Q+A: Optimum Time Under Tension for Finger Strength

Q: Hey Steve and Charlie, Alex, and everyone,

Thanks again for the great coaching conference last month. So much info my head is still exploding. One thing I didn’t ask or don’t remember covering: What is the best zone to aim for as far as time under tension on the fingerboard? How much per session? How much per hold type?


A: When we are looking at improving isometric (static) strength as we do on the hangboard, sport science uses the term Maximum Voluntary Isometric Contraction (MVIC) as an indicator that corresponds to a 100% effort. IF you look at the research on MVIC increase, several protocols (usually using the quadriceps or elbow flexors) show increases of 30-50% MVIC over the course of anywhere from 20 to 50 training days. Bearing in mind that gaining strength takes time, (50 days of hangboarding might take half a year) the research suggests that contractions of less than 10 seconds each repeated for 5-15 total sets (somewhere less than 150 seconds per day) seem to be ideal. I’d add that 2-3 positions per session seems to be sufficient for most climbers to see good progress.

Depending on where you are in your training age, a good starting point is two positions for 5 sets of 10 seconds per hang. As always, I’d keep your athletes doing as little as possible as long as they are seeing gains. Test their predicted 1RM (total load x seconds hanging x 0.0333 + total load) once per month and assure they are still getting what they are training for.

We’ll always opt to add volume in the 70-80% range in each position up to the 150 second point rather than chasing load. Higher volumes at reduced loads continue to show great strength gains and are much less risky.