Articles - A Guide to: Fingerboarding
Jamie Maddison - Posted on 17 Jun 2010
Fingerboarding can be an absolutely indispensable tool in aiding one’s progression up through the climbing grades but - and this is a big but - only if it is used correctly! At it’s best; the fingerboard is a gateway into the realms of increased power and strength. At it’s worst however; the board can be a one-way ticket to injury, despair and perpetually enforced rest. The trick to avoiding such self-harm is in following a set of rules that govern good practice whilst on the fingerboard.
The Rules of the Board:
- Firstly, if you are a beginner to climbing, you do not need to start fingerboarding just yet! At this level, more substantial gains in climbing ability will be attained simply by climbing or bouldering instead. Indeed, boarding at such an early stage is in fact detrimental to one’s climbing development, as any swift muscular gains made on the fingerboard will put an unacceptable amount of pressure on your slow growing tendons in the fingers, which simply may not be able to cope with the added pressure placed upon them.
- Warm up! Always, always, warm up. Not doing so is only going to result in a trip to the physio with a broken body. Make sure to stretch out thoroughly as well, concentrating particularly on stretching out the fingers.
- Remember, the fingerboard trains power; by hanging on progressively smaller and smaller holds we stretch and tear our tendons, inducing growth, making the same tendons stronger as a result and thus helping us hold onto even smaller holds in the future (this, at least, is the theory). To effectively train for this, one should aim to hang the smallest holds possible whilst still maintaining an overall level of smoothness and control (to avoid unnecessary stress on the fingers). If you’re hanging on for longer than 6 seconds, progress to smaller holds; remember you’re training power, not endurance.
-Grip type is also very important; there are three types of grip: crimp, half crimp and open handed (see the image below for what’s what). Open handed is by far the most ergonomic and least stressful type of grip and consequently is the hang that should be predominantly used whilst boarding, even if it feels much harder at first.
- On no account should one attempt to do finger pull-ups, as the uneven and irregular application of force during the pull-up can sometimes be too much for the tendons to handle. Similarly, chalk should be used during a session to reduce the chances of fingers slipping, which once again would exert an unexpected and potential dangerous jolt through the tendons.
- It is not advisable to tape your fingers up as a preventative measure against injury. Finger tape reduces the amount of stress exerted through your finger tendons. Consequently, if tape is regularly used on perfectly healthy fingers then the tendons are not trained as much as the rest of the body. If you then go on to climb without tape the more powerful arms may exert too much force through the proportionally weaker fingers, causing damage. The use of finger tape with damaged, recovering, or tweaky fingers however, is obviously a good idea (even if climbing on the damaged fingers themselves isn’t!).
-Rest is essential to conduction of a good session and avoidance of injury; between each hang one should rest for an absolute minimum of 1 minute, although 90 and 120 seconds are also good rest times. Remember, you’re not training endurance but rather trying to get the body to return to an optimum state where it can push once again for power.
-Don’t go mad. A session should last roughly in the area of 40 to 80 minutes long, depending on your fitness and motivation level. If you feel iffy, give the boarding a rest for the day or try something else. Know the limits of your own body.
A Typical Training Session.
Training sessions are highly subjective and inventive creations, designed completely around the needs and wants of the individual doing the training. Listed below is my own personal fingerboarding work out; suited to a Font 7A/+ boulderer who enjoys climbing on small crimps.
Stretch out - 5 minutes
5x sets of half your normal limit of pull-ups (in my case 10) on a bar – rest a minute to 2 minutes apart.
3x four finger deadhangs on big edges – 1 minute’s rest between each hang.
3x four finger deadhangs on medium edges– 1 minute’s rest between each hang.
3x four finger deadhangs on small edges– 1 minute’s rest between each hang.
3x three finger deadhangs on big edges – 1 minute’s rest between each hang.
3x three finger deadhangs on medium edges – 1 minute’s rest between each hang.
3x three finger deadhangs on small edges – 1 minute’s rest between each hang.
50/100 pull-ups to finish, in sets of ten. -1 minute’s rest between each set.
Note: This is based around a homemade board consisting of three edges of three different widths; if you have an actual fingerboard you’ll able to be much more inventive in your training routines (although your living room probably won’t look as nice as mine.)
The main thing to remember is to pay close attention to the state of your fingers, if a particular hold is giving you grief, use another. If your fingers still hurt, stop the session altogether. Basically the more you train, the more likely you are to get damaged in some way; and it’s a completely personal decision where the line is for you to stop. But if you remember to follow the above advice, take things slow and always warm up and stretch out before starting a session, then hopefully you will minimize the risk of injury, whilst reaping the maximum rewards in power.
For more fingerboarding advice from climbers much more experienced than I, why not have a look at the Moon climbing website, which offers a whole host of tips on how to train hard and train safe.