Round 21

What can I do to improve my finger strength?

Q: Right now I train everyday with pull-ups, Frenchies, and the hangboard (three times a day except for Sundays). I don’t think it’s enough… what more can I do to improve my finger-strength? – Benjo (Philippines)

A: Benjo, It sounds to me like you are training 6 or 7 days per week. If so, that’s TOO MUCH! The muscles and tendons need time to recover. In fact, instead of getting stronger you will eventually get injured. Reduce your training into 3 or 4 (at most) sessions per week and you will get stronger. Less is more, in this instance. You could trainand climb on Monday/Tuesday/Friday/Saturday or Monday/Wednesday/Friday. Either way, you must rest a minimum of three days per week.

Since you’ll be training less, you may want to increase the workout intensity. Some hypergravity training–adding weight a 10 or 20 lb weight belt–on the fingerboard (lock-offs, pull-ups, and hangs) will make you stronger. It would also be good to get on a bouldering wall with a 10-lb belt a couple days per week–a 45 degree overhanging wall is best. Again, I advise you get on a structured training program with planned rest days and targeted, high-intensity workouts. See my book, Training for Climbing, for more workout ideas and guidelines.

How does high-level training, such Campus Training, affect growing kids?

Q: How does high-level training such as campus boarding and regular climbing affect growing kids bodies, especially joints in hands. – Christopher (Mequon, WI)

A: I do not advise any serious climbing-specific training for kids under age 13 or 14. Just climbing a few days per week is training enough. I advocate kids participating in other sports (not just climb every day) for general conditioning and a more diverse esperience. After age 14 or so, they can begin some limited sport-specific training; and beyond age 17 or 18 they can train in the highly specific ways used by adult climbers.

What are your current thoughts on finger curls for finger training?

Q: In “Flash Training” you suggest heavy barbell finger curls as a method of finger training. In “How To Climb 5.12” you don’t mention that exercise. What are your current thoughts on finger curls? Thanks! – JB (Bountiful, UT)

A: Hello JB, Heavy barbell curls are good training for max grip strength as long as you train with a very high weight….that is, body weight or greater. Most climbers don’t have access to that much weight, so I don’t push this exercise too hard. However, if you have access to a rack and 150 to 200 lbs of weight…then this would be a good exercise to work into your training cycle. Not as a staple exercise, but as something you cycle on and off of every few weeks to mix things up. Here’s a link to a TC article with further details.


What can I do to improve my reach and footwork?

Q: I have found out that when I am working on the long reachy move I often cannot reach the hold, especially on the steep rock. Also, I have problem concentrating on my feet and balance when the problem is very technical and long. Any suggestions what I can do? — Sven (Zagreb)

A: Sven, Long reaches are often more a matter of body position than strength. Experiment with different positions and hip turns to find a lock-off that maximizes reach. As for focusing on the feet, your best training drill is downclimbing routes on toprope–this focuses you to constantly focus on what your feet are doing. It’s a great workout! Here’s a link with a few more suggestions:

How long should I rest an injured A2 pulley before proceeding to train?

Q: I have recently injured an A2 pulley, but am still able to boulder in the gym without pain. I would like to start my winter training and would like to incorporate some H.I.T. this year. How long should I let this injury heal before proceeding? – Paul (Calgary)

A: Hi Paul, Since the rock season is about over, I’d error on the side of resting your finger too long. Maybe take a few weeks off before kicking into your winter training cycle. HIT, of course, is stressful on the fingers/arms…which is why it’s so effective. But it’s not right if you are experiencing any pain. Also, be sure to use the “x method” of taping to protect your skin and tendons when training with added weight.

What can I do for elbow tendinitis besides rest?

Q: I am 55 years old, boulder 2 to 3 times per week at a gym for exercise, and I also do conditioning workouts with light dumbbells and a once-weekly Yoga/Pilates class. I have developed mild tendonitis of my right elbow. It’s not debilitating (yet), just sore/painful upon extension. I work the extensor antagonist muscles with dumbbells. Is there anything I can do other than the dreaded “don’t climb for 6-8 weeks” advice? I’ve had this condition for a few weeks, and it seems static (not getting worse or better). — Cliff (Raleigh, NC)

A: Hi Cliff, First of all, your workout schedule sounds really good. However, your tendonitis may have resulted from pushing a little too hard too soon with your bouldering in the gym. Let’s try to nip it in the bud. If it’s lateral (outside) elbow pain, then the extensor exercises are the appropriate therapy. However, if it’s medial (inside) pain, then it could have developed acutely (from a single hard move) or as a result of poor pronator strength.

Here’s a link to the key exercise and stretch for lateral:

I haven’t put an article online for medial, but you need to strength the pronator (hand turning in) motion. There is a section on this in my book, Training For Climbing. Some health clubs have a special machine for this, otherwise you may need to be inventive in creating a way to effective train this. Here’s a link to a couple of good exercises–I prefer a heavy sledge hammer.

Remember, that warm-up and rest are vital to avoiding injury. Sounds to me like you are a smart person, and be being aware of your situation now I’m sure you’ll lick it!