Climbing / School / Fingerboard
We all know simply going climbing is the best way to improve and also probably the most fun. But being British it isn’t always possible to climb outside and sometimes, due to hectic lifestyles, it’s not even possible to have a few hours down the local wall on an evening.
If I have just described your lifestyle or you are incredibly motivated then thank your lucky stars that God (or more likely some once ripped old man wearing Lycra) found the time to create what is known as a fingerboard. A fingerboard allows those with little time, or a lot of motivation, to improve their finger and arm strength without the need to take over half of their house building a decent sized woody. A fingerboard fits nicely above a doorframe, or on to a beam in the garage or loft, therefore not looking an eyesore, which could quite possibly cause severe hassle with the partner who doesn’t climb, subsequently leading to several nights spent alone on the sofa.
Even better, a beneficial fingerboard workout can take as little as 30 mins, allowing a climber on a tight schedule to still see improvements in their climbing.
What is a Fingerboard?
A fingerboard is made from either wood or resin, and can be as small or as big as you like. Ideally it should fit above your door frame and have a variety of holds including a large hold to warm up on, a few pockets, slopers and a couple of different sized crimps.
There are a lot of fingerboards on the market – some good and some not so good. My main problem with the majority of fingerboards available is that they contain just too many types of holds and are just way too big and expensive. I certainly wouldn’t want a huge fingerboard put up in the doorway in my immaculate country home and have to explain and demonstrate exactly what it is to each and every visitor I have.
A fingerboard should be small and simple but have enough different grips to complete a full workout, but not too many so that you just don’t know where to start.
My impatience with searching for a fingerboard that suited my training needs led to Ben Moon and I designing and manufacturing a fingerboard that we could call our own. A fingerboard that we would be happy to train on, confident that it would benefit not only our own climbing, but the climbing of everyone who uses it no matter what their ability.
Throughout this article I aim to include all relevant information and tips to help you complete a beneficial and successful fingerboard routine. This article will have a variety of worthwhile exercises that can be performed on the new Moon fingerboard. It is not essential to own a Moon fingerboard for this routine, but is recommended, since I will specify the exact holds to use on the Moon hangboard for each exercise.
What is required?
To complete a successful fingerboard routine there are a few basic items of equipment required. Obviously you will need a fingerboard or some kinds of holds you can pull up on. You will also be required to vary the resistance of the exercises to suit your own personal needs. To increase the resistance (add weight) a weight belt or rucksack with weight disks is required. To decrease the resistance (drop weight) a strip of bungee cord, or for the keener people out there a pulley system can be used. Also a toothbrush (to keep the grips clean), a stopwatch (to ensure sufficient rest) and optional Rocky music will help you achieve a more enjoyable, efficient workout. Also, for less advance climbers, I recommend using a chin-up bar as well, especially for warming up and warming down, since the intensity will be a lot less on the fingers. These can be purchased from Argos at very reasonable prices and also can be set up in any doorway.
What is a dead hang?
A dead hang is holding a position with your weight off the ground using either a single arm or both. When working finger strength you should hold the dead hang position with a slight bend in your arm/arms. When working finger strength try to use smaller holds which you can only just hang, rather than larger ones which you can hang easily. When working arm strength you should use slightly bigger holds concentrating on locking your arms off in the various positions stated, keeping your body as open as possible.
It is possible to dead hang on any of the three grips as mentioned above.
Do’s and Don’ts
- Avoid doing an excessive amount of pull ups on your board. While pull ups can be beneficial, simply doing larges sets of pull ups will not benefit your climbing and will more than likely lead to a trip to the physio with severe elbow pain.
- Try to complete all tasks smoothly and do not jolt the body up and down since this adds excess stress to the fingers and joints.
- Never attempt finger pull ups. They will not help you and are very dangerous. Once you have set you finger positions for an exercise it is important to keep them like that. If you grip is failing let go.
- Don’t overdo a hangboard session. You are training strength not endurance therefore there isn’t a need to go on for hours or ‘til failure, remember “quality over quantity.”
- Fully warm up. Always warm up before you start you main session. Using a chin up bar and the larger holds on the fingerboard can help achieve this.
Grips and exercises
There are three main types of grip to train when using a fingerboard (see campus article grips). I recommend, however, that you pay particular attention to working your open hand strength. It is the weakest position for most climbers and possibly the most important. It’s worth noting that improving open hand strength will also make you strong in the crimped position but not the other way around. I will state which grip to use for each exercise. We have a picture of a Moon Fingerboard here with each grip labelled for identifying which grip to use in our sample training plan here.
As for specific exercises that can be done on a fingerboard. The most common would be either a double or single armed dead hang on any of the grips mentioned above. It is also possible to work core and body strength on the fingerboard. This can be done by completing a routine using leg lifts, or for the more advance climber front levers.
Leg lifts involve hang low with a slight bend in your arms on a good hold, then keeping your knee’s straight, lift your feet upwards until they are on a level with your waist, then slowly lower your legs back down. It is important that you complete this exercise in a slow movement, rather than snatching and that you also keep you back straight.
Front levers, Involve holding the whole body horizontally in the air, as if you where a plank of wood, keeping the body as straight as possible. It is a very strenuous exercise and substantially harder than leg lifts.
If you are finding leg lifts too easy and front levers to hard, try adding ankle weights when completing leg lifts. This should help the transition between leg lifts and front levers. Also try doing half of a front lever; this consists of attempting front lever position but with a slight bend in the mid area.
Lock offs and one armed pull ups, Lock offs are usually done on one arm, and involve hanging one a single arm in locked position, usually 90 degrees. One armed pull ups are exactly as described, it will probably be necessary to use some kind of assistance, I recommend using a pulley system as shown here but a bungee cord will be just as effective. It is important when doing both of these exercises that you don’t twist into the arm you are exercising, try to keep straight on.
Again, the guys at Moon are giving away their secrets and giving another taster of a fingerboard session here. This session will be suited towards someone who is of a good standard, at least someone who fits into category C in the Training Questionnaire here. However the exercises can be altered to suit your own personal needs by simple increasing or decreasing the resistance using the methods as explained in the main article.
If you cannot achieve some of the single armed exercises that I suggest, think about doing double armed hangs but with added weight.