Friday, August 17, 2012

Bare Naked Hangboarding.

A year or so ago, shortly after a post concerning hypertrophy, I received a nicely written blunt message from my friend Ryan Palo.
 These aren't Ryan's exact words, but it basically said, "Hey idiot... why are you hangboarding after bouldering?  Hangboarding should be the main focus, with bouldering second.  Everybody knows this.  And what does your skin think about it?  Stop being a jackass."
I replied, somewhat meekly, that I felt I still had alot to learn from bouldering as far as technique goes, and that I felt my limited time would be better spent that way.  I also complained that it's too hot and humid here to get much out of hangboarding in the summer.
Again, I'm paraphrasing, but Ryan replied,  "Whatever dude.  It's hot here too.  Just man up and get your ass out of bed earlier.  Act like you want it."

Ok then.  Point taken.

Funny thing is, my best season came after a winter spent focused on the hangboard.  For some reason, once I found that I could hold onto much worse holds, I decided to head back to bouldering while my hangboarding was reduced to post bouldering workouts.  Same with any kind of campusing.  It was an afterthought.

In my defense, I did have alot to learn from bouldering.  Thing is, if I had structured it right, I could have had my cake and ate it too.  But I didn't.  Live and learn.

So heading into this summer of training, I made some drastic changes for the simpler concerning the hangboard.

First, my hypertrophy, or strength, phase had to be more focused on the hangboard.  No more post bouldering sessions.  Also, to take advantage of the cooler temps, I'd have to be up early getting it done.  Manning up.  The latter means that I can't do it at the gym anymore.  I'd need to either bring one of my boards home from the gym, or come up with another answer.

Again, I simplified.  After many skin shredding sessions on commercial boards with lots of holds, I always found myself stuck on the smallest crimps, and those are either too big, or too sharp.  I needed to save skin, make something for inside the house that would look good enough to hang there (we have a TINY house... nowhere to hide), and keep it very, very basic.

So I built this guy...

Three edges.  The top is 1/2" and rounded, the middle is 3/8" and very slopey, and the bottom is 1/4" and rounded.
No I won't build you one.  No I'm not selling this one.  It's easy... get your hands dirty and give it a try.

I bought the wood from Home Depot.  The rungs are all hardwood.  The 1/2" and 1/4" came in the right sizes, and I just rounded the edges with a sander.  For the 3/8", I used a 1/2" rung, sanded almost 1/4" off the back, and then drastically rounded the edge with the sander.  Predrilled the holes, screwed it onto a stained 24" long, 7" wide, 3/4" deep board, and mounted that.  Took about an hour.  Cost about $15.00. 

The wood is much friendlier on the skin.  I've had no skin issues at all with it.  The 1/4" hold hurts to hold onto, particularly now that I've started adding weight, but any time all your weight is on a 1/4" edge, it's going to be a little painful, no matter how rounded it is.  Man up.

Hanging it at home and making it accessible assures that I'm going to be on it.  Actually, I rather enjoy getting up early and having my workout done by 7ish.  If you look back at my workout schedule, you'll see that I'm often bouldering in the evening on the same day.  I've noticed no reduction in my finger strength on those evenings.  The 11 hours or so between the hangboard and the bouldering seems to be plenty to rest and have it all back.

The biggest hurdle to hanging in the morning at home has been the warmup.  I invested in a little grip trainer, use it while I'm watering plants or making coffee, and constantly stretch my fingers and clench and unclench my hands.  I rotate my arms and make sure my shoulders are loosened up.  I then start by doing a few hangs on the top of the board... the 3/4" edge.  A few hangs on the top and middle rungs, and I'm ready to slowly move into the workout.

Have I mentioned that I went simpler?  The workout itself adheres to this as well.

In trying to keep more with the principles of true hypertrophy,  I ignored the classic "repeaters" workout in favor of something more streamlined with fewer reps, meaning less volume, and more intensity.  It goes something like this:

 Half crimp grip.  Each rep lasts 8 seconds or until failure.  10 seconds rest between reps.  1-2 minute rest between sets (grips).  F3 denotes front 3 fingers.  R3 denotes rear three fingers.  M2 are middle 2 fingers.  If no finger count is specified, it is with all 4 fingers.  I started on each rung with bodyweight.  Upon finishing a set of 3 reps with bodyweight, I add weight on a belt or vest with 4 fingers, and begin trying it with only 3 fingers.  Once I've completed a set with that weight, I add more.  I add weight until I reach 20 lbs, which is where I draw the line.  I just feel that the added weight beyond that point is less valuable than time spent on smaller holds or with fewer fingers.  I continue doing the 20 lb. hang in the workout as a means of warming up to weighted fewer finger hangs (which is denoted below).  When no weight is listed, it's because the weight grows from session to session in 2-6 lb. increments until it reaches the 20 lb limit.

