Hangboard Exercises & Training  for Beginners

Neesha Basnyat – June 27, 2021

You’ve seen hangboards at your gym and want to try them out. But how do you get started on them? What exercises should you do as a beginner and how often? It’s hard to make the first step adding a hangboard exercise to your routine. However, once you do, your rock climbing will benefit, and you’ll see noticeable improvements in your strength!

Why Hangboard?

An excellent question. Climbing frequently and consistently is the best thing you can do to get better at climbing (explore other ways to improve your climbing technique here), but advanced climbs with small holds and crimps require strong fingers and tendons. Hangboards are designed to improve finger and grip strength and can provide targeted exercises that improve your performance on these hard, technical routes.

Hangboarding correctly can help prevent injury on these harder climbs by building up strength in the muscles you need. However, beginner climbers should avoid hangboards until they’ve built up some finger and tendon strength through climbing or other non-targeted exercises, because hangboards themselves can cause injuries for new climbers. Even if you’re a consistent moderate climber new to hangboarding, starting with a moderate or advanced hangboard workout without first warming up can lead to injury and should be avoided.

Hangboarding 101

There are many different types and styles of hangboards. Often they are made of wood or polyester resin and include different sized pockets for different numbers of fingers and deeper or shallower holds for crimpier hangs. They may also include holds with varying positivity, like jugs or slopers. Most rock climbing gyms have hangboards in their training rooms, but many climbers also buy hangboards and mount them in their homes or vans.

How to Hangboard

Just like lifting weights, there is both good and bad form when it comes to hanging. You want to have your shoulders and arms out away from you, not directly in front of you near your ears. Your arms should not be straight, but active; check to make sure your elbow has a bend to it. However, you don’t want your arms to be so active that an arch forms in your back. Your shoulders should be back, not hunched, as seen in the diagram below. You also don’t want to be full crimping on the holds – an open hand grip is key. This is essential to practice because a closed hand or full crimp puts a lot more strain on finger pulleys. You will automatically want to full crimp on the tiny holds of a hangboard, but this is bad form and increases the likelihood of injury. 

If you are hangboarding for the first time, practice good form and grip on jugs or the largest holds on the hangboard before starting your workout to develop good habits. You should also make sure your body is sufficiently warmed up, either by climbing, running, or doing some other full-body workout beforehand. 

Position yourself under the hangboard and make sure it is at a good height for you – that is, when you let go of the holds, you should be able to gently lower yourself to the ground without a fall or jump. Abrupt movement jumping up to or down from the hangboard puts unnecessary strain on your fingers and can damage tendons.  Don’t shy away from using a stool, pad, or other platform if the hangboard is mounted too high for your reach. 

Hangboarding Terms

Shrug: means activating the shoulders more and puffing the chest out. It’s the very beginning motion of doing a pull-up, but don’t actually pull-up on anything.

Knee-ups or Knee raises: are exactly as they sound: bring your knees up to your chest, then back down, crossing your shins if you’d like. 

Now that you’re fully prepared for a hangboard workout, all you need to do is find a routine that works for you and get started!

Hangboard Holds & Sizes

Hand showing the holds for the Rock Prodigy Training Center (RPTC)

Typical Hangboard Training Routines

A typical hangboarding session lasts from 10-30 minutes and is practiced 1-3 times per week. As a beginner, 1 or 2 sessions per week is plenty. A typical hang is 10-15 seconds. If you can hang longer than 15 seconds, you should use smaller holds, and if you can only hang less than 10 seconds use larger holds. Always rest following each hang, and don’t try to advance to smaller edges too quickly! Keep a watch or clock within view in order to track your hangs and rests.

A typical hangboarding session lasts from 10-30 minutes and is practiced 1-3 times per week. As a beginner, 1 or 2 sessions per week is plenty. A typical hang is 10-15 seconds. If you can hang longer than 15 seconds, you should use smaller holds, and if you can only hang less than 10 seconds use larger holds. Always rest following each hang, and don’t try to advance to smaller edges too quickly! Keep a watch or clock within view in order to track your hangs and rests.

