The Plan

The debate rages whether to load your hangboard training with added weight or to go to smaller holds. Whether to hang one arm or two. Whether to train multiple grips or just one. The answer, and you won’t like it, is all of these are right, at a certain time. The only error is to constantly follow one program, a recipe for injury and staleness.

I like progressive load programs for strength training, but my hangboard plans call for more frequent, higher volume sessions – and the fingers just won’t tolerate the continual progression. Enter the contrast-load week, where you simply alternate back and forth between a heavy load and a heavier one. This is a high-strength program and is appropriate only for advanced climbers with many cycles of hangboard training experience. I started testing out the structure of this program after seeing good results with some other strength exercises done in a similar format.

The work/rest ratio on these sessions bleeds over into strength-endurance, but you’ll see plenty of strength gains. This is a good antecedent to our normal ladder program or a more traditional straight-set strength protocol.

Training Details

The general set-up is like this:

  • You’ll hang two different hold types. Pick whichever holds you like, but the correct answer for one of them is half-crimp. For my sport climbing friends, I usually recommend a 2-finger pocket, for boulderers some kind of open-hand hold. The world of pinch grips is still imperfect in hangboarding, so if pinches are your weakness, follow Steve Maisch’s advice and build a couple of pinch blocks you can hang weight from…this will work just fine with this plan.
  • You are going to do hangs three days per week for three weeks, then take a rest week. Monday, Wednesday, Friday works well if you’re not climbing on the weekends. If you are integrating it with climbing aim for Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday.  I recommend doing a different training plan afterward, but repeating the series for another 4 weeks has been done.
  • You’re going to use an easy-to-load weight for the training – this needs to be simple and quick. Your heavy weight should be around 25% of bodyweight, and your light weight should be the closest easy-to-load weight at half the heavy weight. Our team use kettlebells, but plates work fine. My training weight, for example, is a 50 pound kettlebell on heavy days and a 25 pounder on light days.
  • We use ladder-style training, but with compressed sets allowing just moments between hangs. It looks like this:

A 2,4,6 x 2 set consists of a 2 second hang, drop hands to straight down at sides, then a 4 second hang, then drop hands to sides, then a 6 second hang, drop hands to sides, and then start again at 2, then 4, then 6. The dropping of the hands to the sides lets the blood flow back into the arms, but then you get right back to work. This drop should be 2-3 seconds total. The set in this example would take about 40 seconds.

  • You’ll do one of the prescribed sets for hold position 1, then rest 2-3 minutes before repeating the same set pattern for the second hold position. You’ll then rest 2-3 minutes, and continue the pattern for the total prescribed number of sets for the session.

The Schedule

Week 1 (2x 2,4,6) x 2 (2x 2,4,6) x 2 (2x 2,4,6) x 3
Week 2 (2x 2,4,6) x 3 (3x 4,6) x 3 (3x 4,6) x 3
Week 3 (3x 2,4,6) x 3 (3x 2,4,6) x 3 (3x 4,6) x 4
Week 4 rest (2x 2,4,6) x 2 rest


*Heavy days in bold.