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concentric contractions for training finger strength
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By kenr
Dec 19, 2012
I've started working on concentric contractions of my gripping muscles. I know lots of people think that finger strength for climbing is mostly about isometric. And I'm still training that some too (and still actually climbing). But I want to focus on concentric as a special phase in my training program with the idea that it's the best way to build more and bigger muscle fibers.

Three kinds of apparatus I've obtained for this so far:
a) dumbbells - for Heavy Finger Rolls (HFR)
b) Titan's Telegraph Key
c) Eagle Loops (haven't tried it yet)

Anybody got another device or exercise for me to try?

HFR was discussed most recently in the Repeaters versus Dead Hangs thread - and I tried those last week. Seemed to me like a good way to provide concentric stress, with the disadvantage that I wasn't sure I was getting the best engagement of my tip joint (DIP) articulation to isolate the FDP muscle. Will S suggested I might want to find something with a more positive edge, which led me to ...

Titan's Telegraph Key... frameborder='0'>
. (Surprising to me, seems like serious weight-lifters think of TTK mainly as a thumb-training tool -- see other videos) .

Anybody got some experience with the TTK?

My first reactions from one session using it:

  • It really provides a positive edge for each finger joint section to grab - (maybe I'll need to pad the edge to protect my skin as I work up the weight-resistance higher).

  • I was indeed able to isolate and strongly work my tip joint (DIP) articulation in concentric flexion of the FDP muscle. Also was able to isolate the 2nd joint (PIP) and 3rd joint (MCP) articulations in concentric flexion.

  • Felt very convincing - "powerful stuff" - like my fingers haven't been stimulated like this before. Like I better be real careful not to overdo it in these early sessions.

  • I like that it's easy for me to look at my finger motions from the side, so I can accurately assess length of range-of-motion and exactly which joint is being worked thru what angles. Then make adjustments in my arm and body configuration, detect "cheating", or use my other hand to block undesired motions.

  • For each of the three joint flexion moves, I tried a 3- or 4-finger "full grip", also each of the 2-finger "pair teams", also the four mono-finger grips. Two or three sets of 12 or more reps with each, in this first "get acquainted" session. TTK seemed to work well with all of those. (That's 1 + 4 + 4 grips for each of three joint flexion moves for two hands: Total of 54. Of course I'm going to shrink that as I gain experience).

  • Isolation of specific joints + fingers proved helpful -- because a couple of months ago when trying isometric mono-finger measured training, I had noticed that my forefinger was notably weak. But now with TTK I discovered that its PIP and MCP flex moves were roughly as strong as my ring finger. It was only the tip joint (DIP) flexion of my forefinger that was weak.

So now I'm looking for more suggestions, "concentric" stories, theories, warnings.

Ken

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By Brent Apgar
From Out of the Loop
Dec 19, 2012
Me and Spearhead
Looks like you've been browsing around the IronMind site. The obvious choice for another type of concentric training tool would be the Captains of Crush grippers or the IMTUG grippers.

I haven't played w/ the TTK but have used the eagle loops. The loops are a little nicer than just using webbing or a daisy chain but you're going to get a similar training stimulus. Basically loading one or two fingers at a time. One cool thing you can do w/ the loops is one arm rows w/ a single finger or pairs.

I would still say that if you're looking to pull on small holds a hangboard is still probably the most efficient way to build finger strength exclusively.

One thing I did notice messing w/ the loops and the rolling thunder handle for some pulling exercises is that maintaining your grip throughout the range of motion while pulling is quite a challenge. Much like doing pull ups on a hangboard vs simply dead hanging the holds. Not sure it really translates to a more functional use of that strength during climbing though.

The reason lifters think in terms of training thumb strength is that when you can wrap your fingers and thumb around a bar, your thumb is always the weakest link in that chain.

I'd be psyched if you post up in a few weeks what you've noticed after using the TTK.
cheers,
BA

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By Aerili
From Salt Lake City, UT
Dec 19, 2012
The West Desert...it's not just for climbing, suckers! <br /> <br />Photo by Samantha
kenr wrote:
But I want to focus on concentric as a special phase in my training program with the idea that it's the best way to build more and bigger muscle fibers.

