by Peter Stüger


Even though tendon strength is crucial to athletes and rock climbers in particular, there is rarely any discussion about it. Today, the little information we find about training our tendons is truly disproportionate to the abundance of information we find about muscle training. Tendons, like muscles, are crucial components in our movement system. Time is wasted on training strong muscles if the force cannot properly be translated to our skeleton because we have neglected our tendons.

Tendon strength is a different concept from muscle strength. Muscle strength is about exerting force on an external resistance1, which differs from muscular endurance or explosiveness. Tendon strength is about having a robust, healthy tendon that alleviates force transfer from our muscles onto our bones2. With tendon strength, we will improve our muscular strength, endurance, and explosiveness at once. For climbing, it is crucial to have stiffer tendons; that way, your strength can be better translated onto the climbing wall.

You can think of tendon stiffness like pulling a sled. In this case, you are the muscle, and the sled is your bone. With a rope, you will be able to easily pull the sled uphill, because your force properly transfers onto the sled. Pulling the sled uphill with a resistance band will be much more difficult since a lot of force is getting lost from your body to the sled.


There are some cases in which stiff tendons can harm athletic performance. Tendon stiffness can be detrimental to athletes who benefit from short-term energy storage, for example, sprinters. When the elasticity of their tendons gets lost, they don’t spring back as well after elongation, which would otherwise aid the sprinter during muscle contraction.

Not sure where to begin?

We have training plans available for any level athlete!

This elasticity is not very important for most climbing, except maybe for moves like large triple dynos. The benefits of tendon stiffness far outweigh the negatives, especially in sport climbing and bouldering. The benefits of tendon elasticity should potentially be taken into consideration when speed climbing. Otherwise it only has its place in other sports where the stretch shortening cycle plays an important role (start-stops, jumping, sprinting, etc…). Here are three major reasons why you should work on tendon stiffness3:

  1. Contrary to popular belief, tendon strength reduces injury risk. Here you can think of the sled concept again. The resistance band will rupture before the rope does. A compromising tendon is also more likely to overstretch, overload and tear. Several studies suggest that stiffness is a factor for injury, but a large part of “stiffness” is caused by the muscle, not the tendon.
  2. Tendon strength improves your maximal force and rate of force development (resulting in improved contact strength and explosive strength). This is huge! In climbing, these are the two key factors when it comes to finger strength. Because of the higher force translation from your muscle to your bone, you can exert greater force more quickly.
  3. Tendon strength does not directly correlate to decreased mobility/ flexibility. Flexibility is mostly determined by our muscles, not our tendons. By regularly stretching you will be able to compensate for your stiffer tendons.

Now, how can we improve our tendon strength?

First off, only experienced and older athletes should target their tendon strength.

They will see greater results as their tendons are a greater limiting factor and they already have other necessary adaptations. Next, we must be patient since improvements in tendon stiffness only occur after about 2 months of training. Impatience will only result in hasty overloading, leading to a higher injury risk. This is exactly what we want to avoid by training our tendons!

Sadly, there is a lack of research determining what training variables are most important to improve tendon strength4. Some studies have shown that isometric training yields the greatest results5,6, however, these do not focus on the upper body. Assuming our forearm tendons act similarly, the fingerboard would be an ideal tool to enhance our tendons for climbing. High-load, short-duration, long-muscle-length isometric exercises have proven to be especially effective. In other words, maximal hangs with an open-hand grip work great.

Opening your hands will also help you put less strain on your finger tendons, thus reducing injury risk. That said, if you simultaneously want to improve other grip types, you should use them, since you will see the greatest results around the joint angle you are actively training. Always perform these hangs warmed up and from a rested state. You should already know your way around the fingerboard. I suggest using around 20mm for these hangs. Adjust the weight so that hanging feels maximal but you could hold on for a couple more seconds than necessary.

Isometrics are not the only way to improve tendon strength. Dynamic exercises with high loads, often found in heavy strength training, will also increase tendon stiffness3. Incorporating heavy strength training into your training plan can be a good idea, as it is generally very useful for climbing. 

