By Neil Gresham
We all know that the best training for climbing is climbing, but for those long rainy evenings when you can't face the indoor wall, or for those quick lunch-break workouts, a fingerboard session may provide the next best thing. Fingerboards can be used to develop specific strength, power and endurance for climbing, and your wall or crag sessions can then be used to convert these gains into climbing terms.
With regards to what type you choose, there are so many purpose-built resin and wooden fingerboards on the market you should have no problems finding a well priced board with a range of holds. Whilst some of these seem to be somewhat over-designed for what is essentially a simple job, most will do the job. Home made wooden boards are often just as effective and they can be made easily with minimal cost - a strip of 18mm ply drilled and T-nutted. T-Nut adjustability enables versatility and and adaptability, and a combination of wooden and resin holds in the best mix. If your fingerboard has no large jugs then it can be used in combination with a pull-up bar for pure arm work.
A fingerboard can be used for a wide range of highly worthwhile training exercises which can be split into two basic categories: Isolation exercises (which train the fingers and arms separately) or Synergistic exercises (which train both arms and fingers in combination). However, the most important concept to draw into all aspects of fingerboard training is that of varying the resistance of training in order to conform to a target number of repetitions for a given exercise. This does not just mean using different sized holds. To decrease the resistance you can use a bungee stirrup or small foothold positioned in such a way as to allow marginal assistance. To increase the resistance, the safest way is to use a weight belt (for 2 arm work) or carry a weight in your free hand (for 1arm work)
A deadhang is simply a straight armed isometric (static) finger hang performed on a specific hold for a set time duration. At all costs, Deadhanging should not be used for long endurance sets as this places repetitive strain on the finger joints and may cause chronic injury. It is best to mimic the common finger contraction pattern in climbing as accurately as possible, either by performing shorter sets for strength or intermittent hangs with alternate arms for endurance. This will ensure maximum specificity to climbing and that the fingers are released before they are overstrained. If you are new to deadhanging it will be a virtual necessity to perform exercises with two arms. However, as you progress it is always better to switch to 1arm work on larger holds which offer better support for the all important first finger joints, rather than being tempted to use dangerously small and painful holds with 2 arms. The only time when 2arm work is worthwhile for stronger climbers is for experimenting with combinations of 1 or 2 fingers on each hand.
Rest periods between deadhanging sets should be sufficient to enable you to make quality attempts. For the 'alternate arm' work, this would probably mean at least 4 - 6 minutes between sets, and for the single contractions, 2 - 4 minutes. If anything, do less rather than more as it is always best to stop when you still feel strong' rather than allowing your performance to drop significantly. This will enable you to recover more quickly between sessions.
1) Vary your grip
Deadhanging should be used to train the full range of finger isometric angles although most climbers tend to favour a half-crimped position, simply because it is the safest way to hang on edges. Go steady with full-crimped and open-handed work and a good combination is to do 2 sets of half-crimp to 1 of crimp and 1 of open-hand. The modern approach to 'openhanded' training is to use carefully designed and well-rounded edges (or campus rungs) as opposed to pockets.
'Train not strain'
Although deadhanging is ideal for working weak fingers, it is not recommended to complete beginners. Deadhanging is intensive by definition and general climbing will provide a far better means of developing a base level of finger strength. Even those who are already quite strong should remember that deadhanging is best used as a supplementary exercise to bouldering so don't get carried away! A good combination is to alternate between fingerboard sessions and bouldering sessions.
2) Arm isolation training All arm exercises for climbing can be performed either on the largest 'jug' holds on your fingerboard or on a pull-up bar so as to minimise the loading on the fingers.
1) Fingertip Pull-ups On flat first-joint edge - rest 3 - 4 mins between sets 3 x warm-up sets 2 - 4 reps x 4 sets (flat, first-joint edge) (Do 2 sets half-crimped, 1 crimped & 1 open-handed) 6 - 8 reps x 2 sets (slightly larger flat edge)
2)Six-move Fingerboard Problems Warm-up sets (do individual moves, with bungee or foothold if necessary) 3 repeats / attempts (rest 3 - 4 mins between each)
3)Pull-ups on Jugs (combine with isometric locks) rest 3 - 4 mins between sets 2 - 4 reps x 3 (max resistance ie: weighted or 1arm) 6 - 8 reps x 2
4) Traveling Pull-ups 3 sets of 8 – 12 (3 - 4 mins rest)
5)Deadhangs (1arm or two depending on ability) rest 3 - 4 mins between sets Half-crimp 4 - 12 secs x 4 (each hand) Half-crimp 4 - 12 secs x 2 (each hand) Sloper 4 - 12 secs x 2 (each hand) Open hand ,, ,, x 2 (each hand)
6) Hanging Leg Raises 3 – 5 sets of 12 reps (see guidelines above)
WARMDOWN (Stretch + light pull-ups with assistance from feet)