We’ve all seen those ridiculously strong folks in the gym doing their weighted hang board and campusing workouts and then have looked down at our chalked and already burning hands to wonder how exactly one gets to that level of strength training.
Deep down we know just by observing the incredible back muscles on these individuals that this is clearly the path to the crushing grip and climbing strength to which we are all aspiring. And we are not wrong.
In his book, Training for Climbing: The Definitive Guide to Improving Your Performance, Eric Hörst asserts that “the straight-armed, weighted hang is the single most effective isolation exercise a climber can do.” For this reason, the hangboard is probably the most used piece of equipment for grip strength exercises.
If you are just beginning your journey to improve your grip strength, however, you’re not going to start with weight quite yet and you’ll also want to incorporate some other strength exercises for your fingers, wrists, and forearms that are going to set you up for success on the hangboard!
In this article, we are going to cover some simple grip strength exercises to train your grip in preparation for becoming hang board masters.
- Finger Extension Against a Rubber Band
Bring all five fingers together and then loop a medium sized rubber band around them. Now open up your fingers as far as you can, creating resistance by stretching the rubber band. You’ll want to complete a few sets of this exercise to warm up for the rest of the exercises in this article.
- Reverse Wrist Curls
Sit down with a dumbbell and grasp it with your palm facing down. Stabilize your forearm on your thigh with your hand extending just beyond your knee. Begin the exercise with the dumbbell drawn back towards you in the over-extended position.
Slowly lower the dumbbell to a neutral or straight position then return to the starting position. Complete two sets with progressive resistance. Select a weight that allows for 2o to 25 repetitions on the first set, take a 3 minute rest, and then select a heavier weight for 10 to 15 more repetitions.
- Wide Pinch with Wrist Extension
You’ll need a thick bumper weight plate (or two to three pieces of 2×4 wood blocks screwed together, with an attachment to add weight) for this pinch grip exercise. From a standing position, pinch the weight plate or block at your side.
Your arm should be hanging straight down and your wrist extended. Hold for 10 to 30 seconds.
- Pronator Isolation with an Exercise Band
Grab a resistance band and a seat. Loop the band under your foot to pin it to the floor. Grab a section of the band along the length of it to create resistance in the band between your hand and foot.
Grasping the excise band with your hand in a fist and your palm facing up (the band should be running from your foot, through your index and middle finger, and you should have the rest of the slack sticking out in a loop from beneath your little finger), rotate your hand 180 degrees toward your midline so that your palm is facing down.
Complete 25 repetitions.
- Reverse Arm Curls
Take a barbell or E-Z curl bar in an overhand grip, shoulder width apart. Fix your elbows to your sides and curl the bar upward towards your chest. Complete 1 -2 sets of 15 to 20 repetitions with a moderately heavy weight.
- Dead Hangs
Using a step or bench to bring an overhead bar within easy reach, grasp the bar with your palms facing away from you in an overhand grip. Make sure your hands are placed shoulder width apart before you step off to allow yourself to hang.
Relax as you hang, with arms straight and the body in a hollowed out position. Start by holding for 10 seconds and work your way up to a minute over time. Complete 2-3 repetitions.
BONUS GRIP WORK OPPORTUNITY:
If you’re really looking to up your grip strength game, you can use Fat Gripz here or a couple of towels that you have wrapped tightly around the bar and secured with tape.
- Farmer’s Walk
Don’t put those Fat Gripz away quite yet. Keep working on that strong grip by switching them over to a set of dumbells (or transfer your handy low tech towels) and walk for as long as you can while carrying the weights.
- Push-ups or Planks on Your Fingers
Place your hands shoulder width apart on the floor and come into either a plank or push-up position (feel free to keep your knees on the floor, we are here to build strength not hurt ourselves) with your fingers tented on the floor.
Complete 2-3 sets of 10 push-ups or work your way up to 2-3 sets of 30 second planks.
Now that you have a tool box full of supporting exercises, it’s time to turn our attention to hang boards.
You can usually find a few hanging around your climbing gym but they are also easy to install at home. Once you’ve installed your hangboard or tracked one down at your gym, we have a step by step hangboard course tailored by one of our Rock Climbing Women climbing ambassadors. Build your strength and build your stoke!
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Jenny Nichols got her climbing start in Flagstaff, AZ in 2007. Today she lives in Seattle, WA where she works as a K-12 teacher. While she also dabbles in mountain biking, hiking, and kayaking, her passion is to combine climbing and international travel. To date she has climbed in thirteen different countries. She’s currently also learning how to woman a sailboat.