Home » What is the Best Hangboard Program on the Internet?

What is the Best Hangboard Program on the Internet?

You want to climb stronger and have decided to train your fingers. But where to start? Which finger training program is best? Should you use a pinch block, hangboard, holds on the wall, or the edge of a door frame at your home?

In this article, I discuss how you can train your fingers and a big part of the finger training programs on the internet. When you’re done reading, you’ll know exactly which hangboard protocol is best for you at what stage of your climbing career.

Now let’s start with why you should train your fingers as a rock climber.

Let’s dive in!

1. Why Should You Train Your Fingers as a Rock Climber?

There are 5 reasons why you should train your fingers as a rock climber:

  • Connective tissue adaptation
  • To improve finger flexor strength
  • To improve finger flexor endurance
  • To get better at grabbing onto holds
  • Strong fingers correlate with a higher climbing level

Let’s look at these 5 reasons in more detail to understand what this actually means to your body.

1.1  Connective Tissue Adaptation

Connective tissue is everywhere throughout your body. It’s the tissue around every muscle fiber, every bundle of muscle fibers, groups of muscles via fascial trains, but not only that. All the layers of your skin are connective tissue, your bones, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, and even your blood is a highly diluted form of connective tissue.

The most relevant ingredient of connective tissue for you as a climber is collagen. These are the fibers that that provide strength and elasticity to connective tissue. Where a muscle fiber can adapt within 6-8 weeks, collagen needs a lot longer. The total turnover time of collagen is 300-500 days. This means that if you climb for the first time today and continue to do so, after 300-500 days your collagen fibers will have adapted. This means that only then your body will be capable of handling the stress from climbing well.

The most important takeaway from this insight into collagen for you is that you should progress your climbing intensity slowly. It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginning climber, someone who returned to climbing after a long break, or if you’ve been rock climbing for years. Each progression in climbing level comes with new requirements for your connective tissue.

Supporting your climbing with finger training on a hangboard can help you stimulate connective tissue adaptation in an environment where you can manage training intensity perfectly.

1.2  Finger Flexor Strength

Your muscles will benefit from stronger connective tissue to resist more load. Yet, muscles need to do more than that. You want to be able to contract them forcefully. To pull hard on small edges, to generate force to get to the next hold.

On a hangboard, you can train your forearm flexors isometrically. This is a muscle contraction without movement and is the classic way of hanging. You can also train your finger and forearm flexor concentrically by training the grabbing movement or on a campus board.

These types of training will cause hypertrophy to a certain degree, but more importantly, they will increase the inter- and intramuscular coordination of your forearm muscles. This means that your muscles get better at contracting together. Both are different muscles with the same goal as are the different types of fibers within your muscles. The better they work together the more force you can generate.

1.3  Finger Flexor Endurance

Finger flexor endurance is less a matter of inter- and intramuscular coordination but more a matter of how efficiently you can maintain a certain level of intensity. This depends on your muscles’ ability to generate energy from creatine, carbohydrates, lactate, fat, and oxygen. As a climber, you will rarely use fat as an energy source because you would need to climb for 90 minutes or more consecutively before your body turns to using fat as an energy source.

You will use the stores of creatine in your muscles with an absolute maximum effort that lasts less than 10 seconds. On all other occasions, you will use carbohydrates either with or without the addition of oxygen. These so-called energy systems you can train on a hangboard when you do “repeaters”.

1.4  Get Better at Grabbing

Grabbing is a skill that requires a lot of coordination. It’s not just with how much weight you can hang on the smallest edge, it’s also important to be able to feel how you should place your fingers and to be able to generate tension in your fingers quickly. Grabbing as a skill you can train on a hangboard but also with a very conscious focus on your hands and fingers while climbing submaximal circuits on the wall.

1.5 Strong Fingers = Higher Climbing Grade

The cumulative benefit of the previous 4 effects of training on a hangboard is twofold:

  1. You will reduce your risk of injury and thus have more time to train at higher intensities, focusing on improving your climbing performance.
  2. You will have stronger fingers.

Which both result in you being able to climb and send higher grades.

2. Can You Only Train Your Fingers Effectively with a Hangboard?

The hangboard protocols I will discuss hereafter can all be done on a fingerboard, or if you don’t have one with a pinch block connected to a lifting pin. Pinch blocks often have edges on them so that you can also practice your drag, half crimp, and full crimps.

