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finger strength training dead hang vs campusing vs whatever
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By reboot
From Westminster, CO
Jun 30, 2011

Alright you mp.com hardmen (calling out to the Anderson bros and others), I want some tips on finger strength training.

After a winter of climbing in the gym (and not progressing that much) and then started projecting routes outside for the last month or so, I actually felt stronger when I returned back to the gym: the holds felt huge, and I can hang on to them with ease. Soooo..., more finger strength training seem warranted (at least this winter). I tried a bit of campusing at the end of the session. While it felt easier than this winter, it was stressing my joints more than I like (typing while icing my knuckles) compared to even fingery routes outside. I know I can stand to lose some weight, but campusing just doesn't seem to mimic hard climbing moves to me: both feet cut and all weight on your hands, and the smallest rung being much bigger than the small holds one find outside.

Is dead hanging on smaller holds the better method? As far as finger training goes, what's easier on the joints?


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By JJNS
Jun 30, 2011

Campus training for me is more about improving my lock off strength than my finger strength. A hang board is a better tool for improving finger strength. Also climbing outside sounds like it is working if it is making gym climbing easier for you.


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By Monomaniac
Administrator
From Morrison, CO
Jun 30, 2011
Insurrection, 5.14c.  Photo Adam Sanders.

Great qustion. The short answer is that each method has its place, and it can depend on what you are training for. Most of us aren't training for specific routes though, we want general climbing fitness. In this case, I think both are very helpful.

First, there is no doubt that campusing is much harder on the joints than hangboarding. Campusing is by its very nature somehwat wild and out of control. With a hangboard you can dial-down the intensity at will, and let go the moment things get uncomfortable. Often in campusing (or dynoing in general) the only sign of injury comes after its too late.

You are correct in pointing out that campusing is not ultra specific, but that's not the point. High jumpers will stand on a platform and jump down--also not very specific. The point in campusing is to 1) increase muscle fiber recruitment, 2) Improve "contact strength" 3) improve muscular coordination (accuracy).

Certainly, recruitment could be improved through static exercises as well (such as hangboard reps of vastly higher load and shorter duration or repetition compared to what is used for "strength" training). IMO, the best reason to use a campus board is the "contact strength" concept. This is a widely confusing term, so let me spell my definition. When you grasp a hold, your muscles do not exert peak force on the hold immediately. It takes "a while" (fractions of a second I imagine) for your muscles to generate max force. "Contact strength" is basically the amount of force you can generate immediately, at the moment of contact. This is critical in executing a dyno, because you need that force to ramp up as quick as possible, in the instant when your fingers are still in contact with the hold. Campusing trains this very well. Dynoing with feet on can be just as effective, but its much less quantifiable, and the holds need to be smaller, which can be harder on the skin.

The accuracy element is pretty simple. The more you practice dynoing or campusing, the better your brain gets at aiming for holds. In a few sessions I can prety quickly get to a point where I'm basically deadpointing every campus move, which makes the moves much easier. This accuracy translates directly to the rock, although on rock, every move is different, so your accuracy on an onsight will likely never be perfect, but it should improve over time.

I think that's enough for now. let me know if there are more questions.


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By Brendan N. (grayhghost)
From Salt Lake City, Utah
Jun 30, 2011

The sore knuckles are concerning as any injury is going to destroy any training gains. Are you crimping during your training?

As I understand it, campusing is not the way to gain forearm strength but rather the way to recruit it. Campusing never destroys my forearms in the same way a system board will. My training plan calls for 6 weeks of weighted system boarding, 6 weeks of campusing and then 6 weeks of anaerobic conditioning.

Climbing in the gym all winter does not constitute training, but rather maintenance, so I can see why you wouldn't see gains.

You can read more about forearm strength training at Dave McCleods Blog

As with everything, ease into your training with gradually high loads. Setting up a written training plan will help you avoid the over-psyched to injury cycle that many people experience, me included.


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By reboot
From Westminster, CO
Jun 30, 2011

So, it sounds like I wouldn't miss too much if I just boulder more (or at all) and supplement that with hangboard training.

As far as my knuckles goes, I have some lateral instability in my middle finger proximal joint from an old injury. The joint just feels a bit loose. This is made worse by my index finger being 3/4" shorter: the middle finger takes a lot of stress on a flat hold with an open hand grip. A full crimp actually offloads some pressure to the index finger. This is why I decided not screw around too much the past winter, but I'm finding out I still need finger training, but ones that hopefully is a bit more joint friendly.


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By Eric Whitbeck
Jun 30, 2011

Does the term campusing refer to the use of the old school rungs as well as the pvc slopers that are popping up more frequently? The pvc is obviously gentler on the digits, but are you losing something in terms of finger strength?