I think typically eccentric training is more effective at hypertrophy. Just a thought. Can you increase the load on the eccentric phase?

My only other thought is that this seems like a pretty expensive set-up to train finger strength? And let me know if you find the training tedious. I find rotator cuff training to be really tedious but force myself to do it because I have to.

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By Mark E Dixon
From Sprezzatura, Someday
Dec 19, 2012
At the BRC
Aerili wrote:
Can you increase the load on the eccentric phase?


I've used a TTK. You can easily do eccentrics by squeezing with both hands, then lowering the weight with just one.

My experience agrees with the lifters, it's better as a thumb/pinch grip trainer. The extended finger position is not one I commonly use climbing.

As for the Captains of Crush, they are fun to play with, but seem to have no specificity for climbing. I've seen 5.14 climbers fail to close the trainer, which makes me think maybe they aren't really going to help that much.

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By Dana Bartlett
From CT
Dec 20, 2012
As for the Captains of Crush, they are fun to play with, but seem to have no specificity for climbing. I've seen 5.14 climbers fail to close the trainer, which makes me think maybe they aren't really going to help that much.

I think you're on to something there. Someone (Can't remember who/when, perhaps Phil Watts?) did a small study on grip strength using Captains of Crush type grippers. He found that the grip strength of elite climbers, measured using that type of device, was no better than that of an average athletic male.

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By JohnWesely
From Red River Gorge
Dec 20, 2012
Gunking
Dana wrote:
As for the Captains of Crush, they are fun to play with, but seem to have no specificity for climbing. I've seen 5.14 climbers fail to close the trainer, which makes me think maybe they aren't really going to help that much. I think you're on to something there. Someone (Can't remember who/when, perhaps Phil Watts?) did a small study on grip strength using Captains of Crush type grippers. He found that the grip strength of elite climbers, measured using that type of device, was no better than that of an average athletic male.


I had my grip strength tested by a digital device, and it did not register too high above average.

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By kenr
Dec 21, 2012
JohnWesely wrote:
I had my grip strength tested by a digital device, and it did not register too high above average.


This has been reported several times about climbers.
Some guesses why:
(A) Part of it might be lack of specific neural training, since there is almost no use for concentric contraction of the fingers in actual climbing situation. Maybe if climbers just took a month to practice with the "grip strength" measurement device, they'd soon do much better than most non-climbers.

(B) I'll guess that most of the digital measurement devices (what does one look like?) utilize mostly the MCP flexion muscles (3rd articulation back from the tip), not the FDS and FDP muscles which drive the DIP and PIP articulations (the two closest to the fingertip).

Seems to me that eccentric contraction of the FDS and FDP muscles is critical for "latching" the next sloper or edge-hold with an Open grip at the top of a deadpoint or dyno move (but MCP flexion is not). And of course isometric contraction of FDS + FDP just for "hanging on" with an Open grip.

I think that MCP flexion is needed to (isometrically) support a Crimp grip -- and some eccentric contraction support launching a deadpoint of dyno from a Crimp grip -- so I guess I'm a bit surprised that climbers do not seem to be displaying that strength when squeezing on a digital grip measurement device.

(C) perhaps lack of strength in the Thumb muscles of climbers is the "weak link" which makes it difficult to utilize the superior strength of the climber's fingers. Like the fingers don't have strong enough opposition to push against?

Ken

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By kenr
Dec 21, 2012
Mark E Dixon wrote:
I've used a TTK ... My experience agrees with the lifters, it's better as a thumb/pinch grip trainer. The extended finger position is not one I commonly use climbing.


So far I've been careful to arrange the configuration of my arm and hand so that my thumb was not involved very much. Instead mainly the lower part of the palm of my hand was opposing the pushing of my fingers. I'll have to see if that still works as I increase the resistance weight more.

Extended finger position? If you mean like with Open grip, I don't use it so much either in my actual climbing. But lots of experts seem to say that I'm supposed to be using it more (instead of Crimping). I do sometimes consciously remind myself that out on the rock.