If you don’t have any of those, a stable edge somewhere in or around your house will do as well. It’s best to standardize the sizes on which you hang. So, if you use a random edge, use tape or a tiny wooden edge glued onto it with different depths.

Here’s an overview of the different types of training tools for your fingers and the pros and cons of training on them.

 HangboardRandom EdgePinch BlockClimbing Wall
ProsStandardized holds and edge depths. Hangboards are usually soft on the skin. Great tool to train intensely because you only must focus on hanging. You train the kinetic chain as you use it for climbing.Same as Hangboard.Practices pinch grips, useful if you have no space to hang a hangboard. Perfect to train your fingers when you can’t raise your arms overhead due to a shoulder injury f.e.Great to practice grabbing as a skill. Easy to bring plenty of variety into your grabbing training. Your training is super specific to climbing.
ConsLess variety of climbing holds than on the wall. If you can’t raise your arms due to an injury a hangboard is useless to train your fingers.Same as Hangboard. And the surface of the edge might not be beneficial to skin health. Harder to standardize holds than a hangboard.You’re not training you grabbing in a kinetic chain relevant to climbing. Can’t train slopers.Technically difficult. You have to focus on other parts of your body to climb efficiently and then on top of them try to grab consciously.
Best used forMax Strength, Recruitment, Velocity, Endurance.Same as HangboardPinching! Max Strength, Recruitment, Velocity, Endurance.Endurance, Grabbing Skills, Max Strength, Recruitment, Velocity.

Now that you have an idea of which hang tools you can use for what, let’s have a look at the hangboard protocols out there.

3. An Overview of the Finger Training Programs Out There

There are a ton of hangboard protocols out there, yet most of them can be categorized by 4 distinct training goals:

  1. Max Strength
  2. Endurance: Anaerobic Capacity, Aerobic Power
  3. Recruitment & Grabbing Skill
  4. Anatomical Adaptation: Progressive Connective Tissue Loading
  5. Recovery Hangs

Below is an overview of the finger training protocols I have found, most of which I’ve tried myself in some form or other.

3.1 Max Strength Finger Protocols

Maximum Strength protocols train your capacity to resist high forces on your fingers. You must train close to your absolute limit to get the necessary adaptations. This means you shouldn’t be able to hang onto the edge you’re using for more than another 0-5 seconds. It depends on your training experience and climbing level how near your absolute limit you can train. If you’re not a professional rock climber or don’t climb above 8a-b there’s little reason to hang until you slide off the edge. So, for most of us a buffer of 3-5 seconds on each hang is a great idea.

You can train max strength in either one of two ways on a hangboard:

  • Minimum Edge Depth (MED): to increase the intensity of your finger training you will try to hang onto the smallest edge possible.
  • Maximal Added Weight (MAW): you always hang on the same edge and increase the intensity of your hanging routine by adding weight.

I have tried Eva Lopez’s finger strength protocols extensively, as well as Eric Hörst’s 7-53 program. To this day I find the way Eva Lopez designed her protocols easiest to follow and they make the most sense to me. That’s why I find it easy to dedicate to. Eric Hörst’s 7-53 program is based on the idea that a certain part of strength isn’t necessary for rock climbing and that you can therefore skip a part of the recovery period and hang again. I understand the theory but find it harder to dedicate myself. The same goes for Steve Bechtel’s 3-6-9 protocol to use training time more efficiently. To me, both of these plans are a great option if you have reached a plateau and can’t progress with hanging anywhere between 5-15 seconds per set.

3.2 Endurance Finger Protocols

All endurance finger protocols are repeater protocols. Each set consists of around 7 seconds of hanging with a short break of around 3 seconds after which you hang again. After multiple repetitions, a longer break follows. The idea is to mimic the repeated loading of the finger flexors while climbing.

Endurance training is less efficient on a hangboard than max strength training. The thing is that on the wall not each hold will force you to use all your strength and therefore forces less adaptations of this sort. When it comes to endurance, on the other hand, you do grab onto a new hold each time which triggers endurance adaptations.

