Fingerboard repeaters or dead hangs are one of the core exercises for building pure, unadulterated, raw finger strength when training for climbing. These are not to be confused with other workouts where you are moving between hangs, lock-offs and pull-ups or whatever else. Fingerboard repeaters are the real deal and should provide the foundation for any climbing strength training phase.
Why Fingerboard Repeaters
When training, there are two basic types of movement or exercise, isotonic and isometric. Isotonic exercises are characterized by movement. What that means is that the muscle/joint angle changes throughout a range of motion. These are the types of exercises you normally picture when you think about working out.
On the flip side, isometric exercises are static in nature. During these exercises the muscle/joint angle remain fixed throughout the contraction. A perfect example of an isometric exercise would be gripping down on a hold. Once your fingers hit a hold and your muscles squeeze to grip, they are essentially fixed at that joint angle and muscle length until you relax your hand.
It is kind of common sense, but research suggests that athletes should train isometrically if their activity primarily requires isometric movements. Like the example above, in climbing the fingers are almost always used isometrically. That said, the crux is that strength gains do not easily carryover between different joint angles or grip types. What that means is that in order for isometric training for climbing to be truly effective, it needs to be performed using the exact grip types encountered during climbing.
Luckily, there are only a small number of grip types for climbing. More importantly, these hand positions are easily replicated, which is where fingerboard repeaters come into play. Other then HIT training, there is no other training tool or exercise other then repeaters (climbing included) that lets you completely isolate and train each specific grip type to failure… period.
How to Perform Fingerboard Repeaters
To perform fingerboard repeaters, place each hand on whatever grip type you would like to train. Your hands should always be using the same grip size and type for each set. In other words, if you are training the medium edge with your right hand then you should also be training the medium edge with your left hand. I use an older Metolius fingerboard, but I have friends who love the new Trango Rock Prodigy Training Center.
Once you are set, drop your weight and using an open hand grip just dead hang completely static. In order to perform each hang with proper technique, your hands should be shoulder-width apart, arms slightly bent, with the muscles in your shoulders, arms and upper back engaged. This keeps you from hanging directly from your joints and reduces your chance of elbow or shoulder injury.
The goal of each fingerboard repeater workout is to complete a predetermined number of sets and repetitions for each grip position. A repetition consists of holding the dead hang for a fixed number of seconds.
Beginner Fingerboard Repeater Workout
For this workout you are going to complete 1 set of 6 repetitions (or “reps”) for 8 grip types. A rep is a 10 second dead hang followed by 5 seconds of rest. You should keep your hands on the board while resting between reps.
After completing each set, rest for 3 minutes between each grip type. Overall workout should take around 36 minutes to complete.
|2||I/M/R Large Edge||1||6||Baseline|
|4||I/M Large 2 Finger Pocket||1||6||Baseline|
|6||M/R Large 2 Finger Pocket||1||6||Baseline|
|8||M/R/P Large Edge||1||6||Baseline|
I = Index Finger, M = Middle Finger, R = Ring Finger, P = Pinky
The goal of this workout is to complete each rep with perfect form. In order to accomplish this you will most likely need to use a fingerboard pulley system to remove weight from your body or if you are advanced, hang weight plates from your harness to add weight to your body. The objective is to use just the right amount of weight so that you’re struggling to complete the last rep for each grip type. This weight is referred to as your baseline resistance for this specific workout. Different grip types are going to have different baselines since obviously certain grips will be stronger then others.
Building a full strength training phase is beyond the scope of this post. I just wanted to give you a snap shot of what a single workout in a smaller micro-cycle would look like. That said, for a climber new to the fingerboard, repeating a cycle of the above workout 2x a week for 4 weeks with at least a week or two break from fingerboarding between cycles is a good start.
Quick Notes on Fingerboard Repeaters and the Beginner Fingerboard Repeater Workout
-Fingerboard repeaters are an extremely effective tool for building raw finger strength, but they put tremendous stress on your fingers, elbows and shoulders. If you have never “seriously” trained on a fingerboard in this fashion, even if you are an advanced climber, err on the side of using less weight in beginning so your body can adapt to the higher stress and always focus on performing each rep with perfect form… even at your limit!
-Again, because of the stress placed on your fingers, elbows and shoulders during a fingerboard repeater workout it is recommended you take at least 2 days of rest between workouts. Moreover, during those 2 days you should only engage in light easy climbing. This will give you time to recover between workouts and avoid stress/overuse injuries.
-Don’t be a hero… thoroughly warm up and stick with open hand grip when training fingerboard repeaters. Unless you are an advanced climber who knows exactly what you are doing with years of hardcore fingerboard training under your belt, do not use a full crimp grip when performing fingerboard repeaters. It is the absolute fastest way to get a finger injury… guaranteed.
-As you get more advanced, when choosing grip types it is important to think about what exactly you are training for. If your goal route is a jug haul in the Red, then train the larger grips with a lot of added weight. If you are training for a delicate face where you are inching up dime edges in Devil’s Lake, focus on strengthening the smaller grips. Make your training make sense in the larger context of your goals.
-Given different grips will have different baseline weights it is very important that you keep an accurate record of them. This way you can use them as a benchmark and track your progress as you build fingerboard training into your overall climbing routine. Also, add new grips slowly each cycle, you do not want to be using completely different grips cycle to cycle because you will not be able to track your progression over a longer time period.
-It is unlikely that you are going to walk into the gym on your first day of fingerboard repeater training and know your baseline. As frustrating and annoying as it is… establishing your baseline is going to take some trial and error.
A strategy that worked well for me when I started out was to find a weight I was initially comfortable with and perform a set. If I could complete it and it felt easy, I would add 5 lbs next workout. If it it was too difficult and I could not complete it, I would remove 5 more lbs next workout.
After 3 or 4 workouts, I was able to establish my baseline. Then by the 6th or 7th workout as I became stronger, I would add 5 lbs each time I was able to finish as set and it felt easy. I repeat this process for every grip that I trained.
-Finally, a fingerboard repeater workout is more akin to limit bouldering. It needs to be performed at super high intensity, the stoke meter needs to be on full blast, and if you are not sweating, grunting, or feel like your forearms are on fire by the last rep, then you are not doing it correctly.
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