You can use the following program to target your tendon strength for climbing. Using this training plan, your body will have time to adapt to a higher workload. Once you are then used to this high-workload training protocol, you should not have to fear injury more than usual, it is simply the process of getting there that can be dangerous. Many injuries happen when ramping up the load too quickly. If your body is already used to a high training load on the fingerboard, you can skip the first 2 weeks. Add weight so that you continue to use maximal effort on your hangs and pull-ups. Don’t worry about quick progression. Deload during week 9 and then repeat weeks 5-8 upon need. Before taking a deload you should aim to ramp up your training load a little more (i.e. functionally overreach) so that your supercompensation is more effective. To weave in these exercises with your climbing, you can simply perform your hangs before climbing and do your pull-ups on non-climbing days. This program will not simply improve tendon strength. It is also great for neuromuscular gains and explosiveness.

Week 1 (2x Fingerboard):

Hang for 20 seconds. Rest for 3 minutes. Perform 3 sets.

Week 2 (2x Fingerboard):

Hang for 20 seconds. Rest for 3 minutes. Perform 5 sets.

Week 3 (3x Fingerboard):

Hang for 20 seconds. Rest for 3 minutes. Perform 5 sets.

Week 4 (3x Fingerboard, 2x Pull-ups):

Hang for 20 seconds. Rest for 3 minutes. Perform 5 sets.

5 repetitions of pull-ups. Rest for 3-5 minutes. Perform 5 sets.

Weeks 5-8 (3x Fingerboard, 2x Pull-Ups):

Hang for 5-10 seconds. Rest for 3-5 minutes. Perform 5 sets.

5 repetitions of pull-ups. Rest for 3-5 minutes. Perform 5 sets.

Note that “density hangs” do not necessarily improve tendon stiffness, although they might show some of the same results as the hangs suggested here such as a greater rate of force development. It has been suggested that this is due to stiffness increases in the muscle (potentially even leading to a higher risk of injury and decreased flexibility/ mobility) and the muscle tendon junction while tendon stiffness might even be reduced7.

For climbers looking to take their skill to the next level, tendon strength is an easily forgotten, yet noteworthy detail to train. It can decrease risk of injury and improve maximal strength and rate of force development, two areas that are too big of a topic in climbing to be ignored. Although there is still lacking research, the most plausible way to improve tendon strength is probably through high-load, short-duration isometric exercises.


1Suchomel, T.J., Nimphius, S. & Stone, M.H. The Importance of Muscular Strength in Athletic Performance. Sports Med 46, 1419–1449 (2016).

2Mayfield, Dean & Launikonis, Bradley & Cresswell, Andrew & Lichtwark, Glen. (2016). Additional in-series compliance reduces muscle force summation and alters the time course of force relaxation during fixed-end contractions. The Journal of experimental biology. 219. 10.1242/jeb.143123.

3Casturo, Matt. (2022). Tendon Strength for Athletes. The Movement System Podcast:

4Oranchuk DJ, Storey AG, Nelson AR, Cronin JB. Isometric training and long-term adaptations: Effects of muscle length, intensity, and intent: A systematic review. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2019 Apr;29(4):484-503. doi: 10.1111/sms.13375. Epub 2019 Jan 13. PMID: 30580468.

5Burgess KE, Connick MJ, Graham-Smith P, Pearson SJ. Plyometric vs. isometric training influences on tendon properties and muscle output. J Strength Cond Res. 2007 Aug;21(3):986-9. doi: 10.1519/R-20235.1. PMID: 17685695.

6Kubo K, Ikebukuro T, Maki A, Yata H, Tsunoda N. Time course of changes in the human Achilles tendon properties and metabolism during training and detraining in vivo. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2012 Jul;112(7):2679-91. doi: 10.1007/s00421-011-2248-x. Epub 2011 Nov 22. PMID: 22105708.

7Banaszczyk, Jedrzej. (2022). Dr. Tyler Nelson’s Density Hangs. Strength Climbing. Retrieved 30.12.2022 from:

About Peter Stüger

Peter has had a passion for sport sciences his entire life and started bouldering and sport climbing three years ago. He has since sought out the newest opinions, trends and research to improve. Realizing how much this information can help he wants to help strengthen the connection from the information source to the general climber.



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