The Plan

I wrote this program for my athletes that couldn’t handle a lack of specifics when it comes to strength training. I am still a big fan of staying “organic” in your work and rest and in loading, but here is a plan that give you some exact details on how to build sessions. I’ll remind you that the more you diverge and “customize” plans that are very specific, the greater the risk to your progress.

This is a three-day per week training plan. It is built in 3 stages, which can be done consecutively (making a 12 week plan) or can be split by power builds. In such a case, you’d do stage one of the 6|16 (4 weeks), then do a 3-4 week bouldering-focused phase. You’d follow that with stage two for 4 weeks, and repeat with a similar bouldering phase. Again you’d follow this with a hangboard focus, stage three of this plan, and then go back to bouldering. This adds up to almost 6 months of getting seriously strong.

The 6|16 allows for supplemental strength and core training, but I caution you to keep your outside climbing days or other gym days to one a week. I like Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for this plan, with a climbing day Saturday. You may be active the days in between, but no more than an hour and at no more than 70% of max heart rate.

This plan will consist of workouts using three different grips on the board. I like a medium-sized edge that you can easily hang for 20 or more seconds, a small edge that you can’t hold for ten, and a 2-finger pocket, held with the middle and ring fingers.

Ready, Set…Test.

To start, we’ll test each grip. Warm-up well using the HANGBOARD WARM-UP. This will help keep you feeling good climbing, and will prime your whole body for the hanging to come.

Start with the big edge that you can hold for 20 seconds and hang to technical failure with an additional 10% over bodyweight. This means if you weigh 150 pounds, you’d add 15 more pounds to your body. Write down how long you hung before having to stop. Rest 3-4 minutes, then repeat with another 10% jump. Repeat until the your hang time ends up between 5 and 8 seconds. A typical sequence might look like this:

BW +10%: 18 sec

BW +20%: 13 sec

BW +30%: 9 sec

BW + 40%: 6 sec

At 6 seconds, you’re then in the realm to calculate your 1-second max. We don’t ever want to test 1-second max, but we use it for calculating load for later sessions.

Multiply your max in seconds X total load (bodyweight+load) X .0333 + total load

This will give you a working number. For example, a 150 pound athlete than hangs 5 seconds with an added 70 pounds would calculate his max like this:

5 x 220 x .0333 + 220 = 257

Next, you’ll test with the 2-finger pocket. Start with a pocket you can hang at bodyweight for more than 10 seconds. Follow the same protocol as you did with the big edge. Hang at BW+10%, then BW+20%, and so on until you reach the 5-8 second window. This should be at a lower load than the medium edge. Again, calculate your working max.

With the small edge, you’ll start out very close to your 5-8 second window. If your bodyweight hang is in this window to start, simply do the working max calculation with bodyweight. If you can hold for 9 or 10 seconds, add 5% to your bodyweight and test. If you still hold longer than 8 seconds, repeat with BW+10%. If you are still not in the 5-8 second window, start over with a smaller edge.

The testing is a bit slow and can be very taxing. It is OK to split the testing into a couple of sessions if necessary. All of the hangs for the upcoming workouts will be determined as a percentage of this max, so getting good numbers is essential. You’ll do this test at the beginning of each training cycle to determine working maxes for that cycle. DON’T JUST ASSUME YOUR MAXES ARE THE SAME AS 4 WEEKS AGO. I have not ever seen a climber whose maxes have not changed between cycles.

Rest between sets is critical. While some sets will require that you switch loads, many of the sets can be done back-to-back with little changing weights. In such cases, discipline will make you stronger. I suggest resting at least 5 times as long as you spend hanging in any given set, and allow up to 5 minutes between hangs. Remember, the better you rest, the stronger you’ll get. If you get pumped, you’re blowing it.

Additional Training

The focus of this training plan is finger strength. This doesn’t need to be the only training you do, just make sure any other training you do doesn’t hurt your finger strengthening goal. This means you should not boulder or campus hard during this time. You should not be training high-end endurance.

Appropriate additional exercise would include technique-based bouldering, high-load resistance training, mobility and flexibility training, or work on nutrition.

An excellent addition to this program is to add in the following strength work:

Day 1:

DB Row 3 sets of 4 on each side

Front Squat 3 sets of 4

Front Lever 3 sets of 2

Day 2:

Overhead Press 4 sets of 2

Romanian Deadlift 4 sets of 2

Ab Wheel Roll Out 4 sets of 6

Day 3:

Single Arm Push-Up 2 sets of 5 on each side

Deadlift 2 sets of 5

Front Lever 3 sets 2

The Three Stages:

Stage One

Stage one begins the week after testing. Don’t try to test and start training right away. Getting your numbers dialed in on a Thursday or Friday is a perfect way to start a good training week the following Monday. I suggest separating each of your training days with one recovery day, thus training on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, for example. If you are doing additional training or climbing, one of the weekend days is fine. These sessions can be integrated with core training, mobility work, or resistance training. Because there are so many possible combinations here, I will not outline any specifics.