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By Peter Beal
From Boulder Colorado
Jun 30, 2011

For my part, I find campusing useful for power, not for strength. Campusing is especially useful for training making a reach move with the lower hand below shoulder height, in essence getting close to a one-arm pullup but done at high speed, hence the term power. I think there is some benefit regarding "contact strength" for campusing but for me the main problem is not catching the next hold but catching it and moving up again, the key to bouldering and hard sport climbing.

In other words, I find that catching a hold, especially a flat one, after a hard throw really reduces my ability to quickly pull in and lock off again. To me this would be more like finger power than strength per se, as I can hang statically off fairly small holds, even with one hand. The combination of training rapid locking off and application of finger power is a win-win as long as you are careful. Accuracy is not too much of a problem on a campus board compared to real holds outside but developing more control while deadpointing facilitates accuracy immensely.

I have found a fingerboard especially effective at building strength because you can train different grips and isolate muscles easily. However ultimately I think the climber is best served by climbing as much as possible on hard problems that work a variety of styles.


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By Brendan N. (grayhghost)
From Salt Lake City, Utah
Jul 1, 2011

Shumin Wu wrote:
So, it sounds like I wouldn't miss too much if I just boulder more (or at all) and supplement that with hangboard training.


Yes, bouldering with a crew stronger than you for a year will take your route climbing to the next level. You can check out high intensity bouldering such as the Moon Board if you have limited time/space. Bouldering is also great dynamic movement training.


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By Brendan N. (grayhghost)
From Salt Lake City, Utah
Jul 1, 2011

Eric Whitbeck wrote:
Does the term campusing refer to the use of the old school rungs as well as the pvc slopers that are popping up more frequently? The pvc is obviously gentler on the digits, but are you losing something in terms of finger strength?


I don't think there is any difference in finger strength. Both 'old style' wooden rungs and PVC rungs should be used only with an open-hand technique.


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By Brendan N. (grayhghost)
From Salt Lake City, Utah
Jul 1, 2011

JLP wrote:
6 weeks of campusing? Nothing else? Could you add a bit more detail here as to what you are doing on the system and campus board? I assume anaerobic conditioning is where you actually go climbing?


By definition, training needs to increase intensity, duration or both. All phases of training should be supplementing actual climbing so you don't end up like the frustrated gorilla on the cover of 9 out of 10 . Anaerobic conditioning is interval training, usually on the Treadwall for maximum burn and minimum distractions.


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By vacano
Jul 1, 2011

On the Macleod blog post linked above I think it's interesting how he feels about timing/intervals for fingerboarding. Dave has suggested 5-8 second hands with ~ 1 minute rest between hands for strength development. He feels repeaters (such as 6-10 second hangs with 3 second rests between 7-repetition sets) are oriented more towards anaerobic endurance (not strength). The fingerboard training session at MoonClimbing seems to support this line of thinking: Fingerboard Training Plan. Alternatively, PRC/Rockprodigy/others rely on the repeaters for hypertrophy and I don't think really consider them as very beneficial for anaerobic endurance. Elsewhere (can't find it now), Macleod stated that the way climbers typically view hypertrophy and recruitment is over simplistic and perhaps a different training pardigm should be considered. Notwithstanding, a lot of climbers benefit from applying the PRC model. I'm just curious, is anyone aware of latest ideas / science on this stuff?


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By Will S
From Joshua Tree
Jul 1, 2011

It is an interesting discrepancy in schools of thought, Vacano.

I'd just point to "normal" weight lifting where you are doing reps. You don't do one rep and rest for a minute for hypertrophy targeting, you do more like 3-6 reps back to back, where each rep lasts probably 5-10 seconds with no rest between.

Granted, we are talking apples and oranges to some extent because of isometric contraction, but still...

The one rep/one minute off scheme seems like it would go a great job of targeting recruitment, but I'd question the utility for hypertrophy. However, I think there is probably more crossover in these things than we normally acknowledge, it's not like there is some magical rep number where your body decides to build mass instead of recruit more fibers.

As for the 6 weeks!! of campusing, WTF? My elbows would be in tatters if I campused that much (aside from the plateauing). Similar with AE, I'd plateau after about 3 weeks and be courting problems. For me, a big part of the beauty of periodization is that it keeps me more or less healthy instead of tweaked out. When the gains in one phase start to plateau I'm moving on to the next phase and the cycle is short enough that I'm not losing as much between, say, consecutive hangboard phases.


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By Brendan N. (grayhghost)
From Salt Lake City, Utah
Jul 2, 2011

vacano wrote:
I'm just curious, is anyone aware of latest ideas / science on this stuff?


I believe McCleod is one of the few people actively studying muscle adaptations in rock climbers.

Finger Endurance Paper


I use 6-week cycles because that is when I start to plateau. I can't add any more weight while system boarding or I stop progressing on the campus board. I have never tested it but I don't think I lose too much by the end of a cycle, for example, if I came back to the campus board at the end of my anaerobic phase I think I could perform at 80% of max.


