.10 into a short 5.12 section to a mediocre rest. Then the business begins… around 18 hard moves in a row with no real rest. For someone like me with objectively low upper body strength, it was definitely over my head.

First tries on the Stepping Stone (5.13b) in 2019

I made poor progress until May, when I was shut down with an injured ring finger pulley in cold conditions. Good timing I suppose, as it was off to Squamish to attempt a bouldering and trad climbing trip.

After a rather abysmal summer season with an injured finger, it was time to hop back on Stepping Stone in the fall 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 paragraph was a pretty big wake-up call about training and what was possible. Maybe I can’t hangboard 6 days a week, but I can 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 (better to have a rest day).
  • 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 2-4 minute rests 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 incredibly boring and difficult at the best of times, but setting aside an hour every other day to suffer on a little 20mm 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% body weight. 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 a crazy improvement to 90lb/41.2KG or 157% of body weight on the finger strength test.

Hitting 157% BW held on my little 20mm 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.

Good luck!

5 thoughts on “The Hangboard Protocol That Worked for Me

  1. Pingback: 8a Progress // The Stepping Stone - Alpine Journals

  2. Pingback: 2020 Climbing Season Wrap Up - Alpine Journals

  3. Hello! Thank you for your interesting article.
    At the moment, I am also following a hangboarding-based “diet”!
    I started about 8 weeks ago, going from about 107% BW (+5kg) to 115% (+10kg), noticing significant improvements.

    I would like to ask if you have followed any kind of periodization that also includes deloading weeks occasionally. Additionally, I’m curious to know if you encountered any plateaus during this period and if you have always performed only max hang workouts (so no repeaters, etc.).

    I would also like to ask about your approximate body weight at the time of training. I’m around 68kg.

    Thank you and best regards!

    • Thanks @summorum – I definitely agree with Periodization, I was taking probably 1 week every 6-8 weeks where I did no hangboarding, and only light effort. I was about 68kg, but I am currently 80kg and stronger than ever, weight definitely isn’t too important to progress.

  4. Pingback: How to climb 8a/5.13b (after an injury, several years, and an extra 10kgs) - Alpine Journals

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