By Steve Bechtel

Over the past few years, we’ve seen some incredible climbing gyms opening around the world. We’re talking multi-million-dollar indoor crags here, some so diverse and huge that you might never want to wander outside again. Strangely, though, the gyms aren’t cranking out superstars as fast as you’d think. I had a great discussion last year with one of America’s top climbers, and he summed it up nicely: “The crag doesn’t make the man.”

Many of our members train in basements, garages, or co-op gyms. Some aren’t so lucky and at best manage to work out on a home hangboard. Fascinatingly, these are some of our best climbers. And although this is a great intro to a “get your mind right” article, this is about a specific workout that is as close as I’ve seen to a one-size-fits-all hangboard plan.

This idea originally came from Pavel Tsatsouline in his book Enter The Kettlebell. I mentioned the idea to Chris Liddel (one of the guys who has a hangboard only to train on) and he went crazy with it for a year before coming back to me. Chris has a board, a few weights, and some plates he could add for resistance, but he didn’t like the weight adding part, so he changed things around a little.

In Pavel’s book, he shows that isometric strength is better developed through increasing volume and frequency of training than through adding load alone. I’d seen this assertion elsewhere, so we thought we’d give it a try.

The general gist is that you do several sets of exercise at the same load (weight), but vary the volume with each set. By laddering up 1 rep, 2 reps, 3 reps, and then repeating, the athlete is forcing more volume into a workout and allowing for more adaptation potential.

We picked 3, 6, and 9 second hangs to force a change in stimulus between sets. Each time you come back to the 3 second hangs, you get a little reprieve on the difficulty, but even these shorter sets add to the overall load. For climbers not able to add load to hangs, or for those who have hit a hangboard plateau, this is a good option.

Protocol 1:
2-3 sessions per week. The big key is to start on holds that feel easy, that you can hold comfortably for 9 seconds. The overload to the system is not so much muscular as it is a strain on the connective tissue of the hands and fingers. This takes a long time to develop. Several compelling studies (yes, real university studies!) show that submaximal work can create big jumps in isometric strength, so take it easy at first. You’ll know when you’re strong enough to progress.

Select 3-4 hold types or positions. You’ll stick with these throughout the 8 week phase, so

3-4 positions, all held straight-arm with “active” shoulders.

Week 1: 3 straight ladders 3-6-9 sec. on a 45 second clock.
this means:
position 1: 3 sec, rest, 6 sec, rest, 9 sec, rest.
position 2: 3 sec, rest, 6 sec, rest, 9 sec, rest.
position 3: 3 sec, rest, 6 sec, rest, 9 sec, rest.

position 1: 3 sec, rest, 6 sec, rest, 9 sec, rest.
position 2: 3 sec, rest, 6 sec, rest, 9 sec, rest.
position 3: 3 sec, rest, 6 sec, rest, 9 sec, rest.

position 1: 3 sec, rest, 6 sec, rest, 9 sec, rest.
position 2: 3 sec, rest, 6 sec, rest, 9 sec, rest.
position 3: 3 sec, rest, 6 sec, rest, 9 sec, rest.

Week 2: 4 ladders 3-6-9 sec.

Week 3: 5 ladders 3-6-9 sec.

Week 4: 3 ladders 3-6-9-12 sec.

Week 5: 4 ladders 3-6-9-12 sec.

Week 6: 5 ladders 3-6-9-12 sec.

Week 7: 4 ladders 1-3-6-9-12 sec.

Week 8: 5 ladders 1-3-6-9-12 sec.

These are all done without added weight. The value breaks beyond just strength training, and gives a good endurance stimulus as well. The time commitment toward the end gets big, and that’s where we separate the (mentally) weak from the strong.

Protocol 2:
2 sessions per week. 3 hold positions. These are done “Circuit Style” rather than straight. This protocol is shorter, more intense, and better in-season. We use half-crimp, full crimp, and an open hand position.

Week 1: 3 circuit ladders 3-6-9 sec. on a 30 second clock.

Week 2: 4 ladders 3-6-9 sec.

Week 3: 5 ladders 3-6-9 sec.

Week 4: 3 ladders 3-6-9 sec.

Week 5: 4 ladders 3-6-9 sec.

Week 6: 5 ladders 3-6-9 sec.

Week 7: 4 ladders 3-6-9 sec.

Week 8: 5 ladders 3-6-9 sec.


  1. Zachary Anaya on September 21, 2019 at 11:36 pm

    Team Climb Strong,

    First, I’d like to thank you and Steve for all of the incredible information, resources, and services you all provide to the climbing community.

    I’ve been climbing for 15 years and am just now getting motivated to train for climbing. I first heard about Climb Strong when Steve Bechtel did an interview on Training Beta. Since then I’ve seemed out Logical Progression and have now read my copy twice.

    I have a question regarding what a “circuit style” ladder protocol requires as compared with the straight ladder protocol?

    • Steve Bechtel on September 22, 2019 at 2:10 pm

      Hi Zachary,
      A circuit would be where you do one set of an exercise, then move on to the next and the next until you have done one of each exercise. You would then follow this sequence for as many circuits as the session prescribes. Straight sets would be a session in which you would do the first exercise for a set, rest, then do the same exercise again, and so on until you do all of the sets for that exercise. You then move on to exercise two, and complete all sets of it before moving on to exercise three. Thus, where the letters represent exercises, and the numbers represent sets:

      Circuit: A1-B1-C1-D1 A2-B2-C2-D2 A3-B3-C3-D3
      Straight: A1-A2-A3 B1-B2-B3 C1-C2-C3 D1-D2-D3

      • Zach on September 23, 2019 at 3:20 am

        Thanks for the crystal clear answer, Steve. I’m so psyched you wrote back!

        Since the above article didn’t mention integrating other exercises, I got confused about the details of protocol 2. I’m putting together an in-season training program and have already seen some really great results from the last few cycles using the non-linear programing. Steadily advancing into more of the refined exercises and psyched to have your text and words as a guide.

        BIG THANKS!!!

  2. WK on November 4, 2019 at 6:13 am

    Hi Steve,

    Thank you for sharing your hangboard routine. Can you explain the 45 sec clock?

    Does it mean completing position 1: 3 sec, rest, 6 sec, rest, 9 sec,rest in 45 sec? If yes how long is the rest? Divided equally or up to myself?

    • Steve Bechtel on November 4, 2019 at 5:20 pm

      This is a strength-based timing option, so it means hang 3 seconds, rest 42, hang 6, rest 39, hang 9, rest 34.

  3. Miguel Ángel on May 14, 2020 at 4:34 pm

    Good again Steve. What you explain in protocol 1 would only be done 1 time? or can you repeat it in the same session more times?

Leave a Comment