Training for Maximum Finger Strength

In a previous post, we talked about training muscles for maximum strength, specifically using weights. One reason I really like weight training is because it is very easy to control the load. The movements are controlled, repeatable, and symmetrical. This makes it very easy to see fast results with weight training, granted the training is done correctly. Training the fingers for maximum strength, specifically for the purpose of climbing, is not so simple. But we can look at the principles of muscle recruitment, and come up with ways to recruit muscles for finger strength.

The whole idea is to force your body to recruit more muscle fibers for work. We do this by exposing the muscles to very high training loads, in the range of 80% to 90% of a maximal effort, for short sets, or short periods of time. The easiest way to accomplish this with the fingers is by using a fingerboard, or hangboard. Before we go too far I will say that I do not recommend for anybody who has been climbing less than a year to do any fingerboard training. This type of training is extremely stressful for connective tissue, and even if you are ready to do this type of training, it should be done in moderation. Lets not forget, its all about quality not quantity.

Before you start your workout, be sure to warm up properly. This is especially important with maximum strength workouts, as they are very stressful for connective tissue. To get stronger with every grip position, you will need to train every grip position. I recommend starting the workout with your weakest position, and progressing through all grip positions to your strongest, or stopping when you have gone past your peak level of muscle recruitment. In other words, if you feel yourself getting weaker, stop. It is counter productive to do maximum strength training if you are past your peak for muscle recruitment.

With each grip, the goal is to fail for each "repetition" or "hang" within about eight seconds, and you will want to do no more than five hangs for each set, meaning you would not be able to complete a sixth hang. If you are able to hang longer than 10 seconds, and/or do more than five repetitions, the load is insufficient for recruiting muscle. Since you will be training several different grip positions, I don't feel it is necessary to do more than two sets for each position. Just like any other form of recruitment training, this workout is physically, and neurologically taxing. You should take 3-5 minutes of rest between each set.

So a workout might go something like this:

* warm up
* 2 sets of slopers - 5 reps, 3 reps
* 2 sets of open hand - 4 reps, 3 reps
* 2 sets of pinch - 3 reps, 1 rep
* 2 sets of half(open) crimp - 5 reps, 4 reps
* 2 sets of full(closed) crimp - 5 reps, 4 reps
* cool down

So one question might be, if you can do all these hangs longer than 5 seconds, what should you do? Well you have to increase the resistance, this can be done several ways. One way would be to try the grip position with one hand, one would be to add weight using a weight vest or ankle weights or similar device.

Another question might be, if you can't do any of these hangs at all, what should you do? Well you have to decrease the resistance in this case, usually this is done by using your feet a little bit to help. If you are in the gym, there is a probably a kick board with some jibs on it, this should work just fine. If you are at home, you can put a chair underneath and in front of you as you hang, and put your feet on it.

If your fingers are healthy and your tendons are strong, I recommend doing this workout once a week. You will see dramatic gains in finger strength in one to two months.

With training for maximum strength, you can and will get to a point where you have "maxed out" your muscle recruitment, and you will begin to see diminishing returns on your training, when this happens, its time to make your muscles bigger, increasing the number of available muscle fibers for recruitment. This type of training is called hypertrophic training, and we will cover this in the next post!