Fingerboard Training for Rock Climbing

Fingerboards are also very effective tools for developing climbing-specific upper-body strength, especially the contact strength of fingers and forearms. They are constructed of molded resin or wood and have handholds of various sizes.

Mounted above a doorway or set away from a wall, a fingerboard is one of the best training tools other than a climbing wall. Fingerboards are not for novices; a base of strength built by a season of easy climbing and bouldering is recommended before launching into a fingerboard training session. Always warm up thoroughly before beginning a fingerboard session.

A couple of tips for proper use of fingerboards: Many of the exercises involve static hangs off certain handholds. When performing a hang, keep the elbows and shoulders slightly flexed so that the body is supported by the muscles in the arms. Do not hang in a dead hang with your weight supported by fully extended shoulders and elbows. A dead hang is very stressful on the joints and connections in the shoulders and elbows.

Try not to crimp on small holds. A crimp hold hyperextends the joints of the fingers. Crimping provides a super strong lock onto a small hold, but repetitive use of this type of hold in a training environment can overtax the joints and lead to sore, swollen, and stiff fingers. Use an open grip instead.

This is not an easy hold to master, especially on smaller holds. The best way to build open grip strength is on sloping handholds. Start with large slopers, gradually moving onto smaller and smaller holds over the course of a training season.

Note that at this level, proper training technique differs from good climbing technique. For example, the rest position used while climbing has the climber relaxing all the body weight on a straight arm. This position rests the arm muscles by relying on the bones and skeletal system to bear the brunt of the body weight.

Using that position for repetitive and lengthy fingerboard training could potentially lead to injury. Remember that training is not climbing. The point of training is to efficiently and safely exhaust and rebuild climbing-specific strength.

As with training on a climbing wall, fingerboard training can be broken into the two categories of endurance and strength training. Endurance exercises on a fingerboard consist typically of longer timed hangs on larger holds. For example, start by timing yourself for your maximum hang time on the largest holds on the board.

Rest a couple of minutes, and repeat your maximum hang. See how many times you can repeat this cycle of maximum hangs and rests. Move to sloping holds or smaller edges (but do not crimp!) to increase the challenge. Try the “20/20” exercise: hang for 20 seconds, then rest for 20 seconds. Repeat ten times.

Power workouts demand maximum effort for a short duration. Longer rests between sets may be necessary. Time yourself for maximum hang time on progressively smaller holds. If hang time exceeds 10 seconds, then move to a smaller hold. Include pull-ups in a fingerboard routine.

To build strength on a fingerboard, the size of the hold should only allow five pull-ups at most. If you can do more, move to smaller holds. More strength can be developed by adding resistance. Hang weights in 2-pound increments from your chalk-bag belt and repeat your usual routine. It will be a lot harder, and is an excellent illustration of the importance of climbing with as little weight on your body as possible!

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