Personal modifications to these workouts are encouraged. Although they are “beginner” hangboard workouts, they are not workouts for beginner climbers. It is not uncommon for intermediate climbers to struggle with their first couple hangboard workouts. You should be able to finish the set – if not, make modifications and figure out a routine that works for you. You can also modify the workouts to focus on your weaknesses, whether it be slopers, pockets, or small edges

Below are a couple workout options – switch it up and see which works for you!

Hangboard Workout #1 – 10 Minute Training

You have one minute to complete each task, and the rest of the time within that minute should be used to rest.

Minute 1: 15 second hang, jug

Minute 2: 1 pull-up, sloper

Minute 3: 10 second hang, medium edge

Minute 4: 10 second hang with 3 shrugs, pocket

Minute 5: 20 second hang with 2 pull-ups, large edge

Minute 6: 10 second hang, sloper AND

5 knee raises, pocket

Minute 7: 4 pull-ups, large edge 

Minute 8: 10 second hang, medium edge

Minute 9: 3 pull-ups, jug

Minute 10: hang as long as you can, sloper

This workout is in a pretty typical format and offers a variety of different workouts (hangs, shrugs, pull-ups, and knee-ups) on different holds. It complicates the workout as you’ll have to keep glancing back at the written routine, but also allows for easy modification (changing a pull-up to a hang or the medium edge to a large edge, for example). Small modifications are great when finding the routine that works for your strength and skill level on different holds.

Hangboard Workout #2 

Hang for 15 seconds on the large edge

Rest 1 minute

Repeat steps 1 and 2 three more times – all four hangs is one set

Rest 5 minutes

Repeat steps 1 through 4 for four total sets

After doing this twice a week for three weeks, you can try and use a hold that you can only grip between 5-8 seconds and try to do as many hangs on this hold within each set as possible. This workout is easy to remember and incorporate into your workouts at the gym. 

Hangboarding should facilitate climbing and finger strengthening, but you won’t see results immediately. Don’t use this as an excuse to amp up the workout early on! The goal is not to hang from the smallest edges but to strengthen tendons and climb harder. If you feel acute soreness in your fingers or elbows after a workout or if any of your fingers feel tweaked at all, take time off immediately and revisit your hanging form after a week or so. Once again: hangboarding can help prevent finger injuries, but can be their cause if overdone. If used correctly, hangboards can make a noticeable improvement in climbing and are a great addition to any rock climbing routine. 

FAQs

How do you prevent finger injuries when climbing? 

Listen to your body. If your fingers or tendons hurt, take a break, climb less finger-intensive routes, or stop climbing for the day altogether. Don’t push too hard, especially if the pain is acute. Fingers and flexor tendons are prone to overuse injuries – in fact, they’re the most common rock climbing injury, and recovery can take months. 

If you are new to rock climbing, understand your limits and don’t get on hard crimpy routes if you’re not ready. Even if you are fit, you should be consistently climbing for several months before trying to hangboard and crimp hard. Try to prevent full crimping and instead use an open hand grip or half-crimp when necessary. Always warm up your fingers and consider using resistance bands, finger grippers, fingerboards, or flashboards when off the wall and especially before jumping on a finger-intensive route. 

How do I strengthen my fingers for climbing? 

Climb more frequently and consistently

Try crimpier routes that are technically challenging

Use resistance bands or finger grippers

Use a hangboard or fingerboard consistently and gradually challenge yourself more and increase weight and/or length of time spent hanging.

Should I hangboard before or after climbing? 

You can do either, as long as you warm up before hangboarding. If projecting a very crimpy or finger-intensive climb, an advanced climber can benefit from a good warm-up on a hangboard or flashboard before climbing. However, on a typical day of gym climbing (ie. when not projecting), many elite climbers choose to climb a circuit and then workout and hangboard afterwards. Even when projecting, climbers will warm-up before hangboarding. If you’re an intermediate climber new to hangboarding, the hangboarding itself may be more finger-intensive than the climbing, and it’s best to warm-up by climbing before hangboarding.