All hang positions will be noted as follows:

ME: Medium Edge

SE: Small Edge

2F: Two Finger Pocket

All exercise numbers will be given as a percentage of your predicted max.

Stage 1 SESSION 1 SESSION 2 SESSION 3
WEEK 1 ME 5x10s @ 60%, 3x5s @75% / SE 3x5s @ 60% / 2F 5x10s @ 60% ME 2x10s @ BW, 5 x 5s @80% / SE 2x5s @ BW, 5 x 3s @80% / 2F 5x5s @ 80% All Positions 2 x 8s @ BW / All Positions 4 x 8s @ 70%
WEEK 2 ME 5x10s @ 65%, 3x5s @80% / SE 3x5s @ 65% / 2F 5x10s @ 65% ME 3x10s @ BW, 5 x 5s @85% / SE 3x5s @ BW, 5 x 3s @85% / 2F 5x5s @ 85% All Positions 3 x 8s @ BW / All Positions 5 x 8s @ 70%
WEEK 3 ME 5x10s @ 70%, 3x5s @85% / SE 3x5s @ 70% / 2F 5x10s @ 70% ME 4x10s @ BW, 5 x 5s @90% / SE 4x5s @ BW, 5 x 3s @90% / 2F 5x3s @ 90% All Positions 3 x 8s @ BW / All Positions 5 x 8s @ 70%
WEEK 4 All Positions 5x10s @ 60% All Positions 5x10s @ 60% Recovery

Stage Two

Start stage two with a testing day or two. Don’t rush it. Once you have your numbers, get set for the phase. If you are alternating a bouldering phase between hang cycles, you can test at the end of the last week of the bouldering.

This stage is less intense but no less important than the first. This is where you “prove” your strength with more volume at slightly reduced loads. This is where the strength starts to stick.

To start, we’ll test each grip. Warm-up well using the BOULDERING WARM-UP. This will help keep you feeling good climbing, and will prime your whole body for the hanging to come.

Start with the big edge that you can hold for 20 seconds and hang to technical failure with an additional 10% over bodyweight. This means if you weigh 150 pounds, you’d add 15 more pounds to your body. Write down how long you hung before having to stop. Rest 3-4 minutes, then repeat with another 10% jump. Repeat until the your hang time ends up between 5 and 8 seconds. A typical sequence might look like this:

BW +10%: 18 sec

BW +20%: 13 sec

BW +30%: 9 sec

BW + 40%: 6 sec

At 6 seconds, you’re then in the realm to calculate your 1-second max. We don’t ever want to test 1-second max, but we use it for calculating load for later sessions.

Multiply your max in seconds X total load (bodyweight+load) X .0333 + total load

This will give you a working number. For example, a 150 pound athlete than hangs 5 seconds with an added 70 pounds would calculate his max like this:

5 x 220 x .0333 + 220 = 257

Next, you’ll test with the 2-finger pocket. Start with a pocket you can hang at bodyweight for more than 10 seconds. Follow the same protocol as you did with the big edge. Hang at BW+10%, then BW+20%, and so on until you reach the 5-8 second window. This should be at a lower load than the medium edge. Again, calculate your working max.

With the small edge, you’ll start out very close to your 5-8 second window. If your bodyweight hang is in this window to start, simply do the working max calculation with bodyweight. If you can hold for 9 or 10 seconds, add 5% to your bodyweight and test. If you still hold longer than 8 seconds, repeat with BW+10%. If you are still not in the 5-8 second window, start over with a smaller edge.

The testing is a bit slow and can be very taxing. It is OK to split the testing into a couple of sessions if necessary. All of the hangs for the upcoming workouts will be determined as a percentage of this max, so getting good numbers is essential. You’ll do this test at the beginning of each training cycle to determine working maxes for that cycle. DON’T JUST ASSUME YOUR MAXES ARE THE SAME AS 4 WEEKS AGO. I have not ever seen a climber whose maxes have not changed between cycles.