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By Mike McKinnon
From Golden, CO
Jul 7, 2011
Bunny pancake

vacano wrote:
On the Macleod blog post linked above I think it's interesting how he feels about timing/intervals for fingerboarding. Dave has suggested 5-8 second hands with ~ 1 minute rest between hands for strength development. He feels repeaters (such as 6-10 second hangs with 3 second rests between 7-repetition sets) are oriented more towards anaerobic endurance (not strength). The fingerboard training session at MoonClimbing seems to support this line of thinking: Fingerboard Training Plan. Alternatively, PRC/Rockprodigy/others rely on the repeaters for hypertrophy and I don't think really consider them as very beneficial for anaerobic endurance. Elsewhere (can't find it now), Macleod stated that the way climbers typically view hypertrophy and recruitment is over simplistic and perhaps a different training pardigm should be considered. Notwithstanding, a lot of climbers benefit from applying the PRC model. I'm just curious, is anyone aware of latest ideas / science on this stuff?


This is a great question and one I have been thinking as well. Don't we as rock climbers want to increase strength and stay away from HYP (increase in muscle size). MacLeod's system seems to target strength while Rock Prodigy's targets HYP. Which is better?

www.dieselcrew.com/articles-pdf/functionalhypertrophy.pdf
This was an interesting article to me as well describing the difference between functional hyp vs non-functional (or sarcomere and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy).

It certainly has me confused.


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By Monomaniac
Administrator
From Morrison, CO
Jul 7, 2011
Insurrection, 5.14c.  Photo Adam Sanders.

Great article Mike.

Monomaniac wrote:
... For dynamic contractions, 8-12 reps is ideal for hypertrophy if you want fancy-looking Schwarzenegger muscles. 6-8 reps is ideal if you want hypertrophy in muscles that will actually be used to do stuff. Nobody knows what is optimal for isometric contractions. If you figure it out, let us know!


Link

("fancy-looking Schwarzenegger muscles" is my term for non-functional hypertrophy; "muscles that will actually be used to do stuff" is my term for functional hypertrophy.)





Monomaniac wrote:
Great link Sluke! Very interesting to see other perspectives. The comments below Dave's post do a good job of explaining the rationale behind the timing we use in our protocol.



Link


IMO, "strength" is a terrible term and we should stop using it. What do you mean by "strength"? The ability to lift a really heavy thing one time, with no time limit to complete the contraction? The ability to lift a pretty heavy thing 5 times, with each rep completed in less than 1 second? I use the term "strength" when I'm not sure what I mean and I'm deliberately trying to be vague.


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By BryanV
From Fort Collins, CO
Jul 7, 2011
Ouray Ice Park

Boulder, boulder, boulder...

And work on contact strength. Slopers on a hangboard (hang or pull) or pinch system board climbing. Remember, slopers help with crimping and they don't hurt as much. Slopers are you friends.

bv
white-knuckled.blogspot.com


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By slim
Administrator
Dec 9, 2011
tomato, tomotto, kill mike amato.

good thread. i disagree with the folks that recommend bouldering over hangboarding to improve finger strength. the last 5 years i have been using the SCC training strategy, with a lot of gym bouldering, and have struggled to climb 2 letter grades BELOW what i did when i trained with the hangboard. here are some of my observations, which will of course vary from others, but anyway...

the gym bouldering/climbing relies entirely too heavily on slopers and slopey pinches. unfortunately, the area which i climb mostly (front range sport/trad, desert cracks) is 95% crimping or cracks (probably more like 99%). in the 5000+ pitches i have logged in the last decade, i honestly can't think of any time that i encountered a trapezoidal pinch that was key to a route.... unlike basically every route in the gym that is harder than mid 11 or so.

my general cycle over the last 5 years has been - train in the gym religiously over the winter, come outside in the spring a full number grade (or more) lower than i left at the end of the fall. work like hell all spring, summer, and fall to get back to where i was the previous fall, go into the gym and train religiously over the winter.........

the main problem is that when i come out of the gym in the spring, my crimping strength on small holds has been completely emasculated. also, i don't have huge beachballs to put my feet on, like i did in the gym. from the folks that i climb with, as well as watching others over the years, this seems to be pretty similar to their results. the main difficulties in the gym usually seem to be the ability to keep your hand ultra chalked so you don't slip off of the next 10 slopers. also, the route setters seem to be midgets, and if you are pretty tall it is brutal trying to stay in a low enough position to hang the slopers, it ends up not meshing well with how i typically climb.

this coming year i am going to try out a hybrid program. basically hypertropy on the hangboard on tuesdays for 6 weeks and gym roped climbing on thursdays (or bouldering if i don't have a partner). the following 4-6 weeks will be bouldering/systemboard/campusing on tuesdays and roped climbing on thursdays. climb outside on the weekends.

i'm hoping to get better strength out of the hangboarding, and still retain the benefits of the roped climbing - namely aerobic and anaerobic endurance as well as keeping in the mindset of trying hard and falling.

we'll see how it works...


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