When practicing Campusing moves indoors, I do make sure to always to grab the next higher hold with an (extended?) Open grip (not a Crimp).

Ken

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By kenr
Dec 21, 2012
Brent Apgar wrote:
... have used the eagle loops. The loops are a little nicer than just using webbing or a daisy chain but you're going to get a similar training stimulus. Basically loading one or two fingers at a time. One cool thing you can do w/ the loops is one arm rows w/ a single finger or pairs.


Yes I'm looking forward to trying out Eagle Loops. Tho some training document I found on ironmind.com seemed to say that Eagle Loops were more for isometric training, and suggested something called a Claw Curl for concentric/eccentric.

Brent Apgar wrote:
> I would still say that if you're looking to pull on small
> holds a hangboard is still probably the most efficient
> way to build finger strength exclusively.

I'm surely not giving up on using my fingerboard.

Ken

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By kenr
Dec 24, 2012
Eagle Loops from ironmind.com -- just started trying them out.

Except that instead of hanging body weight down from the loops as in that photo, I'm hanging weights off the Eagle Loops on my fingers + arm hanging down my side.
Liking them a very much.

Which quickly led me to a simpler apparatus for concentric/eccentric training of Mono-finger ...
A short loop of webbing/sling/runner
with weights attached to it.
(so far I'm preferring 9/16-inch tubular Nylon over Dyneema for DIP flexion)

And I'm finding very convenient for attaching standard barbell/dumbbell weight plates to hang from the loop is the Loading Pin for plates

To isolate the flexion of the DIP articulation (fingertip joint) in a mono-finger grip, what I'm playing with is:
(a) using my other hand to "lock out" my other finger joints, especially the PIP articulation (2nd joint from the tip).
(Future might be a Splint with velcro straps)

(b) keep the loop in position in the middle of the pad of my fingertip, without slipping off between reps -- by attaching it to the top and bottom of the finger with Yes indeed ...
duct tape
. . . (to be precise, Scotch "transparent" duct tape)

Some climber must have tried this "apparatus" before.
I'm eager for more suggestions.

Ken

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By kenr
Dec 24, 2012
PIP flexion in isolation next:
. . . (second joint from the fingertip)
four-finger grip with Eagle Loops first -- sets of 12 to 24 reps for this "first try" with new apparatus, progressively increasing the weight hanging off the Loops.
No surprises in the results: Muscles driving flexion of PIP articulation are obviously measurably stronger than for DIP.

Mono-finger grip with isolation of PIP articulation (by using other hand to block out most of the MCP flexion).
Used 9/16-inch tubular nylon webbing loop.
No duct tape necessary.

MCP flexion in isolation:
. . . (third joint from the fingertip)
four-finger grip first with Eagle Loops, then Mono-finger with tubular webbing, no need for fixation with duct tape.
In the future as I increase the weight, I might put a little foam padding between my webbing and skin.
Used my other hand to block out most of the Wrist flexion, to try to isolate on the Metacarpal-Phalangeal (MCP) articulation.

findings: My MCP flexion is measurably stronger than my PIP flexion.
And my dominant hand is significantly stronger at the highest weight than my non-dominant hand for MCP flexion (unlike for DIP and PIP flexion where the two hands seemed roughly equal).

Overall my feeling (based on only one session with each) is that for this kind of finger-strength training, this method of hanging weights off a loop of webbing (or Eagle Loops) is superior to Titan's Telegraph Key (TTK) or dumbbell Heavy Finger Rolls (HFR).

Ken

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By Mark E Dixon
From Sprezzatura, Someday
Dec 24, 2012
At the BRC
Ken, I hope you really enjoy training as much as it seems, because I'm not sure any of this is going to make you a better climber!

I've used the eagle loops. Generally didn't like them that much as they pinched my fingers. They are kind of fun if used in combination with a free motion machine or the like, in place of handles.

You might also try the wide bars like the Appolon's axle (spelling?) or the rolling thunders. I actually thought those were pretty fun for training, but again, not that useful for climbing.

