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Q&A

Should I do exercises for finger strength as an intermediate, heavy climber?

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I am climbing for quite a while now and would consider myself a beginning-intermediate climber. I feel my technique has significantly improved over the last year. I am very heavy (1,80m and ~100kg) and have large hands for my size, which makes me struggle very often on smaller holds. Even in the level I climb at the moment there are many holds I cannot use which my peers climbing at a similar level utilize without any problems. While I am aware that technique is much more important than strength I feel like my lack in finger strength (in proportion to my weigth) is one of the most important limiting factors to my climbing at the moment.

I would usually agree with this answer stating that "The best training for climbing, is climbing." However, I feel like lastly I made very little progress on my finger strength. I tried to use a hangboard once since these seems to have very little injury risk even for beginners, but was not even able to hold the widest part - I ended up hanging from a big section of the top.

Should I just keep on climbing, or does it make sense to train my finger and grip strength in addition?

Which of the methods mentioned in What hand and finger exercises help with climbing? are especially suitable for beginner / intermediate climbers?

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6 answers

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Answering your question directly - yes it make sense to train finger and grip strength.

My question is: would you like to improve climbing skill or finger and grip strength? Improving finger and grip strength will add just a little to your climbing skills.

You first target should be to have 80kg weight for your hight.

Spend 15-20 min on physical exercises after climbing. For example:

  • pull-ups on inclined ladder(left and right hand on different steps, move the lower hand to the step above the upper hand). When you reach a top you can go down.
  • pull-ups on sloper holds. Find two sloper holds on climbing wall and try to make 1-2 pull-ups on it.
  • hanging on the horizontal bar (you can challenge your friend and make it as a game who can hand longer)
  • pull-ups in the following sequence 1-2-3-4-5-6... If you do it with your friends then you will have a short break while someone else doing pull-ups
  • exercises for the abs: raise your hand and legs while lying on your back on a horizontal surface(touch your toes with your fingers)

Try to climb simple bouldering on inclined wall without legs.

Play a game "add one" in a group of 3 - 5 people: start with and 3 large holds. Every person add just one hold. Who survive longer winning a game.

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You could try adding in a few bouldering sessions if you're mostly doing roped climbs.

I find that bouldering strengthens the fingers much more than roped climbing, simply because it's higher-intensity movement on (generally) worse holds. It's a good way to condition your fingers & get better at climbing by simply climbing! Find problems that you specifically have trouble with: slopers, small crips, poor feet, underclings, etc.

Lastly, do not under-estimate the importance of footwork; what we often believe to be problems due to lack of finger-strength can be traced back to poor use of all available feet. Sometimes, inefficient footwork low on a climb can drain your grip strength, leading to a fall higher up.

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Everyone who has taught climbing for a while has noticed that women are better beginner climbers than men, mostly because they're lighter, have smaller hands (so can grab smaller holds more comfortably) and have less strength, which forces them to use their feet and body positioning properly. This seems to work up to 5.11. When you start thinking about intermediate climbing, from 5.12 to 5.13, women have a harder time because now strength starts to matter. Strength, from my perspective, only matters after 5.12.

That said, specific finger training is a strengthening training. Campus boarding is extremely aggressive, and hang boarding is also generally quite taxing. I started specific finger training when I began to struggle with 5.12+ climbs, and so did most climbers I know. I've seen beginners campusing really well, still they couldn't climb harder than 5.11 and got injured all the time. Specific finger training if you climb less than 5.12, independently of your weight or climbing experience, is something I would not advice. Considering your weight, than I would definitely not even mention it. Even if you do it, it won't help you: climbs up to 5.11 don't usually require a lot of finger strength anyway.

You have mentioned that you're not interested in climbing seriously. I must insist that specific finger training is something for people that are already climbing seriously. You should start finger strengthening when you meet with an adversary (a route) that requires your fingers to be stronger, and this is almost never the case with routes that people that are not climbing serious try.

In resume: climb a lot at the gym. Boulders, roped climbing, resistance training. If you feel your fingers are too weak and you really want to get better in climbing, lose weight. Your fingers will thank you. Now, if you feel your fingers are too weak and you're climbing a 5.12c, then they're probably too weak - go train them!

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I'm in much the same boat as you, 180cm, 90kg. I started climbing a couple of years ago and again, most of my climbing buddies are a good 20-40kg lighter and a few cm shorter than me. Climbers are lean and small, kayakers... are not. The thing is that the kayaking already gives me really good base grip strength, 50-60kg grip trainers are no problem, it's just not the right grip strength for climbing where fingertips are more important than whole hand.

What helped most wasn't the fingerboard, I tend to stay away from that, it was the traversing walls. A similar approach to bouldering, but my knees don't like me falling from height so bouldering isn't for me. My local climbing centre has circular traversing walls, some on the outside of large pillars, some round the inside of a dedicated room (with transition round the doors). That gives more of the continuous shift and change of load of actual climbing combined with the ability to keep going for as long as you like to build up stamina as well as strength.

Traversing walls are also quite close to the ground, so you can push into harder moves or holds you'd never normally trust, with the confidence that you're never really going to fall more than 50cm and you can step straight back up and try again.

As with most activities, the best training for the activity is doing the activity.

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Should I do exercises for finger strength..

Yes, everyone should do some kind of finger/hand strength exercise. Your hands are you interface into the rock. It's probably the most important muscle(s) you've got for climbing.

That said; it seems (to me) the nub of your problem is that you struggle to do hangboards:

but was not even able to hold the widest part - I ended up hanging from a big section of the top

This seems to be the main issue. For a start hanging from a big section of the top is fine. Everyone start somewhere. It's much better to build slowly then try too hard an injure yourself. Just keep at it and your strength will improve.

You can also try assisted hangs. So attach an exercise band under your leg/knees and hang with this "assisting" you. As you get stronger lower the assist until your eventually unassisted. Then move to smaller holds etc.

Basically keep at it, you strength will improve, being heavy shouldn't be too much of a hindrance.

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My answer is going to be: depends.

When I started climbing, I was in a similar height / weight bracket as you are. However, my finger strength was fairly decent for a novice. I did install and use a fingerboard, but I never used it too much. I have friends who swore / swear by finger exercises, but I found a less-is-more approach worked for me. One of the reasons why I think the less-is-more worked for me is that I started climbing very regularly in the gym. Three days a week with very few missed days. My fingerboard usage was limited to just casual hangs and pull ups after my runs on non climbing days. (Side note: I started running to lose weight to climb easier; make of that what you will.)

So, back to the answer: If you are climbing very regularly, adding in light work on a fingerboard is not a bad idea, but should not be strictly necessary. If you are not able to get to a gym on a regular basis, adding workouts that include fingerboard (or hangboard) work is probably a good idea. If you have the room, and are willing to shell out the dough, you may want to shift from a fingerboard to a progression board, at least according to the review author.

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