Warm up with 1 set of 3 reps of bodyweight hangs from top and middle rungs.  
Top rung.  20 lbs.  3 reps.
Middle rung.  20 lbs.  3 reps.
Top rung.  F3. 20 lbs.  3 reps.
Middle rung.  F3.  20 lbs.  3 reps. 
Top rung.  R3.  3 reps.
Middle rung.  R3.  3 reps.
Bottom rung.  3 reps.
Bottom rung.  F3.  3 reps.
Bottom rung.  R3.  3 reps.
Top rung.  M2.  3 reps.
Middle rung.  M2.  3 reps.

At the end of the workout, if my fingers feel pretty good still, I'll add in a few extra bodyweight hangs on the bottom rung, just for good measure.  I don't use a stopwatch for the workout.  I count in my head, estimate the rest times, and go with gut feeling.  If my fingers are sore and tired (like from sledgehammering a sidewalk and laying a stone patio all weekend), I don't hesitate to skip or shorten a workout.  If I just can't commit to the small edge, I skip it.  Those things have only happened a time or two, but it's best not to force it and get injured or set back.

I'm a weekend warrior.  My time is precious.  This entire workout, warmup included, lasts all of 30 minutes.   My skin loves me for it.  My finger strength is seeing gains like it did in what I consider my best season, which has me pretty excited for the coming fall.  Thanks Ryan.


  1. Brilliant. Love it. Thank you. Good luck!
    Looking forward to the results wrap ups.


  2. So, I just came across this post while getting the psych up for fall climbing season, and after visiting this site for this first time in several months. Last spring was my first time doing specific hangboard/hyp period for training, and while I did send my spring project, I'm unsure if my last hangboard workout was the most efficient. Anyway, like you, I'm considering seeing how more intensity/weight, and fewer reps may work, we'll see.

    Fortunately, I've never had severe skin problems on hangboards (thanks Hoofmaker!). But I did have one question about your wooden rungs: it looks like, from the sheen and the glare, that you varnished them or something, or is that just because of the hardwood? They look way more polished than campus rungs or anything like that.

    Also, in less analytical, I will also not be using a stopwatch on the hangboard this time around. Instead, I've got a playlist of a bunch of songs that I've tweaked to exactly 120 beats per minute, making it easy to count off the seconds to myself. As a fellow musician, you may want to try it.

  3. Hey Paul, first off, nice work sending the spring project!

    I definitely didn't varnish the rungs. That look probably comes from the last minute cell phone photo and editing that I did. I left them natural, and they don't seem to have any more sheen than the wood base does. Must be the photos.

    I like the music idea! I'll have to give that a shot.
    Thanks Paul!

  4. Hey Kris,

    Thanks for the kind words. Now Im wishing someone would call me out. Haha.

    Hangboarding is about pain tolerance too. A lot of climbing is just dealing with sharp holds and uncomfortable movement.

    Also, we just got that new Transgression board. Good lordy that has some small grips. Took down the 5.12 board for good.


  5. Glad you didn't abandon hard climbing and training for good after JDI. Huge congrats again, by the way.

    Pain tolerance, yes. No doubt.

    Psyched to see that board soon!

  6. After reading this I went and measured the crimps on my hangboards with calipers to see how they compared. The smallest crimp on the Metolius Simulator is 5/8"! The smallest on the Stone Age board (which I always thought was really really small) is 1/2". These are jugs compared to that 1/4" grip you've got! I think I need to make a trip to Lowe's and get some smaller grips.

    p.s. Did you measure that hardwood thickness (the grips look thicker than you state, but it is probably an illusion)?

  7. Have you thought about mounting the board tilted back at an angle, e.g. 15 degrees? I too opted for a homemade board and it seemed like tilting it back was a little more representative of typical outdoor grips...

    I love your site by the way, you've got a lot of great information here!


  8. Brian, I did measure them, and they are right on. The 3/8", since I sanded it, isn't completely uniform, but the other two are. It's crazy how big the holds on most boards are!

    Craig, I have toyed with that thought. You're the first person I've heard who did it. I'll definitely give that a try sometime in the future!

  9. Kris, Did you see an increase in hang time/weight between each hangboard session of this workout? Just curious because I can usually match my workout on day 2, but have never seen improvement without more rest.

    Thanks for the motivational blog, need it these days between work and young children time and energy are limited.


  10. I haven't seen an increase between every workout, but there has been fairly steady increase. Now that I'm in my 2nd phase, and am only hangboarding twice a week, I am seeing gains every session, so what you're experiencing might very well be the same for me.

