Training patiently and consistently on hangboards (sometimes called fingerboards) is a fantastic way to strengthen a wide variety of climbing-specific muscles along with your finger strength. Why both improving your finger strength? On vertical or slab routes, the vast majority of our weight is supported by our legs. But as routes get steeper, we have to support more of our weight on our upper body. If our fingers are too weak, we fall.
How to hangboard without injuring yourself
You’d be forgiven for thinking that hanging still on an edge from your fingers is a simple task. But there is definitely a good and bad way to hang. If you keep these tips in mind on maintaining good form during your sessions, you’ll be far less likely to injure yourself.
Warm up beforehand
The risk of injury is way higher if you hangboard cold. Warm up by doing some form of cardio e.g. jumping jacks, easy traversing/bouldering, skipping rope. This should be enough to get you a bit out of breath but if in doubt, it’s better to overdo it.
When we hang off small holds when climbing, there are essentially three different grips we tend to use. Open hand, half crimp and full crimp. Avoid the full crimp at all costs in your training as that is terrible for your tendons.
Don’t hunch your shoulders
If you find yourself naturally hiking your shoulders up near your ears then work to pull your shoulders down and back in a neutral position. Similarly, don’t pull your shoulders so far back that you end up arching your back.
Have a slight bend in your elbows
To avoid unnecessary strain on your connective tissue, you want a slight elbow bend. You want to be hanging on your muscles not your joints!
Listen to your body…don’t try to improve too quickly
If you feel the slightest twinge in your fingers, elbow, forearm, shoulder – stop right away. Improving your finger strength is a very slow process. Fact is your tendons strengthen at a much slower pace than your muscles.
Consistency is key
Before starting to hangboard you should be ready to commit to consistent sessions for at least 3 months to see any real gains.
Remember, this is just an accompaniment to your climbing
It’s easy to get obsessed with being able to hang off smaller and smaller edges but don’t forget the bigger picture. You’re doing this to improve your climbing not to win some hangboarding championship. Hangboarding on it’s own will not make you a better climber, it’ll just make it easier for you to hold on to smaller holds.
Now the size of edge/hold you use will depend on how strong your fingers are already and if you’re an experienced climber then you might want to experiment with hanging off different edge sizes first. You want to pick an edge you find a bit difficult i.e. you find it hard to stay on after 13 – 15 seconds but which you can hang with good form on for 10 seconds.
For now we’d recommend using matched holds with all 4 fingers in an open grip or half crimp.
If you fall before your 10 seconds are up, don’t just hop back on, count that as the end of that set and wait for the next set. If you find you can’t manage the next one then try a bigger edge.
There we have it, it’s that simple. As you get stronger increase the number of sets then eventually go down to smaller edges/different types of grip positions and adding weight to your hangs. Remember to take it nice and slow.
You don’t need to hangboard everyday to see big improvements over time, in fact, resting enough after training is a key factor in becoming stronger! This means we recommend two sessions a week, no more. And make sure you don’t have your hangboarding sessions right after a big climbing session (or even the day after one). Your fingers will thank you.
Thanks for reading and happy crushing.
By ANUKA TEGGART
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