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By kenr
Dec 24, 2012
Mark E Dixon wrote:
I've used the eagle loops. Generally didn't like them that much as they pinched my fingers.

I'll have to see what happens as I increase the weight.
Anyway I'm not sure how much I'll be using the Eagle Loops, now that I figured out that I could just use nylon webbing instead (at least for Mono-finger grips). The tubular webbing I'm trying seems smoother and softer on the skin of my fingers than the stuff they use for Eagle Loops.

What I really like about the webbing or cloth loop idea is that it seems to enable me to isolate the flexion of the first (DIP) articulation of each finger -- which I think is real important for Open-grip strength (and I'm guessing also valuable for holding onto a sloper).

Right now where I live there's not many good days for outdoor climbing, so it's not like time + effort spent on loop-apparatus training is taking away from something else of great benefit.

Ken

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By Mark E Dixon
From Sprezzatura, Someday
Dec 25, 2012
At the BRC
kenr wrote:
Right now where I live there's not many good days for outdoor climbing, so it's not like time + effort spent on loop-apparatus training is taking away from something else of great benefit. Ken


No climbing gym or space for a woodie?

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By kenr
Dec 25, 2012
I've got excellent gyms close by, so I can do that as much or as little as I want. There's little danger of me getting too little experience or training-stress for gym-style climbing.

And it's easy for me to coordinate overall-climbing-movement sessions at the gym with measured/controlled specific-muscle or single-move exercises at home --
I just climb at the gym in the afternoon, and do the home fingerboard / TTK / Eagle Loops and pull-ups / mini-campus / deadpoint-reach stuff afterward in the evening and night. By packing it all into one long day, I get full multi-day rest time before my next intense day.

So it's no problem for me to get two days of good indoor gym climbing each week (unless chances for good outdoor climbing or skiing arise).

I'm pretty convinced that my key weakness is outdoor rock feel and footwork, and experience and confidence on outdoor moves around my current limit.
So trying to squeeze in one or two more days of gym-climbing per week has not been my priority -- but I'm ready to hear arguments about that.

But I suspect you're right that I really enjoy training -- otherwise how could I tolerate such long days of it. I guess what I like is that I make fairly predictable improvement that's objectively measurable - with little risk of injury.
(I recall a comment in "9 out of 10" where Dave MacLeod warns that enjoyment of indoor training can be a hindrance + demotivator for trying harder on outdoor climbing).


Ken

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By Nate Reno
From Highlands Ranch, CO
Dec 26, 2012
Ellingwood Point Summit, Little Bear in the background.
Ken, would it be possible to do your structured training before going to the climbing gym on your training days?
My reasoning is that I want to do the precise, calculated, small increment type work first when I'm fresh and at a default rested state, then go do any gym climbing (the random/variable type training) afterwards, so it would not fatigue me in a not-so controlled way prior to the more precise training at home.

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By kenr
Dec 26, 2012
Nate Reno wrote:
I want to do the precise, calculated, small increment type work first when I'm fresh

Good point.
I've been compromising on that.
If I really think that building certain kinds of specific hypertrophy (? and specific neural recruitment patterns ?) is a key long-term strategy, then in this "off-season" phase I suppose I really ought to give highest priority to those special exercises -- and put general full-body climbing-movement practice into a lower priority.

I've been making steady gains in my measured home workouts anyway doing them after full-body-motion climbing -- but maybe I'd make even faster bigger gains if I did the measured workouts while I'm still fresh.

Sounds like something I should try -- Thanks.

Ken

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By kenr
Feb 8, 2013
My big question now for concentric finger training:

Is it generally better for incteasing muscle size and strength to isolate each muscles/articulation?
Or is it better (or just as good?) to stress multiple muscles or articulations simultaneously?

Because I've tried to isolate on the tip articulation (DIP), but it takes a lot of extra time and care to accomplish that.
I'm finding that it's much quicker and simpler to contract and move the DIP together with the PIP simultaneously.

Thanks for the help,

Ken

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