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You can never have too strong hands or fingers when rock climbing. But how do you build up your grip strength for rock climbing? The best training for a stronger grip is, of course, climbing itself. But you can also work on your grip strength or improve your weaknesses between two climbing sessions. As a beginner in rock climbing, you can build grip strength by bouldering or train your fingers with special equipment at home. If you are an experienced climber, it is a good idea to start with hangboard training. At the beginning of this article, I’ll go into exercises that you can do as a beginner and at the end, we’ll look at the advanced training with a hangboard.
In all these exercises, however, it is important not to overtrain yourself as injuries to the arms, hands or shoulders would mean a setback for your training and would require a break. So always start slowly and carefully. The first rule of training: Do not get injured!
Advantages of Strong Fingers when Climbing
Why strong fingers are advantageous when climbing is quite obvious:
- Strong fingers can hold smaller holds.
- Well-trained fingers recover faster – even during climbing.
- Strong fingers can be used for longer periods of time.
Training your Grip with Bouldering
Since the execution of the movements is usually the best training in itself, bouldering is perfect for the training of grip strength. Bouldering is ideal for beginners who need to build up a certain amount of basic strength in their hands, shoulders, and arms before using more advanced methods such as hangboarding. Since you don’t have to be secured and you don’t have to look out for your climbing ropes, you can focus purely on climbing and training. And bouldering is fun! At least more fun than just doing blunt strength exercises.
Even advanced climbers should include bouldering in their normal training program. In addition to grip strength, technique and strategy are also trained. The disadvantage of bouldering as a training for our grip strength is that we cannot target specific muscle areas or grips because the muscle load depends on the route and the circumstances. In order to avoid this, we should plan our route before we start and not stick to the given colored routes but choose the grips we want to train. So we focus on strength rather than technique. The difficulty level can be increased by climbing overhead or by choosing smaller and smaller holds. Between two attempts, there should always be a rest of about two to three minutes, so that our body can recover.
Bouldering with Weights
If normal bouldering becomes so easy that you don’t get a training effect anymore, you can also boulder with weight vests* or weight belts*. However, extreme caution is required here! Only very experienced and well-trained climbers should ever think about bouldering with weights, as there is a higher risk of injury. This exercise should only be carried out in a climbing hall and only after a good warm-up phase. Because of the increased strain, you also have to pay special attention to what your body tells you. You have to stop training immediately if something doesn’t feel right.
In principle, training with weights during bouldering is the same as without. You choose a route that is not technically demanding but requires your strength to the desired extent. This route is then climbed two to three times in a row, with a rest of about 3 minutes in between. Be sure you can climb the track without any problems. An uncontrolled fall with extra weight is not very comfortable.
Since most of us can’t go to the climbing hall every day, we also need something to work on our grip strength at home. The classic solution for this is a normal gripper*. They are available in many different versions and resistance levels. If you train every other day with a gripper three times until failure, you will experience an increased grip strength very quickly. The advantage is that you can use it whenever you don’t need your hands, for example on the train, in front of the TV or while reading.
Training your Grip Strength with a Pull-Up Bar
With a pull-up bar*, you can train your grip strength in different ways. The simplest method is simply hanging on the pull-up bar. You can either completely grip the bar or just put your fingers on top of it without holding it with your thumb on the other side. The fingers and the rest of the hand are about 90 degrees to each other. If this position is no longer difficult and you can hold it for one minute or longer without effort, you can now try a more difficult version. If possible, you can pull a tube over the pull-up bar, which can rotate freely. It is much more difficult to hold on to this rotating bar than a rigid bar. If you manage to just hang on to it for a longer period of time, you can switch to normal pull-ups. But don’t get frustrated if you don’t cannot do this at the beginning! Pull-ups on a rotating bar are very difficult and only possible after a long time of training.
Training your Grip Strength with a Rope
Another very practical tool to train your grip strength at home is a thick gym rope* which you can hang from the ceiling. It should be about 3 fingers wide so that one can hold on to it properly. Here you can adjust the training to your own strength. The easiest way to train with the rope is to just hang on to it as long as you can. If this works out well, you can start climbing up and use your feet. And finally, the most difficult way to climb up the rope is not to use your feet and only climb up the rope with your arms.
The Hangboard or Fingerboard Training
If you are an experienced climber, you should spend more time training the finger flexors of your forearm. A fingerboard or hangboard* is ideal for this purpose. Before training on the hangboard you should warm up thoroughly – about 30 minutes. This is best done by bouldering or normal climbing. If you have installed a hangboard at home and understandably don’t have a climbing wall, you have to do something different. The methods described above (grippers, pull-up bar, gym rope) can be used for this purpose. In order to warm up the rest of the climbing muscles, you can hang on to the easiest holes of the fingerboard and do some pull-ups.
Especially with the hangboard, it is important to carry out the training only with healthy fingers. If you have an injury or are still recovering from one, you should not go to the hangboard.
Before I get to the actual workout, here are a few rules on posture to follow:
- Activate your back when hanging by gently pulling up and pulling the shoulder blades together.
- The head remains straight, the eyes are pointing forward.
- The elbows are never fully stretched. A slight bending must be maintained.
- The core should also be tightened.
I recommend this fingerboard training as an entry-level training. You will need a fingerboard with different sized edges and pockets. Then you should test which one you can hold on to for about 15 seconds. The hang time during training should not exceed 12 seconds and you should never hang until your muscles fail.
One set should consist of five 12-second intervals, with a two-minute break in between. Start with two sets with a break of 3 to 5 minutes. Advanced climbers can make a total of 5 or 6 sets that aim for different grip positions. The difficulty should be set in such a way that you can manage the last 12 seconds without the muscles failing. As time goes by, you will become stronger and stronger, allowing you to use increasingly smaller edges and pockets.
Finally, the edge training makes you so strong that the holes you hold on to become so small that the training hurts. At that point, you should start hanging weights on your climbing harness.
Edge Training with Weights
In this training, you use more comfortable and larger holds, but either with a weight vest* or weights* hanging from your harness. Start with a comfortable edge and choose a weight that is so heavy that you can hold yourself for 10 seconds without failure. You have to experiment a little to find the appropriate weight.
The training plan I recommend is to hang for 7 seconds and then rest for one minute. A set consists of three cycles. After each set, you should take a 3-minute break. If you have not done edge training with weights before, I only suggest two sets on two days a week. Advanced climbers can make more sets, but only on two days a week. This training puts a lot of strain on the muscles. So you shouldn’t do it before a competition or a climbing session outdoors.
To build up your strength you gradually increase the weight. But you always have to be careful not to hang on the hangboard until you fail. If you go through the training consistently, after about four to six weeks a plateau is reached, in which you do not gain any more strength. Once there, you can concentrate on other areas of your body, such as endurance. The training with a fingerboard should not be done that often and not so intensively as before, because from now on you only want to maintain the strength you have gained.
Attention: You have to take care of your safety when climbing! The information on climbtheearth.com only helps you to learn. Before you climb, you should make sure that you have been properly instructed by an expert and that you follow all safety precautions.
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