Rest between sets is critical. While some sets will require that you switch loads, many of the sets can be done back-to-back with little changing weights. In such cases, discipline will make you stronger. I suggest resting at least 5 times as long as you spend hanging in any given set, and allow up to 5 minutes between hangs. Remember, the better you rest, the stronger you’ll get. If you get pumped, you’re blowing it.

Additional Training

The focus of this training plan is finger strength. This doesn’t need to be the only training you do, just make sure any other training you do doesn’t hurt your finger strengthening goal. This means you should not boulder or campus hard during this time. You should not be training high-end endurance.

Appropriate additional exercise would include technique-based bouldering, high-load resistance training, mobility and flexibility training, or work on nutrition.

An excellent addition to this program is to add in the following strength work:

Day 1:

DB Row 3 sets of 4 on each side

Front Squat 3 sets of 4

Front Lever 3 sets of 2

Day 2:

Overhead Press 4 sets of 2

Romanian Deadlift 4 sets of 2

Ab Wheel Roll Out 4 sets of 6

Day 3:

Single Arm Push-Up 2 sets of 5 on each side

Deadlift 2 sets of 5

Front Lever 3 sets 2

All hang positions will be noted as follows:

ME: Medium Edge

SE: Small Edge

2F: Two Finger Pocket

All exercise numbers will be given as a percentage of your predicted max.

All exercise numbers will be given as a percentage of your predicted max.

 

Stage 2 SESSION 1 SESSION 2 SESSION 3
WEEK 1 ME 6x8s @ 60%, 6x6s @ 70%, 6x4s @ 80% / SE 5x5s @ 75% / 2F 5x5s @ 75% ME 5x8s @ BW, 5x6s @80% / SE 3x5s @ BW, 5x3s @ 70% / 2F 5x3s @ 80% All Positions 3 x 8s @ BW
WEEK 2 ME 8x8s @ 60%, 8x6s @ 70%, 8x4s @ 80% / SE 5x5s @ 75% / 2F 5x5s @ 75% ME 6x8s @ BW, 6x6s @80% / SE 4x5s @ BW, 6x3s @ 70% / 2F 6x3s @ 80% All Positions 3 x 8s @ BW
WEEK 3 ME 10x8s @ 60%, 10x6s @ 70%, 10x4s @ 80% / SE 5x5s @ 75% / 2F 5x5s @ 75% ME 7x8s @ BW, 7x6s @80% / SE 5x5s @ BW, 7x3s @ 70% / 2F 7x3s @ 80% All Positions 3 x 8s @ BW
WEEK 4 All Positions 7x8s @ 60% All Positions 7x8s @ 60% Recovery

Stage Three

Stage three should start with another test. You can take a full week after stage 2 and test during that week, or do it at the end of a boulder phase if you are alternating between the two. Just like the other stages, don’t try to test and start training right away. I suggest separating each of your training days with one recovery day. If you are doing additional training or climbing, one of the weekend days is fine. Again, I’ll reiterate…TEST YOUR MAXES.

MAXs refers to hanging for max time(seconds). You don’t need to fall from the board – just step down as your grip fails.

All exercise numbers will be given as a percentage of your predicted max.

Stage 3 SESSION 1 SESSION 2 SESSION 3
WEEK 1 ME 4x10s @BW 6x4s @ 80%, 4x4s @ 90% SE 5x5s @ BW, 4xMAXs @ 70% / 2F 5x5s @ BW, 4xMAXs @ 70% ME 4x10s @BW 6x5s @ 80%, 4x5s @ 90%
WEEK 2 SE 5x6s @ BW, 4xMAXs @ 70% / 2F 5x6s @ BW, 4xMAXs @ 70% ME 4x10s @BW 6x4s @ 80%, 4x4s @ 90% SE 5x5s @ BW, 4xMAXs @ 70% / 2F 5x5s @ BW, 4xMAXs @ 70%
WEEK 3 ME 4x10s @BW 6x5s @ 80%, 4x5s @ 90% SE 5x6s @ BW, 4xMAXs @ 70% / 2F 5x6s @ BW, 4xMAXs @ 70% ME 5x10s @BW 6x6s @ 80%, 4x6s @ 90%
WEEK 4 SE 5x7s @ BW, 4xMAXs @ 70% / 2F 5x7s @ BW, 4xMAXs @ 70% ME 4x10s @BW 6x4s @ 80%, 4x4s @ 90% Recovery

We have seen a lot of variability in what certain climbers can do in terms of these numbers. Some route climbers are very good at the 70% level and can easily hang much longer than prescribed. Similarly, boulderers tend to feel the 90% number can be pushed a bit. I recommend running an entire 4-week cycle without change, then go back and adjust the loading percentages as needed.