I think it only makes sense to train endurance on a hangboard if you’re unable to go climb in the gym or on rock. Otherwise, I would focus on doing 4×4 boulders, or climb a variety of sport routes back-to-back.

3.3 Recruitment & Grabbing Finger Protocols

Tyler Nelson has developed 3 cool protocols that differ from the regular endurance and strength protocols. These are the:

The idea of the recruitment hangs is to recruit as many motor units as possible by increasing your pull force slowly until you’re pulling as hard as possible. The velocity hangs are similar, only this time, you try to generate force as fast as possible. Both of these finger protocols are active hangs, so you’re not actually going to hang off your fingers, but rather you pull the hangboard or pinch block towards you. The great thing about this is that you can’t pull harder than you’re strong, making it almost impossible to injure yourself. Your body will shut your strength output down as soon as something might happen.

The finger training on the wall protocol aims to improve your grabbing skill. The goal is to climb below your limit and focus on consciously grabbing onto a wide variety of holds. This will develop your ability to recognize the best way to grab onto each hold.

3.4 Anatomical Adaptation Finger Protocols

None of the finger protocols on the internet, even the beginner protocols, aren’t made for beginner rock climbers. They’re all for people who have been climbing for at least 2 years and climb around 6c or more. The reason for this is what I discussed earlier in this article. Your connective tissue isn’t ready for specific finger training yet. The risk of injury is too high. Yet there is one issue here.

What if you’re slowly progressing up through the climbing grades and after a year and a half start trying 6a+/6b? Have you seen the holds on these routes? They became a lot smaller than they were when you were still climbing fivers or most of the 6a’s.

At this point, you’re forced to use smaller holds while climbing, even though all the holds before were big and comfy. These smaller edges place unique stress on your fingers and pulley ligaments. Mostly because you will start crimping more.

To reduce the gap between your connective tissue strength and the requirements of the next steps in your climbing level as a beginner climber I designed the Ultimate Beginner Climber Protocol. With this protocol, you start training all types of grabbing and all types of edges right at the start of your climbing career. The only difference is that you will do so with reduced loads.

I thought I was the first to publish a protocol of this kind, but a week after putting it on my blog I found an article by Tyler Nelson on Climbing.com that addressed exactly the same issue.

3.5 Recovery Hangs

The No Hangs protocol popularized by Emil Abrahamson was based on a scientific review published by Keith Baar called “Minimizing Injury and Maximizing Return to Play: Lessons from Engineered Ligaments”.

One of the takeaways from this paper is to train ligaments and tendons with low loads intermittently for up to 10 minutes with 6 hours between training sessions to maximize collagen synthesis. As a climber, it’s beneficial to have the maximum amount of collagen synthesis possible to reduce the risk of injury. Because the more collagen you have in your tendons and ligaments the stronger they are.

Using the No Hangs Protocol you hang 10 seconds on the minute for 10 minutes while only loading up to 40% of your maximum capacity. The results in Emil’s case were amazing but how are they throughout the climbing population?

Since the tips in Baar’s review were based on Engineered Ligaments (made in a lab) it would be exciting to figure out what happens exactly in the fingers of climbers. In a recent video, Emil mentioned he is going to team up with Baar to do more research into the subject.

Now that you have an idea of all types of finger training plans out there, the big question that remains is: which is best for you?

4. Which Rock Climbing Finger Training Protocol is Best?

It depends on your goals and which stage you’re at in your climbing career which finger protocol is best for you. It’s best to train strength, recovery, recruitment, velocity, and connective tissue on a hangboard. For all types of endurance, I would train on the wall as much as possible.

When it comes to training fingers, I like to keep it super simple. So, here’s an overview of all the finger training protocols and when you should consider which. Within these recommendations, choose the protocol you like to do most. This will help you to enjoy your training more and thus get better results.

Climbing ExperienceRecommended Protocols
0-2 years and up to 6cTyler Nelson’s Beginner Protocol, my Ultimate Beginner Rock Climber Finger Protocol, or Emil’s No Hangs Protocol
2-5 years and/or up to 7bRecruitment Hangs, Velocity Hangs, Basic Strength Protocols, Repeaters
7b+Whatever you need to improve including the more fancy strength protocols like the 3-6-9 or 7:53 protocols.
Scroll to Top