    No problem... hope you get some use of all my ramblings!

  11. Kris,

    I thought this post provided some great detail and helpmed me understand your previous post on your overall training plan. It really shows how far I need to go in terms of finger strenght. I started following your format for my finger board training, but I am using the medium campus rung, small campus rung and the 1/2" rail.

    I would love to see something similiar to describe your campus training sessions.


  12. Thanks Alan. I've got to get some measurements and photos, and the campus post will be up soon. Glad it's helping out!

  13. Are there pockets at the Red?

    I've been training on an edge, but i find that if I pull on pockets there can be sideways(stabilizing) forces which the fingers are not ready for. I feel like if you intend to climb on pockets, training them is a good idea if not for pure strength than at least for the safety of the tendons.

    1. There are lots of pockets in the Red. You're right about different forces, though I'm not sure how to simulate those sideways forces on a hangboard. I find that training with fewer fingers on an edge combined with bouldering on pockets works best for me. Pockets in the gym have become pretty unpopular, so I usually have to set my own training problems for that grip.

  14. Also, just to confirm. The entire workout is done using only half crimp?

    I have heard that training open crimp benefits both open hand and full crimp positions(as well as the open crimp obviously), it's just a bit of a shock to see a hangboard workout without open hand hangs.

    1. Hi Danger,

      I find that an full open hand hang relies more heavily on skin than any real strength. Following the principals of specificity, I can't fathom how open hand hangs would benefit a full crimp position. I choose not to train in a full crimp position simply due to the danger of the grip.

  15. Kris,
    I'd like to hear your opinion on the benefits of weighted hangs vs. bodyweight hangs on smaller rungs.
    I put together a "hangboard" on my home wall (27 degrees). Previously, i was doing open-handed weighted hangs on one of the rungs of my campus board(21 seven second hangs with about 25 pounds of weight over the course of a session).
    I've recently added two rungs-- one smaller than the campus rungs, one a bit smaller than that-- between the first and second rung of my campus board.
    I did my first session with the rungs; I obviously had to decrease weight quite a bit. While the hangs felt harder than without weight, hanging from the smallest rung was a bit uncomfortable which got me thinking:

    Is there a benefit to training finger strength on smaller edges with less weight vs. larger edges with more weight?
    Is there a real benefit to mixing the two/three sizes, or is the idea of variety just another fallacy that doesn't benefit things?
    I can't find ANYTHING on the physiology of why hangboarding works; In fact, the only genuinely convincing thing I have seen about the benefits of hangboarding to train finger strengths is my own experience (the benefits are definitely real!!)


    1. Hey Carlos,

      Good question... and I'm going to have to defer to the expert on this one. Eva Lopez recently published an article (the abstract of which you can read here: ), that I've read in it's entirety. As always with Eva, it's quite an impressive study that she conducted. In short, she found that it's important to train both ways, on a bigger edge with heavy weight, and on a smaller edge with body weight. She had her subjects split into two groups, the 1st training with added weight for a cycle, and then with body weight on smaller edges for a cycle. The 2nd group reversed the order. Across the board, with both strength and grip endurance, the 1st group outperformed the 2nd.
      So, the expert says do both... but do the heavy weight first (as part of a strength phase), and the body weight next (perhaps as part of a power phase).
      Hope that helps! I intend to put Eva's findings more to use this summer in my own training.


  16. PS, i meant half crimp above-- not open hand.

  17. I love your blog, thanks for sharing with us!

    I have a question:
    How do you implement hangborading into low/high training?
    8 seconds hangs are not too long for high part of training?

    best regards

    1. Hi Tom, I definitely don't think 8 second hangs are too long for High Intensity training, assuming you aren't doing too many of those hangs. I think the best method for implementing it,and keeping it high intensity is the method described by Eva Lopez, which I reference here:

    2. So the 10(4) hangs recommended by Eva are intense enough to be in High Intensity zone?

      Thanks for the answer.!

    3. In my opinion, yes. 3 to 5 ten second hangs are perfect!

  18. Did you use hobby board for the rungs? Red Oak? Poplar?

    1. I think its Red Oak. I bought it in the hardwood section at Home Depot, near the hardwood trim pieces.

    2. I bought the wood and made a similar board, except i used 3/4'' plywood as the backboard, and actually added a fourth, .75'' warm-up rung. So incredibly cheap, and just about as effective as any hangboard on the market. Awesome article, Kris. Thanks for writing it!

    3. Awesome Brendan! I still love mine!

  19. I have read your post. Thanks for sharing the blog and always keep it. You'll find distinct approaches to sense of balance both the types of sanders. Inside transverse sanders, the particular push pulleys usually are away from with one particular area which in turn occasionally is usually hard in order to sense of balance.